The Artist's Garden: American Impressionism and the Garden Movement, 1887-1920

June 3 - September 18, 2016 


Main introduction text panel


The two arts of painting and garden design are closely related, except that the landscape gardener paints with actual color, line, and perspective to make a composition . . . while the painter has but a flat surface on which to create his illusion.

- Beatrix Jones Farrand, landscape architect, 1907

At the turn of the 20th century, the canvases of American artists burst to life with the colors and textures of the gardens they saw around them. This new trend in art began in the 1880s as the principles of Impressionism spread beyond France. Firsthand exposure to the works of Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir inspired artists around the world to experiment with new techniques like painting outdoors and using a palette filled with bright, unmixed colors. After traveling in Europe, a generation of American artists pushed landscape painting in new directions by focusing on intimate views of parks and private gardens.

The American Impressionists' attraction to flowers and gardens can be understood as an extension of the Garden Movement. This trend in literature and social theory played an important role in American culture in the period between 1887 and 1920, an era of intense political and social change. The movement grew amid an upsurge of nationalism and patriotic optimism, while also responding to anxieties about mass immigration, women's suffrage, and urbanization. The Garden Movement proposed that the creation of public parks and the hobby of gardening could provide beauty and balance within this fast-changing world. This national movement had special resonance in Connecticut, where particular women played important roles in both the garden and Progressive political realms.

This new horticultural impulse appealed to many American artists, some of who became avid gardeners and expressed their creativity both in their studios and in their yards. Their canvases and the spaces they cultivated conjure up the artist's garden as a rejuvenating retreat and source of artistic inspiration. Art colonies like the one located at Florence Griswold's boardinghouse in Old Lyme are representative of these impulses. The American Impressionist paintings in this exhibition, along with the sculptures, stained glass, and archival materials demonstrate the profound impact of the Garden Movement. Explore these galleries, and the Museum's grounds, to discover the central role played by artists and their gardens in turn-of-the-century American culture.


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