Buying Garden Sculpture - Top Tips to Maximise Your Purchase
Just like a lick of paint in a tired room, the addition of sculpture to a garden can elevate it from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
By Daniel Lee-Jacobs I 5 min read
When sculpture is carefully placed within a garden, a sprinkle of personality extends from the house interior to the exterior. A large expanse of grass becomes the stage for a dramatic focal point. Winding paths suddenly have a purpose, leading you to hidden treasures. The landscape transforms into a thought-provoking and intriguing setting where nature comes together with man-made forms.
And whilst many people may think of garden sculpture as reserved for stately homes or public gardens, nowadays sculpture is not just the prerogative of the aristocracy or the wealthy. With an ever-growing community of contemporary artists creating an explosion of forms and figures, we can all find artwork which pleases the eye and safeguards the pocket.
Ian Turnock - Horse Chestnut Steel Sculpture - Image Courtesy of the Artist
Choosing the Ideal Setting
If you’re thinking about buying a garden sculpture, you may or may not have a space in mind already. However, your first port of call should be to take a walk around your garden and to decide on a position to place it.
As a general rule you should try to use sculpture to dramatize and emphasize your landscape’s best focal points.
You may wish to place it within a flower bed, at the end of a path, inside a patio or courtyard or next to or above a water feature. Depending on the size of your garden, sculpture can also feature as an element of surprise, being positioned in pockets along a meandering path to create inspiring moments of pause for passers-by.
Dancing Hare Sculptures - Image Courtesy of SophieAllport.com
Consider the potential locations from a variety of distances and even from within the house to select a spot where the sculpture can readily be appreciated. Remember that smaller sculptures can always be placed on a plinth to elevate them to eye level where they will be better seen.
Finally, give some thought to how the area might appear at different times of the year or even different times of the day with sunlight moving across your garden. Best not to place your new sculpture in a long shadow where lack of natural light will hamper its full potential! And from a practical sense avoid sitting bronze and stone under trees, to protect from algae and minimise stains from pesky pigeons!
Swan Sculpture by Adam Binder - Image Courtesy of the Artist
Types of Garden Sculpture – What Material to Choose
Whilst most sculptures which are advertised as being suitable for the garden will be made of materials hardy enough to withstand the beautiful British weather, it’s worth noting what materials are suitable and understanding how they will react when placed in the great outdoors.
Typical materials for garden sculpture include stone (such as portland, limestone, marble, sandstone or granite), metal (bronze, bronze resin, steel, stainless steel, aluminium or cast iron), ceramics and even glass.
Olivia Clifton-Bligh sculpture - Image Courtesy of the Artist.
Only certain types of stones and treated woods are used outside as others are prone to intense weathering and degradation. Ancaster and soapstone for example are both porous stones and are susceptible to penetration by rain, which may freeze in winter causing cracking and splitting of the stone. Cast bronze, marble or limestone are more hardy choices.
Each type of stone will have its unique colouring or patination. Whilst some sandstones can appear fairly bright and white, you may also find deep reds. Marble in particular is quite varied and can be found in whites, pinks, greys, reds and blacks. Consider which colouring you’d like whilst keep in mind that less common stones or those harder to carve will come with a heftier price tag.
Peter Brooke Ball - Pleasure Stone - Jasper, Portland stone - Image Courtesy of the Artist
Bronze and bronze resins have been a classic choice for centuries due to their resilience and attractive colouring; however, many sculptors nowadays also work in sheet metal, such as stainless steel or aluminium, cutting and bending them into varied forms. These provide a more modern look whilst being equally durable and can be left natural or finished in different colours.
Over time, both stone and metals will develop a natural patina or colouring as lichens and natural chemical reactions occur on the surface. This can give an attractive natural and weathered look to the pieces. If you do want to attempt to maintain the sculpture's original appearance, it can usually be cleaned with a cloth or soft brush and water.
Jacob Chandler - Steel Sculpture - Image Courtesy of the Artist
Glass is an alternative material which is very easy to maintain, just requiring a quick wash every so often. The optical properties of blown glass can make it a very interesting medium to work with and it often suits being placed next to colourful flower beds or water features.
Finding the Perfect Piece:
Now you’ve decided on the location, this will give you an idea of the size, materials and forms which might suit the space. Next, it’s a matter of getting out there and seeing what fits the brief!
Although garden centres may be your first port of call, the vast majority of these outlets will simply sell mass-produced ‘sculpture’ of little artistic merit. Although more time consuming it’s much better to seek out artists or sculptors whose work you admire.
Look out for art galleries or venues that specialise in sculpture, see if there are artists’ studios near you with sculptors or use a platform like ArtsHaus to compare sculpture available at multiple galleries around the country.
Mark Beattie Sculpture - Neon Orb - Image Courtesy of the Artist
Your first goal should simply be to find something or someone you’re drawn to! If truth be told, there is no such thing as choosing the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ sculpture for your garden – at the end of the day, it all comes down to your own personal taste.
However, whilst there are no steadfast rules, your choice of sculpture should aim to complement and enhance the aesthetic of your garden; and there are a few guiding principles and design considerations which can help achieve that!
Some Guiding Principles and Ideas
As a general rule, it makes sense to choose pieces which appear sensitive, and almost organic to their environment. The perfect piece will appear as a feature of the landscape, rather than a foreign object peeping out behind the grass!
Your choice of materials, shapes, texture and scale all influence that harmony.
Carol Peace Sculpture - Two Circles - Image Courtesy of the Artist
For example, in a classic country garden, sculptures which have organic shapes or curving lines and natural materials will tend to be most fitting. Stone, bronze or wood all have an obvious texture which will make them seem 'softer' against the delicate backdrop of flora and fauna.
And whilst the more classic choices might be figures or animals, there’s nothing to say an abstract work can’t look equally stunning – one should just look for lines and forms which are sensitive to the landscape. E.g. this stone form 'Gannets' from Paul Harvey.
This idea of mirroring the landscape in artwork can even extend into the subject or structure of the piece. The sculpture of Ian Turnock for example shown below, is inspired by the patterns and symmetry in nature.
One of his main sources of inspiration are the silhouettes formed against the sky by tree foliage at different times of the year - so it is no wonder they seem in harmony placed within nature itself.
Ian Turnock Steel Sculpture - Image Courtesy of the Artist
Indeed, specific types of sculpture seem to just suit certain environments. Kinetic sculpture or sculpture with a strong sense of movement can associate well with long grasses as they rustle in the breeze.
Stainless steel sculpture can look incredible when placed next to water – it shimmers as the water is reflected on its surface, whilst the sculpture itself is mirrored on the water. For the same reason, the combination of the silver of steel and white flowers can look equally stunning.
David Harber Sculpture - Stainless Steel Torus in Singapore - Image Courtesy of the Artist
Given the above examples, you can see the importance of keeping in mind the immediate surroundings, but also the backdrop. Whether there are nearby flower beds, looming trees, verdant hedges, walls or just open sky – you should be seeking to create conversations with the landscape.
This doesn’t mean to say we should seek to blend in however. One should not be afraid to create contrasts which make your sculpture stand out.
After all garden sculpture juxtaposes the man-made with the organic. So if you want to accentuate the differences between the two feel free to let the boldness and contrast of the sculpture create the drama!
Nic Fiddian Green Sculpture - Still Water - at the National Sporting Library and Museum, Virginia, USA.
When well crafted, a sculpture is one of the most sustainable elements you can place in any garden. It requires no water and needs minimal care. Its primary requirement is just your appreciation.
Carol Peace Sculpture - 'Them' - Bronze - Image courtesy of the Artist