John Dixon Hunt

The Art of the Garden and its History (Product of the Collège de France) Publication date : November 1, 1996

"Wild nature", which was considered "horrible" by our forefathers who endeavored to domesticate it, is today exalted by modern man as a way of compensating for the insidious progression of concrete jungles. Wilderness has always been both abstract and mythical. If wild nature exists as a concept, it is impossible to reach it in reality without transforming it into a spectacle. Between wild nature and us, there is a certain way of looking, of recognizing a principle of organization, the possiblity to comprehend, to describe and to represent it. Even the virgin forests of Amazonia are something of a "landscape monument" when seen from the air, so what can we say about the forest of Fontainebleau in France with its multitude of variety and directions ! The art of the garden - in particular the European landscapes of the 18th and 19th centuries - is characterized by a charming ambiguity because you have to describe the figurative representation as if it were nature, and describe nature as if it were a figurative representation : there must be the birth of a surprise coming from the barely-disturbed foreseeable order to feel the sensorial emotion that comes from forgetting things we have learned.

The College de France, inspired by the two beautiful conferences given in March 1994 by John Dixon Hunt, decided to use them as the basis to teach the French public more about the historical thought related to gardens and landscape architecture, a discipline which naturally flows into several other domains : that of urbanism and architecture, that of geography and ecology, that of painting and literature, that of sociology and the philosophy of representation, that of the major cultural eras and history in general, because there are as many landscapes as there are civilizations and historical periods.

Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, John Dixon Hunt has notably been the Director of the Institute of Landscape Architecture in Dunbarton Oaks, Washington. He is the author of several reference books on the art of gardens, of which The Figure in the Landscape (1989) is a biography on John Ruskin and a Pre-Raphaelite study. He is also the director of the international publication Journal of Garden History since its conception in 1980.