Paris to Provence: Met Exhibition Momentarily Delivers Us From City Life

Photo from the Met

Photo from the Met

Even Parisians need to be provincial every now and then. New Yorker’s can relate to the need to break out of the city and rejuvenate in the beauty of nature. You can now ditch the weekend trip to the Pocono’s and connect with nature at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibit "Public, Parks, Private Gardens: Paris to Provence." The exhibit features vivid period pieces by artist such as Monet that image the rise of the carefully designed public and private gardens of Paris.

At the heart of the exhibit is a painting style called "Impressionism." Artists were ditching their studios and heading outside to paint the things they witnessed in everyday life. This technique was called by the French “en plain air,” and it encouraged an individualistic streak in art that was outside of the established art academies of its day.

The 19th century, the period which impressionism became popular, was at the height of the industrial revolution. French industry, culture, and the urban life sat at top of this evolutionary period. The French loved beauty, and as industry threatened human’s connection with nature, they constructed their most beautiful gardens.

The desire to reconnect with nature was the French obsession with conquering and managing nature. A slew of town home plans is featured in the exhibit which depict ornate gardens crafted to form a beautiful tapestry. These gardens were seen as the extension of the home. They had “rooms” and “hallways” and the shaped shrubbery created designs that resembled the decadent carpet that lined their abodes.

The painting by Monet in the exhibit depicts the restless anxiety of the industrial age. He painted his “sitters” in their own gardens or in one of the many public gardens engaging in relaxing weekend activities. One such painting, Camille Monet on a Garden Bench, pictures his wife enjoying a bench in the garden with a bouquet. A man rests his arms on the bench behind her, gazing over at the painter. The background is bright, full of red flowers taking in the sunlight, but the subjects siting under a shade tree provide a sullen contrast. Both “sitters” wear a mixture of gray and black and their expressions are reserved with a touch of sadness.

Photo from the Met

Photo from the Met

The melancholy of the subjects is a representation of the tragedy of the times. Industry led to great improvements to human life, but at a cost. Mitigating this cost is the goal of the French public park system of the 19th century.

Entering the Robert Lehman Collection exhibit hall, one feels like they have stepped in a public park. The center of the atrium features a large stone fountain surrounded by shrubbery with benches on each side to sit and relax in the open space. The room sets the mood to walk through the galleries that surround the courtyard full of impressionist paintings of the French parks. This special exhibit will allow its viewers to enjoy the beauty of gardens while pondering the importance of equality in a stratified social context.

The French loved beauty, and as industry threatened human’s connection with nature, they constructed their most beautiful gardens.

The French, after their revolution in the early 1800’s, were dedicated to the equality of all people. The parks were meant to be gathering places for the elite and working class. Napoleon III wanted each Parisian to be no more than 10 minutes from a park. The Met itself embodies this principle with a Museum that showcases world class art free for the public’s viewing.

When you want to connect with nature, but don’t have time to leave the Manhattan grid, visit "Public Parks, Private Gardens" which runs until July 29, 2018. It will give the peace of nature while stimulating thought about how we balance the urban lifestyle with natural beauty. Afterward, stroll through central park, one of America’s greatest constructed parks and take your new knowledge to the beaten path. You will have a whole new appreciation for your city.

Make sure to grab a tour guide, an art inclined friend, or read up on the exhibit on the Met’s website to get the most out of your visit.