At The Met (main building), through July 29, 2018:
Visitors to Versailles 1682 – 1789
Public Parks, Private Gardens – Paris to Provence
Complementary seasonal shows at The Met, beginning with an artistic tour of 18th-century Versailles. An excellent mixed-media installation on the sensory experience of visitors to the extravagant complex developed by the Bourbons. Do the audio guide, which is not just speechifying, but includes dramatized period anecdotes and recreated probable ambient sounds (nature, music). An integrated arrangement of carriages, couture, furniture, personal objects, wallpaper, and landscape, architectural, and portrait prints and paintings gives a great overview of varied continental styles of the era, as well as precisely who visited and how—sometimes in costume ruses aimed at avoiding scrutiny for those rich and famous rulers and diplomats who came mainly to party. Other than to specialized cognoscenti, few artist names will stand out. Mostly, as you will see, late French Baroque was the result of an ongoing collaborative design machine of similarly well-trained, interchangeable artists and craftsmen in the shadow of Louis XIV’s maestro, Charles Le Brun, along with porcelain and tapestry factories.
An abundance of images and objects here are self-referential–related to the ongoing design enrichment of the grounds and palace, including panoramas documenting operatic-scale pomp and ceremony, and amusing zoomorphic, allegorical garden sculptures. One charming and telling naturalistic painting to note depicts laborers clearing brush, by Hubert Robert, who also stands out with a proto-Impressionist scene of fireworks at night.
Moving into 1800, gardening petered down to the bourgeoisie as a civic and personal craze, as Public Parks, Private Gardens delineates, also through a multi-media presentation that includes botanical illustrations, photographs, diagrams, popular prints, glassware, ceramics, and period gardening accoutrements, as well as painting. Not unexpectedly, Impressionism reigns. It’s hard to believe that such lovely flowery fluff was once considered art-radical. Repros inevitably dull the continued fresh-air ambiance and semblance of synaesthetics in the fragrant foliage depicted in work by the original practitioners gathered here, along with bold heritors like Van Gogh and (finally here) Matisse.