Book Review: Capability Brown and his Landscape Gardens

Capability Brown and his Landscape Gardens is a thorough, beautifully illustrated study about one of the lesser-known giants of English culture, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, on his 300th anniversary.

When Lord Coventry asked him proudly what he thought of his magnificent estate: his quirky but somewhat deflating reply, “Why, my lord, the place has its capabilities”, gained him the nickname he never lost.

Brown’s clients included King George III, in whose household at Kew Brown lived for many years, along with six prime ministers. No professional man has ever had so numerous a client list of such social status or power – and all done by clients’ word of mouth.

Brown transformed the settings of English mansions by giving them a ‘natural’ look, sweeping away all the elaborate but geometrical gardens Le Notre had inspired at Versailles. Brown energised an emerging fashion for the beauty of nature by making a great house’s vistas appear like the landscape by Claude that hung on its wall.

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Brown was a part of that 18th century revolution in mansion design that saw great halls shrink to a large lobby from which, beside a staircase, there radiated numerous rooms in which guests could divert themselves with music, cards, conversation and, of course, eat convivially in the newly-invented dining room. A house so designed must be surrounded by beauty and the sash windows in every room allowed the household to admire a different aspect of Brown’s genius.

Author: Sarah Rutherford
Publisher: The National Trust

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