Monday 26 September 2016

Art Review: Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas, New York Botanical Garden, New York

As summer turns to Fall in New York City, the Secret Victorianist ventured up to the Bronx to New York’s Botanical Gardens for an exhibition centred on late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American Impressionists and the importance of gardens and parks to their work.

Landscape: Shinnecock, Long Island, William Merritt Chase (c.1896)
The art component of the exhibition featured paintings by artists including Frederick Childe Hassam (1859-1935), John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), William Merritt Chase (1849-1916) and John Henry Twachtman (1853-1902) — rich, colourful canvases depicting scenes like private gardens (e.g. one belonging to writer Celia Thaxter (1835-1894)), the Horticulture Building at Chicago’s World’s Columbian Exhibition in 1893 and New York’s public parks.

Wildflowers, John Henry Twachtman (1891)
The Gardens’ Enid A. Haupt Conservatory was transformed into a complimentary living Impressionist garden, featuring plants favoured in the era, which saw a return to a more natural, ‘old-fashioned’ style of landscape design rather than more structured, formal gardens. You can sit in a rocking chair and enjoy the view, framed by the struts of a New England style porch.

Descending the Steps, Central Park, Frederick Childe Hassam (1895)
A common theme in the paintings seemed to be a high level of sympathy between the gardens and their inhabitants, whether hardworking gardeners crouched low to the ground, or dawdling strollers taking in the vista, their backs to the artist. Many were painted at artists’ colonies, where this kind of communion between men and nature was the goal, and it’s hard to look at the pieces without experiencing something of the same feeling of escape and peacefulness.

Horticultural Building, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, Frederick Childe Hassam (1893)
The exhibition was designed to celebrate NYBG’s 125th anniversary and did a wonderful job of exploring the experience of Impressionism — an experience that felt more personal and immersive than the school’s most famous paintings. Many of these artists’ works make you want to walk into their painted gardens. Thanks to this exhibition I could.

Inside the Conservatory
Do you know of any NYC exhibitions you think the Secret Victorianist should visit? Let me know — here, on Facebook or by tweeting @SVictorianist.

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