Wintergarden at Sutton House – review

Wintergarden exhibition - Neon Lights - Jo Wilmot_009

Detail from Neon Lights by Jo Wilmot

You don’t need to be a Game of Thrones fan to know winter is coming. The last brightly-coloured leaves are thinning out on the branches overhead and it seems to be getting dark immediately after lunch these days.

But don’t despair. As the world outside our windows blurs into grey monochrome, step into a sexy hothouse of colour at Transition Gallery’s Wintergarden exhibition at Sutton House in Hackney this month.

The idea is based on the mid-19th century fashion for public pleasure palaces filled with tropical flowers and plants.

Wintergardens were beautifully elaborate confections of glass and metalwork pumped full of warm air and moisture to keep the exotic flora and fauna alive. They were designed to surprise and delight visitors with rare specimens from foreign climes. Super fancy greenhouses to me and you.

That’s the effect Transition Gallery is going for with its latest exhibition, which is the first in a series of projects between the National Trust and artist Sam Knowles. The pieces examine the idea of artificiality and fake environments, playing on the idea of self-conscious spectacle in trying to re-create nature indoors.

And the effect is beautiful. Mounted on the dark wood panels of a house that dates back to the Tudors, the paintings look like bright windows into a dream-like tropical landscape.

One of the most stunning pieces in the collection is Jo Wilmot’s oil on canvas – Neon Lights – a bright splash of colour and movement on a dull afternoon. It’s a big painting, with its bold strokes of greens and round orbs of fluorescent paint that dominates the space in the upstairs gallery. It has a mesmerising luminescence recalling something of John Singer Sargent’s Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose.

There are more delicate pieces too, like Annabel Dover’s Deliquium prints downstairs in the parlour, where the plants she illustrates leave nothing but a fine white silhouette on the dark blue background.

The exhibition ties into Hackney’s illustrious, but over-looked horticultural history. Loddiges, one of the most distinguished hothouses of the 18th and 19th centuries, used to be just up the road. It imported, cultivated and eventually introduced exotic plants from orchids to palm trees to European gardens.

That’s just a snapshot – there’s also work from Bridgette Ashton, Max Bainbridge, Jackie Chettur, Darius Lambert, Cathy Lomax, Alison Stolwood and Mimei Thompson. It’s well worth a visit, not just the art but for the house itself – a beautiful Tudor house just off Homerton High Street. Stop by for a cup of tea and a feast of colour as the weather sets in.

Wintergarden is at Sutton House, 2-4 Homerton High Street, E9 6JQ until 22 December.