Wednesday 12 December 2012

Lancelot Brown is Blogging!

Lancelot 'Capability' Brown (1716-1783)
Now then.  Lancelot 'Capability' Brown is one of the most contentious designers  in British garden history, and its often a case of love him or hate him.  He is often accused of destroying so many of the English Renaissance gardens of the 17th century.  Considering that the Civil War had taken a hefty toll of gardens and that Brown was the third in a line of great landscapists and oftentimes worked on landscapes they had, I am not sure how far this accusation sticks.  

And he is occasionally accused of designs that resulted in the displacement of villages and villagers.  This is certainly true, but the Enclosure Acts were far more pernicious than the mild-mannered Brown.

Brown's landscape at Montacute: more natural than nature!
I am sure you can see by now that I fall into the former category and think that Brown's work was genius.  To be able to envisage how a mature landscape should look at its peak - 200 years into the future - takes vision; and there is also something humbling about Brown and his work for he must have know that he would never live to see one of his designs reach maturity.

Brown's landscape at Blenheim - perhaps his finest.
And for my money he was also the first Modernist.  For if we apply the maxim 'form follows function' then that is exactly what his designs achieved.  They were the 'natural' English landscape perfected, and thus performed their artistic function, whilst simultaneously demonstrating that the owner was at the cutting edge of fashion.  Yet they were also productive and yielded an income and also met the requirements of countryside recreations.

Chatsworth set within Brown's landscape 
So, may I introduce you to the new blog Lancelot Capability Brown which is dedicated to proselyting about the man, his work and celebrating the forthcoming tercentenary of his birth.

You can also follow Lancelot on Twitter: @Brown2016


  1. It was my response on the GHS blog that you link to. Put on to promote/provoke a discussion about Brown.

    A point you make is that Brown must have known that he would not live to see his designs reach maturity. That may be the case for some commissions, but not all. Brown used a machine to lift mature trees to create an instant mature landscape. More often than not he lifted them from other parts of the site. A case of moving trees to a new position. The misconception is that Brown planted for the future, using small trees. Some of his clients would simply not find this acceptable. His success rate was high, unlike of course Louis X1V who moved thousands of trees to Versailles, most of them failing.

    Brown is responible for the vista of the bridge at Blenheim. The bridge designed by Vanbrugh, but which never saw the full implementation of his design. It was considered far to expensive and his clients disliked him. The result is not though what we see now, as when the area was flooded Brown lost the bottom section of the bridge. Rooms which are now under the water level.

    Brown has always had his critics. You only have to read Uvedale Price for example, to see this.
    Brown never wrote books or published grand plans he was far to busy for that. Repton of course wrote reams and produced his paintings and leather bound books.Really this shows that Brown was far more sought after than Repton ever was.In Reptons defence in the early part of the 19th century war did mean that money was short. Also Brown did not seek to ingratiate himself with the rich as Reptons did. Reptons was a sycophantic, Brown was not.

    Brown must be admired for keeping the integrity of his designs. Reptons clients would sometimes only use small parts of the overall plan, or he would loose control over the implementation. Brown kept full control and was the overall project manager although a trusted agent would be on site. At times Brown could simply not get around to visit and oversee all the jobs he had on the go at any one time. Clients would request him to appear and it could take weeks or longer before he made the visit.

    So you see my writing was not a blanket dislike of Brown but trying to see both sides of this man. The problem is when I visit Petworth and see what he did there, yes a strong dilike rises. The destruction of the garden by London and Wise and Browns bland replacement disturbs.

    The very fact that 300 odd years later Browns landscapes are still admired (by some) and that we feel the need to place finger to key board must mean something and say something about the man. For sure in 300 hundred years time no one will be talking about me!

    Lastly at Wrest Park a column was erected in memory of Brown. It still stands today. Brown considered himself an 'expert' on most things but especially columns. The then owners loved Brown but sometimes he exasperated them. The column they erected was made not to conform with Browns rules on columns but to be made to look upside down! They knew he would have hated it!

  2. Stephen - thank you so much for your comment. As I mentioned I am all for a good natured debate of differing views. Both educational and enervating.

    I still contend he is Britain's most influential and international designer. But.

    If I have a bone to pick, its not the loss of so many C.17 formal gardens in Britain - I still maintain his predecessors and the Civil War accounted for far more then he did, and remember it was Brown who preserved the formal gardens at Hampton Court Palace when he was asked to landscape them - but those who imitated his work abroad.

    The faux English Landscape Gardens plastered all across Europe generally look out of place (they certainly didn't consult the Genius loci) and the losses of indigenous designs were far worse there than in the UK.

    I would love to know more about Brown's mature tree transplanting activities. But even so he can't have transplanted that many otherwise his landscapes would have had to have been replanted in the 19th century when he was oh-so-out-of-fashion. Moreover, most of the trees matured in the C.20 (vis-a-vis so many losses in the Great Storm of '87) suggesting they were planted young in the C.18.

    Also I have to say that Vanbrugh's bridge looks much more in proportion with its surroundings set in a lake with 30 feet of it underwater that ever it did when all all was exposed and it crossed the spindly 'L' shaped canal that was part of London & Wise'sthe formal gardens!

    Repton and Brown - there's an interesting discussion to be had and glad you started it.

  3. Thank you. I would agree that as far as influential and international influences go, Brown could possibly claim that position.
    But did he start the English garden overseas or was this started by Bridgeman to a small degree or more likely the most wonderful Kent?
    Possibly the 'Picturesque' movement was at the vanguard of the English garden in Germany?

  4. I remembered on the way home from work what Walpole said about Brown. He said he was ''Lady natures second husband''.
    He worked on 170 estates over a 35 year period and made his landscapes to be seen as a series of pictures ideally from a carriage or a boat. Most of his commissions took 5 years to complete. He used the larger more mature trees that he transplanted to frame these pictures.

    He died a very rich man indeed. After his death he then become known as 'Capability' Brown.
    If only so many great pieces of architecture and wonderful formal gardens had not been broken up to make way for his rolling turf!