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The American Impressionists in the Garden

Author(s): May Brawley Hill

At the end of the nineteenth century, American artists demonstrated a preference for gardens as artistic motifs as well as a growing appreciation of the art of gardening itself. The range of color and the variation in form and silhouette made the garden a compelling subject for a large number of painters inclined toward the Impressionist style. Early twentieth-century America witnessed a mania for the garden, and the interest in the art of gardening dominated many aspects of domestic life. Publications and articles offered gardening advice for Americans, while also asserting that the art of gardening paralleled the art of painting.
The exhibition catalog The American Impressionists in the Garden explores the theme of the garden in American art and society of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. May Brawley Hill's essay discusses a range of themes, including the Impressionist fascination for gardens, the history of garden design, comparisons between European and American garden paintings, images of women, and the art colony movement, as well as providing detailed readings of the specific gardens painted and cultivated by these artists.
Besides the forty-four color plates depicting European and American gardens by American artists, the catalog includes some historic photographs of artists in garden settings. These allow the reader to examine the relationship between the garden as photographed and the garden as painted. The catalog looks at garden paintings from Holland, France, Italy, and England and from different regions in the United States, including the Northeast, Southeast, Southwest, and West Coast. Garden sculpture was an essential element of garden design, and the catalog also features images of a number of small-scale bronzes and other statuary for garden environments.
This book has been developed to accompany a 2010 exhibition at Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Museum of Art.

Biography of Author(s)

Trained as an art historian with publications in American nineteenth-century art, May Brawley Hill, as she puts it, "experienced a garden conversion twenty years ago and determined to learn all I could about such a neglected and compelling branch of the fine arts." Her most recent book is On Foreign Soil: Gardens of Americans Abroad.


  • "What makes it armchair-worthy: This work of art and words takes us into the museum's gallery and offers a thoughtful stroll through that rich period in art history, when nudes apparently were lounging about the gardens at Monet's Giverny and American painters were flocking to the garden gates."
    --Chicago Tribune