New Book | Lancelot Brown and the Capability Men

Posted in books by Editor on September 5, 2016

The Capability Brown Festival 2016 has marked the 300th anniversary of the landscape designer’s birth in August 1716. This week, a major conference addressing Brown and his international significance takes place in Bath, and now come the books!

Distributed by The University of Chicago Press:

David Brown and Tom Williamson, Lancelot Brown and the Capability Men: Landscape Revolution in Eighteenth-Century England (London: Reaktion Books, 2016), 352 pages, ISBN: 978-1780236445, $45.

9781780236445Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown is often thought of as the innovative genius who single-handedly pioneered a new, naturalistic style of landscape design, but he was in fact only one of many landscape designers in Georgian England. Published to commemorate the three hundredth anniversary of Brown’s birth, this book casts important new light on his world-renowned work, his eventful life, and the wider and robust world of landscape design in Georgian England.

David Brown and Tom Williamson argue that Brown was one of the most successful designers of his time working in a style that was otherwise widespread—and that it was his skill with this style, and not his having invented it, that linked his name to it. The authors look closely at Brown’s design business and the products he offered clients, showing that his design packages helped define the era’s aesthetic. They compare Brown’s business to those of similar designers such as the Adam brothers, Thomas Chippendale, and Josiah Wedgwood, and they contextualize Brown’s work within the wider contexts of domestic planning and the rise of neoclassicism. Beautifully illustrated throughout, this book celebrates the work of a master designer who was both a product and harbinger of the modern world.

David Brown is a tutor of landscape history at the University of Cambridge. Tom Williamson is professor of landscape history at the University of East Anglia and the author of many books, including An Environmental History of Wildlife in England, 1650–1950.


1  The World of Mr Brown
2  Gardens and Society, 1700–1750
3  The ‘Brownian’ Landscape
4  The Brown Connection
5  Landscape and Modernity
6  Alternatives and Oppositions
Conclusion: Afterlife and Legacy

Photo Acknowledgements

New Book | Capability Brown: Designing the English Landscape

Posted in books by Editor on September 5, 2016

From Rizzoli:

John Phibbs, with photography by Joe Cornish, Capability Brown: Designing the English Landscape (New York: Rizzoli, 2016), 280 pages, ISBN: 978-0847848836, $65.

9780847848836In celebration of his 300th year, a definitive survey of Capability Brown’s most famous gardens and landscapes in Britain. Widely acknowledged as the most influential landscape designer of his age, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was to England what Frederick Law Olmsted was to America—responsible for shaping the very ideal of the nation’s parkland. Brown’s ambition was to bring out of a landscape the best of its potential rather than impose his own ideas upon it. His designs are organic, weaving gestures of color and perspective into the features that the country already afforded. So natural are his designs, and so perfectly do they complement the houses within them, that for many a Capability Brown landscape is the epitome of the English estate. His gardens and parklands—as much as the houses themselves—would become icons of British country life. Published to coincide with the tercentenary of his birth, this remarkable book illuminates fifteen of Brown’s most celebrated landscapes. To love the great English estates is to love the settings with which Brown surrounded them—from idyllic parklands at Milton and Broadlands to structured landscapes around iconic houses at Blenheim, Burghley, Wakefield, and Chatsworth. With photography commissioned for the book, and including rarely seen archival drawings that shed light on Brown’s process, this book serves as a guide to Britain’s most beloved landscapes and an exploration of the masterful mind behind their creation.

John Phibbs set up the Capability Brown 1716–2016 Partnership and is a renowned garden historian and author with more than thirty years’ experience in the management and restoration of historic landscapes. Joe Cornish is an award-winning landscape photographer and an honorary fellow of the Royal Photographic Society with a studio and gallery in Yorkshire, England.

New Book | Place-Making: The Art of Capability Brown, 1716–1783

Posted in books by Editor on September 5, 2016

This one is an interesting economic model of publication. Historic England is the publisher, but at least a portion of the funding depends upon supporters (‘subscribers’ to use the eighteenth-century term) pledging money at Unbound. Hearing John Phibbs pitch for the project in the 3-minute video is fascinating: in effect, the ‘elevator pitch’ is directed toward potential readers rather than an editor. CH

John Phibbs, Place-Making: The Art of Capability Brown, 1716–1783 (London: Historic England, 2016), 320 pages, £50.

Capability Brown was a great artist, and this book shows what his artistry consisted of. His influence on the culture of England has been as great as that of Turner, Telford and Wordsworth.

Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (1716–1783) is the iconic figure at the head of the English landscape style, a tradition that has dominated landscape design in the western world. He was widely acclaimed for his genius in his own day, lived on personal terms with the king, a friend of five prime-ministers, and the great men of his day.

Two factors make his astonishing achievements relevant to us today: first the scale at which he worked and the prolixity of his commissions have given him a direct influence on some half a million acres of England and Wales (that’s an average size English county); and second, arising from that, Brown didn’t just transform the English countryside, he also transformed our idea of what it is to be English and what England is. His work is everywhere, but goes largely unnoticed, the phrase ‘Invisible in plain sight’ comes to mind. Even today though he has had biographers, his work has generated very little analysis.

Very little of what he wrote survives, but the reason why he isn’t noticed—and this point was made in his own day in the 18th century—is that his was such a naturalistic style that all his best work was mistaken for untouched nature. This has made it very difficult to see and understand, which leaves us in a strange situation today. Of the 250 or so country houses for which he designed parks, about 200 are still worth seeing, and millions of people every year visit the 140 that are at least occasionally open to the public. Yet if you were to ask any one of these visitors the simplest questions about the parks (‘what are they for?’, ‘how do they work?’, ‘why did they need so much grass?’ ‘what do they have to do with country houses?’, for example), they would look at you bemused, as if you had asked what mountains are for. For people who are used to English landscape, parks simply are what they are: parks have grass because they are parks.

This blindness to these obvious questions is not confined to the general public. Professional landscape architects, academics and those involved in landscape conservation would be no more able to answer them. It is not just that there is no consensus in understanding Capability Brown’s work, but there has been no attempt to understand it. Even the framework of language for understanding it is lacking. For all his acknowledged importance, Brown is a blank. This book for the first time answers these simple questions about the English landscape tradition and Brown’s place in it, but it aims primarily to make landscape legible, to show people where to stand, what to look at and how to see.

John Phibbs read Classics at Oxford and then developed the idea that historic parks and gardens could and should be recorded and analysed like any other works of art, and that this would be a sensible first step towards deciding what should happen to them next. This idea was widely adopted after the great storm of October 1987. John Phibbs himself spent the next five years building up his own practice in landscape management and assessing landscapes for English Heritage. It was an amazing education out of which came the realisations that Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was not only the most prolific but also the greatest of the English landscape gardeners, and that his work had long been misunderstood, largely because of the mischievous attacks made on it by the proponents of the Picturesque style, which arose after his death in reaction to his work. In this book John hopes to put right the wrongs that have been done to Brown’s reputation and to re-establish him in his rightful place as a figure of great significance in the characterisation of England and Wales.

New Book | Moving Heaven and Earth

Posted in books by Editor on September 5, 2016

From Unicorn Publishing:

Steffie Shields, Moving Heaven and Earth: Capability Brown’s Gift of Landscape (London: Unicorn Publishing Group, 2016), 240 pages, ISBN: 978-1910787151, £30.

image-service.aspMoving Heaven and Earth reveals the driven polymath behind the famous nickname. It explores both Brown’s artistic legacy and his pioneering work with water in the landscape. The book evaluates the rise of the English landscape garden in the climatic context of his designs and also forms a comprehensive guide for tours and visits. Approximately 350 clearly labelled colour photographs pin-point Brown’s enduring views and surprisingly vibrant planting palette.

Steffie Shields is a professional garden photographer, writer, and historic landscape consultant. Having researched ‘Capability’ Brown for over twenty-five years, she has now compiled a photographic archive of over 200 attributed works. She lectures country-wide, has appeared on Channel 4 television, and been an advisor for More 4. Her photographic awards include several commendations in the International Garden Photographer of the
Year competition.

New Book | Capability Brown and His Landscape Gardens

Posted in books by Editor on September 5, 2016

From the National Trust:

Sarah Rutherford, Capability Brown and His Landscape Gardens (National Trust, 2016), 192 pages, ISBN: 978:1909881549, £15.

prodzoomimg18124 (1)One of the most remarkable men of the 18th century, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was known to many as ‘The Omnipotent Magician’ who could transform unpromising countryside into beautiful parks that seemed to be only the work of nature. His list of clients included half the House of Lords, six Prime Ministers and even royalty. Although his fame has dimmed, we still enjoy many of his works today at National Trust properties such as Croome Park, Petworth, Berrington, Stowe, Wimpole, Blenheim Palace, Highclere Castle (location of the ITV series Downton Abbey) and many more. In Capability Brown, author and garden historian Sarah Rutherford tells his triumphant story, uncovers his aims, and reveals why he was so successful. Illustrated throughout with colour photographs of contemporary sites, historical paintings, and garden plans, this is an accessible book for anyone who wants to know more about the man who changed the face of the nation and created landscape style which for many of us defines the English countryside.

Sarah Rutherford is an enthusiastic garden historian and Kew-trained gardener. She has a passion for Capability Brown and his landscape gardens and has visited and studied many to understand the man and his legendary capabilities. As a consultant she has been preparing conservation plans for over twelve years for all sorts of historic parks and gardens. She has written books on subjects as diverse as Victorian Asylums, Georgian Garden Buildings, and Botanic Gardens.

New Book | The English Landscape Garden in Europe

Posted in books by Editor on September 5, 2016

From Historic England:

Michael Symes, The English Landscape Garden in Europe (London: Historic England, 2016), 136 pages, ISBN: 978-1848023574, £25.

The-English-Landscape-Garden-in-Europe (1)This book provides an overview of the extent to which the 18th-century English landscape garden spread through Europe and Russia. While this type of garden acted widely as an inspiration, it was not slavishly copied but adapted to local conditions, circumstances and agendas.

A garden ‘in the English style’ is commonly used to denote a landscape garden in Europe, while the term ‘landscape garden’ is used for layouts that are naturalistic in plan and resemble natural scenery, though they might be highly contrived and usually large in scale.

The landscape garden took hold in mainland Europe from about 1760. Due to the differing geopolitical character of several of the countries, and a distinct division between Catholic and Protestant, the notion of the landscape garden held different significance and was interpreted and applied variously in those countries: in other words, they found it a very flexible medium.

Each country is considered individually, with a special chapter devoted to ‘Le Jardin Anglo-Chinois’, since that constitutes a major issue of its own. The gardens have been chosen to illustrate the range and variety of applications of the landscape garden, though they are also those about which most is known in English.


The Many Faces of the Landscape Garden
Exporting the English Garden
Le Jardin Anglo-Chinois
The Czech Republic
Other Countries

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