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Capability Brown and the English Landscape James Bolton Thursday 19 July 2018

When Capability Brown refused a fee of £1,000 to work in Ireland because “he had not yet finished England”, it marked the high tide of the English Landscape Movement. His birth in 1716 signalled the end of the Baroque age and his death in 1783 heralded all the excesses of Romanticism. The intervening years witnessed the greatest contribution Britain has made to Art.

The death of formality and the decline of baroque architecture went hand in hand with a change in the political climate following the deaths of Queen Anne in 1714 and Louis XIV in 1715. This is the age of the Grand Tour and the Whig party, of Lord Burlington, William Kent and Neo-Palladianism.  It was the Augustan Age, with Britain, almost unconsciously, trembling on the edge of Empire.

Brown’s important years as head gardener at Stowe, where he learnt from both Cobham and Kent formed the basis of his subsequent independent practise based in Hammersmith. From here Brown surveyed and transformed England from Milton Abbey to Alnwick Castle.

The change in taste and mood, driven by the increasing fondness for Gothick architecture and Romantic wildness and disorder in landscaping, caused Brown’s work to fall from favour as dull and formulaic. Landscapers like Repton ushered in a revival of formalism and so the wheel turned full circle.

James Bolton, a graduate of the  Inchbald School of Design 1990, was Head Gardener, Old Rectory Farnborough, and Faculty Director, Design History, Inchbald School of Design. Garden Designer 1992-. A lecturer for The Arts Society since 1995, he organises The Arts Society's garden study days and tours in UK and Europe including tours to the best private gardens in the UK, Italy, France and South Africa. He is the author of 'Garden Mania', a book on garden ornaments, published in 2000.