Capability Brown Festival 2016 Marks Designer’s 300th Birthday

Posted in anniversaries, conferences (to attend), on site by Editor on March 14, 2016


Blenheim Palace

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Press release for the Festival, which includes events throughout the year:

Capability Brown Festival 2016

The Capability Brown Festival 2016 is the first-ever nationwide celebration of the work of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (1716–1783). It marks the 300th anniversary of his birth in August 1716. The Festival unites 19 partner organisations, in the UK’s largest festival of its kind to date. It is funded with a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, with additional match funding, and funding in kind, from the Festival’s partners and supporters. The Festival is managed by the Landscape Institute.

Richard Cosway, Portrait of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, ca.1770–75 (Private Collection/Bridgeman Images)

Richard Cosway, Portrait of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, ca.1770–75 (Private Collection/Bridgeman Images)

The Festival has two key strands. The first is about increasing audiences and public access to the sites Brown worked or advised on. People will be able to explore and engage with Brown’s legacy landscapes, features and houses. The Festival will encourage as many Brown sites as possible to open in 2016, including those not ordinarily open to the public, and will support site owners and guardians in interpreting their landscapes for visitors. The second strand of the project is to discover more about Brown’s work and how he created his amazing landscapes and management systems with the tools available in the eighteenth century. Researchers, volunteers, independent groups and individuals, universities and sites themselves are being encouraged to undertake research projects on Brown and his work. This will be collated and shared through exhibitions, websites, social media and a range of events.

The Capability Brown Festival 2016 will
• Celebrate Capability Brown as an artist and landscape designer
• Encourage an increased number of people and a more diverse audience to visit, learn about and enjoy Brown’s landscapes
• Commission a range of interesting and innovative projects to encourage sites and people to get involved across the country
• Encourage a greater appreciation of our designed landscape heritage.

stowe_mapTo achieve this the Festival project team will
• Offer a comprehensive programme of support to owners of Brown sites, aiming to open as many as possible during Festival year, including those not normally open to the public
• Develop a network of hub sites across England to support and engage the Brown sites in their area or region
• Work with sites, with a special focus on those in urban areas and those commissioned to run projects, to bring Brown to new audiences
• Interpret all or as many sites as possible, using research by volunteers who will be trained and supported by the Festival
• Use media, PR, partner and central communication opportunities to promote understanding of Brown’s art and design influence
• Stimulate new research, and create a definitive record of Brown sites
• Ensure that the Festival’s findings, research and learning resources are accessible to as many people as possible, and share learning as it develops through a programme of regional seminars
• Engage volunteers in all aspects of the 2016 celebrations.

Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown changed the face of eighteenth-century England, designing country estates and mansions, moving hills and making flowing lakes and serpentine rivers. Brown was baptised on 30 August 1716 at Kirkharle, Northumberland, the fifth of the six children of William Brown, a yeoman farmer and Ursula, née Hall, who had worked in the big house on the Kirkharle estate. He went to the village school at Cambo, and then began work as a gardener at Kirkharle, leaving in 1739. In 1741 he reached Stowe, Buckinghamshire where he rapidly assumed responsibility for the execution of both architectural and landscaping works in the famous garden. It was at Stowe in 1744 that Brown married Bridget Wayet, with whom he eventually had nine children. While at Stowe, Brown also began working as an independent designer and contractor and in autumn 1751, shortly after Cobham’s death, he was able to move with his family to the Mall, Hammersmith, the market garden area of London. His nickname of ‘Capability’ is thought to have come from his describing landscapes as having ‘great capabilities’.

Brown’s style derived from the two practical principles of comfort and elegance. On the one hand there was a determination that everything should work, and that a landscape should provide for every need of the great house. On the other his landscapes had to cohere and look elegant. While his designs have great variety, they also appear seamless owing to his use of the sunk fence or ‘ha-ha’ to confuse the eye into believing that different pieces of parkland, though managed and stocked quite differently, were one. His expansive lakes, at different levels and apparently unconnected, formed a single body of water as if a river through the landscape, that like the parkland itself, ran on indefinitely. This effortless coherence is taken for granted today in a way that was predicted in his obituary: ‘where he is the happiest man he will be least remembered, so closely did he copy nature his works will be mistaken’.

Brown offered a number of different services to his clients: for a round number of guineas, he could provide a survey and plans for buildings and landscape, and leave his client to execute his proposal; more frequently he provided a foreman to oversee the work, which would be carried out by labour recruited from the estate. Even in 1753, when he opened his account with Drummond’s Bank, Brown was employing four foremen and by the end of the decade he had over twenty foremen on his books. Finally, he could oversee and refine the work himself, usually by means of visits for a certain number of days each year. He also practiced architecture, and during the 1750s contributed to several country houses, including Burghley House, Blenheim, Chatsworth and Harewood. However, his architecture played second fiddle to his ‘place-making’. In 1764 he was appointed to the gardens of Hampton Court, Richmond and St James’s, and he then moved to Wilderness House, Hampton Court.

Brown had suffered from asthma all his life, and his habit of the constant travel, together with his practice of not always charging for work (he would sometimes allow his client to determine the value of what he had done and seems frequently to have submitted plans and surveys without a bill), did affect both his health and finances. He continued to work and travel however until his sudden collapse and death on February 6th, 1783. He died at his daughter Bridget Holland’s house in London, but was buried at Fenstanton, in Cambridgeshire, the only place he is known to have owned property and where he became Lord of the Manor.

Brown is best remembered for landscape on an immense scale, constructing not only gardens and parkland, but planting woods and building farms linked by carriage drives, or ‘ridings’, many miles from the main house. Although his work is continually reassessed, every landscape gardener and landscape architect since, both in Britain and across the developed world, has been influenced in one way or another by Brown. Over two centuries have passed since his death, but such are the enduring qualities of his work that over 150 of the 260 or so landscapes with which he is associated remain worth seeing today. The images that Brown created are as deeply embedded in the English character as the paintings of Turner and the poetry of Wordsworth.

Founding Partners
The Landscape Institute
The National Trust
The Historic Houses Association (HHA)
English Heritage
Historic England
The National Garden Scheme
The Gardens Trust
The National Association of Decorative & Fine Arts Societies (NADFAS)
Parks & Gardens UK

Festival Partners
Blenheim Palace
The Royal Horticultural Society
Bridgeman Images
The Embroiderers’ Guild

Festival Supporter
The Georgian Group

Festival Funder
Heritage Lottery Fund

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