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Art Through Time: A Global View

The Natural World Art: Central Park (view of the Turtle Pond)

» Frederick Law Olmsted (American, 1822–1903) and Calvert Vaux (English, 1824–1895)

Central Park (view of the Turtle Pond)

Central Park (view of the Turtle Pond)
Artist / Origin: Frederick Law Olmsted (American, 1822–1903) and Calvert Vaux (English, 1824–1895)
Region: North America
Date: Originally designed 1857
Period: 1800 CE – 1900 CE
Material: Stone, earth, topsoil, water, various tree and plant species
Medium: Architecture and Planning
Dimensions: 843 acres (entire park)
Location: New York, NY
Credit: © Richard Cummins/CORBIS

Although New York City’s Central Park can seem wild and natural, its landscape is the result of careful planning.

Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed Central Park in 1857, and it was mostly constructed between that year and 1871. Olmsted and Vaux approached the project with a self-consciously artistic intent; they saw the park in its entirety as a vast, integrated artwork. With winding paths, diverse environments, and spectacular views, they set out to create a space that announced itself as special, set apart from the struggles of everyday urban life. The charm and whimsy of the design represent a clear contrast with the rigid grid of the surrounding city streets. Even the roadways running through the park, connecting the grid on either side, are practically invisible. The architects sunk these roads below ground level so they would not disturb the aesthetic pleasure of park visitors. Central Park was an immediate success, and it inspired a widespread movement to create urban parks in other cities.

This photograph shows a view of Turtle Pond near the center of the park. The pond was not part of Olmsted and Vaux’s original plan, but when the Croton Reservoir was filled in with building rubble during the 1930s, the site was transformed into the Great Lawn and Belvedere Lake, which was later renamed Turtle Pond. Although landscapers placed all of the plants growing around the pond, they showed clear sensitivity to the environment. Diverse wildlife, including fish, birds, frogs, dragonflies, and (of course) turtles, has come—naturally—to live and thrive in the area. While there are myriad beautiful vistas within the park, this image also shows another kind of celebrated view—the contrast between the lush foliage and the cityscape beyond. This artificially built park hosts the natural world in the heart of the metropolis.

Additional Resources

Beveridge, Charles and Paul Rocheleau. Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing the American Landscape, rev. ed. New York: Universe, 2005.

Central Park Conservancy Web site.

Heckscher, Morrison H. Creating Central Park. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2008.

Miller, Sara Cedar. Central Park, An American Masterpiece: A Comprehensive History of the Nation’s First Urban Park. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2003.

Rosenzweig, Roy, and Elizabeth Blackmar. The Park and the People: A History of Central Park. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998.

Rybczynski, Witold. A Clearing In The Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the 19th Century. New York: Scribner, 2000.

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Art Through Time: A Global View


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