I don’t pretend to be able to answer all the questions I get asked. But here are a couple more:
1 how many plans did Jonathan Spyers draw for the great magician, Capability Brown? Or, if you prefer, how many of his plans did Brown draw?I tend to think of the scribbled plans as Brown’s, but there clearly was an office style. Spyers may well have been a more competent artist than Brown, as his water-colours of Fisherwick suggest, so did Spyers play any part besides that of Brown’s first choice surveyor?
2 did Spyers know anything about landscape, or, if you prefer, did his background as a nurseryman help him?
Some sort of an answer has been proposed to the first of these questions. Here it is, as well as I can remember it: at Woodchester in Gloucestershire, in 1782 at the end of Brown’s life, Spyers produced a smart plan, dated 1782, with a smart cartouche; clearly for the consumption of Brown’s client. However the bill for S’s work at Woodchester is little over two pounds – just enough for the survey (around 1400 acres), with nothing left over for any fine drawing. One might reasonably conclude that this survey was actually drawn after Brown’s death and Spyers presented it independently, and one hopes that he was paid well for it. Brown himself attended and since B billed £14 14s 0d (that is to say 14 guineas), we may say that the great man attended for two days at the rate of 7 guineas/day. We also know that Brown arrived at Woodchester at the same time as Spyers, and Spyers stayed on after he had gone. This makes it possible does it not, that Brown and Spyers spent the two days together setting out a design for the landscape as they went; that Spyers mapped that design and believing that it would be planted, submitted it to the owner after Brown’s death. I am attracted to this surmise by the facts that the finished plan looks very like a Brown design; and that these highly wrought cartouches and ornamentations to his plan are to be found on several of Spyers’ latest works: such as Belvoir Castle and Fenstanton. In fact a similar cartouche appears on Brown’s proposal plans for Belvoir. the difference may be that Spyers fully expected the design that he had set out with Brown to be planted.
Make your own mind up …