Thing for free reviewed today? Capability Brown and his landscape gardens book.
How did I come by it? A competition win
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Capability Brown: and His Landscape Gardens by Sarah Rutherford
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
It's difficult to understand the impact Capability Brown has had on the British (but mainly English) landscape. In the eighteenth century it was his designs that changed the formal gardens of our large houses and palaces into sweeping, more natural landscapes. Indeed, it is the view that his work is so natural that you don't realise he has done anything that shows the impact he had. Aristocratic pursuits of hunting, riding and rearing livestock are enabled in his designs, yet his careful positioning of structures and clumps of trees shows his eye for views and showing off a house and its estate in full. Along with his trademark serpentine lakes the influence can be seen in many surviving parks, even those designed after his lifetime.
This National Trust book is a coffee table item. It has glorious illustrations on almost every page and is on very high quality paper. The blurb describes it as 'accessible' and this is a fair comment. It is an overview of Brown's life and works and not a detailed synopsis of the man, his works or the properties where the work can be seen.
Those seeking an academic work will be disappointed at the lack of footnotes, references or bibliography although there is a short list of suggested reading and an index. The gardens and houses are not covered in any detail and certainly not given any historical context but then that's not the point of the book.
As a short read it's biggest annoyance is in the way it jumps from property to property within each chapter. I found it difficult to recall specifics about certain estates from earlier chapters. Stowe, for example, has over 30 index references from the start to the end but no work has more than 2 consecutive pages devoted to it. A whole chapter is given to Brown's contemporaries and rivals which is of little interest - I'd have preferred more detail on his life or methods.
The real enjoyment of the book is in the photography. In particular, the aerial photos show the details and genius of Brown's works. It is for these that the book will be picked up and browsed.
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