Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer (1851-1934) was one of the
premier figures in landscape writing and design at the turn of the
twentieth century, a moment when the amateur pursuit of gardening
and the increasingly professionalized landscape design field were
beginning to diverge. This intellectual biography--the first
in-depth study of the versatile critic and author--reveals Van
Rensselaer's vital role in this moment in the history of landscape
Van Rensselaer was one of the new breed of American art and
architecture critics, closely examining the nature of her
profession and bringing a disciplined scholarship to the craft. She
considered herself a professional, leading the effort among women
in the Gilded Age to claim the titles of artist, architect, critic,
historian, and journalist. Thanks to the resources of her wealthy
mercantile family, she had been given a sophisticated European
education almost unheard of for a woman of her time. Her close
relationship with Frederick Law Olmsted influenced her ideas on
landscape gardening, and her interest in botany and geology shaped
the ideas upon which her philosophy and art criticism were based.
She also studied the works of Charles Darwin, Alexander von
Humboldt, Henry David Thoreau, and many other nineteenth-century
scientists and nature writers, which influenced her general belief
in the relationship between science and the imagination.
Her cosmopolitan education and elevated social status gave her,
much like her contemporary Edith Wharton, access to the homes and
gardens of the upper classes. This allowed her to mingle with
authors, artists, and affluent patrons of the arts and enabled her
to write with familiarity about architecture and landscape design.
Identifying over 330 previously unattributed editorials and
unsigned articles authored by Van Rensselaer in the influential
journal "Garden and Forest"--for which she was the sole female
editorial voice--Judith Major offers insight into her ideas about
the importance of botanical nomenclature, the similarities between
landscape gardening and idealist painting, design in nature, and
many other significant topics. Major's critical examination of Van
Rensselaer's life and writings--which also includes selections from
her correspondence--details not only her influential role in the
creation of landscape architecture as a discipline but also her
contribution to a broader public understanding of the arts in
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