In N.Y., American Gardens on Canvas

People / Places / April 6, 2016

How could pairing American Impressionist paintings with plantings from a premier botanical garden possibly be improved upon?

For starters, a corresponding poetry tour.

That’s the way professionals at the New York Botanical Gardens (NYBG) are thinking as they continue to explore relationships between flowers and gardens, art and culture.

In May, they’ll be bringing in paintings by William Merritt Chase, Childe Hassam and John Singer Sargent, among others, for display in the LuEsther T. Mertz Library’s Art Gallery. A total of 23 sculptures and paintings were selected for the garden-themed exhibition by Linda S. Ferber, Senior Art Historian and Museum Director Emerita of The New York Historical Society.

“The paintings feel like they’re revealing a moment in history, but also gardens in history,” says Todd Forrest, NYBG’s vice president for horticulture and living collections. “They’re the perfect subject matter for Impressionists capturing light – or domestic or familiar themes about the comfortable, human side of beauty.”

In tandem, inside the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, visitors can peruse an American Impressionist garden inspired by the artists’ subject matter. The horticultural exhibition is designed by Francisca Coelho, NYBG’s vice president for glasshouses and exhibitions. She’s re-imagined previous gardens for NYBG exhibitions, including Emily Dickinson’s Victorian garden in Amherst, Mass., Claude Monet’s flower and water gardens in Giverny, France, and Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul garden in Coyoacán, Mexico.

“We have the resources to bring art to life, with a climate-controlled gallery space, and the in-house expertise to bring the plants to the exhibition and force them to flower,” he says.

But the finishing touch will be presented through words, not visuals. The poems of  Hassam’s muse,19th-century poet Celia Thaxter, and her contemporaries Robert Frost and Amy Lowell, will be displayed adjacent to the conservatory, co-presented with the Poetry Society of America.

So what more could an art, flower and literature lover of the Impressionist period want, you may ask?

Cue the Eric Satie piano, please.

For more on American Gardens on Canvas, go here.

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Michael Welton
I write about architecture, art, and design for national and international publications. I am the author of "Drawing from Practice: Architects and the Meaning of Freehand" (Routledge, 2015), and the former architecture critic for the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C.




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