Before writing this, the second of four notes on our understanding of Capability Brown, I took my proposal to the Tatler’s Waste-bin for the consideration of my fellows, and the attempt was approved. Here then is our matured consideration of the up-bringing, skills and attainments attainments – in short the reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmatic of Capability Brown.
Stroud: Brown was something of an innovator in his landscape style
The Norfolk school argued that Brown did not innovate in his landscaping techniques, which were largely inherited from William Kent and the paintings of Claude Lorrain and Poussin. The Brown Advisor would like to add that Kent was not the man to look to for practical advice, that Brown’s practice was drawn from traditional skills, which ranged from pond-making to hedge laying and coppicing – all of these being skills that Kent is unlikely to have acquired for himself. The Brown Advisor would go further and say that the theory of Brown’s late work was far removed from Kent’s. The latter thought that he had only to impose some idea of Arcadia, or the imagery of Claude, on the English countryside. Brown came to identify with the English countryside itself.
Stroud: little is known about Brown’s up-bringing or social class.
Norfolk, Sarah Rutherford and the BA would concur. This is an area where research might explain how Brown managed to acquire his many capabilities so rapidly.
Stroud: like it or not, Brown is the greatest of the 18th century landscape gardeners
Norfolk: Brown’s landscapes are of less significance than those of his precursor, such as Kent, from the first half of the 18th century, and he has been unfairly judged to be better than his contemporaries. Sarah Rutherford has not ventured far into this territory. The Brown Advisor is hoping that after 2016 Brown will be recognised as one of the towering figures of European culture. However so long as we misunderstand his work, it may be difficult to substantiate that claim.
Stroud: Brown’s architectural skills are of little consequence
Norfolk: Brown’s architecture is too little understood. Dr R goes further, stressing the importance of the portico and of views from the house. Whatever we may think of Brown’s architecture, it remains hugely important for understanding his landscape design and The Brown Advisor is hoping for that nod of recognition.
Stroud: Brown did not use geometry
Norfolk: Brown did not use geometry. Dr R goes further again, arguing that Brown was very skilled in geometry. The Brown Advisor looks towards our conclusion that Brown did use geometry throughout his career as a designer. His geometry was projective rather than ‘metric’ or regular, and it recurs from Wotton to Laeken. We should look for it at every place that is attributed to him.