The Artist’s Garden: American Impressionism (2016)

March 14th, 2017
Author: Meredith Taylor

Matilda BrowneDir: Phil Grabsky | Narrator: Gillian Anderson | US | Art Biopic |

After a look at French Impressionism, director and producer Phil Grabsky takes his camera across the Atlantic to explore the American Impressionist movement in a study that follows on from Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse (2o16). Once again, Grabsky explores galleries and gardens up and down the US, France and Britain to offer insight and enrich his film with sumptuous visuals. But although resplendent in its subject matter, this doesn’t quite live up to his previous documentary both from the quality of the narrative and in the commentary provided by curators and talking heads.

In America the Impressionist movement covered almost four decades and was rooted in a deep held desire to preserve nature by a largely rural nation that underwent rapid industrialisation towards the end of the 19th Century.

Edmund GreacenGrabsky shows how the origins of American Impressionist can be traced back to France, and, in particular, to French art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel who arrived in New York at the end of the 1880s with a massive stock of impressionist works which he had not been able to sell back home where their counter cultural nature faced harsh opposition to conventional art community. The avant-garde canvasses provided inspiration and captured the imagination of American artists who beat a path back to Europe and the home of Monet in Giverny where they developed a new strain of Impressionism, changing the course of American art forever.

Impressionism had been met with ridicule in the salons and galleries of France but American dealers were now rich on the profits of industrialisation and snapped up the works in a buying frenzy. This all coincided with a time of urban renewal and regeneration when horticulture and landscape design lead a drive to improve the amenity value of the built environment in the form of parks and gardens that provided green spaces and fresh air to the new cities and towns. These in turn provided inspiration for the middle classes who were keen to re-create a ‘rus in urbis’ that reminded them of their rural past and provided inspiration for the future. Women were becoming highly educated and increasingly independent and sought to copy the fashionable ideas of Gertrude Jekyll, Lawrence Weaver and William Robinson in their homes, gardens designs and their painting, not only as a recreational activity but also as a pathway to spiritual renewal. MT

Willard MetcalfThe Artist’s Garden: American Impressionism features the sell-out exhibition The Artist’s Garden: American Impressionism and the Garden Movement, 1887–1920 that began at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and ended at the Florence Griswold Museum, Old Lyme, Connecticut.


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