French Picturesque Gardens of the 18th Century

rousseau tombFrench philosophe Jean Jacques Rousseau’s tomb in Rene de Girardin’s garden of Ermenonville. Rousseau’s body was removed during the French Revolution and reinterred in the Pantheon in Paris. (Image from Wikipedia)


I wrote this essay in 2006 for an art history Honours course on eighteenth-century French art. The images were photocopied from books, so the quality isn’t good, but at least should help when reading the essay.


Experiencing French Picturesque Gardens of the mid-later 18th Century: Gendered Spaces?

“There will never be pleasant gardens unless places already embellished by nature are chosen, delightful places where the eye will fall on a landscape adorned with a thousand rustic charms and where contemplation will give rise to those moments of sweet reverie which hold the soul in happy repose.”

Abbe Laugier, On Architecture, (1753)


“Garden (arts) – a site which is planted and cultivated with artistry, for satisfying our needs and for our delectation. …

In England, the walks, which are negotiable in all weathers, are havens of sweet and serene enjoyment – the body relaxes, the mind wanders, the eyes are enchanted…Nature alone, modestly adorned and never painted, displays her ornaments and blessings…Let us call birds into these delightful places: their concerts will draw people and encourage a taste for sentiment far more than will marble and bronze.”

Encyclopedie, entry on Jardin, vol 8, (1765) by Chevalier Louis de Jaucourt


“A need often awakes in their [men’s] troubled souls to escape the painful commotion that increasingly marks all societies. They obey nature’s command, for she smiles at them encouragingly and says: ‘Come! Escape the turmoil that exhausts you…Build yourselves retreats where, surrounded by your children, your wives, and some true friends, you may taste, at least for a while, the pleasures that I have in store for you’.”

Claude-Henri Watelet, Essai sur Jardins, (1774)

* * *


Fig 1: Plan of a Jardin Anglais, c.1785 (from Hunt, 2002:100)

The ‘picturesque’ garden became popular in France from the 1760s among the wealthy classes.[1] It did not necessarily replace a formal garden and the two quite often co-existed (as shown in fig 1). During the 1770s a number of essays were published on picturesque gardens – these essays were a mixture of theory, hints on how to design one, guides to actual gardens and how to experience them. Unlike the formal gardens of the seventeenth century and early eighteenth century, with their geometric paths, parterres and main vista, the picturesque garden was composed of meandering paths and could not be seen all at once. In fact, it could only be fully experienced by walking through it. Eliciting effects on the viewer was the focus of the picturesque garden, which often tried to evoke memories of a landscape painting. Views were deliberately arranged, with a rustic building, temple, or ‘ruin’ as the focus of a view, and poetic inscriptions were sometimes used to encourage an ‘appropriate’ response in the viewer. Commenting on the change from formal to picturesque, Saisselin proposes: ‘As the formal garden had implied a certain type of man, so the new garden implies another type. A new type of observer is posed.’ (Saisselin, 1985:291). Lavin sees the picturesque garden as a male retreat from the artificial and femininised world of the Parisian salons in her reading of Claude-Henri Watelet’s Essay on Gardens, published in 1774 – one of the first French texts on picturesque gardening (Lavin, 1996).

In this essay I want to explore how the ‘new man’ differed from the earlier one; and whether these gardens were intended mainly for men. If the picturesque garden was intended mainly as a male space this would contrast with the earlier French conception of a garden as a social setting for mixed company promenades, conversations, games, spectacles and so on. This essay focuses particularly on the garden writing of Watelet and Rene-Louis Girardin (as influenced by J J Rousseau) in relation to actual gardens, including their own. The change in garden design and theory was part of wider societal changes, which included critical debate on the role of women in public life. Yet, despite Lavin’s attempt, I think it is difficult to make a direct link between the two. Most of the ‘men of letters’ writing about picturesque gardens saw them as places of retreat away from urban life (nature contrasted with artifice) and as with most essays of the time these were written by men mostly for men. However, the experience of picturesque gardens was open to any person of sensibilité. The number of French women who had picturesque gardens – including possibly some of the earliest in France – attests to the fact that women of the time did not feel precluded from making or enjoying them.

In a 1708 publication Roger de Piles divided landscape as a painting genre into ‘heroic’ and ‘pastoral’. The heroic should be embellished with buildings such as temples, antique tombs and altars, whereas the pastoral was more natural (Lochhead, 1982:5). Over the course of the eighteenth century, landscape as a genre of painting improved its position in the traditional hierarchy of genres from near the bottom to near the top. Taking their cue from academic theory, it was common for the garden writers (English and French) to speak of different ‘genres’ of garden design. Watelet referred to heroic and pastoral, and both Watelet and Rene-Louis Girardin[2] (published 1777) used the terms picturesque, poetic and romantic, among others. The link with painting is quite explicit (with some writers more so than others), for example, Girardin relates garden composition to painting composition both literally (using a painter to sketch and paint the intended design and main view) and metaphorically (‘the ground is like the canvas of the picture, if anything is amiss there, it must be effaced or concealed…’ (Girardin, 1783:74). To Girardin, picturesque scenes were pleasant to the eyes and were ‘designed by the man of genius, and adored by the man of feeling’ (Girardin, 1783:139). Poetic scenes recalled ‘all the attributes of such a spot, which poetry has rendered sacred’ (Girardin, 1783:141). Romantic scenes surpassed even poetic ones because they appealed directly to sentiment: ‘Here the mind wanders with pleasure, and indulges those fond reveries…we wish to dwell in these scenes forever, for here we feel all the truth and energy of nature’ (Girardin, 1783:147). In all of these quotes it is the response of the viewer that matters.

During the eighteenth century the response of the viewer to a work of art assumed more importance in art theory and criticism, in contrast to the intellectual set of criteria that theorists had used since the Renaissance to judge art. Abbe Du Bos, influenced by the philosophy of John Locke, advocated for an art that aroused the passions through the direct stimulation of the senses (Lochhead, 1982:6). His work was first published in 1719 and republished throughout the century. Other writers also reflected this shift in focus from a reasoned intellectual approach to an emotional one. This places importance on an individual’s response and these ideas are dominant in the garden writing of the 1770s. The purpose of the garden in the essays of Watelet and Girardin is mainly for relaxation, contemplation, solitary meditation (or for the company of one or two true friends). Both authors imaginatively walk through their gardens describing the scenes and their reactions to them. Girardin says:

“…Tranquillity and silence reign in this peaceful retreat; and this little Elysium seems made for calm enjoyment and the real happiness of the soul…Next…a temple is discovered, where stillness and deep solitude invite to meditation. Here the divine enthusiasm of the poet meets with no interruption; here his sublime ideas are conceived (p56). […]The more solitary the scene, the farther removed from interruption, the more interesting will be the effect, and the stronger and deeper the impression upon our minds.” (p140) (Girardin, 1783).


“Attentive to the sweet emotions of love, filial tenderness and friendship, man discovers in these feelings even greater charms. He abandons himself to them in solitary places where his sensibilities are intensified by the happiness of birds; where the rhythmic sound of cascading rolling water prolongs a pleasing reverie.” (Watelet, 2003:23)

Watelet began developing his garden, which he called Moulin Joli, on a few small islands in the Seine from about 1754 on. Although illustrations of it show picturesque aspects, the actual plan appears rather formal (fig 2).

DSC07514Girardin began changing his chateau and garden at Ermenonville in the mid-1760s and continued to the late 1770s. The park was divided into different areas including the wilderness (desert), forest, meadows and farm (fig 3).


A picture supposedly of Rousseau admiring the view of the desert and lake (fig 4) could be an illustration of Girardin’s picturesque scene being ‘admired by the man of feeling’.

DSC07516There were a number of spots that would recall poetry or literature – for example, the ‘Monument to Old Loves’ (fig 5) is a reference to Rousseau’s novel Julie, or the New Heloise. The ultimate ‘romantic’ scene would become the Isle of Poplars containing, after 1778, Rousseau’s tomb (fig 6). The scene to the south from the chateau was often compared to a Claude Lorrain painting.


Walking into a picturesque scene, or ‘stepping through the frame’ (Saisselin, 1985:293/4), could apply in both picturesque gardens and imaginatively in musing on landscape paintings, most famously as Denis Diderot did in his art criticism of the 1767 Salon. On Claude-Joseph Vernet’s paintings exhibited that year he wrote as if he were walking through the various landscapes and conversing with a companion. At one point he says: ‘I won’t tell you how long my enchantment lasted; the motionlessness of the people, the solitude of the place, its profound silence suspends time, nothing else exists’ (Diderot, 1995:92). The ability of a work of art to create an illusion that was as affecting as reality was a mark of the genius of the artist. Diderot was not the only critic who imagined himself in a painting, although his was the most elaborate description (Lochhead, 1982:48). This is another indication of the importance the viewer had assumed in responding to art by the second half of the eighteenth century.

For Taylor-Leduc the ‘central issue of eighteenth-century garden theory was that of receptivity: for whom the gardens were built, and how the visitor responded to them’ (Taylor-Leduc, 1994:83). She notes that eighteenth-century garden theorists and amateurs were by and large members of the nobility who were active in finance, and whose personal fortunes were implicated in current debates on ‘public opinion’. When making their own gardens it is not surprising they would develop theories that legitimised their activities. The formal garden style came to be seen as appropriate only for royal palaces, and those gardens largely open to the public. For example, Watelet thought the symmetrical style appropriate as a place of reunion and assembly, suitable for the promenade, but it did not inspire the emotional response that Watelet valued:

“When Watelet established a distinction between parc ancien and moderne, he implied a distinction between two types of public; those who were promenading at Versailles and Paris, and another, made up of individuals like himself, who would withdraw from both court and city, for ‘private’ retreats and presumably a more intimate relationship with nature.” (Taylor-Leduc, 1994:84).

The promenade and the formal style were therefore seen as appropriate for cities, far from nature. In the Jaillot plan of Paris, published about 1778, the vast majority of Parisian gardens at that time were formal gardens (e.g. see fig 7), although there were a few picturesque gardens made in Paris from the mid-1770s, for example the Hotel de Ste-Foix, 1775 and Pavillon d’Orleans, 1774 (Dennis 1976). By 1783, the English translator of Girardin’s Essay would claim that ‘nothing is more common than to see in the environs of Paris, or even within its walls, an acre, or an acre and a half of ground, in which are introduced a shrubbery, a serpentine river, a bridge, a temple, an hermitage, and a dairy…’ (Girardin, 1783:iv).

DSC07518The type of structures considered appropriate to the formal and the picturesque garden also differed, and is another indication of a ‘new man’ or new type of observer. Statues, fountains and urns were replaced by rustic huts, a ‘Roman’ temple or perhaps a ruin, altars, monuments, tombs and sometimes fabriques representing exotic places. Saisselin (1985) relates this to a growth in interest in history, primitive origins, and other cultures. Notions of the passing of time, melancholy, and death, are the types of things a man of feeling muses on. After his imaginative walks through Vernet’s landscapes, Diderot talks about what he calls the ‘poetics of ruins’. The painter Hubert Robert does not meet Diderot’s expectations:

“Don’t you sense that there are too many figures here, that three-quarters of them should be removed? Only those enhancing the effect of solitude and silence should be retained…[With fewer figures] I’d have been unable to prevent myself from dreaming under this vault, from sitting down between these columns, from entering into your painting…The ideas ruins evoke in me are grand. Everything comes to nothing, everything perishes, everything passes, only the world remains, only time endures…Wherever I cast my glance, the objects surrounding me announce death and compel my resignation to what awaits me.” (Diderot, 1995:198).

Despite the apparent love of solitary pleasures, both Watelet’s garden of Moulin Joli, and Girardin’s Ermenonville, received plenty of visitors. At the entrance to his garden, Girardin placed an inscription, which included: ‘…in this wild place, all men will be friends, and all languages admitted’ (Calder, 2006:129). He also added that the garden was a place of ‘peaceful leisure, and of calm retreat’ contrasted with the ‘rude career of life’ (Monckton, 1789:217). Watelet dedicated his book to:

“friendship. To you, my friends, whom friendship guides and attracts to this pleasant retreat where together we may taste those pleasures so dear to gentle and sensitive souls, to you, who come here occasionally to find the solitary peace so favourable to literature and the arts, the consolation of wise men…” (Watelet, 2003:19)

Watelet also acknowledges in his essay the pleasures of sharing the garden with a friend. On describing a ‘hermitage’ he says:

“He [the owner of the garden] intends to enjoy there, from time to time, a special, more contemplative kind of pleasure derived from all these pastoral scenes. Or he may share it with a friend, for although the delectation of this kind of pleasure is best experienced in total solitude, it can never be disturbed by the presence of a friend with whom we speak of the happiness we feel. We let him enter into our soul and we say to him what we need to say to ourselves…By living in it the proprietor becomes himself an actor in his pastoral scene.” (Watelet, 2003:31)

These quotes suggest they saw the garden as a place of equality; perhaps a salon in the countryside? The Abbe Delille in his long poem Les Jardins (1782) also described his ideal garden as suited to thoughts of friendship, and as such it should be decorated with commemorative trees and statues of personal or well-known ‘friends’ – a statue of Captain Cook would fit because he was l’ami du monde (Pacini, 2003:272).

The notion of the garden as a private retreat is also expressed in these quotes. Wiebenson believes French interest in the picturesque garden reflected the retreat of the individual to nature and to rural life in a period of political and economic decline. (Wiebenson, 1978:3). Ideas about the retreat of the individual to nature were popularised by Jean Jacques Rousseau, who said in his 1751 Discourse on the Arts and Sciences that ‘man is by nature good, and only our institutions have made him bad’ (quoted in Taylor-Leduc, 1999:76). The extent to which ‘art’ or artifice – evidence of human intervention – was apparent in the picturesque garden became one of the main points of contention in garden theory. In his 1753 Essay on Architecture, Abbe Laugier criticised the gardens at Versailles for a number of faults, among them:

“Art, far from being hidden, is evident everywhere…This fault, still to be met with in most of our gardens, diminishes their enjoyment to such an extent that for pleasant promenades one has to leave these groves where art is too conspicuous and go look for la belle nature amidst the open country adorned with artless naïveté.” (Laugier, 1977:138)

Rousseau’s description of a ‘natural’ garden – the ‘Elysium’ – in his 1761 novel Julie, or the New Heloise was to inspire some of the amateur garden designers (although few actually copied it in reality). The ‘Elysium’ was created by the heroine, Julie. Her garden was private, enclosed and kept locked with only four keys. It was filled with wild flowers, trees, creeping plants for shade, water, birds, and lacked any obvious signs of human intervention. The garden is described by her former lover, Saint-Preux, in a letter. His first impression is:

“I thought I was looking at the wildest, most solitary place in nature, and it seemed to me I was the first mortal who ever set foot in this wilderness…I cried out in spontaneous ecstasy: ‘O Tinian! O Juan Fernandez!* Julie the ends of the earth are at your gate’…It is true, she said, that nature did it all, but under my direction, and there is nothing here that I have not designed”. *Rousseau’s footnote: Desert islands in the Southern Sea (Rousseau, 1997:387).

Saint-Preux later expounds on the ‘natural’, beginning with a very similar statement to Abbe Laugier:

“The mistake of so-called people of taste is to want art everywhere and never to be satisfied unless art is apparent; where true taste consists in hiding art; especially where the works of nature are concerned… He will allow no symmetry, it is the enemy of nature and variety…He will not worry about opening fine perspectives in the distance…. Certainly any man who did not wish to spend the finest days in such a simple and agreeable place possesses neither pure taste nor a sound soul.” (Rousseau, 1997:396/7)

Here ‘true taste’ is associated with the natural and both are also associated with virtue. Julie’s husband makes clear that the garden was designed by the ‘hands of virtue’. He also describes the garden as her ‘childish games’ which have never infringed on thematerfamilias’s duties’. The character of Julie was admired for her devotion as a wife and mother, for her simplicity, sincerity, generosity and sentiment, her love of nature, her modesty and feminine grace (Lee, 1984:350). Girardin designed small vignettes in his garden to evoke scenes from Julie, such as the ‘Monument to Old Loves’. Yet, in contrast to Julie’s enclosed garden, Girardin argues for openness – he approves of public roads crossing his property, as they ‘will serve to animate the picture. The nearer they are to your house, the more it will appear inhabited, and the moving scene will be an amusement to you’ (Girardin, 1783:89). Influenced by Rousseau, Girardin also found a moral significance in the countryside:

“A virtuous citizen, called back to the country by the real enjoyment of nature, will soon feel that the sufferings of humanity make the most painful of all spectacles; if he begins by the admiration of picturesque landscapes which please the sight, he will soon seek to produce the moral landscapes which delight the mind. Nothing is more touching than the sight of universal content.” (Girardin, 1783:150)

However, his views did not imply a radical overturning of the ‘natural’ order, but more of an enlightened paternalism – one where the ‘master’ would be present rather than living in Paris:

“The improvement of the farm is the necessary consequence of the master’s presence. His vigilance is kept up by having the land continually under his eye (p151)…[and] by providing for the subsistence of those, whose bodily labour supports the men of more thinking employments, who are to instruct or defend society.” (p149/150) (Girardin, 1783).

Rousseau lived his last six weeks, and was subsequently buried, at Ermenonville: ‘The ultimate installation for any garden’ (Calder, 2006:119). His tomb (probably designed by Hubert Robert) included images of women nursing children and reading Rousseau’s texts, including the novel Emile, in which he set out some of his most popular ideas on women, children and education. The tomb was on an island in a lake, and the lawn opposite the tomb was known as the banc des meres de famille – scenes frequently depicted mothers with children in this site (fig 8). There were two inscriptions here, one referring to Rousseau’s tomb, and the other to his writing on women and children: ‘Twas thine to teach the mother to bestow those tender cares, that infant nature blest…’ (Monckton 1789:221).

DSC07517When the garden writers contrasted nature and artifice they often made a comparison with women. At the time, women were also being criticised for their ‘artifice’. For example, criticisms of women and fashion centred on them squandering money, but also by using fashion and artifice to deceive men (Jones, 1994:948). The garden writers may have been expressing the same general views, but, perhaps, the analogy came easily to them – after all ‘la belle nature’ was often personified as a woman. A few examples are:

Laugier (1753) talking about the gardens of Versailles: ‘Many things had to be done in defiance of nature and the riches that have been lavished on this garden suit it as badly as curls and pompons suit an ugly face’ (Laugier, 1977:136).


“Among the ideas that imagination uses, those called pastoral are no doubt the most suitable to the embellishment of the countryside. But our notions of what was pastoral in the ancient world have become corrupted. And if those we identify today by that name descend from the ancient ones, they are to them as our city women, adorned with rich fabrics and ribbons, are to their grandmothers, who showed to advantage a modest dress trimmed only with a spray of flowers.” (Watelet, 2003:25).

Girardin, in describing the daughters of a ‘neighbouring cottage’, expresses the same sentiments but in terms of the health benefits and attractions of nature:

“A white bodice marks their well-proportioned shape; long tresses float upon their shoulders; a little hat of straw, decorated with fresh flowers, makes the only ornament of their smiling countenances; resplendent with health, and serene with innocence, their sonorous voices are only formed by natural harmony; and they have no teachers but the birds.” (Girardin, 1783:144).

These parallels between the ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’ woman could suggest a similarly gendered reading of ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’ gardens.

In contrast to these writers, one garden designer stood out from the rest – Louis Carrogis, called Carmontelle, in his description of Monceau (1779) favoured artificial effects. Monceau was intended as a pleasure park for the duc de Chartres and his guests. Carmontelle believed they needed variety in a garden to keep them entertained. He contrasted the French character with the English, believing English men evaded society, particularly that of women, whereas French men needed society (Hays, 2001:323). For the French the charms of nature were good food, mixed company, the hunt, games, concerts and spectacles – company for conversation, not reverie. He wrote: ‘our gardens should transport us through the scenes of an opera, we should create the illusion of a reality from what the best painters can offer as decorations’ (Wiebenson 1978:98). The illustrations to his description of Monceau showed elegantly dressed couples appreciating the delights of the garden (fig 9). In this illustration the well-dressed couples are in the ‘wood of the tombs’ – promenading, not meditating on death and transience as Diderot or other garden writers would have suggested.

DSC07519One of the criticisms of artifice in the garden was that it directed the spectator’s thoughts in particular ways rather than simply letting nature ‘affect our imagination and sensibility’ (Thomas Whately, an influential English garden writer, quoted in Lochhead, 1982:64). Picturesque gardens were trying to produce certain moods, reverie, and reflection. This would be different for each individual, although some garden designers aimed to produce particular effects or associations by using poetic inscriptions and literary allusions, as both Watelet and Girardin did in their own gardens. The inscriptions at Ermenonville refer to sentimental and pastoral themes such as innocence, memory, simplicity, love, liberty, and virtue (all associated implicitly or explicitly with nature) (MacArthur, 1991). Some inscriptions at Ermenonville told the reader how to respond to particular scenes. So the garden was as much an intellectual experience as a sensory one (Calder, 2006:135). ‘The eighteenth-century garden…needed a responsive viewer, one acquainted with literature, philosophy, and poetry, sensitive to moods of landscape, and able to complete a suggested idea with the help of his own imagination and associations’ (Morawinska, 1977:470). Were women expected to experience it the same as men?

Ermenonville received many visitors especially after Rousseau’s burial there in 1778, including the queen Marie-Antoinette in 1780. The garden designer and writer, Jean-Marie Morel, who helped design Ermenonville in the first year or two, apparently argued with Girardin over the number of fabriques being constructed there. An anecdote has it that Morel was showing a female visitor around the garden, and as they were about to leave the woman asked ‘when are we going to see the gardens?’ (Calder, 2006:130). The painter, Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun also recorded in her memoirs many years later that she found Ermenonville had too many inscriptions: ‘everywhere you turn, which tyrannise the mind’ (Calder, 2006:129). The salonniere, Madame Roland, while admiring Rousseau’s works, was not particularly moved at the site, and similarly found the garden overcrowded with monuments (Ridehalgh, 1982:236). Criticisms of women at the time suggested their love of artifice, but these women would have preferred less artifice in the garden. However, generalisations based on gender cannot be made, as reactions to the garden varied – some women appreciated the garden, and some men also found it overcrowded. Many people left poems, flowers or other tributes at the tomb. Madame de Staël found the fact the tomb was on an island conducive to a heightening of feeling, but made a point of saying she had not laid flowers (Ridehalgh, 1982:237). An Englishman, G Monckton, while appreciating the garden’s imitation of nature actually found too many of the monuments too ‘rude’: ‘I can see no reason, if ornaments are to be made use of in such places as these (which in itself is a deviation from Nature) why they should not be handsome, and bear some marks of beauty; they ought, at least, not to disgrace the thing they are designed to celebrate’ (Monckton, 1789:239)

Lavin (1996) says Watelet’s Moulin Joli was famous as a kind of salon in the garden, a celebrated retreat for various philosophes and members of high society. However, unlike most of the Paris salons, it was not a salon presided over by a woman (although Watelet had a mistress, it was clearly his garden). Lavin argues that in Watelet’s essay he conceives of the picturesque garden as a reclining (passive) female who offers herself to the viewer: ‘the immobilisation of the female body is the necessary counterpoint to Watelet’s otherwise pervasive emphasis on freedom of movement’ (Lavin, 1996:23). Yet much of this part of her argument seems to hinge on one of her own translations of Watelet:

“I notice some exterior footpaths. I see greenery, trees and flowers. They are feminine charms to entice me toward the different paths…these routes penetrate the fields…[and]…seem, by exciting my curiosity, to be disputing amongst themselves which will have the advantage of determining my choice.” (Lavin, 1996:30)

This passage is translated in the recent English publication as:

“I notice outside paths where I see greenery, shrubbery, and flowers. It is a lure to draw me into various roads…Each …while exciting my curiosity seems to be competing with the others in order to attract my attention and draw me forward.” (Watelet, 2003:28)

Watelet certainly uses sensuous language, such as ‘my desire has been piqued, it must now be sustained and satisfied’ (p26) but is this enough to argue for the sexualised and gendered view that Lavin believes he takes, or is it simply a reflection of the importance accorded in the late eighteenth-century to the experience and response of the spectator to what is being viewed?

There is plenty of evidence that women were having picturesque gardens designed for them and may in fact have been among the owners of the earliest picturesque gardens in France. Diderot described in 1762 a visit to the estate of Madame d’Epinay with its irregular garden (Wiebenson, 1978:29). In 1767 the Duc de Cröy described a party at Boulogne where Countess Montmorency had profited from a visit to England to make an English garden, and in 1782 he described the garden of the Comtesse de Bouffleurs as a Jardin Anglais made in the mid-1760s (Taylor, 2001:71, footnote 19). Mme de Bouffleurs’s garden, made following her visit to England in 1765, was probably modelled on the ‘Capability’ Brown-designed one at Sion Hill (Harris, 2001:40). Thomas Blaikie, a Scots garden designer working in France for many years, had a number of women clients, among them actresses, dancers, and nobility (sometimes widows). Most of these gardens were small compared to the well-known gardens of the time such as Ermenonville. However, as with Ermenonville and Moulin Joli, some also received plenty of visitors. The house and garden of Madame Thélusson in northern Paris, built between 1778 and 1783, became such an attraction that tickets were required for admission (Dennis, 1986:141). Mme Thélusson commissioned the neo-classical architect Claude-Nicholas Ledoux to build her house and said she wanted a ‘retreat’ rather than a hôtel. Clearly, a ‘retreat’ required an informal garden (fig 10). A plan of the hôtel Grimod de La Reyniere (1782) showed the jardin anglais was located outside madame’s apartments while the formal garden was outside monsieur’s apartments (Bailey, 2002:218; fig 11).

DSC07520Returning to Saisselin’s new type of man (the observer of the picturesque garden compared to the formal) – who was he? For Saisselin he was a person of sensibility, experiencing ‘aesthetic sentiments by way of association’ (1985:296); still a ‘spectator and actor, but the play has changed from court ritual to historical drama’ (1985:295). However, Taylor-Leduc (1999:83) believes ‘we need to decode the language of sensibility that pervades garden theories and descriptions of the period to examine more closely the intentions of the patrons’. Lavin’s ‘decoding’ exposes a man establishing his own space where he can preside away from the female-dominated Paris salons; while Taylor-Leduc warns against seeing the ‘new man’ as a modern individual in nature, and believes ‘the garden did not loose its status as a sign of luxury within the hierarchical divisions of eighteenth-century land ownership’ (1999:83). Were the picturesque gardens any more ‘gendered’ than formal gardens? Some of the male garden writers, influenced particularly by Rousseau, wrote about these gardens as a place for individual (usually expressed as male) retreat and reverie, but many women visited picturesque gardens and some had their own. They did not publish essays as did the male garden writers, but their responses to gardens are available usually from letters or later memoirs. Responses varied, as would be expected from something designed to elicit individual emotional reactions, and it does not seem possible to make bold generalisations about experiencing gardens, based on gender.

Here are a few extra photos (not in the original essay) that I took on a French art tour at the end of the course in 2006:

louvrediderot Denis Diderot (1713-1784), Louis-Michel VAN LOO (Toulon, 1707 – Paris, 1771), Louvre, Paris

Three photos of Parc Monceau in Paris (formerly duc de Chartres garden)

monceau2  monceau1  monceau ice house

Above: part of the ‘hameau’ area made for Marie Antoinette at Versailles, c. 1783


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[1] Other names for these gardens included landscape garden, the Jardin Anglais, or Chinois, or Anglo-Chinois.

[2] Often called the Marquis de Girardin, his correct titles were Marquis de Vauvray and Vicomte d’Ermenonville (Hays, 2006:87)


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