Romantic Gardens: Nature, Art, and Landscape Design

May 21 through September 5, 2010
Image of View of the Welbeck Estate

Scenic vistas, winding paths, bucolic meadows, and rustic retreats suitable for solitary contemplation are just a few of the alluring naturalistic features of gardens created in the Romantic spirit. Landscape designers of the Romantic era sought to express the inherent beauty of nature in opposition to the strictly symmetrical, formal gardens favored by aristocrats of the old regime.

The Romantics looked to nature as a liberating force, a source of sensual pleasure, moral instruction, religious insight, and artistic inspiration. Eloquent exponents of these ideals, they extolled the mystical powers of nature and argued for more sympathetic styles of garden design in books, manuscripts, and drawings now regarded as core documents of the Romantic Movement. Their cult of inner beauty and their view of the outside world dominated European thought during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

The exhibition features approximately ninety highly influential texts and outstanding works of art, providing a compelling overview of ideas championed by the Romantics and also implemented by them in private estates and public parks in Europe and the United States, notably New York's Central Park.

Drawn from the Morgan's holdings of manuscripts, drawings, and rare books, as well as lavishly illustrated landscape albums from private and other public collections, the exhibition attests to the artistic creativity and intellectual ferment of the era, a time when technological advances in book production greatly enhanced the transmission of ideas. Steel engravings in William Cullen Bryant's Picturesque America (1872–74) helped to celebrate the scenic splendors of this country. Lithographs in Prince Pückler-Muskau's Hints on Landscape Gardening (1834) depict the improvements he made in his vast estate at great expense. His "parkomania" eventually drove him into debt and compelled him to sell the garden paradise he had created.

Also on view are two manuscript Red Books by Humphry Repton (1752–1818), the leading landscape architect of his time and author of theoretical treatises greatly admired by Pückler and other European connoisseurs. In these publications and the Red Books (known for their characteristic red bindings), Repton developed a technique of showing before-and-after views of picturesque scenery so that his readers and clients could see at a glance what he expected to accomplish.

The proposals of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux for the design of Central Park can be seen in their famous "Greensward" plan (1858), a large and detailed pen-and-ink drawing they submitted to a competition organized by the park commissioners. For their prize-winning "entry no. 33," they also prepared presentation boards with the "present outlines" in photographs attributed to Mathew Brady and the "effect proposed" in oil sketches made by Vaux. Two of the twelve presentation boards are on display.

The exhibition includes literary manuscripts for important Romantic and Pre-Romantic works, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau's hugely popular novel, Julie, ou, La Nouvelle Héloïse (1761), which introduced highly influential theories of landscape design. Equally influential was Alexander Pope's Epistle to Lord Burlington (1731), a verse satire admonishing wealthy proprietors of country estates to scorn self-indulgent follies and respect the "Genius of the Place," the natural beauty of the terrain. Here, too, the author's original manuscript is shown.

Landscape art of the Romantic era also expressed the reverence for nature and aesthetic ideals apparent in garden design of that period. Among the drawings on view are such Romantic masterpieces as Caspar David Friedrich's Moonlit Landscape (ca. 1830) and J. M. W. Turner's The Pass at St. Gotthard (1843), which formerly belonged to the art critic John Ruskin. Turner's drawing is shown in conjunction with Ruskin's manuscript of Modern Painters, which defends the work of Turner—just one of many cultural connections revealed in this exhibition.

This exhibition is underwritten by the Johansson Family Foundation.

Generous support is provided by Janine Luke and Melvin R. Seiden, as well as by The Bodman Foundation, Charles C. Butt, The Chilton Foundation, the Heineman Foundation for Research, Educational, Charitable and Scientific Purposes, Inc., and Deutsche Lufthansa AG.

The catalogue is made possible by The Foundation for Landscape Studies; the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts; Patrick and Elizabeth Gerschel; Furthermore, a program of the J. M. Kaplan Fund, Inc.; the German Consulate General in New York; the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in New York; and the Andrew W. Mellon Fund for Research and Publications.

View of the Welbeck Estate, Humphry Repton (1752–1818), Sketches and Hints on Landscape Gardening (London, 1794). PML 46448. Gift of Henry S. Morgan and Junius S. Morgan, 1954. Photography, Graham Haber, 2009.

Selected images

William Wordsworth

Plan for a winter garden at Coleorton Hall, Leicestershire

Purchased on the Fellows Fund, 1954

John Ruskin

"Of Modern Landscape." Vol. 3, chapter 16, sect. 39 of Modern Painters.

Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1906

Thomas Rowlandson

The Doctor Sketching the Lake

Gift of J. P. Morgan, Jr.

Edward Rooker after William Marlow (1740–1813)
(ca. 1712–1774)

A View of the Wilderness, with the Alhambra, the Pagoda, and the Mosque. Etched and engraved plate in William Chambers (1723–1796)
Plans, Elevations, Sections, and Perspective Views of the Gardens and Buildings at Kew in Surry, the Seat of Her Royal Highness, the Princess Dowager of Wales.
London: Printed by J. Haberkorn . . . for the author, and . . . A. Millar [and nine others], 1763.

Gift of Henry S. Morgan, 1962

Alexander Pope

Of Taste: An Epistle to the Earl of Burlington

Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1909

G. L. Smith

The Temple of British Worthies, A Gate-way by Leoni, The Cold Bath, The Grotto

Purchased on the Gordon N. Ray Fund, 2004

John Martin

View of the Temple of Suryah & Fountain of Maha Dao, with a Distant View of North Side of Mansion House

Bequest of Gordon N. Ray, 1987

Noël Le Mire after Jean-Michel Moreau, called Moreau le Jeune (1741–1814)

[Le premier baiser de l'amour.

Bequest of Gordon N. Ray, 1987

William Gilpin

From the album River-Views, Bays & Sea Coasts

Purchased as the gift of Mrs. Enid A. Haupt

Giovanni Francesco Venturini

Veduta della cascata sotto l'organo nel piano del giardino. 

Gift of Paul Mellon, 1979

Pierre-Philippe Choffard after Nicolas André Monsiaux (1754–1837).

Approchez, contemplez ce monument pieux où pleuroit en silence un fils religieux.

Purchased on the Gordon N. Ray Fund, 2004

John Heaviside Clark
(ca. 1770–1836)


Bequest of Gordon N. Ray, 1987

Carl Gustav Carus

Fountain Before a Temple

Thaw Collection

William Callow

The Garden at Versailles with the Fishing Temple (Petit Hameau de la Reine, Versailles)

Purchased on the Sunny Crawford von Bülow Fund 1978

James Charles Armytage after John Ruskin (1819–1900)

Lake, Land, and Cloud

Bequest of Gordon N. Ray, 1987

Jacques Aliamet after Charles Eisen (1720–1778)

Allegory of architecture

Purchased on the Gordon N. Ray Fund, 2008

Charles Joseph Natoire

The Cascade at the Villa Aldobrandini, Frascati

Purchased as the gift of the Fellows

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Julie, ou La Nouvelle Héloïse

The Dannie and Hettie Heineman Collection, gift of the Heineman Foundation, 1977

Caspar David Friedrich

Moonlit Landscape

Thaw Collection

Francis Danby

The Procession of Cristna

Purchased on the Sunny Crawford von Bülow Fund

John Constable

View of Cathanger Near Petworth

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Victor Thaw