The Crimson Rambler (1908) by Philip Leslie Hale, who experimented with Impressionism while studying in Paris in the late 19th century.
One of Philadelphia’s lesser-known claims to fame is its indelible influence on gardening in America. This influence is extant: The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, founded in 1827, still hosts the world’s oldest and largest annual indoor flower show, and today’s Garden Club of America was established in Philadelphia in 1913. This spring, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts celebrates this horticultural history with “The Artist’s Garden: American Impressionism and the Garden Movement, 1887-1920,” which explores both American and European gardens and emphasizes Philadelphia’s role as originator of the Colonial Revival Garden movement.
“The [era] that the exhibition covers saw an upsurge in nationalist feeling inspired by the Centennial Exhibition held in Philadelphia in 1876,” says Dr. Anna O. Marley, curator of historical American art at PAFA and curator of the exhibit. Marley also edited the book of the same title, which was expanded from the show’s catalog and further explores the intersection of art and horticulture. “Born in the nostalgic atmosphere of the Colonial Revival, the garden movement represents a national and middle-class enthusiasm for cultivating gardens that were intimate and distinctly American,” she says.
American artists flocked to France during the late 19th century to study Impressionist techniques and paint plein air. When they returned home, they were able to capture environments of native plants and gardening trends familiar to the average middle-class American. For example, Philip Leslie Hale’s oil painting The Crimson Rambler (1908) depicted morning glories, which “were wildly popular newcomers to American gardens at the turn of the 20th century, imported from Japan via Great Britain in 1894,” says Marley.
“We [worked] with an amazing group of partners—gardeners and artists as well as local heads of garden clubs, public gardens, and urban gardening pioneers,” she continues. “This exhibition and the accompanying publication coincide with an abundance of interest in gardening in the Philadelphia area—whether [that means] farm-to-table restaurants mushrooming about the city or the Greater Philadelphia Gardens group rightly promoting Philadelphia as America’s Garden Capital.” On view through May 24 at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 118 N. Broad St., 215-972-7600