Grounds for Sculture

Founded by Seward Johnson – Sharon Lorenzo visits the Sculpture Park, Museum, Arboretum and Restaurants.

Dejeuner sur L’Herbe, 1863, Edouard Manet

Grounds for Sculpture is a 42 acre park with an assemblage of over 270 works of art located in Hamilton, New Jersey.  Visitors can stroll around the grounds and enjoy a lunch or dinner with family and friends in their restaurants.   Begun in 1984 with the purchase of the old Trenton Fair Grounds by the family foundation of the artist J. Seward Johnson II, the park is now a public charity run by professional staff and curators who gather works from the donor with loans and purchases from other artists and collectors.

Seward is the grandson of the founder of Johnson and Johnson, a major multinational medical and pharmaceutical company, started in 1886. He worked briefly at the company, then began his career in the visual arts full time. Working mostly in bronze, he began with early works that involved body casts and small assemblages. He created an atelier in the park that is now able to produce works that are over 25 feet high weighing 17 tons. Through designs on computers that are reproduced in Styrofoam for editing and redesign before the final casting, Seward has now sold icons of Americana to many countries around the world.

The installation noted above, Dejeuner Déjà Vu, is Seward’s interpretation of a work by Edouard Manet completed in 1862-1863, which is presently at the Musee D’Orsay in Paris. This picture was rejected by the official French Salon in 1863 and subsequently exhibited at the Salon des Refuses. It sold in 1878 for 2,600 francs, and Manet’s contemporaries wrote that it was his vision of ladies bathing in the Seine River near his home. Historians have discovered that the model who is looking directly at the viewer was a woman that Manet used frequently in his works, Victorine Louise Meurent. His brothers and brothers-in-law were the male models for the picnic. The nakedness of the woman was indeed a shock to the Parisian public, although many other artists from the Renaissance forward used the nude figure in pastoral scenes as noted in the following work by Titian.

The Pastoral Concert, Titian, 1510

Art historian Kenneth Clark wrote that there is a difference in the perception of the nude and the naked form in art: the nude being the classical figure of the female who is serene and disengaged, and the naked icon who is engaged through her direct gaze with the viewer. In Manet’s Dejeuner, the female is an identifiable individual whose form is shocking to see without clothes in such a setting. My feeling is that this erotic encounter was created by Manet by design, to call attention to his work in a rather staid art market at that time.

Seward has installed his work in a quiet green arbor in the park, sheltered from the passerby who must step into the area to observe this naked picnic. Art law specialists have debated the legal efficacy of this kind of appropriation of another artist’s work. The current legal view is that this work in three dimensions is a “new work of art” and thus not a copyright violation nor illegal taking. By altering major elements like size, shape and form, Seward has created his own picnic with a nod to Manet as his inspiration, and it is a “fair use” of the prior work.[1]

This modality is present in many other of Seward’s works, where he has adopted the artistic form of others:

  1. Once again the model Victorine Louise Meurent was used by Manet to engage the viewer in another work that was rejected by the Salon. Olympia, 1865.
  2. This is a three dimensional interpretation of a photo taken in 1945, and once again the copyright was not violated as it was a sculpture based on the prior image, Unconditional Surrender, 2005.
  3. Based on the screen image of Marilyn Monroe from the film, The Seven Year Itch, this work is 26 feet high and weighs 17 tons. Forever Marilyn, 2011.
  4. This work is 27 feet high and weighs 27,000 pounds as Seward’s interpretation of the art work, American Gothic, by Grant Wood of 1930 which is 31 by 26 inches. God Bless America, 2008.

A visit to the Grounds for Sculpture is a very engaging art adventure. You can see these and many other works of art and marvel at Johnson’s innovations and those of his peers. The restaurant is lovely, and the food is excellent. Seward’s artistic appropriation and innovation will evoke a response from all ages who will be either shocked, pleased, outraged or laughingly entertained. No one comes away without a lasting memory of his artistic excellence and innovative thinking.

Seward Johnson 2017


[1] Cariou v. Prince, 714 F. 3rd 694 (2d Cir. 2013).


Header graphic – Dejeuner Déjà Vu, 1994, Seward Johnson