Many have been the triumphs of Capability Brown’s tercentenary – you may have your favourites, but I would highlight the issue of Royal Mail stamps to commemorate some of his most famous landscapes, the article by Michael Symes (‘Enlightenment, the ‘Natural’ garden and Brown’ Garden History Vol.44 suppl. 1, (Autumn 2016) pp.7-17, if you haven’t already seen it), the fountain for the court at Westminster Abbey and the statue for Hammersmith, both to be built to celebrate the man himself – all four are terrific – but there have been many other achievements. Nonetheless, I still feel that something is missing and that all our efforts have somehow sped past his work itself. So we have had Brown and wildlife (Sheffield Hallam), Brown’s international influence (Bath), Brown and his business practice (Hampton Court). We have had television. We have had numerous wonderful exhibitions and displays of artefacts (Harrogate, London, Blenheim, Sherborne, the RHS, Cambridge, Milton Abbey to name but a handful). We have had books galore – but have the central issues escaped scrutiny? and those might be: what Brown was actually trying to do, and how we should equip ourselves to be able to see and understand his work.
Can we say that this is something that went wrong, or would it be more accurate to say again that the great glory of Brown resides in his anonymity, the year has passed him by in a sense just because he is not Le Nôtre, not Picasso, you can’t quite touch his work, nor do fountains and straight avenues pick it out for you on the ground. Such is the paradox. His ditches are dug deep, he is doughty and dependable, but when he is done he is done. His anonymity is his distinction.
At any rate, on 12 November I think it is, our editor will be ruminating on such matters with his friends in the Northumberland County Gardens Trust. I suggest you find out the where’s and when’s, and make your way there.