The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum reopened its doors this past June after nearly two years with an exciting range of new exhibitions. Although restrained, The Modernist French Garden: Designs by the Vera Brothers presents an informative, yet concise, survey of the brothers’ drawings produced for their 1912 landscape design treatise, Le Nouveau Jardin.
The brothers André and Paul Vera were born towards the end of the 19th century and came of age in the heady days of the art nouveau movement. In contrast to their contemporaneous peers, the two sought to elevate French traditional design through an art deco lens; in particular, advocating for a renaissance of formal geometric French baroque landscape design. These ideas were brought to life through the publication of illustrative works Le Nouveau Jardin (1912) and Les Jardins (1919).
“Cooper Hewitt has an exceptionally strong collection of 40 drawings of early garden designs by the Vera brothers, the 18 drawings included in this exhibition were selected to highlight the design process,” said Caitlin Condell, Associate Curator and Head of Drawings, Prints & Graphic Design. “Loosely rendered drawings executed in watercolor highlight conceptual thinking and some sheets feature variations on an idea, revealing the brothers’ formal experimentation. Other works showcase the highly stylized but finely executed illustrations that were prepared for use in their published volumes. Taken together the works represent a range of perspectives, from aerial views to ground level vistas.”
Found throughout the drawings is an application of rationalized geometric rigor and an emphasis on plan over the naturalistic follies that had come to dominate both 19th-century French and international landscape design. The pathways, plantings, and overall coloration are rigidly laid out, and, in their character, portend Modernist urban planning that would ultimately define cities across the world in the 20th century.
“The Vera brothers were among several influential architects and designers working in France who ushered in the transformation of the modern garden, including Gabriel Guevrekian, Le Corbusier, and Pierre-Émile Legrain,” continued Condell. “It was through their published treatises and provocative texts that the Vera brothers’ impact on landscape design was most strongly felt.”
The Modernist French Garden: Design by the Vera Brothers
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
2 East 91st Street
Through January 2, 2022