The Vera brothers’ design highlights the heritage of André and Paul Vera

The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum reopened last June after nearly two years with an exciting lineup of new exhibits. Although retained, The modernist French garden: creations of the Vera brothers presents an informative, yet concise, survey of the brothers’ drawings made for their 1912 landscaping treatise, The New Garden.

The brothers André and Paul Vera were born towards the end of the 19th century and came of age during the heady era of Art Nouveau. Unlike their contemporary peers, both sought to elevate traditional French design through an art deco lens; in particular, arguing for a revival of formal geometric design in the French Baroque landscape. These ideas were concretized by the publication of illustrative works The New Garden (1912) and The gardens (1919).

Installation view of The modernist French garden: creations of the Vera brothers (Photo by Matt Flynn/© Smithsonian Institution)

“Cooper Hewitt has an exceptionally rich collection of 40 drawings from the early gardens of 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 and Graphics. Design. “Loosely rendered drawings executed in watercolor highlight conceptual thinking and some sheets present variations on an idea, revealing the formal experimentation of the brothers. Other works feature 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 to ground-level views.

A long floor plan of a rectangular house plot
Garden of Love, c.1914; designed by André Vera (French, 1881-1971) and Paul Vera (French, 1882-1957). Pen and black ink, brush and black ink, watercolour, gouache, graphite on tan wove paper, laid down. (Photo by Matt Flynn/© Smithsonian Institution)

Found in the designs is an application of streamlined geometric rigor and an emphasis on plan rather than the naturalistic follies that had come to dominate French and international landscape design in the 19th century. The walkways, plantings, and general coloring are rigidly laid out, and in their character foreshadow a modernist town planning that would ultimately define cities around 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,” Condell continued. “It was through their published treatises and provocative texts that the Vera brothers’ impact on landscaping was felt most.”

The modernist formal garden: design by the Vera brothers
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
2 91st Street East
Until January 2, 2022

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