Greeting visitors near the entrance of the 'Jardins' exhibition is Kôichi Kurita's installation of 400 squares of earth. Spread out on the floor, the samples are all in slightly different tones of reds, browns, oranges, yellows and greys. Formally, the carefully arranged composition loosely recalls an abstract painting whilst also falling into the tradition of land art. It features the rich variety of the types of earth that the Japanese artist has been collecting in France, mostly in the areas surrounding the Loire Valley, since 2004.

The longstanding passion that artists have for gardens and the representation of the garden in art is the subject of this multidisciplinary exhibition at the Grand Palais. Curated by Laurent Le Bon, chairman of the Musée National Picasso-Paris, it brings together painting, sculpture, photography, drawing and films from the era of Pompeii up until the present. Count in Albrecht Dürer, Klimt, Matisse and Picasso, Cézanne and Monet. Some works are concerned with botanical gardens, horticulture and heritage, others situate nature within the role of society.

Kôichi Kurita, installation view
Several contemporary artists are included. An entire room is devoted to the photography of Wolfgang Tillmans, such as a trainer-clad foot in a forest or plants growing on a windowsill. A blurry painting by Gerhard Richter portrays a summer garden at dusk, the long, dappled shadows of the leaves of a tree stretching across a path. A work by Arte Povera artist Giuseppe Penone of a forest, with a white shirt dangling over a fallen tree, was created from rubbing leaves onto a canvas. 'Grotta Azzurra' (2017), a gleaming, turquoise blue grotto made from blown-glass tiles, at the centre of which is a double-globe vase, is a new piece by Jean-Michel Othoniel.

The garden is seen in an idyllic and charming way, not as an environment under threat. Only Tetsumi Kudo's 'Symbiose' (1972), a sculpture of a singular flower made from plastic and resin, touches on the idea of pollution. A pair of eyes planted in the soil next to transistors look up at the flower uncomprehendingly. Indeed, the exhibition is a celebration of the history of the garden but not an investigation into its condition today.

Vue de l’exposition Jardins, Scénographie Laurence Fontaine, © Rmn-Grand Palais / Photo Didier Plowy
Vue de l’exposition Jardins, Scénographie Laurence Fontaine, © Rmn-Grand Palais / Photo Didier Plowy
Vue de l’exposition Jardins, Scénographie Laurence Fontaine, © Rmn-Grand Palais / Photo Didier Plowy
Giuseppe Penone, Verde del bosco con camicia (vert du bois avec chemise), 1984, frottage de feuilles et couleur végétale sur toile, chemise ; 264,5 x 470 cm, collection particulière, © Adagp, Paris 2017 / Archive Penone
Gerhard Richter, Summer Day (Jour d’été), 1999, huile sur toile ; 117 x 82 cm, Autriche, Vienne, Albertina, prêt permanent d’un prêteur privé, Autriche, © Gerhard Richter 2017
Gustave Klimt, Le Parc, 1910 ou avant, huile sur toile, 110,4 x 110,4 cm, Etats-Unis, New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Gertrud A. Mellon Fund, 1957, © 2017. Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York / Scala, Florence