Rosheda Stephenson calls NYC and the Caribbean home. Her travel articles are meant to inspire passion, adventure and curiosity.
New Jersey's Grounds for Sculpture museum, far as it is from Claude Monet's and Edouard Manet's motherland may seem like an unlikely place to go looking for scenes from the French masters' paintings. However, the truth is, the art of both Monet and Manet are especially conducive to outdoor settings like the Grounds for Sculpture's gardens.One important hallmark of their Impressionist style of art was their choice of unfettered nature as the setting for many of their paintings. It is in the intricacies of human behavior, as observed when illuminated by free engagement with nature and natural lighting, that Monet, Manet, and other French artists of the Impressionist movement would find their genius.
The sculptures inspired by the masters' various paintings are superbly placed in natural settings that so closely mimic the actual painting that to experience them is to viscerally re-live the moments that impressed Monet and Manet so much that they immortalized them on canvas. The sculpture of the bridge from Monet's famous painting, Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies, is particularly delightful precisely because the museum wisely chose to install it over an actual pond with mossy, green lilies floating lazily underneath and with vivid red and pink flower bushes flanking it on both sides.
Those looking for re-creations from Monet and Manet will be particularly delighted with the museum's intertwining of art and nature.
Claude Monet is one of the Impressionist movement's most celebrated artists. Unapologetic about his style, and fierce in his loyalty to his brand of painting, the artist gave to the art world masterpieces that were simple, yet rich in both imagery and message.
All the sculptures inspired or re-created from Monet's work come from the hands of sculptor Seward Johnson, who incidentally is also one of the founders of the park. Johnson may have insisted that his Monet pieces be treated like royalty. Whatever the reason, the pieces inspired by Monet at Grounds for Sculpture are given special treatment.
"Lady With a Parasol—Madame Monet and Son"
The sculpture inspired by Lady With a Parasol—Madame Monet and Son, sits in its own place atop a grassy hill dotted with red poppies, and almost appears as if it's presiding over its own little section of earth. Named 'On Poppied Hills' by Johnson, it is one of the landmarks of the museum and cannot be missed because of its lofty position.
"Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies"
Monet has more than a hill. For, in addition to the high place given to the sculpture inspired by Lady with a Parasol, the Grounds for Sculpture has also given the bridge recreated from his Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies what is arguably the prettiest, most serene spot in the whole place.
The bridge is placed in a spot perpetually shrouded with mist and surrounded by gorgeous red and pink flowers that frame it so that one is unable to see the green lilies and orange koi floating in the pond underneath until one is standing right on the bridge. One can not help but wonder if Monet's own pond at his garden in Giverney, France which inspired the painting shares any resemblance to New Jersey's version.
Gazing across Monet's Bridge one sees the romantic looking patio of Grounds for Sculpture's Rat Restaurant where dining is done on red wrought iron chairs and tables while sitting waterside. As one dines, water lilies float by to meet a small waterfall that continues on to a lake.
"Garden at Sainte Adresse"—Monet's Garden
The lakeside is home to some of Manet's pieces, but it also leads to another spot reserved for Monet called Monet's Garden. Here, the Monet lover will find pieces inspired by another famous Monet piece.
Monet's garden features the sculptures of two couples inspired by the painting Garden at Sainte Adresse. As in the original Monet, the couples are placed by a body of water (Grounds for Sculpture's lake) where they seem to be gazing out at passing by boats. Here one can sit on any of a number of benches and get lost in a Monet moment.
"Femme au Jardin"
Far away from Monet's lakeside garden and his pond and bridge, there suddenly appears a large piece inspired by Monet's Femme au Jardin called 'Hunting Party." The piece consisting of the four women from the painting appear like a breath of fresh air in a part of the grounds where their color and vivaciousness is welcome.
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Edouard Manet is reputed to be the founder of Impressionism. His style was impressionist, though he identified with and incorporated earlier styles in his work. Throughout his lifetime he formed close friendships with Monet and other impressionist artists who looked to him as a sort of guide for their work. His masterpieces gave the art world the first tastes of the emerging impressionist style that would shock and insult the establishment of the time. It is fitting that Seward Johnson, who spent time recreating many impressionist paintings into metal sculptures would also focus on him.
"Le Dejeuner Sur l'herbe" (The Picnic)
Perhaps the happiest moments of a visit to the Grounds for Sculpture are the ones when one wanders into what appears to be an empty pathway or alley and suddenly, the most exquisite scene materializes as if out of thin air. This is how I experienced the sculptures inspired by Manet's Le Dejeuner sur l'herbe (The Picnic).
Sitting in a clearing in the woods, right by an actual stream was the party of three, gazing out at me while I walked past their picnic blanket with its half eaten fruits and bread. In the real stream behind the trio, stood a fourth sculpture washing in the water while a family of real ducks pecked at her feet. Like Monet's Bridge, this scene from Manet is an example of how Grounds for Sculpture superbly places it's pieces.
Another memorable sculpture inspired by Manet is Johnson's 'Sailing the Seine', which is a re-creation of Manet's Argenteuil The painting, supposedly set in the seaside town of Argenteuil which Monet and other artists flocked to for its pretty seaside scenery, features a couple sitting by the ocean in front of boats docked in the immediate background.
Once again, the sculpture is striking because of its setting. The Grounds for Sculpture puts Manet's couple right by a real lake with realistic looking boat sculptures docked behind them. By putting the piece next to a real lake, Grounds for Sculpture recreates a typical French seaside scene from the 19th century that will be etched in the minds of all those who see it.
"Chez Pere Lathuille'
Manet's painting titled Chez Pere Lathuille filled as it is with emotion and expectation can hold its own in any room. Artist Seward Johnson's piece inspired by the painting is called 'In the Eyes of the Beholder'. The capturing sculpture is allowed to shine in a simple setting outside a real cafe reminiscent of the painting's subject- a young man courting a girl in café. The sculpture of the couple sits in a small outdoor dining area where one may bring sandwiches ordered from the adjoining café (Peacock Café) and sit right by a piece of Manet while one eats.
Getting to the Grounds for Sculpture
The Grounds for Sculpture is located in Hamilton, New Jersey—a small town close to Philadelphia and about an hour and a half drive away from New York City. For detailed driving instructions, check the Grounds for Sculpture website.
To get there by train from New York City, take NJ Transit's North East Corridor train from the NY Penn Station stop, and exit at Hamilton. From the Hamilton train Station, take an uber or cab to the museum which is only five minutes away. From Philadelphia, take SEPTA's Trenton Line to the Trenton Stop, then take the NJ transit train one stop to Hamilton. From the train station it's 5 minutes on a cab
Tickets cost $16 and are timed for entry every hour. Prior purchase online is necessary to guarantee a spot.
The Water Garden at the Grounds for Sculpture
Gorgeous Rose Bushes Scattered Around the Grounds
The Grounds for Sculpture is a hidden treasure in New Jersey. Lovers of art, and especially those who enjoy the work of Claude Monet and Edouard Manet, will find the pieces inspired by the artists well worth a trip.
© 2017 Rosheda Stephenson