“An artist’s interest in gardening is to produce pictures without brushes.” Anna Lea Merritt
The latest luminous film from Exhibition on Screen is from the Florence Griswold Museum in Connecticut located at the former boarding house in Connecticut where the artists gathered .
Narrated by Gillian Anderson and directed by Phil Grabsky, with some voice over of artist’s letters of the time, it documents how the American impressionist movement followed its own path, whilst taking heed of leading French impressionists such as Renoir and Cezanne.
It also puts the art movement in context of the development of America at the time with the adoption of Impressionist techniques by US artists and it examines the way the movement interacted with changing attitudes to gardens, as well as the many other upheavals in American society at the time.
The film blends shots of paintings in the exhibition with footage of the places which inspired them, both in America and Europe, some of which have changed little since
Some of the paintings are photographed in extreme closeup so you can analyse every brushstroke and we also see the various rooms of the exhibition and how they were laid out. And,yes there are sumptuous shots of Monet’s garden at Giverney and the stunning Bartram’s Garden in Philadelphia. Pennsylvania.
This documentary is a companion piece, in a way, to the previous documentaries on Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse and I, Claude Monet. The focus, this time, is on leading American impressionists including Theodore Robinson, Mary Cassatt, John Henry Twatchtman, Childe Hassam, and Willard Metcalf. Edward Simmons is also mentioned, as well as the work of Jon Leslie Breck who is now regarded as the artist credited with introducing Impressionism to America.
We see how in the late 1800s, America became more focused on discovering its identity through the histories of its very diverse population. This created enormous interest in Europe – acquiring a European education, particularly spending time in Paris, became almost a necessity for the wealthy privileged classes.
The film shows how with Claude Monet’s work dominating the Parisian cultural scene, it was no surprise that Impressionism would make its way across the Atlantic, and we also see how attempts to use its language to say something truly American were where the American Impressionist movement eventually broke away and distinctively transformed into something unique. The natural relationship between this and the American landscape – both cultivated and inherent– is the main content of the exhibition and film.
Florence Griswold’s garden has a major role in the story, which separates the art of painting from the arts of gardening and brings a more instinctive, somewhat different slant to the later. We see how the art of designing the ornamental garden blossomed and the gardens over the various seasons (some glorious Spring /Summer paintings and shots, but also some stunning snowy winter ones). There was also the rise of the City Beautiful movement.
There is less focus on individuals in this film and more on movements as the film talks about the various painters who stayed at Griswold’s retreat. One major section examines the work of female artists and the different ways American painters depicted women, moving away from the muse, the demure, the innocent, to depict women in active roles, women educating themselves and women aware of the restrictions placed on their lives, their struggle to become independent and accepted for their own worth.
The rise of the Landscape Gardener as a career is also examined, It’s no accident that this was also the period when US women achieved the hard won right to exhibit and sell their work on the same basis as men.
By the 1920’s American Impressionism was wilting and the art and world scene changing drastically.
This was a fascinating film.
Running time allow just under two hours no interval.
EXHIBITION ON SCREEN : THE ARTIST’S GARDEN : AMERICAN IMPRESSIONISTS is screening at selected arthouse cinemas.