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