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Pastoral Landscape, Claude Lorrain, 1638,
Minneapolis Institute of Arts

 
 

@The Morgan Library

Romantic Gardens: Nature, Art, & Landscape Design

 

       

Romance...

 
 

...how to lead up the garden path!

   

 

By the latter half of the 18th century the gardens of Versailles were old hat: symmetry was out, formal arrangements of trees and water in geometric designs were passé, evergreens in parterres de broderie had come undone.  Romantic gardens were in: now a heightened sensitivity to nature, ‘landscaped gardens’ that had winding paths, scenery that unfolded as one walked, a wild profusion of plantings, all following 17th century developments in landscape painting, especially the pastorals and wilderness scenes of painters like Claude Lorrain, Nicolas Poussin, and Salvator Rosa that favored majestic scenery, idyllic vistas, a certain sentimental mistiness, romantic ruins, and often, rustic figures like shepherds.

 

And all this paralleled literary developments: Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey, Alexander Pope’s 1731 Epistle to Burlington (the original manuscript on display at the Morgan show) on architecture and landscaping, where he talks of ‘spontaneous beauties,’ takes on Versailles, and says:

To build, to plant, whatever you intend,

To rear the column, or the arch to bend,

To swell the terrace, or to sink the grot;

In all, let Nature never be forgot.

 


Alexander Pope's own house (with grotto) at Twickenham

 

And from Edmund Burke’s 1756 Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful the idea of the picturesque (which is so essential to the idea of the romantic garden) as finding the meeting ground between the sublime (awe-inspiring nature, the delight from that ‘frisson of terror’) and the beautiful.  Jane Austen wove picturesque landscape views into her novels.  In Pride and Prejudice (and unfortunately, in Emma as well!) the courtship is sealed outside, in nature, on a woodland path and in a garden respectively.

 

The question was how does a man’s art follow nature?  An indication might be in the way he landscaped his garden.  And Elizabeth Bennet’s first reaction to Pemberley: “She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste....Every disposition of the ground was good; and she looked on the whole scene, the river, the trees scattered on its banks, and the winding of the valley, as far as she could trace it, with delight”

 

So here in New York we had Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux win the competition for the design of Central Park with their Greensward Plan in 1858, following in the Romantic tradition.  So remember ladies, when Romeo leads you up the garden path, the question to ask, according to Jane Austen, is always: “Darcy, Darcy, how does your garden grow?”

 

Indoors: Romantic Gardens@The Morgan Library (complete with landscaping plans, and Romantic paintings and original manuscripts)

 

Outdoors: Take a Romantic Walk in Central Park

 

Read: Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

 

From the eCognoscente Archives: On Rereading Pride and Prejudice

 

Tags: literature  design architecture  library   jane austen   books  gardens  Romantic

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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