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The Artist in the Garden

Curated by Kirsten M. Jensen, Ph.D., Gerry & Marguerite Lenfest Chief Curator, James A. Michener Art Museum

February 7 – August 9, 2015
Putman Smith Gallery

Rae Sloan Bredin (1880-1933), Barbara, ca. 1920. Oil on canvas, 30 x 30 in. Collection of Carol and Louis E. Della Penna
BJO Nordfeldt (1878-1955), Sunday Boredom, ca. late 1930s. Oil on Masonite, 26 x 34 inches, James A. Michener Art Museum. Gift of George C. Benson in Honor of John Horton. 2009.7.1
Jennifer Losch Bartlett (b. 1941), Juniper, 2010, Oil on two canvases Diptych, 60 x 120 in. Courtesy of Locks Gallery, photo by Joseph Hu
Louis B. Sloan (1932-2008), Frost Valley in the Catskills, 1995, Oil on canvas, 54 x 70 in. Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Gift of Elizabeth Osborne. 2001.4

The Artist in the Garden explores the relationship between artists and nature from early in the 20th century to today. It begins with the close of the Progressive Era (around 1920), a time when industrial and urban development began to transform the landscape, and ends with recent work by living artists. The exhibition represents a broad array of stylistic and aesthetic responses to nature and the garden within the context of larger social and environmental changes.

Early in the 20th century, many artists left the city for small, picturesque towns, such as New Hope and Lambertville. Although factories and mills still lined the Delaware River, most artists in the region chose instead to focus their attention on the landscape. Many were passionate gardeners, and their depictions of their own backyard retreats reinforce the era’s belief in the restorative power of nature. At the same time, changes in art, technology, and industrialization caused many artists to think about the natural world in more abstract or idealized terms, creating on canvas highly stylized aesthetic retreats. After mid-century, depictions of nature reflected the increasingly varied—and occasionally ambivalent or resigned—responses to the impact of urban development and suburbanization on the environment at the end of the century.

The exhibition is divided loosely into three thematic sections, "The Back Yard," "The Mythological Garden," and "Intimate Spaces/Private Worlds," and includes work by Daniel Garber, Edward Redfield, John Folinsbee, Violet Oakley, Rockwell Kent, Max Weber, Arthur Bowen Davies, Jennifer Bartlett, Elizabeth Osborne, Elsie Driggs, and Peter Paone. The Artist in the Garden is a companion exhibition to The Artist's Garden: American Impressionism and the Garden Movement, 1887 – 1920, on view at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from February 13 to May 24, 2015.

The Artist in the Garden is generously supported by Bob and Joyce Byers.

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