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The Work of English Landscape Gardener Capability Brown Influenced America

The landscape at Stowe
The landscape of Stowe

I just finished reading Edward Hymans’ book Capability Brown and Humphry Repton.

The name Capability Brown (1716-1883) drew me to this title.

For a long time I had been seeing his name, but never really knew much about him.  This is now the second book I’ve read on Capability, England’s grand landscape gardener of the eighteenth century.

He received that name because when he came to advise a client, he would discuss the ‘capability’ of the site.

Designers such as Brown imitated seventeenth-century paintings by Poussin, Claude and others in designing views for the landscape.  In the eighteenth century a new form of the landscape developed because the English considered painting, poetry, and the landscape linked as art forms.

Thus Brown sought to create a picturesque view in the landscape.

What makes him  important in the history of the English garden is that he focused on creating for the property the sweeping lawn, along with the addition of some water source like a lake. Wyans wrote that “level ground had to be given new, gently rolling contours.”

At the age of twenty-four Capability began his landscape garden career with the distinguished garden designer William Kent.  They worked on the classic landscape garden of Stowe.  Thus began Capability’s career.

Brown created a bit of resentment during his lifetime because he often recommended to his noblemen clients to rip out established gardens.

By the end of his life Brown left one hundred forty great country estates.

Thomas Jefferson visited Stowe because he admired the English garden.

Wyans wrote, “It was as a result of what he saw in these places [like Blenheim and Stowe, both the work of Capabiity Brown] that in 1806  Jefferson decided to landscape Monticello in the style of English parks.”


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