TOLEDO, Ohio -- Paris gardens that have been the stage for exceptional works of art and inspirational urban green space for more than four centuries have come to life at the Toledo Museum of Art.
"The Art of the Louvre's Tuileries Garden" includes more than 100 sculptures, paintings, and photographs from collections in France that have never before traveled to the United States. The Toledo museum is one of only three U.S. museums -- and the only in the Midwest -- to host the major traveling exhibition, which runs through May 11 in the museum's Canaday Gallery. It's a collaboration between directors and curators from the Louvre, Toledo, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and the Portland Art Museum in Oregon.
"A history of cultural expression through landscape is part of the legacy of France," said Toledo museum director Brian Kennedy. "It was created as a space for people. So if we want to learn lessons for our own city on creating space for people, we could look at the Tuileries Gardens."
The Tuileries (pronounced TWEE-luh-rees) hold a significant place in France's social and political history through its role as an outdoor museum and as the subject for artists from the 16th century to present day.
Perhaps no one ever told Catherine de Medici it's a bad idea to make major financial decisions when in mourning. After her husband, King Henry II, was killed during a tournament when a lance was driven through his eye, the queen commissioned the construction of a grand palace and surrounding gardens in 1564. Built on terrain that had been previously occupied by tile workshops, the elaborate gardens earned the name tuileries, which means kilns and refers to the factory kilns where roof tiles were fired.
The exhibit celebrates the 400-year anniversary of the birth of landscape architect Andre Le Notre, the principal gardener for King Louis XIV. Catherine de Medici was Italian, and the king, in 1661, asked Le Notre to redesign the Tuileries into a formal French garden.
Le Notre had a keen eye for optical effects and a brilliant architectural mind. "In effect, he painted a garden into being," Mr. Kennedy said.
Le Notre extended the main axis of the gardens westward, creating the avenue that would become the Champs-Elysees and which remains today as one of the world's most famous streets. The gardens lie between the Louvre and Place de la Concorde, on the River Seine.
The chosen pieces in the exhibition reveal the many layers of The Tuileries' history from the Renaissance to the period of unrest during the French Revolution. French kings and other royal monarchs used the gardens as their own personal place of meditation, to host elaborate parties and for leisurely strolls. They became the city's first public park in 1667.
The royal palace and its grounds, which closed off the western end of the Louvre, were burned by supporters of the Commune of Paris in 1871. The original palace was torn down in 1883. Today, the 63 acres are recognized as a public pedestrian-only space visited by 10 million people annually, essentially "their Central Park," Mr. Kennedy said.
The exhibit is part of a strategic plan the museum put together in 2010 to bring an international exhibit to Toledo annually. The last big exhibit was "Manet: Portraying Life," a focus on Edouard Manet's portraits that ran in the fall of 2012.
Earlier that year, directors from the three U.S. museums met with personnel from the Louvre, including former director Henri Loyrette, who is credited with maintaining and sustaining the gardens in Paris since 2005. They collaborated on organizing and bringing an exhibition to the United States that would encapsulate the garden and its vision.
The exhibition began in Atlanta, running from Nov. 3 through Jan. 19. Kristen Delaney, director of marketing and museum advancement at the High Museum, said transporting the pieces from Paris to Georgia was a challenge.
"A few of the sculptures in the Tuileries exhibition are very tall, so tall in fact that they had to be placed horizontally in their crates to be able to fit into the plane's cargo hold," she said.
The first delivery arrived at the Toledo museum at the end of January. When the exhibit closes here in May, the collection will travel to Portland, where it will be displayed from June 14 to Sept. 28. The three museums are sharing the expenses of the show, said Kelly Fritz Garrow, director of communications at the Toledo museum. It is sponsored by The Andersons shopping centers, Brooks Insurance and Taylor Cadillac, and is also supported by a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts through the Ohio Arts and by members of the museum.
The mythical goddess of fruitful abundance, Pomona, scorned the love of the woodland gods Silvanus and Picus. But when introduced to Vertumnus, who disguised himself as an old woman to win her over with personality and charm, she fell in love and agreed to marry him.
Many of the garden sculptures in the Tuileries tell such mythical tales, and that of Pomona and Vertumnus was sculpted by artist Francois Barois in the 17th century.
The first thing museum visitors see is a visualization of the gardens by museum curators and designers. It aims to give a sense of the great accomplishments of French artists, said Dick Putney, the exhibit's curator and an art history professor at the University of Toledo.
"It's an inspirational space that has drawn artists to it for centuries," he said, adding that Impressionists would rent apartment or hotel space overlooking the garden and spend days in their rooms, painting images of the gardens below.
"I think what I like most is the effort we have made to conceptualize a garden with magnificent sculpture and its relationship to the great building that is now the last Tuileres Palace," Mr. Kennedy said. "We want people to see not just historic circumstance, but a living, breathing space."
The oldest pieces in the exhibit are from the 1560s and were remains of the original Tuileries Palace that were uncovered during excavations after the devastation left during the French Revolution. The most recent piece is a 1985 photograph.
The work of notable artists includes nine large sculptures created by François-Joseph Bosio, Antoine Coysevox and Aristide Maillol that once stood in the gardens and are now displayed inside the Louvre for protection. Some are 11 feet tall and weathered from their years outdoors -- "pretty spectacular, quite large and impressive," Mr. Putney said.
The exhibit also includes paintings, photographs and drawings that depict the Tuileries, including works by painters Edouard Manet, Camille Pissarro and Childe Hassam, and photographers Eugène Atget, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Andre Kertesz.
"It's a wonderful photography show, it's a wonderful painting show and it's a wonderful sculpture show," Mr. Putney said. "The subject though, is the garden and its art over many centuries."
Roberta Gedert: email@example.com or 419-724-6081.