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Meet: Charlotte Thodey, painter

Photo - Louis Westgarth

We talk to Charlotte about her work and her exhibition at one of our favourite Loire gardens, Chateau de Villandry.

You are showing works at Chateau de Villandry this winter, how did that come about?

A friend has been saying for years that I should exhibit there – that it was what I’m about. I had an exhibition at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney last year, and after that I went to Villandry to meet them and show what I do. I was on the train on the way back to Paris when it struck me ‘Oh my god, they said come and exhibit with us!’


Had you been to Villandry before?

Yes, several times. In fact the first time I was there I later painted from memory a loaf of bread in a napkin that I saw there. This time I am returning with an Australian version of that – a loaf of bread in a brown paper bag. I like that. It’s one of the 50 paintings I’m taking.


Kohlrabi on cloth. Photo - Louis Westgarth


Villandry’s potager rotates forty different 16th century vegetables in geometric patterns of box-edged beds. That order seems very different to your paintings.

Yes, Villandry is like a fight between order and chaos where order has won. That’s not quite what I paint, because even though it’s still life it’s chaotic. At Villandry it’s an ordered visual thing, designed to be looked at from above. And that ordered pattern does reflect nature. You look at a treetop and it’s kind of chaotic, but within that chaos is a very ordered kind of fractal geometry.


You paint in acrylic, which is not a tractional medium for botanic illustration. What advantages does it give you?

I’m not so much about serious scientific painting, which I appreciate but I’m coming from another angle, the essence of the plant. The range of colours in acrylic is just like oils, but it dries quickly. That suits the way I work. I can make mistakes, paint over. It’s not constantly wet, and I can layer up the paint.


Charlotte with some of the paintings for Villandry. Photo - Louis Westgarth 


Do you grow the subjects you paint, or shop for them?

The farmers’ markets are the thing. You can get blemished fruit and vegetables with the roots left on. I also find a few things that I’ve grown. I grab anything really. I run with the season.

Vegetables aren’t very glamorous subjects for paintings, but you paint lots of them.

I see beauty in very simple things. I’m very lucky that way. A bunch of carrots or radish, are perfect, like jewels. They are ordinary things, with a vibrancy of their own. I’m painting rhubarb at the moment, but I love them all. Everything has got something. Every painting is a journey. I’m just lucky to do sometime which I consider profound and which is so quiet and singular.


Charlotte’s exhibition 'Les bijoux d’un jardin aux antipodes' ('Jewels from an Antipodean Garden') ran at Chateau de Villandry, France, from June 15 to November 11. See more of Charlotte’s work at

Text: Robin Powell

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Author: Robin Powell