The Garden Guide

Book: The Principles of Landscape Gardening
Chapter: Chapter 1: Principles of Landscape Gardening

The chief object of all the imitative arts

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1474. The chief object of all the imitative arts is the production of natural or universal beauty. Music, poetry, and painting, are the principal imitative arts; to these has been lately added landscape-gardening, an art which has for its object the production of landscapes by combinations of the actual materials of nature, as landscape-painting has for its object their imitation by combinations of colours. Landscape-gardening has been said 'to realise whatever the fancy of the painter has imagined' (Girardin); and, 'to create a scenery more pure, more harmonious, and more expressive, than any that is to be found in nature herself.' (Alison.) Such are Alison's ideas of the powers of this art; and such appear, in some degree, to have been those of Whately and Girardin. A more correct idea of its capacities, in our opinion, is suggested by the remark of Horace Walpole, when he represents it as 'proud of no other art than that of softening nature's harshness, and copying her graceful touch.' It has also been said, that it is 'to poetry and painting, what the reality is to the representation.' (Girardin.) But experience proves, that the former (the reality) is sometimes exceeded by the latter, both in respect to natural and picturesque beauty. Suppose, for example, any given variety of ground, rocks, and distance as the basis, which is to be furnished with wood, water, and buildings, and the rocks shown or concealed as the gardener may wish, or as the genius of the place may require, and every other purpose effected which is in the power of gardening to perform. When all this is done, it may be a scene greatly inferior in beauty to the imitative creation of a painter from the same groundwork and materials. As another example, let there be a natural landscape, either of mediocrity or of any given beauty, with every circumstance so arranged as to be alike suitable for both arts; and let a painter and a gardener each attempt to copy it according to his respective art, with or without permission to improve its beauties. Which of the two imitations would be most beautiful, considered in the abstract, and without reference to any selfish or arbitrary association ? Most probably it will be the production of the painter; as his work appeals to the imagination and the fancy, and calls forth the higher faculties of the mind. In short, no comparison between the powers of landscape-painting and those of landscape-gardening can be instituted, that will not evince the superior powers of the former art. The great source of the beauty of every verdant landscape is wood; and so much of the beauty of all woods depends on accidental circumstances, in their progress from the time of planting till they attain a considerable age, and which circumstances cannot be said practically to be under the control of the gardener, that, however high our aim, however we may study the natural effects of time, and however correctly we may imitate them, at the end of all our labours any wood formed by art will always be far inferior to a natural wood under the same cirumstances. For further illustrations we have only to appeal to such painters as have made landscape their particular study, and who certainly must be considered in this case as the best judges with regard to scenic truth or picturesque beauty.