One Gardener’s Irreverent Take on Time-Honored Garden Art

Behind the Scenes of 19th Century Masterpieces

Some background first.

Public Parks, Private Gardens – Paris to Provence opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in March and will run to the end of July.

Theodore Rousseau. The Edge of the Woods. . . Fontainebleau Forest, 1854. Toward a more natural landscape

It is stunning. It’s a slice of horticultural history told with landscapes, portraits, still lifes, cartoons, maps, samples of tools, and artifacts. It’s worth viewing several times.

The 19th century was an exciting time for people who loved plants. An unstoppable green revolution was rolling through the land.

The artifice of formal gardens was giving way to inviting, natural landscapes with soft edges.

Botanical specimens were arriving regularly from exotic ports. Nurserymen were propagating and hybridizing garden staples for sale to the bourgeoisie who were cultivating flower gardens.

Edouard Manet. Music in the Tuileries Gardens, 1862

Property once owned by the Royals became destinations for recreation and rendezvous. Boulevards grew leafy glades, and new parks promised leisurely Sunday afternoon walks for a work-weary city population.

A French journalist in 1860 summed it up. “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.”

Henri Fantin-Latour. Summer Flowers, 1880. The flowers are from his garden

At the same time, artists were drawing inspiration from the natural world. Some became gardeners, and they celebrated their gardens in their paintings.

Others immersed themselves in the natural world, capturing on canvas light and color in new ways.

It is easy to be charmed by these idyllic tableaux. But I couldn’t help thinking that we’re not seeing the entire picture, that there might be more behind the scenes.

As a gardener who regularly mucks in the mud and swats at mosquitos, I have a slightly different perspective on some these masterpieces.

Here is my own humble interpretation.

Albert Bartholome. The Artist’s Wife Reading, 1883

Tomorrow I’ll weed.

Claude Monet. Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe, 1865

What? No ants?

Honore Daumier, Cartoon, Lithograph, 1845

Caption translated: “I thought it would be more fun than this to water flowers during a heat wave.”

Claude Monet. Women in the Garden, 1867

Didn’t ANYONE tell her about chiggers and ticks?

Alfred Stevens. The Glass Ball, 1875 (oil on canvas)

No, that’s not poison ivy on your nose.

Claude Monet. The Path through the Irises, 1917

Got a little out of hand, did it? I know the feeling.

Gustave Caillebotte. The Parc Monceau, 1867

Can I get the name of the gardener who edged these paths? I have a friend. . .

Edouard Manet. Monet Family in their Garden at Argenteuil, 1874

But Mom, I’m so-o bored. Can’t I go play?

Hippolyte Bayard. In the Garden, 1842

How neat. Come to my potting area some time for the real deal.

Paul Cezanne. Madame Cezanne in the Conservatory, 1891

Do you think anyone will notice I didn’t do my nails?

Mary Cassatt. Lydia Crocheting in the Garden at Marly, 1880L

Lydia intends to get neither a sunburn nor a single bug bite.

Edgar Degas. Woman Seated beside a Vase of Flowers, 1865

Now where can I find space out there for more flower beds?

Marie-Francois Firman-Girard. The Flower Market, 1875

Forerunner of our plant sales?

Honore Daumier. Lithograph, Cartoon, 1850

Caption translated: “No matter what one says, old things are always beautiful.”
“Yes, my dear, but only in marble.”

Odilon Redon. Madame Arthur Fontaine, 1901

I don’t sweat when I embroider.


This entry was posted in Garden Humor, Gardens in Paris, impressionism garden masterpieces and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to One Gardener’s Irreverent Take on Time-Honored Garden Art

  1. Linda says:

    If the artists could see your captions they would surely turn over in their graves. 😅. Degas’ ‘Wonan Seated beside a Vase of Flowers’ reminds me of a friend of mine that lives on Holiday Island. Hmmm.

  2. tonytomeo says:

    Oh goodness! How irreverent!

  3. janesmudgeegarden says:

    So clever, I love it! Your post was fun to read.

    • Thanks, Jane, I had fun with this post, and there is a grain of truth in the irreverence. How many aristocrats actually did the dirty work of gardening back then — or now?

  4. janesmudgeegarden says:

    Not many, I’m sure. Monet had six gardeners!

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