Berrington

A house on a grass slope, with the water below. What could be more simple?

Mr S of Leominster has on occasion been mistaken for a badger, but Berrington he knows for itself, having for well over 20 years read the research and rootled about the grounds. In his correspondence therefore he goes on to ask how much a reliance on the documents should give way to the imagination for an understanding of a place .

In many posts, such as notes 29 and 30, I have mentioned the role that the imagination has to play in the appreciation of Capability Brown’s landscape. Never is this role more necessary than at Berrington.

I remember that on my first visit a few decades ago I chanced to ask a member of staff where I should go in order to get a good view of the lake. She took me from room to room in an increasing kerfuffle, calling on other staff as she did so, somewhat ruefully to discover that although she had worked there for many years she had never noticed that the lake is to all intents and purposes invisible from the house. In short her imagination, and that of the other members of staff, had been played on by Brown, who had so related house and lake as to convince them that they must be intervisible even though they weren’t.

Brown, as it seems to me, once he had learnt to play the imagination in this fashion, was immediately released to make his landscapes much more complex: our imaginations tell us that Berrington is simple and coherent, Brown therefore does not trouble to make it simple and coherent. In fact he makes it complex, incoherent and more picturesque than Uvedale Price – but still we are persuaded to take it for granted as harmonious, gentle, easy and smooth.

Such is the master-piece that is Berrington. Complex, yes, a Chinese box, yes, but no more complex and no more a Chinese box than a late quartet of Beethoven’s – neither to be despised as ‘academic’ just because we cannot immediately understand it, nor dismissed because there is not the documentation to explain it.

Thus I come to ask myself whether the Project Management Board for the Capability Brown Festival was right to lay their emphasis on stuff  (displays of modern art, performance, cake-icing competitions, tri-athlons) rather than on the landscapes themselves. How far can one say that the installation of tercentennial art at Berrington showed any understanding of, or provided an introduction to, the landscape? It was fun and it was curious, but I fancy that if you had asked the artists what it was about Berrington that elicited that response and how different it would have been if they had been working at Croome instead, they would have found it difficult to reply. Nor even could they have said what they might have done differently if they had been working in a field.