Exhibition on Screen: The Artist's Garden: American Impressionism (2017) - full transcript

Taking its lead from French artists like Renoir and Monet, the American impressionist movement followed its own path which over a forty-year period (the garden movement, 1887-1920) reveals as much about America as a nation as it does about its art as a creative power-house. It's a story closely tied to a love of gardens and a desire to preserve nature in a rapidly urbanizing nation.

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When one thinks of the impressionists,

one thinks of Paris or northern France.

Not the gardens and landscapes

of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

But there is a story to be told

of American artists learning from a movement in Europe

but making it very much their own,

and very much reflective

of an America that, at the end of the 19th century,

was undergoing enormous change.

American Impressionism and the Garden Movement

was a major exhibition

that originated at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia,

and then travelled to here,

the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, Connecticut.

It was an exhibition that explored

a fascinating and vitally important period in art.

All of the artists included in the exhibition are very unique.

What brings them together is their interest in gardens,

in painting outdoors.

I'm always thinking about the connections

between art and socio-political realities.

It opens up a window into understanding our history.

A lot of people think the story of American art

starts in the 20th century.

We're really trying to bring back and re-evaluate as a field

the importance of this period and to really see the roots.

The whole liberation that happens,

it's freeing artists up

to think about just simply expressing their response to the world.

The works of these American impressionists certainly reflect

the moment that they're born from and that they're living in.

One of the important points

that's recognised and promoted in this Artist in the Garden exhibition

is that, while a painting of a garden is beautiful,

it's also full of the context of the American culture that created it.

At the end of the Civil War in 1865,

the United States nursed some deep and bloody wounds.

And yet the post-war era also marked the beginning

of an extraordinary rise in international wealth.

The nation was changing

from one of exploration to one of exploitation,

massive exploitation of natural resources.

Fuelled by the expansion of railroads, shipping, oil, steel, foodstuffs,

the US became the largest economy in the world.

The rich didn't just get wealthy; they became super-wealthy.

Affluent suburbs sprang up around the cities

and the emerging moneyed classes quickly developed an appetite

for culture and art.

Meanwhile, a new generation of American artists

looked to Europe for inspiration, and, in particular, France.

To visiting Americans, the most appealing art

was that of a new group of European painters

broadly labelled "the impressionists".

These artists painted outdoors,

using unmixed colours in strokes and dabs

to represent the effects of daylight.

They painted not dukes and saints, but fishermen and coal carriers.

Not ancient Rome and Jerusalem,

but the train stations of Paris and the countryside of Brittany.

Chief among the impressionists was Claude Monet,

who from 1883 to 1926 lived in Giverny,

on the River Seine to the west of Paris.

He was an extraordinary gardener

and at Giverny he created an ideal environment in which to paint.

For Monet it's about creating a great motif.

The compelling driver is the aesthetic.

It's visual, it's water lilies,

it's creating this pond

and architecting a beautiful Japanese-style bridge

so that you can paint dozens of pictures of this particular motif.

I think it's about really zeroing in on nature

but also the present moment

and the richness of visual perception when you open yourself up to it

and engage in looking hard at one thing.

American impressionists addressed the gamut of subjects

addressed by the French impressionists.

They were interested in urban life,

but the garden was particularly important to them

because it was a space where one could go for a retreat, for rejuvenation.

It was kind of a private space

and so they were following in the footsteps or following the inspiration

of impressionist practitioners like Claude Monet.

From the mid-1880s many American artists made the pilgrimage to Giverny.

Their favourite hotel built an artists' studio

and even offered baked beans to make them feel at home.

Every day, artists headed out to paint the countryside and gardens,

and some even worked alongside Monet.

John Leslie Breck was one of the first Giverny colonists

and he came from a fairly well-off family.

In Giverny, Monet is said to have never had any pupils.

He said he wasn't a teacher.

He said he told artists that wanted to study with him,

he told them to go to nature.

But, in fact, one can say that John Leslie Breck was a pupil of Monet's.

And we have sufficient indication now

that Monet and Breck went out painting together.

And Breck watched Monet paint,

Monet wanted him to watch him paint,

and Monet would advise him as they were out together.

Another American artist who made Monet's acquaintance

was the highly talented and prolific John Singer Sargent.

John Singer Sargent became a very good friend of Monet's

and did have a period in the late '80s

when he was really doing impressionist paintings.

Other key artists were artists like Theodore Robinson,

who was the best known of the first generation of Giverny painters.

And Willard Metcalf, again, was one of the first in Giverny,

one of the first to actually have a show of his impressionist works

back in the United States in 1888 in Boston.

There was very little work by American impressionists

to be found in Parisian galleries,

except for some of the American expatriate painters,

such as Mary Cassatt.

Mary Cassatt is an interesting figure,

because she prefigures the period of American impressionism

that we're really looking at from the 1880s to the 1920s.

Mary Cassatt is a Philadelphian.

She studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in the 1860s

at a time when courses were separated by gender.

She could not study from the nude, for example.

This was one of the reasons she moved to Paris,

to get a more progressive art education.

So Mary Cassatt is the only American

who exhibits with the French impressionists.

So, in many ways,

her approach to impressionism

is more aligned with the French impressionists

than it is with the somewhat later generation

of the American impressionists.

Mary Cassatt is an artist,

like many others in the 19th century,

interested in paint,

interested in revealing process,

interested in the spontaneous brushstroke.

She has taken elements of Degas's work.

She sees something and then she adapts it so it becomes her own.

Nobody would ever mistake a Cassatt for a Degas.

But there are elements, particularly in terms of handling of paint,

that you realise they share

and yet they do it in their own way.

From the 1880s, an increasing number of American artists

followed Mary Cassatt across the Atlantic to Europe.

At the same time, the paintings by European impressionists,

above all those of Monet, Renoir, Manet, Degas and Pissarro,

were making their way west to the US.

The question of the market is very interesting,

because one of the reasons that American impressionism even exists

is because the dealer Durand-Ruel

brought French impressionists to New York

and had an exhibition of their work in 1886,

and French impressionism gets introduced into the American market.

1886 is significant

because of the major exhibition that took place

at the American Art Association of French painting.

Before that time, Americans really didn't know what impressionism was.

The term was very confusing.

Americans had not certainly seen at home impressionist works.

Paul Durand-Ruel did send over 18 impressionist works

to the Foreign Exhibition in Boston in 1883,

and those works did get a fair amount of press.

But it was a small number in a large exhibition.

In 1886, what he sent over was a large exhibition of about 300 works,

of which 250 were French impressionist paintings.

That was probably the most often reviewed

and perhaps the most controversial exhibition held in America,

in the United States, in the 19th century.

It took a little while for contemporary collectors

to really embrace this movement,

simply because of the formal innovations these artists were making.

The American collectors find it more easy

to enjoy this painting than French collectors do,

because they're not burdened by traditional painting

and traditional modes of painting.

Flowers and gardens are one of the most popular and essential,

intriguing and even challenging tropes of American impressionist artists.

They came to be very important from their travels to Giverny,

to meeting Monet,

and they brought that study of the garden back to the United States

and became really integral in their approach to plein air painting.

To understand why the garden became such a focus

for impressionist painters,

one has to explore the transition of the garden

from a provider of food and herbs to a place of pleasure.

Since the 1700s there had been a flourishing sea trade

in seeds, bulbs, saplings and plants,

with American flora leaving the shores of the United States

and European and Asian flora arriving.

If anywhere was the hub of that trade,

it was this small house just outside Philadelphia.

In many ways, Bartram's Garden

is probably the most important garden in America

for the development of American gardens.

John Bartram is brought up in the local Quaker community.

He moves here in 1728 and seems to have had the idea

to begin a very large comprehensive personal garden.

So partly on his own, partly with help by correspondents in Europe,

he begins travelling and collecting plants here.

So from the mid-1730s up until the 1770s at the end of his life,

this garden is the centre-place

for transmitting knowledge about plants to Europe

and also bringing new things from Europe back to America.

Colonists in America mostly have gardens to feed themselves

and maybe for a small amount of other purposes,

so a small amount of medicinal plants,

common kind of first-aid plants like mints and lemon balm,

and there might be a very small number of flowering plants.

So John Bartram is in a very small number of people

that really have a garden beyond that.

He's growing plants just because they're flowers

and because he likes flowers.

John Bartram is so industrious in sending plants and seeds,

generally the boxes people are buying are 100 varieties of seeds,

that the gardens are suddenly overwhelmed in England

with new plants, a new style of plants,

and even though each year the boxes have roughly 100 or 105 varieties,

they change from year to year depending on where Bartram travelled,

depending on what seeds had a good crop that year.

America has really had a tradition of gardening,

obviously started in pioneer days.

The East Coast in particular has always had an affinity for gardens.

But it wasn't really until the late 19th century

that ornamental gardening or gardens as an end in themselves, as a luxury,

that gardens really blossomed

and we have what we call the garden movement.

The garden movement comes out of two really separate and distinct movements

in the 19th century.

The City Beautiful movement.

And the idea is to create beautiful cities filled with green spaces,

and that's something that you see in Boston,

that's something that you see in New York,

here in Philadelphia along the Parkway.

Now the other sort of tenant

that comes in to create the garden movement in the United States

is the influence of the arts and crafts movement in the UK

and, by extension, arts and crafts cottage gardens.

The English cottage garden refers back centuries

to a romantic vision of informal, overflowing, beautiful small gardens.

Popularised by the British gardener-authors,

Gertrude Jekyll and William Robinson, in books and magazines,

and in gardens like Robinson's own here in Gravetye, southern England,

the idea of these "old-fashioned" gardens

became hugely popular around the world.

This cottage arts and crafts style becomes embraced in the United States

in the era after the Centennial Exhibition in 1876.

That was a celebration of the centennial of the United States

and it was a time that Americans got very, very engaged

with their colonial past.

So, in the UK, Gertrude Jekyll is working on her gardens,

coming out of the wild gardening style of William Robinson.

In the United States

there's the City Beautiful movement going on in the cities

and then this garden movement

which develops at the same time as an explosion of suburbs.

The popularity of gardening, the garden movement,

is very much associated with the rise of a middle class.

There's a growing disparity between rich and poor

but also an emergence with industrialisation

and urbanisation of people who were filling offices to do their work,

but they're also looking for places to live

that can take them back, in some cases, to their agricultural roots.

So the garden itself becomes an important form

for understanding the way that Americans handled

many of the changes associated with modern life.

Millions of new immigrants from Europe,

America's own rural populations transferring to the cities

and newly freed black slaves moving north from the southern states

all caused overcrowding in the tenement blocks of north-eastern cities.

The more the USA industrialised and urbanised,

the more some harked back to a sense of rural calm.

Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Boston have a new influx of immigrants.

There is a lot of anxiety.

So the people who can afford to, this newly emerging middle class,

and by middle class I mean doctors, lawyers, artists,

they now have the ability with the train lines

to build these suburban homes and commute into the city.

So they can live on a train line 20 minutes out of the city

and commute there,

whereas earlier in the 19th century,

they would have lived in their townhouse in the city.

And I think that the garden movement

is a reaction to the industrialisation as well as mass immigration.

I think in the late 19th, early 20th century

Americans of a certain class began to appreciate gardens as a pastime

and also, for the more talented of the people involved in it,

it became a challenge for design

and looking into the history of garden design including, obviously, the UK,

coming up with their own ideas about how to design gardens.

In addition to this, there was this whole other movement

of women, in particular, starting to write about gardens,

the romance of gardens and the therapy of gardens.

They talked about garden design and how they designed their gardens,

how they maintained them, where they got their ideas from.

And also they were all right up to date

on the latest developments in horticulture,

because of the great variety of nurseries and seed houses.

Americans did learn about gardening practices, garden design

and the availability of new kinds of plants and bulbs

by reading a burgeoning garden literature.

There are changes to postal rules

in the United States, I think, at a certain point

that actually allow the mailing of magazines

and that really, along with changes in printing technology,

helps create a much broader market for magazines

that increasingly could include colour pictures

and the kinds of things that would make you really kind of crave

the images of gardens that you saw there.

People get very interested in what the latest, you know, bulbs are.

The Crimson Rambler rose, for example,

that's depicted in an impressionist painting by Philip Leslie Hale

is one of the sort of celebrity varieties

that is promoted in some of those gardening magazines.

So that kind of periodical literature

really affected what people put in their gardens.

I think it's fair to say

that the gardens that you would have seen in America in the 1880s or 1890s

wouldn't have existed 30 or 40 years before.

I think artists would have been thrilled

by the kind of colour combinations that they saw in gardens.

But landscape is a subject in art

that has interested practitioners for centuries.

But really the subjects that were addressed through landscape,

especially in American art, were wilderness subjects,

things that emphasised nature in remote areas.

Sometimes you might have a more pastoral adaptation

where you saw a farm,

but there would have been a lot of green in those.

It wouldn't have been about the sort of chromatic contrast

that you saw in a garden,

and it's only with impressionism,

with this new idea that you could make a painting

about a subject right in front of you,

not something with special historical or mythological or symbolic import,

that you could turn your attention to the beauty right in front of you.

There is nothing new under the sun.

It remains but to have knowledge and execution

to treat the ordinary in the highest and simplest way.

J Alden Weir.

I feel more and more contented with the isolation of country life.

To be isolated is a fine thing and we are all nearer to nature.

I can see how necessary it is to live always in the country,

at all seasons of the year.

John Henry Twachtman.

I think American artists were always asking

what was American about their land

and what kind of art could they produce that would be different from Europe.

In the early 19th century, we had the Hudson River School painters,

led by Thomas Cole and also his student Frederic Church.

They were really looking for landscapes that were unique to America.

So they were often studying in Europe,

but then asking themselves what was American about American art.

So you see them painting scenes of the Catskills,

of the Hudson River Valley,

where they would find still a lot of nature that was untouched.

And they were looking to these landscapes as sources of respite.

They were finding that this untouched wilderness in nature

could provide a lot of peace.

With the completion of the transcontinental railroad,

the nailing of the Golden Spike at Promontory,

San Francisco is connected to New York and the frontier is closed.

There is no frontier any more.

So this idea of the boundless, undiscovered Eden

is not something that Americans are really identifying with any more.

And then we're really at a time when the cities are so industrialised,

artists' colonies as well as garden communities are being developed.

Artists sought the company of like-minded individuals

in locations conducive to painting.

For some it was the memory of Giverny

and the colony that lived and worked in the hotel there.

Certainly for all it was a desire to get back to nature.

Living and breathing something they felt so passionately about

with others who felt exactly the same way.

Thus, at the heart of American impressionism,

were a number of artists' colonies,

notably Old Lyme, Cornish, Appledore, and Weir's Farm.

The American art colonies were definitely started by artists

who spent most of their life in cities doing commissions,

like the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens

who had a workshop in downtown Manhattan.

But remember this was in pre-air-conditioning days

and New York was a sweltering horror in the summer.

So they all were looking for places to go to

and he discovered Cornish, New Hampshire,

and invited all of his friends to come up there and join him.

They went there every summer to escape the heat of the city,

to be with their friends, to relax, to create art,

but I think for many of these artists

gardening was an extension of their artistic practice.

They saw gardening as an art

and they saw what they were doing as painting without brushes.

That's what Anna Lea Merritt called it.

To create a composition through living colour was a challenge for them

and so I think that was an integral part of their interest in colonies.

The art colonies where the impressionists gathered together

were very important because they were a gathering place.

Artists tended to do this, of course, even earlier.

Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote about artists, American artists,

in Rome in the mid-century,

and he talked about them as keeping each other warm,

and there is something to that.

And particularly the colonies of the impressionists,

because they could go out together and paint together.

One of the most significant of the art colonies

was that hosted by Florence Griswold.

On the Atlantic coast, halfway between Boston and New York,

this boarding house became a home of American impressionist art.

The colony starts here in Old Lyme for a couple of different reasons.

One of them is Florence Griswold who is an extraordinary figure

who created an important salon

for American artists and cultural figures here in rural Connecticut.

Florence was the daughter of a packet ship captain

who travelled back and forth between New York and London

and who retired from the sea in the 1850s.

And so even though she grew up in this town on the Connecticut coast,

her father's profession brought her a perspective on a wider world.

Unfortunately after he retired from the sea

the family fell on somewhat hard times.

She and her mother ran a school in their house for girls

and accepted boarders starting in the late 1870s

and they closed it in the early 1890s

when changes in women's education

made somewhat obsolete the model that they followed here

where women received ornamental training

in needlework and arts like that

and less of a college preparatory education,

which increasingly was what people desired

for the young women in their families.

Florence continued the practice

of welcoming in boarders who weren't students,

and, in that context, she met the mother and the sister

of an artist named Clark Voorhees,

who took back with him to New York what he knew of Old Lyme.

And when he met the artist Henry Ward Ranger

they discussed finding places in the country

where one could find paintable subjects

but also the hospitality that you would need for a nice stay.

Ranger came to Old Lyme in 1899.

He enjoyed his experience here so much,

both personally with Florence Griswold, her bountiful table,

the society of the people who were here,

but also the kinds of sites that he found around town.

He would describe the landscape around here as reminding him of Barbizon.

He loved the oak trees growing in this area

and so he sets out intentionally to create an art colony in this town

and the next year in 1900 with Florence Griswold's permission

he brings back with him a group of artist friends

and the Lyme art colony begins.

Many American impressionist painters were a product of the middle class.

The group that congregated in Old Lyme

were artists who were not at the beginning of their careers.

They were established, stable, married for the most part

and had reputations and were sort of building off and developing them.

Florence really helped American impressionism flourish

by the way that she nurtured this group of artists.

Turning her house over to them, turning her garden over to them

and by living in a place that was an embodiment of the kinds of subjects

that American impressionists were just so eager for.

Artists came here for a variety of reasons

and one of those reasons was the community

provided by the boarding house at Florence Griswold's.

The artists could choose rooms, and often married couples

would take the larger studios and bedrooms downstairs.

Bachelors and sometimes bachelorettes would stay upstairs in smaller rooms.

Meals were held in the dining room

but when it got very hot they would also eat outside on the side porch

and those artists called themselves the "Hot Air Club",

not only because of the heat that would proliferate in the dining room

but also because of the kind of subjects

that they could have casually on the dining room porch.

I think that the conversations that artists had in Old Lyme on the porch

were wide-ranging.

They might have discussed technique

and had disagreements over that, and we know that they did,

but I think they also talked about all aspects

of American culture and politics.

There's a lot of discussion about

what is American culture, what are American values.

Questions that are raised as you have people arriving in larger numbers

from other parts of the world.

And there was a feeling that they had to really assert an American identity

against the kind of plurality that is brought in by immigration,

and what they promote as a kind of American identity

is this New England identity, a kind of Anglo-American identity.

Some artists were really known

for not being shy about discussing their views on immigration

and other sort of hot-button topics

and I'm sure those kinds of things came up in the social setting.

There was a serious atmosphere.

They were serious artists but they were also very jovial.

Childe Hassam, who first arrived in Old Lyme in 1903,

liked to say that it was just the place for high thinking and low living.

They did do a lot of joking around and they would lounge on the porch.

They would play games in the parlour, play dominoes, cards.

There was also a popular game called the Wiggle Game.

One artist would start a drawing or a caricature

and then pass it to the next person

and the goal would be to create a caricature

by the time it reached the end of the table.

So it was a quite jovial, you know, humorous place

full of a lot of camaraderie.

The artists would eat breakfast together in the morning

and maybe discuss their plans for the day

and then go out, throughout, walk around Florence Griswold's property,

to find different sketching spots.

They might bring their portable easels, sketchbooks, paints.

By this time, paint was available in collapsible tubes

which made it quite easy for them to paint en plein air, outside.

And this was very conducive to the impressionist style.

So they would paint in a kind of broken brushwork,

they'd be interested in capturing immediate impressions

of the light changing on the landscape.

Some are very impressionistic, like the way we think of impressionism.

We think of Monet, we think of the light hand,

the brushstrokes, the abandon.

Some of the artists do not have that abandon.

They are more tight in their painting, more academic.

But they are painting out of doors,

they are interested in the garden

and what it can teach them formally about their artistic practice.

I think Florence Griswold's garden was a key part

of why the colony flourished here for a couple of reasons.

One of which was the sort of aesthetic composition that it represented.

It had the kind of look that just screams the New England landscape

of the early 19th century,

which is what these American impressionists were looking for.

It was also a place that gave her the space to accommodate these artists.

She allowed them to build ramshackle studios

out in the gardens and the grounds

and there are descriptions

of how part of what was so delightful about being here

was wandering through this kind of maze of vegetation

before you found yourself at your little studio.

You could go right outside the door and paint the subjects that you saw.

Childe Hassam came here a number of times over a number of years

and loved painting the apple blossoms

that grew outside the door of his studio in Old Lyme.

Most artists, part of the reason they painted

was because they were doing something for which there was a market.

Those who were buying pictures, collecting pictures,

both middle class and upper class,

didn't want the commercial environment of the city on their walls.

And if they couldn't live in nature itself,

they could at least have paintings of it

and garden pictures even more so,

because they would be even more colourful than pure landscapes.

Don't hesitate to exaggerate colour and light.

Don't worry about telling lies.

The most tiresome people, and pictures,

are the stupidly truthful ones.

William Merritt Chase.

The man who goes down in posterity

is the man who paints his own time

and the scenes of everyday life around him.

Childe Hassam.

This is Kalmia by Willard Metcalf.

It's a painting that was done in 1905

and the name of the painting comes from the Latin term for mountain laurel,

Kalmia latifolia.

It's an important painting, because it represents Willard Metcalf's transition

from an earlier style of art that he picked up in France.

He went to Giverny and was actually friendly with Claude Monet,

and he spent several years there off and on in the 1880s

before returning to America in 1888.

And it takes a long time for Metcalf to make the transition

from a kind of softly applied paint,

the sort of richly toned colour palette that he used in France,

and to really kind of assimilate

the example of Monet's version of impressionism.

In fact, it takes Metcalf almost 20 years to do that.

So he was feeling a kind of crisis in his career by the early 1900s.

He talked about how he was suffering nervous anxiety in the city

and needed to go to the country to paint

and he ends up at the art colony in Old Lyme

which is where he painted this picture, right on the Lieutenant River,

behind the boarding house where he stayed.

This was a crucial moment for Metcalf.

It's a period he referred to as his renaissance,

when he throws off what was impeding him and holding him back

and embraces impressionism.

And in this picture that transition is made quite apparent

in the way that the background and the foreground relate to one another.

The background is painted in soft greens and blues and purple tones

which is very reminiscent of works that Metcalf did in France

with these very softly blended and applied colours

and there's a bit of a tension or a contrast in this work

with the bushes of kalmia

that are growing along the banks of the river here.

This is where you see the impressionist coming out of Willard Metcalf,

exploding forth in a kind of impasto that he uses,

laying paint on thick in unmodified dabs to create this burst of flowers.

It's significant that he chose kalmia

as the means for making this transition,

because it was a flower that had a lot of significance

in early 20th-century American culture.

It was a native species.

Old Lyme was an area known for having bounteous groves of mountain laurel

that bloomed each year in late June

and it's a flower that was really embraced by the American impressionists

and embraced in American culture,

because it was seen as embodying American traits,

that it was native to the soil, it was hearty,

its wood was very hard, it was evergreen

and it was spoken of as really kind of exemplifying traits

that Americans applied to themselves.

It's analogised to being as enduring as liberty itself

in some of the periodicals of the time.

The patriotic spirit with which the plant was viewed,

associating it with liberty

and kind of claiming this identity is cemented in 1907,

a couple of years after this picture is painted,

when the flower is named Connecticut's state flower

after a group of women who were part of the garden movement

mobilised thousands of votes in favour of kalmia as that flower.

This period of the garden movement of American impressionism

is completely embedded in what is known as the Progressive Era

in the United States.

The Progressive Era is an era of politics

that goes from the mid-1880s right up until 1920

when American women are finally granted the right to vote.

And it's no accident that this development of garden movement culture

and women's empowerment is happening at the exact same time,

because the garden movement is part of a larger coterie

of Progressive Era developments.

For example, Celia Thaxter,

who is the great poet of the garden in this period,

who grew her own garden at Appledore,

who hosted the artist Childe Hassam there in the summers.

She created a unique partnership

between her gardening practice and her political activity.

She was one of the founders of the Audubon movement.

The Audubon movement was founded during this time period

to protect native species of birds.

So Celia Thaxter, for example,

in the famous painting of her by Hassam, is standing in her garden hatless.

Why ever would a gardener stand in the mid sun without a hat on?

Well, that's not what any gardener I know would do.

The reason she's doing it

is she's doing it as a conscious political act of protest.

At the time, the millinery industry was using fauna.

They were actually using feathers from birds

to construct these elaborate, amazing, late 19th-century hats.

But women like Celia Thaxter who were involved in the Audubon movement said,

"We're losing our native species of birds. We need to protest that."

And having herself photographed and painted hatless

was one of her ways of protesting that.

Now, women gardeners were also very involved

in being proponents of native species, of founding local garden clubs.

It was also a time of emerging professionalisation for women,

so American artists become professional visual artists

but there's also the development of landscape architecture.

And in this period in particular it becomes a moment of opportunity

for American women to become professional landscape architects.

Opportunities for women had been limited.

For example, no woman could seek publicly funded commissions.

But gardening opened up possibilities

and New Yorker Beatrix Farrand was the first woman in the United States

to call herself a landscape gardener.

She did manage to secure herself public commissions,

including one of the White House gardens,

and private commissions like this

at Bellefield along the Hudson River Valley.

Well, Beatrix Farrand was unusual

in that she wasn't necessarily the first female landscape architect,

but she was the first successful one.

She trained privately with Charles Sprague Sargent

who was the famous director of the Arnold Arboretum,

so she knew horticulture like the back of her hand.

And she also, because she grew up in good social circumstances,

was able to travel to Europe for six months

and study all the great gardens in France and England and Germany.

Her garden notebook is very revealing

because right from the start, as an 18-year-old woman,

she had an incredible critical eye

and she could walk into a garden and notice right away

that the maintenance was not up to snuff

and that certain things needed to be done.

She was ruthless, really, in her criticism.

So that's how she trained herself to be really a classical garden designer.

Celia Thaxter plays an equally important part in this story.

Here, on a small island called Appledore, off the New Hampshire coast,

she created an art colony of major significance.

Celia Thaxter is really well known in the United States.

At the time, in the 1800s, she was quite famous.

And her poetry was the primary, first vehicle for her fame,

and then later this artist colony that she built up around her.

The Boston Brahmin, as they're called, the wealthy class,

was growing at this period.

This is a new phenomenon in the United States

and they have time and space in their lives because of their wealth

to enjoy and explore the arts.

The transcendental movement is also beginning now,

so there's a real connection between religion and nature

and the glorification and the restorative nature

of being in the wilderness.

And this is the industrial revolution in the United States

and so the appeal of Appledore Island

was a relief from the dirt and grime of the city.

And also at the time the doctors were saying,

"Go to the ocean and the ocean air will restore you."

The artists who came to Appledore Island

really start with Celia's relationship

to the Boston scene which she marries into.

So her father's business partner,

who helped fund the building of this grand hotel, the Appledore House,

was Levi Thaxter.

He was from a wealthy family

and he introduces Celia to the Boston Brahmin scene.

And she actually meets Hassam in Boston before he ever comes to Appledore.

And this is where she meets most of the artists of the day

who then she invites to Appledore.

The inspiration for her garden is she wants to remember a simpler time.

It doesn't have a purpose. It's just purely aesthetic.

It really reflects how the gardener feels about nature

because it's both contained in the box, in a raised garden bed,

and then it's also wild within that.

She loved when the flowers spilt out of the garden.

And I can imagine the artists really appreciating that

because it led to the beautiful Hassam paintings of Babb's Rock

with the poppies in the front.

Let him but touch a flower,

and lo, its soul is his,

its splendours delicately bright

upon the happy page he lays,

its whole sweet history,

there to live for time's delight.

Celia Thaxter.

Childe Hassam came for over three decades.

He clearly fell in love with the place.

They had a very close relationship, Celia Thaxter and Hassam.

He would stay at her house in some summers.

And he would stay for often the entire summer

but sometimes just a few weeks here and there.

He was clearly so prolific in his work.

There's over 300 paintings painted of just Appledore alone.

It's clearly an inspirational landscape to him.

Art to me is the interpretation of the impression

which nature makes upon the eye and brain.

Childe Hassam.

His relationship to the island

is very deeply connected to his relationship with Celia.

So when Celia was alive,

the first few years of his relationship with the island,

he painted mostly her garden and around her house and around the hotel.

Then after Celia passed away he still kept coming back to the island

and he moved out to the rocky shore,

away from her house to the further reaches of the island.

We must have snow and lots of it.

Never is nature more lovely than when it is snowing.

Everything is so quiet

and the whole earth seems wrapped in a mantle...

All nature is hushed to silence.

John Henry Twachtman.

What this painting and others in this gallery really show

is that the impressionist inspiration from nature didn't cease in the winter.

They found new inspiration

in the changing landscape provided by the snow.

Winter was really a time for respite, for rest.

They found inspiration in this season where the land was iced over,

where the earth could regenerate itself.

It was a time of renewal

and they enjoyed exploring these atmospheric effects,

the effects of light and colour they could find reflected in the snow,

and could experiment with different-coloured shadows.

This scene, which is by John Henry Twachtman,

was painted on his 17-acre farm near Greenwich, Connecticut.

The scene is called Snow

and we can see that he's really employing a kind of tonalist effect.

Although it's an impressionist picture

Twachtman was really drawing on his influence

from French Barbizon painters.

You can also see the influence of James McNeill Whistler in this work.

So he's exploring the effects of snow blowing in the atmosphere,

exploring the effects of colour on the white land.

You can see that the trees are not brown here but actually purple

and that's an effect of the shadows catching the light.

He's exploring a limited palette,

so when you look closely there's not just one white or one shade of colour.

There are different greens, different purples.

He's exploring the shadows.

One can barely see the house that he's painting.

I think the study of light and subject matter

were both important for the impressionists

but it's a combination of what light looks like

falling on a certain subject at a certain time of day

or during a certain season.

Twachtman was part of the group of Ten American Painters

which formed in 1897

when they seceded from the Society of American Artists.

They wanted to create their own club

so that they could exhibit independently

and this group was very important to the history of American impressionism,

especially because the number of members

had very long and important careers.

So there's not only Twachtman,

there's also J Alden Weir,

Childe Hassam, Willard Metcalf, both of whom spent time in Old Lyme.

They really wanted to paint for art's sake.

They wanted to create art

that didn't have to have a kind of narrative or moral quality,

but to represent everyday scenes that they encountered

and to have authentic reactions to their environment.

Of the Group of Ten,

Childe Hassam is now considered the foremost American impressionist.

His work hangs in Washington's National Gallery

alongside that of Monet, Degas and Renoir.

Hassam stayed for weeks in different colonies,

not only Old Lyme and Appledore

but also the Connecticut farmhouse of fellow painter J Alden Weir.

Having previously studied in Paris,

Weir drew inspiration from nature and the landscape around his farm,

where he lived with his family for 36 years.

Weirplayed host

to artists such as John Henry Twachtman, John Singer Sargent

and another eminent painter, William Merritt Chase,

notable, in a group entirely male, for his portraits of women.

William Merritt Chase has incredible relationships

with the women in his life

and they're very frequently the subject matter of his work.

And his own wife being foremost among those, of course.

But you do see even his former students,

many of whom were women, the majority were women,

and he strongly supported them

in their endeavours to pursue a profession in art,

at a time when to be a woman artist was still not easy.

So you see very strong depictions of women.

If, for example, you think of Lydia Field Emmet's portrait,

it's quite a powerful image of this woman, very proudly standing,

full-length portrait with her hand on her hip.

Then you have the garden scenes

where William Merritt Chase has shown

a very beautiful relationship of women in the landscape.

They're very closely immersed with nature.

They feel very much harmoniously integrated into the scenes.

On the one hand, it almost makes me think about this idea

nature and women.

But I would actually say that I think that William Merritt Chase

is almost a feminist of his day, honestly.

I think that women were really strong subjects for him.

There are several examples in this exhibition

which show the changing role of women.

Women had long been held as objects of the gaze

and this was still a popular subject for painters during this time

but this exhibition shows that women were also becoming actors.

They were associated with flowers

but they could also be actors as gardeners, as writers and as designers.

In the actual physical exhibition when it happened at Philadelphia,

I had a section called The Lady in the Garden.

The Lady in the Garden was sort of a double-edged title

because it was really about these very idealised women as flowers.

And then there's this whole group of images of women on the periphery.

There's a Hassam with a woman silhouetted against her garden

with a fishbowl.

So she's standing there,

she's in this very decorative space with the garden behind her

and looking at the fish swimming in their bowl.

I can't help but think that that's an image

of what women are going through at this time period.

They are trying to emerge out of the house.

We're out of the Victorian era.

There are women who are suffragettes, fighting for their right to vote,

they're becoming professional artists, professional landscape gardeners,

but they do not yet have equality or any real political power.

They're trying to get it.

There are also a lot of images of women reading on this peripheral space.

I think that's important too. The literacy, the empowerment.

It makes you think of all the women writers.

The publishing business is growing by leaps and bounds.

Ladies' Home Journal is the number one publication in America.

It's published in Philadelphia.

House & Garden is started in Philadelphia in 1901

and a lot of the people who are writing for these periodicals are women.

A lot of people who are reading them are women.

So these trends in painting were really reflecting

a lot of social reforms that were happening.

But people had differing reactions to this

and you can see that in some of these paintings.

In many of the paintings you can see women in liminal spaces,

where they're kind of betwixt and between, as they were in life.

They're often in domestic settings or looking outside

and one example of that

would be Childe Hassam's painting Summer Evening from 1886.

You can see he's painted his wife, Maude, by a window

and, although she's inside, she's gazing outside

and he's juxtaposing her with this potted geranium.

So he's emphasising the fact that women were very much interior figures,

figures associated with the home.

But he's also showing a kind of opportunity

by placing her by this window.

Windows in art were always symbolic.

They represent some kind of opportunity,

they're aspirational

and they could be interpreted in various ways.

So by showing this figure gazing outside the window

he's really letting the viewer explore

that she may have some kind of mental faculty,

that these larger societal changes

were coming into something that he wanted to show through his painting.

But still she has her hand on the pot of geraniums,

a kind of domesticated flower,

so it's a painting that would appeal

to both conservative and progressive audiences.

But not all artists were feminists.

A lot of these paintings are not just pretty pictures

or pictures of pretty flowers,

but the artist makes very concerted efforts

to communicate a certain message.

This painting is by Philip Leslie Hale.

It's called The Crimson Rambler and was painted around 1908.

Hale came from a prominent Boston family.

He studied in Boston and also in Paris for five years

and spent summers in Giverny.

In 1902 Hale married fellow artist Lilian Westcott

and they settled outside Boston in a suburb called Dedham,

where he began specialising

in paintings of women in floral environments, like this one.

So we're at a particular point in American art history

where the role of women, as well as the representation of women,

is changing quite drastically.

There are many examples in this gallery where we can see women as actors

but also as objects of the male gaze.

And Philip Leslie Hale painted many paintings

where we can see him equating women as decorative objects and as flowers.

The women's suffrage movement had been under way since the mid-19th century

but some people feel that Hale's specialisation

in painting women in domestic interiors and in floral environments

can be interpreted as a pictorial manifestation

of his opposition to female suffrage.

Here Hale's depicting a very specific variety of rose.

It's a Crimson Rambler which was imported from Japan via Great Britain

for the first time in 1894

and became very popular,

published in gardening magazines and literature at the time.

And Hale is really idealising this plant by aggrandising it.

He gives it a kind of anthropomorphic quality.

He enlarges it to a point where it's almost dwarfing his female sitter.

It's mirroring her pose and takes on its own kind of human quality.

He's also using very specific compositional techniques

to communicate a certain message and to lead our eye around this picture.

So we can see his different uses of red and pinks

that help to move our eye around the picture.

So our eye moves from the red rosebush to the redness of the woman's sash

to the red flowers in her hat

and then down to the pink and red tonality of her lips

to her smiling face

and then back to the rose again.

So there's this kind of circling around the picture that is not accidental.

It's very well thought out.

Still there's a kind of ambiguity to the picture as well.

The woman sits on this porch of her home.

She's a domestic figure

but she's in this position at once inside and outside.

She's also looking to the wider world.

This might look like a pretty picture on the surface

but actually the longer you look the more you notice.

I have not acquired the latest impressionist style

which so ably represents things as seen from a motor car at full speed.

I have been obliged to sit out for many hours daily

in freezing wind and later in burning sun

looking long and carefully at flower and leaf.

Anna Lea Merritt.

There is a large group of women artists working in the garden in this period.

One in particular, Maria Oakey Dewing, was a remarkable garden painter.

She was married to Thomas Wilmer Dewing.

They both lived in the artist colony up in Cornish, New Hampshire.

Her husband paints women as these diaphanous flowers in the garden,

a sort of wonderful, mystical, blue-green palette.

What Maria Oakey Dewing does is she was the gardener.

So she was very dedicated to her garden

and she said that to become a painter of flowers

one must bind oneself in apprenticeship to the garden.

So she was in there for years, working in the garden,

and what is unique about her paintings is she's actually down on the ground.

You can see them all as if you're lying down

and there's no horizon line, there's no sky, it's just the flowers.

And one of the contemporary critics of the time, Royal Cortissoz,

said that what she did was paint portraits of flowers.

And, in fact, they're not still lifes.

They're growing flowers and they're some of the most remarkable paintings.

So these women artists were there.

They are remarkable

but they are less well known than their male counterparts.

I think this period of American impressionism

tells us that women were growing like their fellow workers in other fields

into a professional capacity.

But, of course, it's still an environment

in which they face a lot of prejudice about their art,

including what kinds of subjects are considered acceptable.

And so they make important advances

but they are still ghettoised in terms of their works.

This painting is called The Hovel and the Skyscraper.

It was painted in 1904 by Childe Hassam

and although it is an urban scene

it's included in this exhibition in a section entitled The Urban Garden.

While the word "garden" in the title of the exhibition

makes us think about gardens of private homes,

it's impossible to think about

the role of gardens and American art in this time period

without thinking about public parks.

There were people who certainly had access to private spaces

where they could create their own gardens

but that wasn't common among people who lived in the cities,

even among those who were middle class and upper middle class.

The density of cities like New York,

which were undergoing a lot of architectural expansion

to match the growing population at this time,

meant that buildings were being built up and people lived in apartments.

There is a need that's recognised in the second quarter of the 19th century

for a big park as a kind of service to the people of New York

and after much discussion in the 1850s

two landscape architects, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux,

develop a plan for Central Park

which would take a large swath of property

and set it aside for public use

but contour it in ways that would bring into the city

the feeling of wild nature.

New Yorkers of all classes got access to the outdoors

but it was also a very contested space.

Who would be able to use the park? When should it be open?

Should it only be for the genteel classes or should it be for everybody?

Hassam lived in a building that combined living and workspace

on West 67th Street in New York

and this view is painted from his apartment.

He's looking east, toward the park.

The street that you see in the middle ground of the painting

is Central Park West

and you can see a sort of pink sky off in the east.

The title of the painting, The Hovel and the Skyscraper,

expresses the sort of conflict about the relationship of cities and nature,

a conflict that Hassam experienced really directly

because he was going to suffer from the construction of this new building.

What we're seeing is the perspective from his very own window.

It's sort of composed in a series of frames with the building around here

and what we're looking at is a new building

that's going to block out his view of the park.

Some people have argued that the hovel that's being alluded to here

is the building that you see in the park which was the sheepfold,

a building that was actually built to house a flock of sheep

that was grazed on the sheep meadow in Central Park.

But I also question whether Hassam is jokingly referring to the hovel here

as his own apartment.

He's the person who's going to be in his little shack,

overshadowed by this new brick wall of a skyscraper

that will close off his view and his enjoyment of nature.

This is an impressionist artwork in a couple of different ways.

One of them is the real kind of informality

of the way that this view is framed.

It's very unceremonious,

the way that you can see these buildings under construction

but then they're just cut off at the edge,

which is a kind of classic characteristic of impressionism.

Another aspect of this painting that helps it conform with impressionism

is the brushwork that Hassam deploys.

He is applying paint directly from the tube,

it sits right at the surface of the painting,

and he also is using different kinds of brushwork,

really drawing our attention to the way that each application of paint

can really register so much the nature of the space that's being depicted.

So for the architectural environment of the building behind him

he's using short, choppy, horizontal, brick-like strokes,

and then for the soft environment of nature and bare trees

he's using much longer, more softly blended strokes of paint

to bring out and amplify the character of the park

versus the character of the urban environment at its edge.

In part I think it is the subject matter that is being depicted,

we are looking at a moment of transformation

in American society, modernisation.

So when you think about what kind of subject matter they're depicting,

it's a much more contemporary view of what life is like,

whether it's in the urban parks and gardens,

whether it's the new life of leisure of the rising middle class.

They're embracing their own culture and time

in a way that was very different than the past had.

This is not just about the grandiose landscapes

but it's really about the interaction of people

within those landscapes and settings,

so that it marks a different turning point

in really capturing this more modern moment in our culture.

The American impressionist movement

reveals to us about America at that time

that there was, I think, a real optimism,

a sort of faith in the present, that Americans felt about their society.

industrialisation, urbanisation, fight for women's rights,

and, as much turmoil and upheaval as those kinds of changes cause,

there is still, I think, a kind of optimism

about America and its potential.

American impressionists are showing the vitality of cities,

they're showing the beauty of parks and personal gardens,

and that's not to say that they're doing that

and ignoring the strife and tumult of the world that they live in,

but that their very selection of those subjects,

the sort of touch-points of contemporary culture,

are still ones that they can view in a positive light.

So you may be seeking respite from the pressures of urban life in your garden

but that doesn't mean that you can't celebrate it.

I think that in times that are tough these gardens were oases.

The idea that we need this space in which to reflect,

in which to find beauty again and find meaning.

In this moment where I think people are seeking beauty and seeking retreat

and seeking a more peaceful environment,

in a way carving it out, even within the hustle and bustle

of these increasingly growing industrialised metropolises

like New York, for example.

From looking at these paintings,

the viewer can really see a window

into an America that has become an industrialised nation

but is developing a love of the suburbs and a sort of retreat.

These artists really were thinking about

the issues of urbanisation, of immigration.

This was really in the backdrop, in the minds of everyone.

The appearance of gardens in American impressionism

is something that goes beyond their aesthetic appeal

or how we'll react to them as natural spaces.

When you look at a landscape that shows a kind of grandmother's garden,

an old-fashioned garden,

that it's not just about the flowers

but the way that these flowers promote a certain vision of American culture,

that they address topics like immigration.

And I do think that's something

that we don't and really can't look at in the same light today,

that we have much more of a sense of outrage

about the idea of not accommodating and assimilating and embracing immigration.

It feels a little bit uncomfortable to talk about these artists' dislike

of the ways that their world was changing.

I think those are issues that governed life during this time period

and the garden was meant to be a space

where the individual could resolve some of those tensions for themselves.

The garden landscape

is a tool for managing contemporary life and remaining part of it.

For four decades, these artists,

not only in the north-eastern United States but across the country,

reflected their time and their society in their art.

But the 20th century brought new challenges, new developments,

and new artistic responses.

poverty, exploitation, oppression.

Others decided art itself needed a revolution

and something much more contemporary in approach than impressionism.

By the 1920s, American impressionism was wilting.

But to understand the history of American art,

to understand the history of America,

one should indeed look to these artists when they were in full bloom.