The Garden Guide

Book: History of Garden Design and Gardening
Chapter: Chapter 4: British Gardens (1100-1830)

Famous English landscape designers

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583. The artists or professors who established the modern style were Bridgeman, Kent, Wright, Brown, and Emes. Of Bridgeman we have been able to procure no information. In the Gentleman's Magazine for 1737, the death of William Bridgeman, Esq., 17th August, in that year, occurs in the obituary; but whether this be the landscape-gardener is uncertain. Kent was born in Yorkshire, and apprenticed to a coach-painter in 1719. He soon afterwards came to London, discovered a genius for painting, was sent to Italy, patronised there by Lord Burlington, returned with his lordship, and lived with him in Burlington House till 1748, when he died, at the age of sixty-three years. On his first return, he was chiefly employed to paint historical subjects and ceilings; and the hall at Stowe is from his pencil. Soon afterwards he was employed as an architect; and, lastly, as a landscape-gardener. It is not known where he first exercised his genius as a layer-out of grounds; probably at Claremont and Esher. Kent was also employed at Kensington Gardens, where he is said to have introduced dead trees to heighten the allusion to natural woods. Mason the poet mentions Kent's Elysian scenes in the highest style of panegyric; and observes, in a note, that he prided himself in shading with evergreens in his more finished pieces, in a manner described in the fourteenth and fifteenth sections of Whately's Observations. 'According to my own idea,' adds G. Mason, 'all that has since been done by the most deservedly admired designers, by Southcote, Hamilton, Lyttelton, Pitt, Shenstone, Morris, for themselves, and by Wright for others; all that has been written on the subject even the Gardening Didactic Poem and the Didactic Essay on the Picturesque, have proceeded from Kent. Had Kent never exterminated the bounds of regularity, never actually traversed the way to freedom of manner, would any of these celebrated artists have found it of themselves? Theoretical hints from the highest authorities had evidently long existed without sufficient effect. And, had not these great masters actually executed what Kent's example first inspired them with the design of executing, would the subsequent writers on gardening have been enabled to collect materials for precepts, or stores for their imaginations?' (Essay, &c., p. 112.) Wright seems to have been in some repute at the time of Kent's death. 'His birth and education,' G. Mason informs us, 'were above plebeian; he understood drawing, and sketched plans of his designs, but never contracted for work, which might occasion his not being applied to by those who consider nothing so much as having trouble taken off their hands.' At Becket, the seat of Lord Barrington, he produced an admired effect on a lawn; and at Stoke, near Bristol, he is supposed to have decorated a copse-wood with roses, in the manner advised in the fourth book of the English Garden, and as afterwards extensively displayed at Fonthill Abbey by Mr. Beckford, the celebrated author of Vathek. He also designed the terrace-walk and river at Oatlands, both deservedly admired; the latter being not unfrequently mistaken for the Thames itself. Brown is the next professor, in the order of time. He was a native of Kirkharle in Northumberland, filled the situation of kitchen-gardener at a small place, near Woodstock, in Oxfordshire; and was afterwards gardener at Stowe till 1750. He was confined, while there, to the kitchen-garden (see Beauties of England and Wales: Bucks) by Lord Cobham, who, however, afterwards recommended him to the Duke of Grafton, at Wakefield Lodge, Northamptonshire, whore, in 1764, he directed the formation of a large lake, which laid the foundation of his fame and fortune. Lord Cobham, it is said by some authors, afterwards procured for him the situation of royal gardener at Hampton Court, and it was he who planted the celebrated vine there, in 1769. Brown was now consulted by the nobility, and among other places at Blenheim. There he threw a dam across the vale; and the first artificial lake in the world was completed in a week. By this he attained the summit of his popularity. The fashion of employing him continued, says G. Mason, not only to 1768, but to the time of his death, 1783. Repton has given a list of his principal works, among which Croome and Fisherwicke were the two largest new places which he formed, including, at Croome, the mansion and offices, as well as the grounds. The places he altered are beyond all reckoning. Improvement was the passion of the day; and there was scarcely a country-gentleman who did not, on some occasion or other, consult the gardening idol of the day. Mason the poet praises this artist, and Horace Walpole apologises for not praising him. Daines Barrington says, 'Kent hath been succeeded by Brown, who hath undoubtedly great merit in laying out pleasure-grounds; but I conceive that, in some of his plans, I see rather traces of tho kitchen-gardener of Old Stowe, than of Poussin or Claude Lorraine. I could wish, therefore, that Gainsborough gave the design, and that Brown executed.' The works and memory of Brown have been severely attacked by Knight and Price, and strenuously defended by Repton, who styles him 'his grunt self-taught predecessor.' 'Brown,' observes G. Mason, 'always appeared to myself in the light of an egregious mannerist; who, from having acquired a facility in shaping surfaces, grew fond of exhibiting that talent, without due regard to nature, and left marks of his intrusion wherever he went. His new plantations were generally void of genius, taste, and propriety; but I have seen instances of his managing old ones much better. He made a view to Cheney's church, from Latimer (Bucks), as natural and picturesque as can well be imagined. Yet at the same place he had stuffed a very narrow vale, by the side of an artificial river, with those crowded circular clumps of firs alone, that Price attributes to him. The incongruity of this plan struck most of the neighbouring gentlemen; but was defended by the artist himself under shelter of tho epithet 'playful,' totally misapplied.' (Essay on Design, p. 130. 2d edit. 1795.) That Brown must have possessed considerable talents, the extent of his reputation abundantly proves; but that he was imbued with much of that taste for picturesque beauty which distinguished the works of Kent, Hamilton, and Shenstone, we think will hardly be asserted by any one who has observed attentively such places as are known to be his creations. Whatever be the extent or character of the surface, they are all surrounded by a narrow belt, and the space within is distinguished by numbers of round or oval clumps, and a reach or two of a tame river, generally on different levels. This description, in short, will apply to almost every place in Britain laid out from the time (about 1740) when the passion commenced for new-modelling country-seats, to about 1785 or 1790, when it in a great measure ceased. Sir U. Price observes, alluding to Brown's mannerism, that, had the landscape-gardeners of his day been incorporated, a clump, a belt, and a piece of made water would have served for a model as well as for a seal. The leading outline of this plan of improvement was easily recollected and easily applied; the great demand produced abundance of artists; and the general appearance of the country so rapidly changed under their operations, that in 1772, Sir William Chambers declared, that if the mania were not checked, in a few years longer there would not be found three trees in a line from the Land's End to the Tweed. Brown, it is said, never went out of England, but he sent pupils and plans to Scotland and Ireland; and Paulowsky, a seat of the emperor Paul, near St. Petersburg, is said to be from his design. Brown, as far as we have learned, could not draw, but had assistants, who made out plans of what he intended. He generally contracted for the execution of the work. He amassed a handsome fortune, and his son Launcelot, a landed proprietor in Huntingdonshire, has sat in several parliaments. The immediate successor of Brown was his nephew, Henry Holland, who was chiefly employed as an architect, though he generally directed the disposition, of the grounds when he was employed in the former capacity. Holland built Carlton House, and the Pavilion at Brighton, and died about 1806. Emes is the next artist that deserves notice: of him, however, we know little more than that he is mentioned in terms of respect by G. Mason. He died 13 March, 1803.