Archives

Lancelot “Capability” Brown and the Landscape Park

The son of a Northumberland land agent and a chambermaid, Lancelot Brown worked as the head gardener’s apprentice at the estate where his parents worked, Kirkharle Hall, owned by Sir William Loraine. His eldest brother John became the estate surveyor and eventually married Sir William’s daughter. His brother George became a mason-architect.

Oxford Bridge, Stowe

His first landscape commission was for a lake at Kiddington Hall in Oxfordshire. In 1741, he became an under-gardener at Lord Cobham’s estate of Stowe, in Buckinghamshire, where he worked under William Kent (see a previous post), a founder of the new English landscape garden. In 1742 at the age of 26, he was promoted to Head Gardener (at £25 a year), where he remained until 1750, at the same time taking freelance commissions from Lord Cobham’s aristocratic friends. His landscape designs were in great demand from the landed gentry, and by 1761 he was making £500 a commission and around £6000 a year. Being an expert rider, he could scope out a property and rough out a design in about an hour. As his fame increased, he would charge more than £3,000 per commission.

Blenheim Palace

It is estimated that Brown was responsible for over 170 gardens surrounding the finest country houses and estates in Britain. His work still endures at Croome Court (where he also designed the house), Blenheim Palace, Warwick Castle, Harewood House, Appuldurcombe House, Milton Abbey (and nearby Milton Abbas village), in traces at Kew Gardens and many other locations. “This man who refused work in Ireland because he had not finished England” was called “Capability” Brown, because he would characteristically tell his landed clients that their estates had great “capability” for landscape improvement. (Wikipedia)

Brown’s original plans for Croome Court

Brown’s gardening abilities, honed at Kirkharle, were tremendously proficient. His subsequent success depended largely on his position as contractor, both designing improvements and then seeing the work through to its conclusion. He was skilled in all aspects of planting, drainage, dam-building and earth-moving, and possessed a ruthless business sense. This enabled him to manipulate both gentry and under-gardeners alike in order to further his own reputation… Throughout his career, Brown designed purely for the aristocracy. Many of his commissions overlapped with one another, landed as the result of family connections amidst patrons.

In 1751, Brown set himself up as landscaper and architect in Hammersmith. This move to the outskirts of London marked the beginning of a relentlessly demanding thirty years and a spectacularly successful consultancy. It also cemented a fruitful relationship with the Henry Hollands and their family. Holland the Younger (1745-1806) was, like his father, a successful architect and builder. Brown took him on as informal business partner in 1771 and son-in-law in 1773.

Brown’s cascade at Blenheim Palace

The “Park way”

The approach taken by Brown and his followers was to strip an estate back to its basic forms: serpentine lakes, bare lawns and informal planting.

This was a revolutionary break from the artfully contrived landscapes of the gentleman amateurs, and the most ‘natural’ landscaping style the eighteenth century had yet seen… His model for a landscape park superseded anything that had come before it and dominated garden design completely. Arable fields, unsightly outbuildings and walled kitchen gardens were hidden by screens of trees, and any surviving formal features were replaced by great swathes of open pasture. Brown’s landscape minimalism effortlessly accommodated the practical needs of a landowner within an aesthetically pleasing estate.

Croome Court

In creating a landscape park most owners wanted to ‘improve’ on both their estate’s fashionable status and their economic revenue… the initial creation of a landscape park could be expensive, depending on the existing topography and amount of earth-works required. It was, however, remarkably cheaper to maintain. The upkeep of formal parterres or flimsy Rococo buildings required the employment of legions of gardeners, whereas the pastoral appearance of a landscape park could be easily upheld through ranging livestock. This grazing land could even be let out to local farmers to generate further income.

Ha-ha at Croome Court

Just as he had capitalised on his patrons’ desire to consolidate land in order to secure financial and social power, so Brown manipulated their love of hunting, shooting, fishing, and beauty. Brown’s belts and copses provided the perfect cover for game birds. His expansive lakes, such as that at Compton Verney, could be used not just for fishing (as had the formal canal), but rather for boating, other hunting and providing a landscaped site with a measure of visual relief.

Chinese Bridge at Croome Court

Eighteenth-century landscapes were also required to entertain in a less violent manner. To this end, most large estates such as Croome and Blenheim had two circuit drives to choose from. One was suitable for walking and the other for riding around. Ladies would often take a carriage and then the various parties could reconvene at a chosen spot for refreshments… Dainty Rococo layouts were walked around, in order to appreciate fully the changing moods conjured up by exotic temples. But with these garden incidents cleared away, Brown’s carriage-drive was an invitation to explore a landscape park at high speed.

Rotunda at Croome Court

Brown also contrived glimpses of lakes and buildings through planned openings between trees and shrubs. Each view was carefully orchestrated and revealed at a specific point on the route around the landscape… At Croomie, Brown consciously screened Adam’s Island Temple with yews so that it was not visible until the bridge was crossed.

Brown ‘compared his art to literary composition.’

Now there I make a comma, and there, where a more decided turn is proper, I make a colon; at another part, where an interruption is desirable to break the view, a parenthesis; now a full stop, and then I begin another subject. (1782)

Croome Court

Perhaps his best known house was the Palladian Croome Court, where he was employed by George William Coventry, 6th Earl, from 1751. Croome’s unpromising marshland was drained so successfully that the earl commended Brown. ‘Who by the powers of His Indomitable and creative Genius formed this garden Out of a morass.’ However, his first phase of landscaping was virtually Rococo in style. Chinese bridges, a recumbent statue of Sabrina and a crystal-encrusted grotto were arranged around an inward-looking circuit. The original village and church were demolished and Brown’s Gothick Church of St Mary Magdalene with interiors by Robert Adam (1728-92) was reinstated on the eastern marl ridge to act as an eye-catcher. In the 1760’s a second, outer riding circuit was added. This was in accordance with the growing Picturesque fashion for wilder prospects and took in Adam’s Romanesque ruin, Dunstall Castle, as well as views of the Malverns.

Croome Court

He spent the last sixteen years of his life at his own small estate, Fenstanton Manor in Huntingdonshire, which he purchased in 1767. By the time he died in 1783 of exhaustion and old age he had amassed significant wealth. More importantly, he had joined the very landowning classes he had dedicated his life to serving.

St. Mary Magdalene’s Church, Croome

 

Walled garden, Croome

 

Croome Court

 

 

Mayer, Laura, Capability Brown and the English Landscape Garden, 2011, Shire Publications Ltd.

Henry Hoare: The Rococo

Between William Kent’s classical arcades and the “natural” landscapes of Capability Brown arose the Rococo, with its emphasis on the exotic and dramatic.

A development of the classical Arcadia, the eclectic Rococo garden of the 1740’s and 1750’s marked a transitional stage before the arrival of the Brownian parkscape, replete with natural features. It arranged stylistic confusions of Gothic, Chinese and Turkish influence around a serpentine lake, interspered with irregular planting. The continued appeal of Stourhead in Wiltshire… results from the magical way in which every feature is gradually revealed and then lost from sight, before being presented as a perfect composition. Predominantly the work of the gentleman amateur, there was no room in these estates for the interjections of a professional gardener. Mrs. Lybbe Powys affirmed during her visit to Stourhead: ‘All the buildings and plantations are the present owner’s doing, nor would Brown have executed it with more taste and elegance.’

Henry Hoare

Henry Hoare came from a family of goldsmith-bankers; his grandfather was Lord-Mayor of London. Henry was a partner of C. Hoare & Co. (today the largest bank in the UK and the fourth largest in the world) for nearly 60 years. Nicknamed “Henry the Magnificent” due to his personal charisma and patronage of the arts, Henry spent more than thirty years laying out the gardens of his father’s estate at Stourhead.

Temple of Apollo, Stourhead

The culturally initiated connoisseur could ‘read’ the contrived view of the mid-century landscape, and appreciate its allusions to art, literature and contemporary culture. Hoare believed Stourhead’s circuit would create a  charming Gaspar[d Poussin] picture,’ [see below] and believed fervently in ‘the pursuit of that knowledge which distinguishes the Gentleman from the Vulgar.’ Above the Temple of Flora, Hoare engraved the warning originally given to Aeneas by the Cumaean Sybil — “Begone, you who are uninitiated, begone!’ to remind any garden visitor lacking a classical vocabulary to proceed with caution. Stourhead’s iconography can be identified as an interpretation of Aeneas’s heroic quest to found Rome… Stourhead’s temples articulate the analogy between painting and landscape design more forcibly than any other eighteenth-century garden.

Bridge and Pantheon, Stourhead

Stourhead’s most theatrical feature is the darkened Grotto, which contains a cold bath and statue of the classical river god. Next on the circuit is the Gothic Cottage, where a clearing opens up to offer spectacular views of the Pantheon (1753-4), a miniature replica of Rome’s iconic building, and the most important visual component of Stourhead’s design.

View from the Grotto, Stourhead

Increased travel to the East resulted in a fascination with Chinese and Moorish art and architecture, among others. A preference was developed for the asymmetrical ‘without any Order or Disposition of Parts’. The gardens Hoare created at Stourhead were full of colorful buildings, including a Chinese pavilion, Gothick greenhouse, a Venetian seat, and a medieval Bristol High Cross painted in “strikingly gaudy” colors.  Unfortunately, his grandson, Richard Colt Hoare, removed all of the “exotic whimsicality of the oriental features in order to retain a chaste, harmonious Arcadia.”

High Cross, removed from Bristol

Rococo gardens

The Rococo garden was essentially a stylistic free-for-all, and thus the concept of ‘correct taste’ became a much-debated issue. Both William Hogarth’s The Analysis of Beauty and Edmund Burke’s Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful were written with the intention of fixing the fluctuating ideas of a man of taste, and guiding his patronage.

Exedra, Painswick

Painswick’s landscape was created by a middle-class merchant by the name of Benjamin Hyett, whose designs were based on local artist Thomas Robins.

Red Bridge and the Chinese House, Shugborough

The pleasure grounds at Shugborough, Staffordshire, were designed by Thomas Anson, a traveler and politician who was a pioneer in chinoiserie and Greek revivalism. “Shugborough’s Chinese House, erected in 1747 on a purpose-built island, was…hailed as ‘the genuine architecture of China in all its extravagance’ and ‘painted Blue and White with Indian Birds and Mandarins.’ The grounds also included a hexagonal “Indian Pagoda,” a Palladian bridge, and a Gothick pigeon house.

XIR375781 Landscape with hunter and dogs (oil on canvas) by Dughet, Gaspard Poussin (1615-75); Private Collection; (add. info.: hunting; romantic; cows; lake; chasse; paysage; herd); French, out of copyright

 

Mayer, Laura, Capability Brown and the English Landscape Garden, 2011, Shire Publications Ltd.

William Kent: His Story

William Kent (1685-1748) was an eminent architect, landscape designer, and furniture designer in the early eighteenth century. He was responsible for introducing the Palladian style of architecture as well as the “natural” style of gardening known as the “English landscape garden” into England.

In his first job as a sign and coach painter, Kent showed so much promise that a group of Yorkshire gentlemen provided the financial backing for a Grand Tour, where he painted, studied art, and was inspired by the palaces of Andrea Palladio in Venice. While his painting career did not flourish, he was fortunate to meet Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of  Burlington, “the architect earl,” who eventually assisted him in obtaining many major architectural commissions. After their return to England, the pair got along so well that Kent lived with the Burlington family for thirty years while they pursued their ideals for bringing the classical arts and Palladian architecture to England.

Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington

Kent worked on many public, private, and royal architectural commissions, serving as “Principal Painter in Ordinary” to George II from 1723-1748. Holkham Hall (see below) is “the most complete embodiment of Palladian ideals still to be found” (Wikipedia). His beautiful interiors can still be seen at Kensington Palace and Chiswick House, among others.

Landscape architecture

The Grand Tour, specifically Greece and Italy, proved to be the most significant factor in influencing the fine arts in Georgian England.

Kent, with Pliny’s garden in mind, transformed Stowe, Chiswick and Rousham into “landscapes worthy of an idealised pastoral painting by Lorrain.” Philip Southcote said that the Kent-Burlington partnership was responsible for ‘the fine natural taste in gardening.”

Chiswick

In 1733, Kent took the garden at Burlington’s new villa with its Palladian bathing house, Doric column, and Tuscan portico, and added a semi-dome of

clipped yews, to which he relocated antique statues from Hadrian’s villa at Tivoli. Most importantly for the development of the landscape garden, however, was the opening up of vistas in the groves to take in contrived views of the temples, statues and urns. This advance in gardening was received with great acclaim, and soon “No nobleman’s Gardens were thought to be of Taste unless Mr. Kent had dispos’d or planted them.’ English estates quickly filled up with similar classical features, as the upper classes rushed to assert their wealth and cultural authority through their choice of patronage.

Chiswick House, cascade

 

Chiswick House

Stowe

For his first ever landscape commission in 1731, Kent created the Temple of Venus, for which he painted provocative scenes Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queen. Cobham, Stowe’s owner, was a leading Whig politician, so for the next several years, Kent embellished the property with political satire. In 1734, he enclosed forty acres of the estate to create the Elysian Fields, where he designed the Temple of British Worthies, which includes busts of famous historical persons such as Elizabeth I and Alfred the Great, and the Temple of Ancient Virtue. Across the water was a view of the Temple of Modern Virtues, with a statue of the decapitated Robert Walpole.

Temple of British Worthies, Stowe

…Kent was primarily employed to soften the rigid formalism of Stowe’s existing grounds, and transformed a disconnected series of garden features into a landscaped Arcadia of glimpsed views. To this end, he thinned the many harsh, axial avenues of trees.

Interestingly, it was Capability Brown who supervised the implementation of Kent’s designs for the Elysian fields, his first major commission. The River Styx “wound its way through a series of irregularly sited buildings and planted groves, furthering the fashion for naturalisation.”

Rousham

The trend toward escapist gardens which idealized “the pastoral bliss of ancient Rome” continued into the 1760’s, in stride with the political dominance of the Whigs. Rousham “is frequently hailed as representing the culmination of Kent’s Arcadian vision.”

The circuit walk at Rousham was a prototype of effective planting. It was designed to reveal different views and buildings in a pictorial fashion, including the Temple of Echo and a suggestively nude statue of Antinous, Hadrian’s boy lover. Arguable, Rousham was predisposed for its transformation into an informal Arcadia as the grounds curved naturally down to the River Cherwell. With its juxtaposition of Augustan values, castellated farm buildings and even a pyramid, Rousham was paving the way for the eclecticism of the Rococco garden. Most importantly, Kent opened out the views across the river y the addition of a Gothick eye-catcher and mill to the countryside opposite. From Rousham, Dormer [General James Dormer, Rousham’s owner]’s gardener John MacClary could enjoy the outward prospect of Carriers, Wagons, Gentlemen’s Equipages, Women riding, men walking.’ The Kentian landscape garden was as much about the enjoyment of outward views as it was an inward looking place of retreat. The fence had been well and truly leapt.

Kent “was a painter, an architect, and the father of modern gardening. In the first character he was below mediocrity; in the second, he was a restorer of the science; in the last, an original, and the inventor of an art that realizes painting and improves nature. Mahomet imagined an elysium, Kent created many.”

Horace Walpole

Holkham Hall

 

Kensington Palace

 

Kensington Palace

Source:

Mayer, Laura, Capability Brown and the English Landscape Garden, 2011, Shire Publications Ltd.

Georgian Era Artisans: Robert Adam

Robert Adam: His Story

Anyone who follows this blog is probably aware that Robert Adam is my favorite interior designer. I love the elegance, color, and classical design of his ceiling designs most of all. Every year when I visit the UK, I include stately manors featuring his work—and am ever so glad that there are so many of them still around to admire.

The second son of a prominent Scots architect himself—William Adam—Robert grew up with the advantages of money and an expectation that he would follow in his father’s footsteps. As a second son, however, that meant working under his older brother John, which he did for eight years before striking out on his own. Eventually, he was joined by his younger brother James. The youngest brother, William, served both enterprises with his building materials business.

Coming of age at a time when enthusiasm for the traditional Grand Tour was rekindled, Robert (who did not finish his studies at Edinburgh University due to illness) set out for Europe with the Honorable Charles Hope, younger brother of the Earl of Hopetoun. In Florence, the French antiquarian Charles-Louis Clerisseau agreed to instruct him in watercolor and draftsmanship. Rome, where he and Hope separated, was to be Adam’s base for the next three years, where he continued to study under Clerisseau and associated with other British artists and potential patrons, including James Wyatt and Adam’s lifelong rival, William Chambers, whom he identified as a “formidable foe.”

In Rome, Adam was careful not to jeopardize his gentleman’s status by identifying himself as an architect, which would preclude his participation in aristocratic circles. He was acutely aware that as important as it was to developi his artistic skills, it was equally important to develop relationships with the sort of people who might wish to take advantage of them in future endeavors. A “gentleman architect” was a bit of an oxymoron at the time, but Adam was one eventually who managed to achieve it.

Adam devoted himself to making detailed studies of both ancient and Renaissance buildings, particularly the decoration of the Roman vaults known as grotte, which led to the development of a type of ornamentation called “grotesque.” (Which seems an odd designation to me, since his designs are anything but grotesque. But I don’t speak the language of architecture.)

Adam was to achieve “a delicacy of detail…” which was new to England—and indeed to the world, for it was a delicacy by Roman and not Rococo means. The grottesque, painted and stucco decoration in Roman buildings, were his model.

Professor Nikolaus Pevsner (1902-1983)

Adam’s use of colour… was not, as is too often and disastrously thought, a gay “picking-out” of decorative motifs, but a subtle and gentle modification of the traditional white finish which Adam found too glaring in practice. Even the richest schemes are carefully built up from this principle.

Sir John Summerson (1904-1992)

James Adam, by Antonio Zucchi

At this time, Adam met Robert Wood, whose illustrated account of the Ruins of Palmyra became a useful sourcebook for architects and designers, and Adam was to eventually draw more from Wood than from his first-hand studies. Adam meant to write his own  such book on the baths of Diocletian and Caracalla, but the theorist of the family turned out to be his younger brother James. Robert was more of a doer.

Robert Adam’s criticism was directed against

the slavish imitators of Vitruvius and Palladio in his own century, who reduced the architectural heritage of the ancient world to a set of rigid rules to be dogmatically applied. Adam’s demand, which he believed to be soundly based on the realities of ancient practice, was that the architect should assert the flexibility and freedom proper to a creative artist: ‘The great masters of antiquity were not so rigidly scrupulous. They varied the proportions of the general spirit of their compositions required, clearly perceiving that however necessary these rules may be to form the taste and correct the licentiousness of the scholar, they cramp the genius and circumscribe the ideas of the master.’

This was heresy to eighteenth-century traditionalist architects, but Adam believed that the goal of architecture was not dependent on a set of rigid rules, but the achievement of a fluency and freedom of expression, that in his case meant the “ability to balance simplicity with enrichment.”

“Movement,” a fundamental principle of his work and a recurring motif in his projects, was defined by him with this analogy “…rising and falling, advancing and receding… with convexity and concavity… have the same effect in architecture, that hill and dale, fore-ground and distance, swelling and sinking have in landscape.” Architecture, like landscape, should “aspire to an agreeable and diversified contour, that groups and contrasts like a picture.”

Upon the completion of his Grand Tour, Adam decided to set up his independent practice in London, rather than following the family business in Edinburgh, which was a much less risky proposition. The family wealth was useful in helping him set up a house with six servants in fashionable St. James Place, and later purchase a house in Lower Grosvenor Street. His sisters managed his household and his brothers James and William came along to assist in his endeavors.

Networking was second nature to Adam. He joined the recently established Royal Society of the Arts, but by virtue of birth he already belonged to an informal institution far more powerful than any official association—the club of London Scots. The unofficial head of this ‘tartan mafia’ was John Stuart, third Earl of Bute and tutor to the future king George III. Adam inveigled an introduction…, and, although the initial contact with Bute was brusque almost to the point of insult, he was to gain commissions from him in both town and country. But by the time he did so Adam was already on course to be England’s most fashionable architect.

The Saloon at Kedleston Hall

 

Tea House Bridge, Audley End

Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire, was Adam’s first major commission. Adam created the south front and also designed the much of the interior, furniture, and grounds. Although his was somewhat of a partial role—some rooms having been done by others—his work includes the library, saloon, ante-room, dressing room, state bedroom, and dining room. Very few changes have been made in the design, so Kedleston remains a significant example of his work.

Osterley Park

At Syon House, in 1761, the first Duke of Northumberland challenged him “to create a palace of Graeco-Roman splendour.” Adam was only too eager to accept the challenge, submitting, as he often did, an overly-ambitious plan that had to be modified. The result, however, included a “sequence of rooms of contrasting geometrical shapes, each originating in a classical prototype.” Lord Norwich claimed that “this spectacular sequence of rooms is enough to earn its creator a lasting place in the Halls of Fame and makes Syon one of the showplaces not just of London but of all England.

That same year, Adam was commissioned to decorate Osterley Park in Middlesex, owned by the Child banking dynasty. Among his repertoire of projects in the coming years was Ugbrooke, Devon; a gatehouse for Kimbolton Castle, in Cambridgeshire; Bowood, in Wiltshire; Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill at Twickenham; Newby Hall, North Yorkshire; Harewood House, in Yorkshire; Nostell Priory, in Yorkshire; Audley End, in Essex; Saltram, in Devon; Landsdowne House, Kenwood, Chandos House, Home House, Portland Place, Derby House, Home House, Northumberland House, all in London. When Northumberland House was destroyed to make way for Northumberland Avenue, the duke had Adam’s glass drawing-room packed up and stored; it is partially restored in the British Galleries at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Music Room at Home House

The Adelphi Project, which would turn out to be a major failure that brought his business to the brink of bankruptcy, was conceived to be a “riverside terrace of residences of imperial grandeur… positioned above an arcade of warehouses.” Thinking that they would be besieged by eager tenants, the Adams brothers sank their own money and political power (Robert was an MP for Kinross-shire at the time) into getting this project up and running. Unfortunately, errors in calculations for the positioning of the wharf, as well as other problems, proved disastrous, and the brothers had to sell the property for a pittance, as well as their own private collections of antiquities.

Adam’s obituary in the Gentleman’s Magazine was unequivocal in its judgement—’Mr. Adam produced a total change in the architecture of this country.’ ‘Architecture’ in that context must be understood as an all-embracing term. The papers Adam bequeathed to posterity include designs for organ-cases, sedan-chairs, coach-panels, candlesticks, door-handles, salt-cellars—and over five hundred different fireplaces.

Fireplace, Strawberry Hill

“… the chief merit of the Adam variation of the classical style was its recognition of the ancillary trades and crafts. It had, moreover, the attraction of being economical while retaining the appearance of being costly.”

Sir Albert Richardson (1880-1964)

Robert Adam is buried at Westminster Abbey.

Bookcase designed by Adam and built by Thomas Chippendale

My Pinterest Pages

Robert Adam

Osterley Park

Syon Park

Kenwood House

Harewood House

 

Note:

Quotes are from Robert Adam, by Richard Tames, 2004, Shire Publications.

 

 

Drawing of the drawing-room at Derby House, 1777

 

Gatehouse at Kimbolton Castle

Pulteney Bridge, Bath

Records Office, Edinburgh, 1775