Friday 30 December 2011

William Kent, The Picturesque Landscape & Rousham

The English Landscape Garden is arguably one of Britain’s greatest contributions to world art.  And while many garden lovers have heard of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown’ (1716-83) not so many are familiar with his predecessors such as William Kent (c.1685-1748).

Put simply, Kent designed idealised landscapes with softened edges, sinuous walks, water features, many varied buildings and long prospects where garden and park were indistinguishable.  As Horace Walpole put it, Kent ‘leaped the fence, and saw that all nature was a garden.’

Yet the scenes Kent created were not English but took their inspiration from Italy, from the romantic images of classical times.  These landscapes were designed to be a picture, a work of art laden with emotional overtones of tranquillity, gaiety, grandeur and melancholy, all set within a tamed, sculptured Nature. 

The noted garden historian, Professor Tim Mowl offers an insight onto Kent and his work on this video of his 2010 Claremont Garden History Lecture.  Here is part one (of seven):

However, it is not easy to visit a Kentian landscape because his works were overlaid by successive incarnations of the English landscape garden.  Most often by ‘Capability’ Brown.

A most notable exception is Rousham in Oxfordshire.  

Admittedly the landscape has suffered the ravages of time and lack of cash, yet it fully retains both its layout and emotional harmonics - and oftentimes you find you are the sole visitor!

For those who wish to read more, try Simon Pugh’s ‘Rousham and the English landscape garden’.

And for comparison, Blenheim Palace, perhaps the finest example of ‘Capability’ Brown’s landscaping work is a mere 7 km from Rousham.

1 comment:

  1. I live within a stone's throw of this garden! ok, admittedly a very big throw, but close anyway.