Lancelot Brown in line and ink

30.09.2016 | category: General
©Dr Katy Layton-Jones
©Dr Katy Layton-Jones

Lancelot Brown’s influence on English landscape design throughout the eighteenth century is today widely acknowledged and understood. However, the impact of his schemes upon tourism, notions of Englishness, and popular consumption remains underappreciated. While the number of individuals who could afford to realise his designs on their own estates was relatively low, Brown’s work attracted the attention of numerous visitors from all social ranks who sketched his landscapes, both for private pleasure and commercial publication. This latter motivation ensured that the appreciation of Brown’s work extended far beyond the confines of the prestigious properties he redesigned and fuelled the rapidly-growing appetite for topographical imagery in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Throughout Britain and Europe ‘remote tourists’ partook vicariously in the pleasures of Brown’s landscapes by means of myriad images that appeared in periodicals, ‘tours’, on ceramics, and souvenirs. Together, these real and ‘armchair’ tourists forged a new, collective attachment to the English landscape garden; an attachment that today underpins a treasured and robust heritage industry. 

Some of the earliest publications to feature images of Brown’s landscapes were county histories and gazetteers. This format had existed in various forms for over 200 years, but the growth of the printing industry prompted a proliferation of publications from the mid-eighteenth century onwards. Works such as Watts’ The Seats of the Nobility and Gentry (1779–86) and Moore’s, The History of Devonshire (1829) were typical of this type. New periodicals, such as The Copper-plate Magazine (est. 1792), catered for readers of more limited financial means. In the early nineteenth century, improvements to transport networks and the middle-class desire to emulate the aristocratic Grand Tour of Europe led to a public fascination with the British landscape and its history. Tours of the Lake District, Yorkshire and Derbyshire brought new visitors into contact with Brown’s schemes. For those who could not make the journey, publications including Britton’s famous Beauties of England and Wales (1801-16) and Hassell’s Picturesque Rides and Walks, with Excursions by Water, Thirty Miles round the British Metropolis (1817–1818) provided visually satisfying alternatives.  

The market for images of Brown’s landscapes continued to grow throughout the nineteenth century, even as some of his approaches to garden design fell out of favour with landscape architects. J.M.W. Turner’s famous depictions of Petworth were reproduced in numerous publications throughout the following two centuries. In addition, the invention of steel engraving in 1824 and Knight’s colour printing process in 1838 meant that entirely new audiences could be reached through cheap and widely-consumed newspapers and even souvenir wares. In the 1890s, Charles Auguste Loye’s ‘English Homes’ series in the mainstream Illustrated London News testified to the extent to which landscape history and heritage had become a mainstay of British life. While some today may sniff at the tea towels, aprons and other merchandise that depict Brown’s work, such products simply continue a tradition of representation that dates back to the creation of the landscapes themselves and are, in part at least, responsible for the wider fame and appreciation that his gardens continue to attract. 

View the online exhibition here: https://exhibitions.lib.cam.ac.uk/capabilitybrown/

About the Author: Dr Katy Layton-Jones: www.katylaytonjones.com

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