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

June 3 - September 18, 2016 



 

The Lady in the Garden

The tension between depictions of women in gardens and their growing role in creating those gardens themselves is a fundamental characteristic of the Garden Movement. Women appear in this gallery as shapers of the land and as sources of creative inspiration. Artists at the end of the nineteenth century contributed to idealized notions of femininity by portraying women as beautiful objects within floral environments. These paintings emphasize the domestic garden as a natural space for expressing and containing feminine gentility.

At the same time, the presence of actual women -- as artists, writers, hardworking laborers, or celebrity gardeners -- reflected the Progressive Era's changing politics. The burgeoning middle-class Garden Movement was led by women writers and landscape architects who presented themselves as cultural personalities. By blending art, poetry, and gardening in their careers, women like Celia Leighton Thaxter, Anna Lea Merritt, and Beatrix Jones Farrand were at the vanguard of professionalizing women's work. They used their public platform to engage social issues like environmental conservation and immigration through the metaphor and example of the garden. Professional artists such as Cecilia Beaux, Violet Oakley, and Jane Peterson participated in these changes by coupling their interest in modern art with a love of the garden.

 

26. Jane Peterson (1876-1965)
Spring Bouquet, ca. 1912
Oil on canvas, 40 1/16 x 30 in.
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Gift of Martin Horwitz, 1976.22
 
In Garden Magazine, Jane Peterson explained that she enjoyed painting flowers because they are "all that is delicate; all that is lurid, brilliant, bizarre." She wrote of their structure and decorative potential, saying, "As a designer, I have conventionalized them and used them for patterns." In Spring Bouquet she combines her attraction to flowers with her interest in modern painting. The steeply tilted perspective and sense of patterning in the composition are variations on the stylistic principles of Post-Impressionism.
 
Peterson's sense of fashion was equally cutting edge, as seen in this figure's up-to-date gown and headdress. Reaching out to touch the blossoms around her, this young woman suggests the tactile quality of gardens. The gesture also may have been a sign of rebellion for Peterson?she wrote that her mother always forbade her to touch the flowers in her family garden as a child.
 
 
27. Charles C. Curran (1861-1942)
A Breezy Day, 1887
Oil on canvas, 11 15/16 x 20 in.
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Henry D. Gilpin Fund, 1899.1
 
White linens, flapping in the breeze as they are placed on the grass to dry in the sun, look as inviting as the fluffy clouds above, but they are the result of long hours of scrubbing, hot steam, and physical effort. More tasks lay ahead in the form of ironing and folding. Curran shows the laundry women at work, but by bringing them outdoors into the air, he imparts a fresh wholesomeness to their labors. The country setting allows the artist to present a sentimental take on women in nature.
 
 
28. J. Alden Weir (1852-1919)
The Laundry, Branchville, ca. 1894
Oil on canvas, 30 1/8 x 25 1/4 in.
Weir Farm Art Center, Gift of Anna Ely Smith and Gregory Smith
 
Laundry scenes present the garden as a useful place -- an extension of the functional rooms of the home. Unlike Charles C. Curran's nearby view of washerwomen, however, J. Alden Weir approaches his subject as an opportunity to create a modern style painting. His high-key palette and elongated composition exaggerate the green lawns and hanging linens around his rural Connecticut home, transforming the broad, empty landscape into an abstract pattern of color and light.
 
Consider this 1901 photograph of another laundry day, this time in New York City. How does this compare with the view of women and laundry in the paintings by Weir and Curran, nearby?
[image on label]
 
 
29. Walter Griffin (1861-1935)
Portrait of Mrs. Brown and her Son, 1907
Oil on canvas, 72 x 37 3/4 inches
Florence Griswold Museum, Gift of Mrs. John R. Johnson
1971.11
 
Luther Connah Brown, a department store owner from Worcester, Massachusetts, commissioned the Hartford artist Walter Griffin to paint this portrait of his son and wife after she died February 1907 from burns caused by an exploding lamp. Although he modeled little Anson Swan Brown, age four, from life, Griffin based his depiction of Virginia Batjer Brown (1872­1907) on photographs.
 
The artist spent the summer of 1907 at Florence Griswold's boardinghouse in Old Lyme, where he completed the portrait. To create the "easy and natural" feeling noted by a reviewer for the Hartford Courant, Griffin filled the background with greenery, perhaps studied from the Griswold property. In this Edenic painted garden detailed with intensive Impressionist brushwork, mother and son, dressed in radiant white, remain together.
 
 
30. Cecilia Beaux (1855-1942)
Ethel Saltus Ludington, 1903
Oil on canvas, 39 1/4 x 29 3/8 inches
Florence Griswold Museum, Gift of The Ludington Family
2006.7
 
After moving to Philadelphia with her husband in 1901, Ethel Saltus Ludington (1871-1922) planted her first garden at their home near Bryn Mawr and quickly became an avid member of several gardening societies in the vicinity. Cecilia Beaux captured Ethel's participation in the elite Philadelphia gardening scene by representing her with a ribbon of green silk falling gently around her neck like creeping vines attached to the pair of camellias adorning Ethel's topknot of black hair. Seated on a Spanish fan chair against a Japanese, Ethel appears as a lively garden specimen herself as she greets the viewer with an intelligent gaze and raises her left arm as if in mid-conversation about her new gardening endeavors.
 
Ethel shared her enthusiasm for gardens with her sister-in-law Katharine Ludington during visits to the Ludington family home on Old Lyme's main street. Like many upper-class women of the time, Ethel and Katharine also shared a commitment to social causes, with Ethel supporting settlement houses that offered relief to poor and working women.
 
 
31. Selection of images of the Clovelly Estate, purchased by the Ludingtons in 1905. Ludington Family Collection
 
In 1895, Ethel Mildred Saltus (1871-1922) married Charles Henry Ludington, Jr. (1866-1927) of New York. A lover of art history and of travel, Ethel spent many summers touring European galleries and gardens with her husband and children. Included on her list of favorite destinations were the Devonshire Coast in England, the town of Garmish in the Bavarian highlands, Brechtesgarten in the Austrian Tyrol, and Les Avants above Montreaux on Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Ethel was also an avid photographer. Upon her return from trips abroad she created numerous photo albums to document her adventures, as well as her favorite cities, galleries, and paintings. This interest in photography was also applied to "Clovelly," the Ludington Estate situated outside of Philadelphia, where Ethel planned a garden to rival those seen in Europe and then photographed her design success.
 
As both a member and president of "The Gardeners" society in Montgomery and Delaware Counties, Ethel was praised for her special ability to make plants grow. One friend commented that, "I shall always think of her surrounded with flowers; she planned the most lovely gardens...." In keeping with the spirit of the Garden Movement, Ethel promoted the love of gardening and flowers through her participation in The Flower Show Association of the Main Line. A pewter vase they awarded to her in 1913 appears in this case alongside the photographs of Clovelly.
 
 
32. Violet Oakley (1874-1961)
June, ca. 1902
Oil, charcoal, and graphite on composition board, 16 3/16 x 17 1/16 in.
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Henry D. Gilpin Fund, 1903.4
 
An illustrator, muralist, writer, and pacifist, Violet Oakley enjoyed a lucrative career as a commercial and decorative artist. She produced June as the cover for a 1902 issue of Everybody's Magazine, a monthly periodical directed to women. Oakley's composition could easily have been inspired by her own garden in Philadelphia, where she and her companions Jessie Willcox Smith and Elizabeth Shippen Green, known as the "Red Rose Girls," gathered and found artistic inspiration. The abstracted form of a red rose beside Oakley's signature in this work signals how this community shaped her personal and professional identity.
 
 
33. Ellen Axson Wilson (1860-1914)
Untitled view of the Griswold House Back Porch, before 1914
Oil on artist's board, 7 x 9 inches
Florence Griswold Museum, Gift of Dorothy Dunn Griswold in memory of her husband George Turnure Griswold
2000.15.1
 
First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson embodied the growing prominence of women in landscape design and social activism during the Progressive-era Garden Movement. A trained painter who brought her artistic sensibility to garden design, she engaged in this creative passion at most of her homes, including the White House where she established the Rose Garden. During visits to Old Lyme to study painting between 1908 and 1911, Ellen shared her enthusiasm with Florence Griswold, to whom she even sent roots for the boardinghouse garden. The artist bestowed this painting of the back porch of the Griswold House on Florence as a token of friendship.
 
In addition to her art and garden design, Ellen established the role of the activist First Lady. She promoted reforms to child labor practices, mental health treatment, and better working conditions for women. Before her death, she also targeted improvement of Washington, D.C.'s squalid ghettos, resulting in the posthumous passage of a federal law in her name.
 
 
34. William Chadwick (1879-1962)
On the Piazza, ca. 1908
Oil on canvas, 24 x 30 inches
Florence Griswold Museum, Gift of Mrs. Elizabeth Chadwick O'Connell
1975.7.1
 
On the Piazza captures the dual role of women during the Garden Movement as shapers of the land and as muses for its depiction in art. Chadwick depicts the vine-shaded side porch of Florence Griswold's boardinghouse, with her renowned old-fashioned garden in the background. The dense beds of heirloom plantings and orchard trees she cultivated created a beguiling setting for the meals served outdoors to boardinghouse guests on the porch.
 
The model is Nan Greacen, whose husband Edmund Greacen made Florence's property the subject of paintings like The Old Garden, hanging in the first gallery. Posed at the damask-covered table, Nan is the image of polite womanhood, with her flowered dress and blossom-bedecked hat linking her to the floral environment. Chadwick, and other male members of the Lyme Art Colony, preferred this vision of femininity to depicting the women artists who flocked to Old Lyme, few of whom were welcomed into the colony.
 
 
35. Philip Leslie Hale (1865-1931)
The Crimson Rambler, ca. 1908
Oil on canvas, 25 1/4 x 30 3/16 in.
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Joseph E. Temple Fund, 1909.12
 
Philip Leslie Hale frequently painted around the home he shared with his wife, artist Lilian Westcott Hale, in the Boston suburb of Dedham. His compositions pair the forms of flowering plants and women with the architectural structures of the porch or garden trellises. Like the trailing vine, the woman drapes herself over the balustrade, and both the lady and the plant share flashes of crimson color. Hale's paintings also demonstrate his deep knowledge of gardening. The everblooming crimson rambler was a wildly popular newcomer to American gardens, imported from Japan to the United States via Great Britain in 1894. These blooms are considerably larger than the flowers actually grow, suggesting that Hale idealized the fashionable plant as much as the woman beside it.
 
 
36. Will Howe Foote (1874-1965)
Summer, ca. 1913
Oil on canvas, 30 x 30 inches
Florence Griswold Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert H. Krieble
1994.5
 
Few paintings exemplify the spirit of American Impressionism more than Summer, with its active surface and high-key color, and with its emphasis on the garden as a space of genteel feminine leisure. Foote poses two women and a child in the garden of the house he built in Old Lyme in a combination of Colonial and Italian styles. A 1914 article about Old Lyme in Country Life in America describes the setting, with its narrow stone walls enclosing a small lawn much like an outdoor room. In contrast to the geometric layout of the portion of his garden pictured in Summer, Foote and his wife Helen -- a former art student -- also planned to install a winding walkway to the Lieutenant River bordered by natural plantings.
 
 
37. Genjiro Yeto (1867-1924)
Holley House Porch, Cos Cob, 1897
Pen and ink on paper, 14 x 11 inches
Florence Griswold Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert H. Bartels
1978.7.197
 
Genjiro Yeto studied painting with Impressionist John Twachtman after his arrival in America from Japan. Yeto joined the colony of summer art students clustered around Twachtman and based at the Holley family's boardinghouse in the Cos Cob section of Greenwich. Impressionism borrowed heavily from Japanese aesthetics, and Yeto stimulated this interest in Cos Cob by teaching the arts of ikebana (flower arranging) and the tea ceremony to his host Constant Holley, who carried on the traditions.
 
In this view of women on the Holley House's verandah, paper lanterns hang from the rafters and rest on the floor. Their rounded volumes echo the starched shirtwaists of the women, who are experiencing the outdoors from the seclusion of a porch partially screened by trees.
 
 
38. Clark Voorhees (1871-1933)
My Garden, ca. 1914
Oil on canvas, 28 x 36 in.
Collection of Michael W. Voorhees
 
Artist Clark Voorhees married socially prominent Maud Folsom in 1904 and the two set up house at Ker Guen, a Dutch colonial home they restored on the banks of the Connecticut River in Old Lyme. Unlike the formal gardens at her parents' mansion in the Lenox, Massachusetts, Maud Voorhees' eclectic and impressionistic mix of annuals and perennials at Ker Guen was nestled below a stone wall that hugged the small sloping site. According to a 1914 article about Old Lyme in Country Life in America, Florence Griswold also played a role in the design of the Voorhees garden. The reporter wrote: "In the establishment of each of these offshoots of the Griswold house, 'Miss Florence' has taken a personal interest, extending even to the gardens, in which she has endeavored to infuse the air of yesteryear through the medium of good old-fashioned flowers." To underscore the mood of intimacy and "seclusion" in the garden, Voorhees includes a young child in white finding amusement in the outdoor playroom.
 
 
39. Charles Vezin (1858-1942)
The Old Garden
Oil on canvas, 16 x 12 inches
Florence Griswold Museum, Purchase
1997.2
 
Lyme Art Colony matron Florence Griswold owned this painting at her death, and it is thought to depict her own old-fashioned garden. Unlike the prominent figure in Jane Peterson's A Spring Bouquet, hanging elsewhere in this gallery, the woman in white who pauses to tend to the plantings is as delicately scaled as the flowers around her. By harmonizing this figure with the garden setting, Vezin treats the woman as a decorative feature, when in fact Florence Griswold took an active role in the design and cultivation of her garden.
 
The allusion to an "old garden" in the painting's title taps into a concept popularized during the Garden Movement. In an age of all-too-rapid change, old-fashioned gardens full of hardy species nurtured over generations connected Americans with their past. The heirloom flowers, informally arranged, inspired a nostalgic ideal of the simple life of earlier times, when, as it was popularly believed, the natural environment had been instrumental in forming the American character.
 
 
40. Childe Hassam (1859-1935)
Summer Evening, 1886
Oil on canvas, 12 1/8 x 30 3/8 inches
Florence Griswold Museum, Gift of The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company
2002.1.71
 
Childe Hassam created Summer Evening the year he first visited Appledore Island in the Isles of Shoals, a resort off the coasts of Maine and New Hampshire presided over by gardener and poet Celia Laighton Thaxter. Her engaging personality and informal salons lured musicians, artists, and writers to her island home, which was bedecked with flowers from her artistically designed and cultivated garden. Hassam illustrated An Island Garden, a book of Thaxter's prose celebrating the delicate and complex relationship between man and nature that is seen as an early example of the environmental conservation movement. After she died in 1894, Hassam may have felt that he had found another muse in Florence Griswold, whose kind attentions, house full of artists, and old-fashioned gardens he enjoyed at the Lyme Art Colony beginning in 1903.
 
In this painting, possibly completed on Appledore, the woman angles her body away into the shadows while the potted plant leans toward the sun. Painting in Cos Cob, Old Lyme, and New York, Hassam would return many times to the theme of a woman near a window contemplating her relationship to the outside world.
 
 
41. John Henry Twachtman (1853-1902)
Barnyard, ca. 1890­1900
Oil on canvas, 30 1/4 x 25 1/8 inches
Florence Griswold Museum, Gift of The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company
2002.1.142
 
John Henry Twachtman first visited Connecticut in 1888, when he stayed with artist J. Alden Weir in Branchville. Soon after, Twachtman and his family moved to Greenwich, where he bought a seventeen-acre farm. For much of the 1890s, Twachtman painted the landscape and buildings on his farm throughout the seasons. Impressionist artists embraced an unprecedented informality in their works, recording scenes of daily life and the casual rhythms of home and family with a new intimacy. Here, Twachtman's daughter feeds the chickens under the watchful eye of her mother. The girl's white gown, and the brown dress of her mother behind her, echo the colors of the flocking birds, striking a mood that is both innocent and earthy.
 
 
42. J. Alden Weir (1852-1919)
Midday Rest in New England, 1897
Oil on canvas, 39 5/8 x 50 3/8 in.
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Gift of Isaac H. Clothier, Edward H. Coates, Dr. Francis W. Lewis, Robert C. Ogden, and Joseph G. Rosengarten, 1898.9
 
While Julian Alden Weir's picture of farmhands resting in the Connecticut countryside is not a traditional garden scene, its representation of a landscape shaped by human labor relates to other paintings in the exhibition, particularly the laundry scenes on view in this gallery. The artist colonies and rural retreats where many American garden painters worked were located in the country, where farming provided an additional source of inspiration. Weir's interpretation of this subject sets itself apart from his contemporaries by incorporating male figures into the landscape. Does his informal view of two men on a break from work offer a vision of rural life similar to that in Charles C. Curran's A Breezy Day, hanging nearby?
 

 

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