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Press release

Public Parks, Private Gardens: Paris to Provence

Public Parks Private Gardens: Paris to Provence

Exhibition Dates: March 12July 29, 2018
Exhibition Location: The Met Fifth Avenue, Lower Level, Robert Lehman Wing, Galleries 964-965
Press Preview: March 5, 2018, 10 am–12 pm


The Met to Welcome Spring with Exhibition on French Parks and Gardens

Following in the footsteps of 19th-century artists who celebrated the out-of-doors as a place of leisure, renewal, and inspiration, the exhibition Public Parks, Private Gardens: Paris to Provence, opening March 12 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 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. 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.

The exhibition is made possible by the Sam and Janet Salz Trust, the Janice H. Levin Fund, and The Florence Gould Foundation.

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 18th through early 20th century.

Exhibition Overview

Timed to coincide with the advent of spring and summer, Public Parks, Private Gardens: Paris to Provence is organized thematically in five galleries:

“Revolution in the Garden,” traces the decisive shift that transpired in garden design in the years bracketing the French Revolution of 1789, as the rigorous formal style perfected by André Le Nôtre for the palaces of King Louis XIV (r. 1643–1715) at Versailles and the Tuileries gave way to a more naturalist aesthetic in the manner of English parks. A series of works illuminates the guiding influence of Empress Josephine Bonaparte, first wife of Napoleon I (r. 1800–14/15), who ignited the fashion for floriculture at the start of the 19th century.

“Parks for the Public” explores the opening of royal enclaves to the general population after the Revolution and the dramatic transformation of Paris under Napoleon III (r. 1852–70) into a modern city of leafy boulevards, parks, and squares. This vast urban renewal initiative will be amplified by a digital map that punctuates this section. The selection of works, arranged in dossier groupings, focuses on the parks in and around Paris that captivated artists’ attention. Just to the south, the forest of Fontainebleau became a pilgrimage site for naturalist painters and the first generation of photographers, from Camille Corot and Théodore Rousseau to Gustave Le Gray and Eugène Cuvelier. The newly renovated Parc Monceau is represented by a handsome trio: The Met’s two paintings by Monet (1876 and 1878) are seen alongside a view by Gustave Caillebotte (1877) from the collection of Lawrence J. Ellison. A constellation of works depicting the Tuileries frames Camille Pissarro’s bird’s-eye views of the grounds, with a seven-foot foldout panorama of the promenade from a midcentury publication, and images by artists ranging from Honoré Daumier to Edouard Vuillard. Other parks, such as the Bois de Boulogne, Versailles, the Luxembourg Gardens, and the Ile de la Grande Jatte, are seen through the eyes of Eugène Atget, Childe Hassam, Berthe Morisot, Auguste Renoir, Georges Seurat, and James McNeill Whistler.

“The Revival of the Floral Still Life,” showcases a genre that made a comeback along with the boom in floriculture. The pace of worldwide discoveries quickened; botany emerged as a unique science; and the growth of the nursery industry fostered the hybridization, propagation, and distribution of ever newer and rarer plants. “In no other era,” as one journalist observed in 1887, “have flowers and plants been so widely appreciated; they preside at all our ceremonies, take part in all our festivities; their use has increased a hundredfold in 20 years.” This room of eye-catching bouquets, often picked from the artist’s own gardens, includes peonies and roses by Gustave Courbet, Edouard Manet, and Henri Fantin-Latour; sunflowers by Monet and Vincent van Gogh; lilacs by Mary Cassatt and Henri Matisse; and an array of still lifes featuring chrysanthemums by a half-dozen artists, swept up by the “latest rage,” including Caillebotte, Edgar Degas, Renoir, and Monet. Ceramic and glass vases from the most inventive makers of the time trace the leading tendencies in the decorative arts, from the simplicity of artisan craftsmanship advocated by Ernest Chaplet to the botanically inspired Art Nouveau work of Emile Gallé.

The second half of the exhibition is devoted to gardens and unfolds in two sections: “Private Gardens” and “Portrait in the Garden.” This sweeping survey offers a revealing glimpse of the backyard retreats where artists cultivated flowers and friendships, sought refuge from the challenges of urban life and relaxed on the weekend, and increasingly set up their easels to advance plein-air landscape painting and scenes of modern life grounded in the familiar and every day. Works on view chart the fashion for gardening, which, by midcentury—as Daumier’s caricatures illustrate—had become the latest craze, along with horticultural trends and shared sympathies. The allure of hollyhocks (a traditional favorite of French gardeners) is captured by Corot, Morisot, and Monet, while the motif of women attending to their needlework in spots of greenery is explored by Cassatt, Morisot, and Odilon Redon. Monet, the quintessential artist-gardener, is prominently represented in this section with canvases that span nearly a half-century of his career, culminating with works painted at Giverny in which the garden he called his “greatest masterpiece” is given memorable form.

The presentation is enriched by designs for interior and garden décor; documentary materials such as horticultural books, journals, and period ephemera that contextualize the mania for gardening; a selection of 19th-century French watering cans and garden tools on loan from landscape architect Mark K. Morrison; and two historical film clips.

The central courtyard within the exhibition—a soaring space illuminated by an immense skylight—will be newly replanted to evoke a French conservatory garden of the period and furnished with green iron benches redolent of Parisian park seating. Large palms and pines will be complemented by a mix of smaller plants and vines to strike a balance of patterned broad leaf, upright, and arching plants. The selection, design, and realization of this concept was overseen by the exhibition’s curators in consultation with The Met’s Design and Horticulture staff and an independent landscape design firm.


The exhibition has been organized by Susan Alyson Stein, Engelhard Curator of Nineteenth-Century European Painting, Department of European Paintings, with Guest Curator Colta Ives, Curator Emerita, Department of Drawings and Prints, and the assistance of Research Associate Laura D. Corey, Department of European Paintings.

Publication and Programs

The accompanying publication was written by Ives, who holds dual degrees in art history and landscape design. Published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press, the book will be available in The Met Store (hardcover, $50).

The catalogue is made possible by the Janice H. Levin Fund and the Doris Duke Fund for Publications.

Several events, performances, and Education programs will complement the exhibition and are free with admission unless otherwise noted.

In a Sunday at The Met program on April 29, from 2 to 3:30 p.m., scholars and designers will discuss the ongoing significance and evolution of public parks in cities from 19th-century Paris to present-day New York.

On Sunday, May 13, from 1 to 4 p.m., families with children ages 3–11 are invited to drop in for a free Family Afternoon program, “Blooming Blossoms,” and discover through hands-on activities how artists use nature in their work.

On Sunday, May 20, at 2 p.m., The Orchestra Now and Bard Festival Chorale will perform a Sight and Sound program of Debussy’s Nocturnes, relating the musical works to French Impressionist painting. Tickets start at $30 and include same-day Museum admission. For tickets, visit, call 212-570-3949, or stop by the Great Hall Box Office at The Met Fifth Avenue.

The era of the Impressionists was also a time of extraordinary technological advances in the development of the Western classical flute, and on Friday, June 15, in gallery 961, Brandon Patrick George will give a flute performance that ranges from the Baroque music of Versailles to the evocative and moody compositions of Impressionist composers like Debussy and Ravel. For times, visit

The exhibition will be featured on The Met website, as well as on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter via the hashtag #ParksandGardens.


The exhibition Visitors to Versailles (1682–1789)—which focuses on the palace and gardens of Versailles during the century before the French Revolution—will be shown at The Met concurrently (April 16–July 29, 2018). The two exhibitions viewed in sequence provide visitors with a new appreciation of French culture in the late 17th through early 20th century.

The exhibition is made possible by The International Council of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Additional support is provided by the William Randolph Hearst Foundation, Beatrice Stern, the Diane W. and James E. Burke Fund, the Gail and Parker Gilbert Fund, The Florence Gould Foundation, The Danny Kaye and Sylvia Fine Kaye Foundation/French Heritage Society, and The Al Thani Collection.

It is organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Palace of Versailles.




Updated on March 6, 2018

Image:Claude Monet (French, 1840–1926). The Parc Monceau (detail), 1878. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ittleson Jr. Purchase Fund, 1959 (59.142)

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