2003-05-22 / Arts & Entertainment

Museum Celebrating Central Park’s Sesquicentennial

Museum Celebrating Central Park’s Sesquicentennial

The above lithograph from the New York City Municipal Archives, Department of Records and Information Services, is what the land looked like before the development of Central Park. It was taken by famed 19th century photographer Matthew B. Brady in 1857. Titled “Greensward” Plan for Central Park from Point E, looking southwest from Belvedere. It is featured in the current 150th Central Park anniversary exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.The above lithograph from the New York City Municipal Archives, Department of Records and Information Services, is what the land looked like before the development of Central Park. It was taken by famed 19th century photographer Matthew B. Brady in 1857. Titled “Greensward” Plan for Central Park from Point E, looking southwest from Belvedere. It is featured in the current 150th Central Park anniversary exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In celebration of the 150th anniversary of the legislation (July 21, 1853) that designated as "a public place" the lands that were to become New York’s Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is present an exhibition about the design and construction of the park now though August 31. The museum has been located in Central Park since 1870.

Central Park: A Sesquicentennial Celebration will feature the original presentation plans and drawings by Calvert Vaux (1824-1895) and Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) for their "Greensward" plan, which won the 1858 competition to design the park. A selection of working drawings and contemporary photographs will illustrate the actual construction of the park according to Vaux and Olmsted’s design. In addition to works in the Museum’s collection, there will be numerous loans, most notably from the Municipal Archives and the Department of Parks of the City of New York.

The exhibition, which includes maps, drawings, watercolors, historical photographs, and books, is arranged thematically. The introductory section will feature a number of early topographical maps that show the area in which the park would one day be built. A highlight is the 1836 Topographical Map of the City and County of New York and the Adjacent Country, published by J.H. Colton, which shows Manhattan barely developed and sparsely settled north of 59th Street.

From historical records, it is known that thirty-three designs for what was to become Central Park were submitted to the competition of 1858. Barely a handful of the entries are extant today, and most of the known examples have been gathered for this showing, among them a submission by Samuel J. Gustin (Central Park Conservancy) and the recently discovered, beautifully executed design by John Rink (Private Collection, on deposit at Municipal Archives).

A monumental 1858 pen-and-ink drawing of Vaux and Olmsted’s winning design – the "Greensward Plan" (New York City Department of Parks, the Arsenal) – will be shown along with ten presentation boards (New York City Municipal Archives). Each board juxtaposes "before" and "after" views of various sites, presenting an image of the actual topography side by side with a delicately rendered vision of its future.

Central Park took shape quickly and – at the peak of activity – some 4000 people were employed in the project. The rapid progression from design to reality will be shown in a series of plans and sections from selected issues of the Annual Reports of the Commissioners of Central Park (The Metropolitan Museum of Art).

Presentation and working drawings by Calvert Vaux and by the brilliant ornamentalist Jacob Wrey Mould (1825-1886) for some of Central Park’s bridges and transverse roads also will be shown, with special emphasis on drawings for the ornaments, paving pattern, and niche and tile designs for Bethesda Fountain and Terrace (New York City Municipal Archives). The exhibition will also include several books, such as Fred Perkins’s 1864 The Central Park and a volume from 1866, titled Designs for the Gateways of the Southern Entrances to the Central Park, that shows proposals by Richard Morris Hunt (1827-1895) for formal entrances that were never built (New-York Historical Society). A photograph album features the work of the pioneering French photographer Victor Prevost (1820-1881) who was active in the United States in the 1840s and 1850s, the earliest era of photography. A number of rare stereo views – some of which will be mounted in stereo viewers – will allow visitors to see Central Park through 19th-century eyes (Private Collection).

The Web site of the Metropolitan Museum (www.metmuseum.org) will feature the exhibition.

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