Dr Z K, an ecologist well-known to Eastern Europe and the Hungarian steppe, led me, without explanation, to the site of the Temple of Bacchus at Painshill, whence run those panoramic views to the south, far across the M25 and to the smiling pastures of Effingham Junction.
– but I digress – he led me, as I say, to the hill top, displayed this panorama and asked me ‘is this a view?
I advert to his question now because, like an unkept goal-mouth, it will receive shots from any angle.
One might reply that this is the sad consequence of a diligent training in ecology – which concentrates so much on bat droppings and toadstools, at the expense of any ability to read the wider landscape.
One might reply that the better question would be, what did Charles Hamilton make of this view – by way of foreground planting, framing trees, and the angle at which the Temple of Bacchus is set?
But Dr K’s question prompts a deeper insight. It is to the credit of our era that in book after book, and particularly in books of architecture, we refer to the views from the house and treat them as significant. Yet the way in which such views worked, the efforts to which the designer went to create them, the time of day at which they were to be seen, or the time of year – none of these questions are touched upon.
If we can happily agree that the views from a house are important, and then devote so little time to their examination, and barely look out of the windows at them, then I declare that we are unable to invest sufficient meaning in our own language. We may say ‘look at the view’, when we mean only ‘look’; we may say that a landscape is Claudean, and mean that its bridge looks like the sort of bridge that Claude Lorrain might have put in his pictures; or that it makes you feel like a Claudean shepherd as you wander round it in your imagination, as Coleridge wandered around Washington Allston’s paintings ‘I must climb over a [great Bowder Stone] to get the prospect of the far valley, hidden by the Stone & the Rock’ – or we might share with Humphry Repton the thought that as with ‘the best landscapes of Claude’ certain landscapes ‘will be found to owe their beauty to that kind of foreground, which could only be applied to one particular window of a house’ – for HR in short a Claucean view was a very precise composition to be seen from one spot only.