Assignment 1: A Pretty Landskip of His Own Possessions

The Lake and The River God's Cave at Stourhead - Steve Middlehurst 2017

The Lake and The River God’s Cave at Stourhead – Steve Middlehurst 2017

Background

In 1724 Henry Hoare II, known to the Hoare family as Henry the “Magnificent”, inherited Stourhead which had been acquired by his father in 1717 for the princely sum of £14,000 (1: p.5). As well as acquiring the rather run-down Wiltshire estate at the tender age of nineteen he became the owner of Hoare’s Bank and for the next twenty odd years his focus was primarily in the city of London but between 1738 and 1741 he took a belated gap year, or three, and embarked on the Grand Tour spending much of his time in Italy. We can assume that like many of his generation he returned inspired by the Italian landscape, classical architecture and the paintings of the Romantic artists (i).

When Hoare moved to Stourhead after the death of his wife in 1743 he began to plan, build and plant a garden quite unlike anything that had previously been seen on this scale, a garden design that subscribed to a new concept of gardening which, as discussed (here), had been quietly evolving in England and Holland since the late seventeenth century. The idea was best described by Joseph Addison in an article for the Spectator in 1712:

“But why may not a whole estate be thrown into a kind of garden by frequent plantations, that may turn as much to the profit as the pleasure of the owner? A marsh overgrown with willows, or a mountain shaded with oaks, are not only more beautiful, but more beneficial, than when they lie bare and unadorned. fields of corn make a pleasant prospect, and if the walks were a little taken care of that lie between them, if the natural embroidery of the meadows were helped and improved by some small additions of art, and the several rows of hedges set off by trees and flowers that the soil was capable of receiving, a man might make a pretty landskip of his own possessions.” (3)

This is the first known use of the word landskip or landscape to describe land as opposed to a painting of land (ii) so in his essay Addison not only documents what would become the agenda for English gardening for the next fifty years he presaged the term landscape garden and established the distinction between land and landscape.

Tim Robinson puts into perspective what happened next:

“The English Landscape is the greatest artform ever to have been devised in the British Isles. What is more, it is an artform that has gone on to influence the rest of the world like no other in our history.” (2: loc. 254)

Choice of Shoot Location

I have spent much of the last two months gaining an understanding of landscape photography’s roots in landscape painting; I also followed a thread from that same source that took me into the development of the English landscape garden. So, when asked to produce a series that conveys my “interpretation of beauty and/or the sublime within the context of landscape” it seemed a natural progression to choose Stourhead as the site for this project. A place that neatly brings those threads back together.

Series Concept

As previously discussed (here)  the visible surface of the British landscape is man-made, there is no primordial forest or untamed wilderness here, we have exploited and moulded the land to create our habitat, agriculture, industry and transport arteries. But, however hard we try to suppress or tame nature it pushes back; seeds, grows, spreads, withers, dies, rots and feeds itself again, an ever repeating cycle that invades any space we ignore. Nature is chaotic, it has no aesthetic gene, it creeps, clings, thrusts, tangles, burrows and shoots in any direction it can as plants compete for light and nutrients; it strives to reclaim the land, to reinstate the dark and endless forests that once clothed Britain.

Our distant ancestors began to push back the forest edge; until the Roman occupation of Britain and the development of towns people lived in cleared spaces of varying sizes that would have had the forest’s fringe in view. The edge land where forest and open spaces met would have been a familiar place, where order became chaos, light became dark, known became unknown; the place where myths began.

I am intrigued by the great pioneering landscape gardeners, the ones before Capability Brown, the landowners who saw themselves as painters of the land, who created art by organising nature on a monumental scale. Their concept has passed the test of time but the gardens at Stourhead, Stowe or Castle Howard are not what Hoare and his contemporaries designed. They have moved on, new planting has been undertaken, new buildings constructed and some saplings have become mighty whilst many have long since died.

But it struck me that around the edges, where landscaped garden meets natural forest, perhaps little has changed; nature creeps back, crossing the margins of the manicured land, natural water courses reaffirm their rights to ancient routes across the designed spaces, significant components of the original design become diseased and die and dying is an untidy business.

I approached Stourhead, “the quintessential landscape garden” (2: loc.6423), to explore this margin between that most tamed land, the garden, the beautiful, picturesque country garden coiffured by a thousand gardeners for three centuries, and the sublime natural energy that waits in the shadowy margins for an opening to exploit, an opportunity to subvert their designs.

The Series – A Pretty Landskip of His Own Possessions

Stourhead 01 - Steve Middlehurst 2017

Fig. 1 – A Pretty Landskip – Steve Middlehurst 2017

Stourhead 02 - Steve Middlehurst 2017

Fig. 2 – A Pretty Landskip – Steve Middlehurst 2017

Stourhead 03 - Steve Middlehurst 2017

Fig. 3 – A Pretty Landskip – Steve Middlehurst 2017

Stourhead 04 - Steve Middlehurst 2017

Fig. 4 – A Pretty Landskip – Steve Middlehurst 2017

Stourhead 05 - Steve Middlehurst 2017

Fig. 5 – A Pretty Landskip- Steve Middlehurst 2017

Stourhead 06 - Steve Middlehurst 2017

Fig. 6 – A Pretty Landskip – Steve Middlehurst 2017

Stourhead 07 - Steve Middlehurst 2017

Fig. 7 – A Pretty Landskip – Steve Middlehurst 2017

Stourhead 08 - Steve Middlehurst 2017

Fig. 8 – A Pretty Landskip – Steve Middlehurst 2017

——– * ——–

Notes on Text

(i) From the late sixteenth century young aristocrats from Britain, Germany and Scandinavia visited the great European capitals of London, Paris, Venice, Florence and Rome as the culmination of their classical studies. These young men had enjoyed a classical education studying Greek and Latin literature and it was considered an essential attribute of men of this class to have an appropriate interest in the arts. The Grand Tour, as it came to be known had a significant commercial influence on the arts with painters such as Claude Lorrain, Canalleto and many others basing their practices on the creation of ‘souvenirs’ for  wealthy tourists. Claude Lorrain was so popular with British tourists that at “one point fully two thirds of his paintings were in Britain and the British museum still holds 40% of his drawings” (2). Tim Robinson argues that at the beginning of the eighteenth century there were only a “few dozen” Britons who could be termed connoisseurs of painted art and that the Grand Tourists made their purchasing decisions based on the advice of art dealers rather then their own taste. (2: loc.6446) 

(ii) Landskip was term derived from the Dutch  word landschap or land shape in English. Robinson states that, prior to Addison’s essay, it had been used “exclusively to describe landscape paintings” (2: p.2084).

Sources

Books

(1) Woodbridge, Kenneth ( 1986) The Stourhead Landscape. London: The National Trust

(2) Richardson, Tim (2008) Arcadian Friends (kindle edition) London: Transworld

Internet

(3) Addison, Joseph (1712) The Pleasures of Imagination (accessed at Mnstate 14.2.17) – http://web.mnstate.edu/gracyk/courses/web%20publishing/addison414.htm

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