Sunday 22 July 2018

Art Review: Public Parks, Private Gardens: Paris to Provence, Metropolitan Museum, New York City

The Parc Monceau, Claude Monet (1878)

Two years ago I reviewed an exhibition at the New York Botanical Gardens dedicated to impressionist painters’ responses to American gardens in the nineteenth century. This summer it was the turn of French artists and the parks and gardens they depicted from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries in this stunning exhibition at the Met.

The Public Garden at Pontoise, Camille Pissaro (1874)
Public Parks, Private Gardens: Paris to Provence tells the story of French painting in the period through a succession of lush natural images, allowing visitors to chart the rise of Naturalism, Impressionism and the Art Nouveau movements as they move through the gallery.

Young Woman Seated on a Sofa, Berthe Morisot (1879)
It also reveals a fascinating story about French culture in the period—the emergence of the now quintessentially Parisian public park, a place where women and men of different classes could mingle, and the quiet seclusion of the private gardens frequented by the artists, their families and their patrons.

Still Life with Pansies, Henri Fantin-Latour (1874)
My favourite images included Claude Monet’s The Parc Monceau (1878) and Camille Pissaro’s The Public Garden at Pontoise (1874), paintings where the park-goers appear to be part of nature themselves; Henri Fantin-Latour’s hyper realistic still lives; and the works of noted female impressionists Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt who turn a feminine gaze upon their women subjects surrounded by flowers.

Garden at Sainte-Adresse, Claude Monet (1867)
The exhibition is centred on a courtyard resplendent with ferns and complete with park benches so you can take in the ambience as well as the art. If you wander in from Central Park you hardly seem to have left the natural world behind at all.

Lydia Crocheting in the Garden at Marly, Mary Cassatt (1880)
Public Parks, Private Gardens: Paris to Provence is entering its final week so, if you’re in New York, go if you can. It’s a wonderful combination of the familiar (the natural joys of summer), with the forgotten (a lost way of life) and the taken-for-granted (the public parks that transformed Paris and other cities in the nineteenth century).

Which NYC exhibitions should the Secret Victorianist review next? Let me know—here, on Facebook or by tweeting @SVictorianist.

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