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

June 3 - September 18, 2016 



 

The Garden on Paper

American artists' fascination with horticulture spilled over from the canvas into works on paper. In these media, more than anywhere else, popular and artistic interests in garden subjects intersected. While prints and drawings circulated in fine art settings, works on paper were also disseminated through reproduction in mass circulation magazines and gardening books. In these publications, artists were able to bridge the divide between fine art and mass media, reaching broader audiences through new reproductive technologies, such as modern chromolithography.

Significantly, America's burgeoning gardening craze was primarily promoted by female cultural creators -- artists, writers, and gardeners -- who found in it an opportunity to enter the public sphere as professionals and advocates for a wide range of social issues. On and off the page, the art of gardening gave many middle-class Americans both an appreciation for natural beauty and an awareness of dynamic Progressive-Era social values.

 
54. Fidelia Bridges (1835-1923)
Wild Roses Among Rye, 1874
Watercolor and gouache over pencil on heavy wove paper, 13 1/2 x 9 inches
Florence Griswold Museum, Gift of The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company
2002.1.13
 
Somewhat unusually for her time, Fidelia Bridges forged a professional career as a painter in watercolor -- a medium traditionally associated with amateurs or taught to women as a ladylike accomplishment. Here, the elegant arc of rye against a minimal backdrop reflects Bridges' meticulous attention to detail as well as her flair for compositions that immerse the viewer in nature. Critics praised Bridges' work for bringing truthfulness to garden subjects through the simplicity of her style and for her identification of beauty in humble, often wild, plants?qualities they felt were otherwise absent from depictions of nature in commercial illustration.
 
Soon after completing Wild Roses Among Rye, Bridges sold her first designs to the prominent lithography firm of Louis Prang. The broad availability of her work in chromolithograph prints and calendars beginning in the 1880s made it a crucial means of cultivating an appreciation of nature and a desire for its preservation.
 
 
55. Lilian Westcott Hale (1880-1963)
Black Eyed Susans, before 1922
Charcoal and colored pencil on paper, 28 3/4 x 31 inches
Collection of Kenneth R. Woodcock
 
Although this drawing depicts a young girl that the artist likely knew, the title only describes the flowers she holds. Lilian Westcott Hale plays off of the tendency during this era to equate floral beauty with female beauty, much as her husband Philip Leslie Hale had in The Crimson Rambler (hanging in the adjacent gallery). But the drooping flowers and the girl's listless pose suggest that Lilian sought to disrupt that time-honored association between women and flowers. With her impeccable draughtsmanship, she instead composed a portrait of young woman in thought, whose ideas bloom rather than her bouquet.
 
 
56. Mary Roberts Ebert (1873-1956)
Flower Garden, 1921
Watercolor on paper, 15 3/8 x 19 3/4 inches
Florence Griswold Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert H. Bartels
1978.7.167
 
Mary Roberts studied alongside her future husband Charles Ebert as pupils of John Henry Twachtman at the Art Students League's summer school in Cos Cob, Connecticut. The couple lived there for many years before moving in 1919 to Old Lyme, where they bought a house on the small town's main street. The garden shown here may have belonged to one of their neighbors. Ebert often made gardens and flowers the subject of her watercolors, which she exhibited widely.
The design of the plot seen here reflects the advice of popular garden magazines. Garden and Home Builder Magazine commented on the advantage of birdbaths in attracting birds to the garden. However, they advised in a 1919 article that in a suburban setting, birdbaths should be raised on pedestals like the one in Ebert's watercolor, to protect the winged visitors from cats.
 
 
57. Mahonri Young (1877-1957)
The George Burr House in Winter, December 15, 1942
Watercolor and pencil on paper, 8 3/4 x 9 3/8 inches
Florence Griswold Museum, Gift of Daniel J. and Gertrude W. Tucker
1984.24
 
Many artists remained committed to painting gardens, even in the winter. Here, we see the Old Lyme garden of artist George Burr, which also appears in a portrait of his wife in the first gallery. Young painted it from a porch across the street from Burr's house, Cricket Lawn, which was built in 1844 after a design from Andrew Jackson Downing's book Cottage Residences. Downing introduced to America new ideas about the relationship between suburban or rural homes and the surrounding landscape, laying important groundwork for the Garden Movement.
 
 
58. Photographs of the Ludington Gardens in Old Lyme. Ludington Family Collection and Lyme Historical Society Archives, Florence Griswold Museum
 
Katharine Ludington inherited the family's home in Old Lyme when her father Charles H. Ludington died in 1910. In her grandmother's day, the property was more of a farm, which Charles transformed into a "country place" with ornamental plantings as well as vegetable gardens. Several of the photographs here show the garden as it appeared during Charles's ownership, following his renovation of the family home in the Colonial Revival style in 1893.
 
As head of the Connecticut Women's Suffrage League, and later national vice-president of the League of Women Voters, Katharine traveled extensively. Always she returned gratefully to the beauty and serenity of her Old Lyme home. In 1925, Katharine commissioned Edna Leighton Tyler -- a professional photographer and fellow activist who established the New London branch of the League of Women Voters -- to photograph her house and gardens.
 
 
59. H.S. Adams, with photographs by Arthur G. Eldredge, "Lyme -- A Country Life Community: The Rise of the Old Connecticut Town from a Picturesque River Settlement to an Artists' Resort of National Distinction," Country Life in America (April 1914).
 
Magazines like Country Life in America were an essential means of popularizing gardening among middle-class audiences. Articles like the one about Old Lyme that appeared in April 1914 described Florence Griswold's house and gardens as well as the homes and gardens of artists who settled in town, identifying particular flowers for readers who might want to impose the same effects in their backyards. While showcasing each artist's creative approach, the author also celebrates the "old-fashioned" architecture and plantings in keeping with Progressive-era concerns about immigration and Americanization. Where new homes have been built by the artists, he points out ways in which they have incorporated historic touches that help them blend into and enhance the community around them?a process that finds echoes in that era's discussions of methods for assimilating large waves of immigrants.
 
 
60. The Garden of a Commuter's Wife. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1901 (reprinted 1902). Florence Griswold Museum
 
Through the values of the Progressive Era, including the rise of a strong middle class and the definition of an American national identity, a middle-class gardening community emerged. Estate gardens pruned by hired hands were rejected in favor of "the commuter's garden"?personal plots of amateur gardeners filled with native plants and wildflowers.
 
In the popular 1901 book The Garden of a Commuter's Wife, the author, who lived in Fairfield, Connecticut, critiques her neighbor's showy "Italian garden" and describes her own as "a purely American garden." The lament of the Commuter's Wife has both race and class components, as the so-called Italian or French garden of the time was associated with the estates of Gilded-Age elites, or perhaps with recent Italian immigrants, whereas the American, colonial, or wild garden was deemed both patriotic and appropriate for a new class of suburban commuters.
 
 
61. Postcards to Florence Griswold from Henry A. Dreer's Seeds, W. Atlee Burpee & Company, and Glen Brothers' Glenwood Nursery, 1909-1921. Lyme Historical Society Archives, Florence Griswold Museum
 
Florence Griswold played an active role in the cultivation of her garden, which included both vegetables and fruit trees as well as flowers. Paintings depicting the landscape she created hang in the first gallery, and reflect her garden's reputation for the dense, luxuriant plantings that The Day of New London described on July 1, 1915, as a mass of "lilac, lima beans, lilies, rhubarb, and other exotic plants." These postcards from plant nurseries and seed companies reflect her order of supply catalogues for planning purposes, as well as seeds and potato plants for produce to serve her boarders. In addition to these purchases, letters to Florence from the artists she hosted are full of references to flowers they knew she would appreciate, and painter Lewis Cohen even sent her gladiolus bulbs.
 
Florence's love and knowledge of gardens was informed by her mother Helen, who cultivated flowers, fruit trees, and vegetables, some from roots her husband Captain Robert Griswold brought from abroad or from New York City through his work as a packet ship captain. Florence increased her knowledge of gardens by attending lectures in Old Lyme such as one in 1913 about famous European gardens by a Miss Zimmerman. She also played host in 1915 and 1916 to Professor Frank A. Waugh of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, a well-known advocate for an ecologically-based natural style of landscape gardening that used native plants.

 

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