National Gallery of Canada
Cornelia Hahn Oberlander
Terre Sauvage: two museum gardens harbor the soul of Canada
|The Taiga covers most of Canada and consists of vast pine forests of pine, larch, and spruce. (Image: freeimages.com)
|Terre Sauvage by A.Y. Jackson, 1913. (Image: WikiArt)
|Garden plan by Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, 1986. (Image: Canadian Centre for Architecture)
|Cornelia Hahn Oberlander - one of Canada's most prominent landscape designers - took works of art from the Group of Seven as inspiration for the museum garden. (Image: National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives)
|The garden that Hahn Oberlander designed is a translation of characteristic elements of the Taiga, as an attempt to capture the soul of the Canadian landscape in a garden, as the artists of the Group of Seven tried to do in their paintings. (Image: gardensottawa.ca)
The artists of the famous Group of Seven painted the rugged North American landscape of the taiga in the 1920s and 1930s to oppose the loveliness of European landscape painters. The taiga covers most of Canada and consists of vast forests of pine, larch and spruce.
Cornelia Hahn Oberlander - one of Canada's foremost landscape designers - took the works of art from the Group of Seven as inspiration for the museum garden of the National Gallery of Canada, designed in 1983 by architect Moshe Safdie. The works of art would be placed directly opposite the garden. With her design for the museum garden, Hahn Oberlander wanted to express a national identity based on the country’s own landscape. She said: "Our landscape contributes to our sense of identity, who we are and where we live." ( i ) The work Terre Sauvage by A.Y. Jackson from 1913 was the main source of inspiration for her: an image of rugged nature, with cloudy skies and rocks, from which trees and plants grow.
The garden is on a wedge-shaped plot of about 84 by 45 meters, slightly lowered compared to the museum building and clearly visible to passers-by. On the ground a jagged and irregular rock floor, without paths or benches - just like in the landscape to which the garden refers, it is up to visitors to explore and appropriate it. Dogwood, iris and pines are planted in the nooks and crannies of precisely placed rocks. Hahn Oberlander was looking for trees that looked wind-stricken, the nursery’s usual dead straight trunks would not be in place here.
The garden that Hahn Oberlander designed is not a three-dimensional translation of the painting Terre Sauvage and it is certainly not a cut-out of the taiga landscape. It is a translation of characteristic elements, as an attempt to capture the soul of the Canadian landscape in a garden, like the artists of the Group of Seven tried to do in their paintings.
In 2018, Hahn Oberlander created a second garden inside the museum, a reference to the landscape of Canada before human intervention. The garden design also refers to the impressive location of the museum on Nepean Point, a rocky hill overlooking the Ottawa River. The garden consists of large limestone rocks from the Canadian Shield. The rocks form hills, between which a pebble path runs, a reference to a river bed.
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