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Morgan Exhibition Explores the Romantic Movement's Influence on Landscapes
John Martin (1789–1854). View of the Temple of Suryah & Fountain of Maha Dao, with a Distant View of North Side of Mansion House. Etching with aquatint added by Frederick Christian Lewis (1779–1856), in Martin’s series of views of Sezincote, ca. 1818. Bequest of Gordon N. Ray, 1987; PML 143240
NEW YORK, NY.- Scenic vistas, winding paths, bucolic meadows, and rustic retreats suitable for solitary contemplation are just a few of the alluring naturalistic features of gardens created in the Romantic spirit. Landscape designers of the Romantic era sought to express the inherent beauty of nature in opposition to the strictly symmetrical, formal gardens favored by aristocrats of the old regime.

The Romantics looked to nature as a liberating force, a source of sensual pleasure, moral instruction, religious insight, and artistic inspiration. Eloquent exponents of these ideals, they extolled the mystical powers of nature and argued for more sympathetic styles of garden design in books, manuscripts, and drawings, now regarded as core documents of the Romantic Movement. Their cult of inner beauty and their view of the outside world dominated European thought during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

This important episode in artistic and cultural history is the subject of Romantic Gardens: Nature, Art, and Landscape Design, on view from May 21 through August 29, 2010, at The Morgan Library & Museum. The exhibition features approximately ninety highly influential texts and outstanding works of art, providing a compelling overview of ideas championed by the Romantics and also implemented by them in private estates and public parks in Europe and the United States, notably New York’s Central Park.

“The landscapes represented in the exhibition are extraordinary in every respect; they are novel, beautiful, and often breathtaking in scale,” said William M. Griswold, director of The Morgan Library & Museum. “One can follow the genesis and dissemination of new design approaches from their beginnings in the private estates of the European aristocracy to the great city parks of America, where Central Park is perhaps the best example. Drawings and literary works from the period offer viewers interesting and unexpected connections with a wide range of prominent artists in the forefront of Romanticism.”

Exhibition Highlights
Drawn from the Morgan’s holdings of manuscripts, drawings, and rare books as well as lavishly illustrated landscape albums from private and other public collections, the exhibition attests to the artistic creativity and intellectual ferment of the era, a time when technological advances in book production greatly enhanced the transmission of ideas. Steel engravings in William Cullen Bryant’s Picturesque America (1872–74) helped to celebrate the scenic splendors of this country. Lithographs in Prince Pückler-Muskau’s Hints on Landscape Gardening (1834) depict the improvements he made in his vast estate at great expense—his “parkomania” eventually drove him into debt and compelled him to sell the garden paradise he had created.

Also on view are two manuscript “Red Books” by Humphry Repton (1752–1818), the leading landscape architect of his time and author of theoretical treatises greatly admired by Pückler and other European connoisseurs. In these publications and the Red Books (known for their characteristic red bindings), Repton developed a technique of showing before-and-after views of picturesque scenery so that his readers and clients could see at a glance what he expected to accomplish.

The proposals of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux for the design of Central Park can be seen in their famous “Greensward” plan (1858), a large and detailed pen-and-ink drawing they submitted to a competition organized by the park commissioners. For their prize-winning “entry no. 33,” they also prepared presentation boards with the “present outlines” in photographs attributed to Mathew Brady and the “effect proposed” in oil sketches made by Vaux. Two of the twelve presentation boards are on display.

The exhibition includes literary manuscripts for important Romantic and Pre Romantic works, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s hugely popular novel, Julie, ou, La Nouvelle Héloïse (1761), which introduced highly influential theories of landscape design. Equally influential was Alexander Pope’s Epistle to Lord Burlington (1731), a verse satire admonishing wealthy proprietors of country estates to scorn self-indulgent follies and respect the “Genius of the Place,” the natural beauty of the terrain. Here, too, the author’s original manuscript will be shown.

The Morgan Library & Museum | William M. Griswold | Romantic Movement |




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