Following in the footsteps of nineteenth-century artists who celebrated the out-of-doors as a place of leisure, renewal, and inspiration, this exhibition explores horticultural developments that reshaped the landscape of France and grounded innovative movements—artistic and green—in an era that gave rise to Naturalism, Impressionism, and Art Nouveau. As shiploads of exotic botanical specimens arrived from abroad and local nurserymen pursued hybridization, the availability and variety of plants and flowers grew exponentially, as did the interest in them.
The opening up of formerly royal properties and the transformation of Paris during the Second Empire into a city of tree-lined boulevards and parks introduced public green spaces to be enjoyed as open-air salons, while suburbanites and country-house dwellers were prompted to cultivate their own flower gardens. By 1860, the French journalist Eugène Chapus could write: "One of the pronounced characteristics of our Parisian society is that . . . everyone in the middle class wants to have his little house with trees, roses, and dahlias, his big or little garden, his rural piece of the good life."
The important role of parks and gardens in French life during this period is richly illustrated by paintings, drawings, photographs, prints, illustrated books, and objects in The Met collection by artists extending from Camille Corot to Henri Matisse, many of whom were gardeners themselves. Drawn from seven curatorial departments at The Met and supplemented by a selection of private collection loans, Public Parks, Private Gardens: Paris to Provence features some 150 works by more than 70 artists, spanning the late eighteenth through early twentieth century.
Anchored by Impressionist scenes of outdoor leisure, the presentation offers a fresh, multisided perspective on best-known and hidden treasures housed in a Museum that took root in a park: namely, New York's Central Park, which was designed in the spirit of Parisian public parks of the same period.