Throughout the history of art, artists have made exquisite renderings of the garden. In a selection of 50 drawings, prints, illuminated manuscripts, Indian miniatures, textiles, and decorative arts from the museum’s collection, this exhibition will transport viewers to cloister gardens of the Middle Ages, Persian love gardens, formal gardens of the Italian Renaissance and Baroque France, the Impressionists’ backyard idylls, and fantastical oases that exist only in artists’ imaginations.
While the appeal of gardens has remained constant, the way artists have portrayed them has varied dramatically depending on the era, cultural associations, and medium. Representations of the garden during the Middle Ages were infused with allegorical meaning and intense spirituality, while depictions of Renaissance and Baroque gardens were manifestations of courtly wealth and power. The cult of nature and the nostalgic desire to seek solace in unspoiled idylls during the Enlightenment paved the way for visions of overgrown gardens, magnificent in their unbridled abundance. In the 19th century, the effects of industrialization and the rising middle class inspired a new kind of garden iconography: for the first time gardens were no longer the domain of the elite. Domestic, backyard gardens were a beloved subject of modern American and European artists, and with decorative objects and textiles adorned with natural motifs, the garden lived indoors throughout the year. The exhibition culminates with contemporary artist Jim Hodges’s In Blue (1996), a scrim of artificial blossoms that cascades from ceiling to floor, immersing the viewer in a floriferous environment.
Organized to complement the special international exhibition Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse, Imagining the Garden offers visitors an expanded vision of artistic conceptualizations of the garden. Excerpts from garden literature, selected to accompany works of art in Imagining the Garden, will be available on the Artlens app.