The question, ‘when will John Phibbs’ books come out?’, booms out of the mist from a voice like a foghorn, and then booms again. It was Mr B of Buckinghamshire who spoke, and his solemn tone caught the ear and the attention of the Brown Advisor.
The short answer, I am assured, is that there are two books, both are due to come out at the same time, viz. In October this year: Place-making, the art of Capability Brown (Historic England) and Capability Brown, designing the English landscape (Rizzoli). The first is an analysis of the practical principles that underpin the proposals of Capability Brown, the second a series of 15 essays each devoted to a different landscape, each chosen to illustrate the range of Brown’s work.
So much by way of fact, but our editor informs us that he is for the present engaged on other matters. Having purchased a copy of Sarah Rutherford’s Capability Brown and his landscape gardens (National Trust), he is now speechless with delight at what he has found therein.
The book sums up mainstream thinking about Brown and presents it in an elegantly straight-forward manner to the public. What is so refreshing about it is to see how far mainstream thinking has moved over the last 20 years, and in particular since 2011 when, as he reminds me, my good friend Mr Honey last looked into the press, and when our editor first mooted the idea of a tercentennial celebration of the great Brown.
Allow me just to pick out three straws in this galvanising wind: here in print we see juxtaposed the huge transition that had been made in the placing and function of the triumphal arches, from the formally placed giganticism of Stowe to the oblique, half-apologetic entrance to the pleasure ground at Berrington.
And how refreshing to find the sunk hedge (the Brown Advisor, notes 170, 193) brought into the picture. Our editor, John Phibbs, recalls scouring the country in the 1980s, before eventually finding Oakley’s. Since then they have been reinstated at Wotton and Corsham Court – and their return to the mainstream of design is signalled by Sarah.
But when I told him that Dr R has now brought Brown’s ‘aversion’ for showing road surfaces (notes 29, 205 etc.) into mainstream thinking, Mr Honey positively nodded with delight.
Daringly and controversially, what Dr R has done is to take the conventional and rather dismissive reading of Brown – ‘destroyer of villages’, ‘sweeper away of gardens’ etc., and woven into it a more perceptive story of quite a different man, far more sophisticated, with the lineaments of a great artist.
But enough, let me bring this note to a close with the proposal that I report my editor’s consideration of this fine book to my friends at the Tatler’s Waste-bin. I shall record the ensuing lucubrations in the next few notes.