A look at history of French gardens

AP
A section of the Metropolitan Museum of Art has been transformed into a sort of 19th century palm garden that trace the history of French parks and gardens.
AP

“Garden at Sainte-Adresse” by French painter Claude Monet

Just in time for spring, a section of the Metropolitan Museum of Art has been transformed into a sort of 19th century palm garden encircled by colorful galleries featuring still lives, landscapes and other works — complete with Parisian-style signage and park benches — that trace the history of French parks and gardens.

The exhibit makes a case that France’s parks and gardens, particularly their dramatic transformation under Napoleon III, had a huge impact on art, horticulture and the concept of outdoor leisure. “Public Parks, Private Gardens: Paris to Provence,” on view through July 29, consists of 175 paintings, drawings, photographs, prints, illustrated books and even period watering cans and gardening tools.

It reveals what happened after the French Revolution, when the nation’s many royal gardens and hunting grounds were opened to the public. 

“The amount of public green space in Paris was rapidly expanded 100-fold, from about 45 acres (182 hectares) to 4,500 acres. The result was transformational in many ways and sparked a real mania for gardening and for the outdoors,” says curator Susan Alyson Stein, who organized the show with curator Colta Ives.

The transformation is richly illustrated by the Met’s collection of works from artists ranging from Camille Corot to Henri Matisse, many of whom were gardeners. The works are supplemented by a selection of private-collection loans.

The exhibit is timed to overlap with the Met’s “Visitors to Versailles (1682-1789)” show, on view through July 29, which focuses on visitors’ impressions of that palace and its gardens during the century before the French Revolution. Viewed together, the exhibits open a window on French culture from the late 17th century through the early 20th century.             


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