The Changing Garden: Four Centuries of European and American Art / Edition 1

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This beautifully illustrated volume examines the garden as an enduring and evolving cultural resource, in two hundred works by more than one hundred artists. Prints, drawings, photographs, and paintings illuminate the changing aesthetics and uses of gardens from sixteenth-century Italian villas and Louis XIV's Versailles to such democratic urban parks as New York City's Central Park and San Francisco's Crissy Field, adapted from a former military base.

Artists' representations of gardens have been organized first to highlight design concepts and individual features, then to focus on historic gardens and parks, and finally to survey the activities within those settings. Among the earliest works included is an engraving of a drawing made in 1570 by Pieter Bruegel the Elder of a garden being vigorously cultivated by many workers. Two centuries later, Giovanni Battista Piranesi and Jean-Honoré Fragonard represented the Villa d'Este at Tivoli in a state of neglected grandeur; Hubert Robert's painting of Méréville depicted a garden he helped design. By 1900 Eugène Atget's photographs of Versailles and Camille Pissarro's paintings of the Tuileries convey the enduring structure of French formal gardens.
In contrast, American artists Maurice Prendergast, John Singer Sargent, and James McNeill Whistler depicted the pleasures of social activities in that setting. Photographs by Michael Kenna and Bruce Davidson offer contemporary perspectives on these issues.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review
....this [exhibition catalog] stands up well as a richly illustrated discussion of the garden and its changing character as perceived and experienced by artists.

....Not for the fainthearted, perhaps, but enjoyable in small bites, and the extensive illustrations from the exhibition -- paintings, prints, maps, photographs -- are fascinating, and range from representations of the great gardens of Europe to New York City's Central Park. — Penelope Lively

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520238831
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 7/25/2003
  • Series: Ahmanson-Murphy Fine Arts Bks.
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 252
  • Product dimensions: 8.50 (w) x 11.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Betsy G. Fryberger is Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Stanford University. She is the author of Picasso: Graphic Magician/Prints from the Norton Simon Museum (1999), and, with Lorenz Eitner and Carol M. Osborne, Stanford University Museum of Art: The Drawing Collection (1993).

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Read an Excerpt

The Changing Garden

By Betsy G. Fryberger

University of California

Copyright © 2003 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-520-23883-4

Chapter One

Artists have long observed gardens. Their diverse representations confirm the changing character and history of gardens from the privileged courts of the Villa d'Este at Tivoli and Versailles to the democratic spaces of New York City's Central Park and San Francisco's newly reconfigured Crissy Field. The Changing Garden: Four Centuries of European and American Art brings together close to two hundred prints, drawings, photographs, and paintings of gardens.

With a subject so rich and visual evidence so varied, inevitably any selection cannot include all that one might wish. This catalogue emphasizes the innovative sequential contributions made in Italy, France, Britain, and the United States. There are relatively few drawings included by garden designers, because this is not an examination of the practicalities of design. The focus is on the garden and its changing character as perceived and experienced by artists.

Garden experiences are endlessly diverse. No two gardens are alike, and even a single, familiar garden changes with the light of a particular moment, the mood of each season, and the longer cycles of renewal and decay. To these physical changes must be added the weight of memories and associations. More than thirty years ago, in escaping from a Chicago winter while reading Diaries and Letters of Harold Nicolson, I discovered the world of gardens and garden literature. Entering through a side gate that led from my apartment into the world of the writer Vita Sackville-West and her diplomat husband, Harold Nicolson, I was transported back to the 1930s, when they purchased a property with ruins of a Tudor castle and a derelict barn in Sissinghurst in Kent. I followed these two strong-minded individuals of opposing temperaments and convictions as they created what has become an icon of the artistic garden. Much has been written about Vita and her garden, but the extent of her husband's contributions is less well known. As designer and planner of the garden's "bones," he wrote letters to Vita making clear his deep attachment in practical suggestions and anxieties about her impulsive decisions. I went on to read an anthology of her gardening columns and, a few years later, visited Sissinghurst. Knowing about their collaboration added to my growing appreciation of the complex layering of garden experiences.

Over time, as my development as an amateur backyard gardener became grafted onto the stronger branch of curatorial expertise, I began to investigate the visual evidence of garden history. Within its larger compass, works of art offer insights enhancing the fuller documentation of the written record. The significant visual medium has been prints, rather than drawings or paintings, because prints have been far more influential as a vehicle for the transmission of information. From the sixteenth to the mid-nineteenth century, thousands of prints depicting gardens were published. In this massive archive, general views predominate. Detailed images of plantings occur less frequently, sometimes with many individual botanical illustrations in horticultural magazines.

Printed garden views enjoyed a wide popularity, not only for their information but as decoration and as souvenirs. On the one hand, they constitute an invaluable reference tool for designers and gardeners; on the other, their pleasant scenes enhanced the reputation of the garden owners, who often commissioned them. Offering enjoyment for viewers, they could be seen as a form of entertainment, at times theatrically altered to heighten such effects. By the 1860s, with the advent of photography, this multiple role essentially ended; photographs became the primary source of visual documentation. From about 1885 to 1910, however, a veritable Indian summer occurred in paintings of modern life set in private gardens and public parks.

Then followed the long chill of winter. In the aftermath of World War I, with its severe economic disruptions and shortages of labor, many large gardens were abandoned. Moreover, with twentieth-century art moving into nonrepresentational stylistic avenues, garden subjects were of little interest. Even as the peace and prosperity of the late twentieth century brought gardens ever widening popularity with homeowners and readers, they vanished as subjects for most artists. They are, however, photographed endlessly as glossy color illustrations, but few photographers have looked with perception.

I want to encourage garden lovers to dig deeply into the nourishing literature. Historically, garden literature has ranged from essays and poetry to diaries, travel notes, and treatises. Anthologies of such garden writing are rewarding because they enlarge our frame of reference through the descriptions, metaphors, memories, or fantasies of the authors. Sir Roy Strong's literary anthology, A Celebration of Gardens, includes Geoffrey Chaucer, John Evelyn, Alexander Pope, Jane Austen, and Virginia Woolf. Betty Massingham's anthology features the British designers Joseph Paxton, William Robinson, Gertrude Jekyll, and Vita Sackville-West. In several anthologies of American authors and designers, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson Downing, and Frederick Law Olmsted make expected appearances, but then such editors as Allen Lacy, Bonnie Marranca, and Diane Kostial McGuire choose quite differently. Lacy has organized his book by such topics as fragrances, native plants, and lawns. McGuire has chosen excerpts from the landscape architects-designers Thomas Church, Garrett Eckbo, and Fletcher Steele. Marranca includes the Washington Post columnist Henry Mitchell, who described the beginnings of Sissinghurst as "brambles and bracken and dock, maybe broken up by patches of stinging nettles. Amenities include the remains of an old pig sty. You convert it, let's say, into one of the sweetest gardens in the world, with roundels of clipped yew and a little alley of lindens...."

The Roman poet Pliny the Younger wrote for his contemporaries, but two thousand years later we still read him for his love of gardens. His villas, one in the Tuscan hills, the other on the water near Rome, were catalysts for the design of Renaissance gardens. Among travel diarists, the enthusiasm of John Evelyn in the seventeenth century for Italian gardens-their statuary, fountains, and water tricks-remains infectious. Evelyn helped create the taste for Italianate gardens in England. Two hundred fifty years later, in 1904, Edith Wharton wrote in Italian Villas and Their Gardens about rediscovering the same villas and introduced Americans to their splendors. Recently, Vivian Russell described retracing Wharton's steps. Wharton's influential book was preceded by that of a young American artist, Charles A. Platt, who later developed into an architect and garden designer. His impressionistic text, while no match for Wharton's insight and clarity, coupled with his sketches and photographs, showed his precocious comprehension. Wharton designed a garden for herself in the Berkshires near Lenox, Massachusetts; Platt planned his garden in Cornish, New Hampshire-both were Italianate in character. Sadly, their lives were brief, but efforts are under way to restore Wharton's estate. Gardens are inherently fragile and unlikely to survive. Those that do have been changed by nature's cycles in subtle and more obvious ways: intermittent disasters of high winds or severe frosts, political or economic disruptions, and evolving social usage.

Garden preservation and restoration often involve detective work as well as dedication and perseverance. Shortly before 1910 Gertrude Jekyll created a garden at Upton Grey in Hampshire, a fine example of her mingling the formal with the informal, and of her impressionistic borders of annuals and perennials, chosen with an artist's eye for color and texture. Jekyll's many articles and books, esteemed in her day, were largely forgotten, and then reprinted in a cycle that parallels the fate of the garden at Upton Grey. In 1983, when Rosamund Wallinger and her husband bought the old manor house, no evidence remained of Jekyll's garden. Wallinger has written a book tracing her adventurous journey beginning with a reference in a London library to the satisfaction of finding the plans for Upton Grey at the University of California at Berkeley. She details the hard months of demolition, relocating the old garden's lines, rebuilding, and planting, with the rigors of continuing maintenance. Several of Jekyll's plans for Upton Grey and photographs of its current state have been included in this catalogue (cats. 7, 8). With increased preservation efforts, a more precise vocabulary has emerged, as has clarification of what constitutes reconstruction, rehabilitation, and true preservation. But, even as we understand more about these issues, we need to read and learn more.

Garden history has gained the attention of cultural and interdisciplinary scholars, as well as its more expected academic allies in architecture and art. Each year, the number of scholarly publications grows, among them those documenting the proceedings of the annual symposia at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C. Increasingly, universities offer courses on garden history. At the University of Pennsylvania, the garden historian John Dixon Hunt continues his distinguished academic work as the preeminent author and editor, instrumental in establishing The Journal of Garden History (now Studies in the History of Gardens & Designed Landscapes).

In the last two decades, as American museums have begun to explore garden history, new material has been highlighted in such exhibitions as Gardens on Paper at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., Gardens of Earthly Delight: Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century Netherlandish Gardens at the Frick Art Museum in Pittsburgh, and Fountains: Splash and Spectacle at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, in New York. To these, the Cantor Center's exhibition adds a broader perspective, embracing design, historical, and social points of view.

The first section of the catalogue of the exhibition focuses on principles of garden design, moving from general views and plans to modifications of the natural terrain, then to choices of plant material and sculptural or architectural features. This demonstration of the diversity of ideas and strategies allows us to comprehend the vocabulary from which gardens have been created. The second section highlights specific historical examples of innovative design and enduring influence with visual comparisons from the time of construction to later periods of neglect, and the gardens' present state. Gardens once designed for the Medici or Louis XIV later became public parks; other parks were conceived of as public spaces. The third section focuses on activities that take place in garden settings -from public ceremonies and festivities to private repose and conversation.


Sixteenth Century

The first prints representing actual gardens were published during the last decades of the sixteenth century, a period that witnessed the construction of what we still regard as some of the most splendid of Italian gardens: those at the Villa Lante in Bagnaia, the Villa Farnese in Caprarola, and the Villa d'Este in Tivoli. These villas, built in the hills around Rome, are among the fortunate survivors; although altered by time, the originality and power of their design can still be appreciated by today's visitors. In the 1570s several publications, including one of the Villa d'Este, heralded a new printmaking speciality. In conception and transcription these prints drew from disparate artistic and intellectual sources: architectural and garden surveys, single general views, and scenes of garden activities. Geographically they hailed from the major publishing centers of their day-Antwerp, Rome, and Paris.

Early printed garden views were most often represented in an architectural vocabulary. Thinking of the area closest to the residence as an extension of the building, the architect considered the garden as one element within the overall design. In contrast to the number of surviving architectural studies, however, there is far less evidence of the garden's design. This may point to its lesser importance for the architect-designer -or it may suggest that much was not formally designed on paper but rather composed in the garden. Although early prints show such major features as the parterre (the flat terrace next to the residence usually planted in decorative patterns), paths, fountains, pools, formal groves, even an orchard area, generally the plantings were so schematically rendered that identification of specific plants is difficult. With recent research in estate inventories, however, precise information about plant material is becoming better known.

About 1550 an ambitious French architectural survey was undertaken by the architect and draftsman Jacques Androuet Du Cerceau. While visiting many châteaux, he made ink drawings on vellum that became the basis for the engravings published in Les Plus Excellents Bastiments de France, in 1576 and 1579. Androuet Du Cerceau understood gardens in architectural terms and presented them as nature that has been regularized. He depicted the parterre compartments from earlier in the century, when the garden began to expand from its small medieval confines. However, by the date of his publication that Renaissance style was already becoming obsolete.

Etienne Dupérac, a French printmaker and architect, published in 1573 a general view of the Villa d'Este in Tivoli (still being built), showing that garden's innovative design (cat. 53). The engraving's widespread influence is evident in its reissue and the many copies that soon followed, as Elizabeth S. Eustis describes in her catalogue essay. Such general views, or prospects as they were called, although loosely based on architectural and mapping techniques, did not include measurements. Instead, a legend identified the major areas.

While some artists found the decorative aspects of the garden beguiling, others were attracted by its activities. A third example from the 1570s of a printed garden subject originated in the eye and imagination of the painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder. In Spring Bruegel humanizes the garden, celebrating the hard work of digging, planting, and pruning-the physicality of labor that is rarely portrayed (cat. 46).

by the late sixteenth century, garden images broadened to encompass diplomatic and festive occasions. Catherine de' Medici is shown receiving the Polish ambassadors in the Tuileries in 1573 in a drawing by Antoine Caron (Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, Mass.)


Excerpted from The Changing Garden by Betsy G. Fryberger Copyright © 2003 by Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford University. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Director's Foreword
Lenders to the Exhibition

The Artist and the Changing Garden
Betsy G. Fryberger
Representing the Social and Cultural Experiences of Italian Gardens in Prints
Claudia Lazzaro
The Garden Print as Propaganda, 1573–1683
Elizabeth S. Eustis
Méréville: Last Masterwork of the Eighteenth-Century Landscape Garden in France
Diana Ketcham
City Parks and Private Gardens in Paintings of Modern America, 1875–1920
Carol M. Osborne
Resurrection: The Built Landscapes of George Hargreaves
Paula Deitz

Catalogue of the Exhibition
Designing Gardens
Historic Examples
Gatherings and Activities in Garden Settings

Photographic Credits
Photographic Credits

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