Defining the Picturesque.
James Ward R.A. (1789-1859) was known as the “Michelangelo of the picturesque,” but it would be more accurate to associate Ward with Rubens, since he was transformed after seeing the Fleming’s Het Steen, a view of the painter’s country house at Antwerp. Ward’s St Donato’s Castle: Bulls Fighting with its spirited handling and its features of rough terrain, unkempt bushes and trees is a good example of the picturesque. The concept of the picturesque evolved through a number of stages sedulously charted by Christopher Hussey in the first major study of the idea published in 1967. The poet Alexander Pope used the word “picturesque” in his Letter to Caryll in 1712, and he identified it as a French word in 1723; but the French Academy did not admit “pittoresque” till 1732. However, from the age of Titian and Domenichino, the word “pittoresco,” to give it its Italian variant, had referred to the way artists viewed the landscape; they studied the details of natural forms and took note of the play of light and shade across the countryside. Though the word “picturesque” meant “after the manner of painters,” and was not initially associated with landscapes, the concept spread outwards to other arts such as poetry and literature. For example, in his 1616 poem Penshurst, Ben Johnson, “painted” a lyrical picture of a famous house using tropes from classical mythology; and in L’Allergro of 1645, Milton conjured up an enchanting English landscape through his poetic outflow. However, as Hussey says, these poets, though employing colours and sensations through language, merely observed the state of nature; they did not compose their landscapes in the manner of a painter; they did not build it up by carefully stating distances, the play of light and shadow, including foregrounds. It would, in fact, be in Pope’s century that poets like James Thomson, familiar with Italian landscape would look at nature as if it were “a series of more or less well-composed pictures.” And Thomson and others would associate a group of continental painters, notably Claude Lorrain, Gaspar Dughet (brother of Poussin’s wife), Poussin himself, and Salvator Rosa with concepts such as the sublime and the picturesque. The most famous link between aesthetics of the picturesque and Old Master art was made by Horace Walpole who said in a letter to the poet Thomas Gray in 1739: “Precipices, mountains, torrents, wolves, rumblings, Salvator Rosa!”
A Lecture on the Picturesque
James Ward, St Donats Castle, Bulls Fighting, oil on canvas, Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
Peter Paul Rubens, A View of Het Steen in the Early Morning, Château de Steen, 1636, oil on canvas, National Gallery, London.
Penshurst Place, Sevenoaks, Kent, built 1341.
Gaspar Dughet Poussin, View of Tivoli, Italy, with the Temple of the Sybil, c. 1645-1648, oil on canvas, 73 x 98 cm, Hatton Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne.
Salvator Rosa, Saint John the Baptist Revealing Christ to his Disciples, c. 1655, oil on canvas, 173.4 x 260.7 cm.
A Lecture on the Picturesque
“In the present instance, she confessed and lamented her want of knowledge; declared that she would give anything in the world to be able to draw; and a lecture on the picturesque immediately followed in which his instructions were so clear that she soon began to see beauty in everything admired by him, and her attention was so earnest, that he became perfectly satisfied of her having a great deal of natural taste. He talked of foregrounds, distances, and second distances- side screens and perspectives – lights and shades; and Catherine was so hopeful a scholar, that when they gained the top of Beechen Cliff, she voluntarily rejected the whole city of Bath, as unworthy to make part of a landscape.”
Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (Chap. 13)
The heroine of Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland is on a famous walk in the hills above Bath with her new found friends, Henry Tilner and his sister Eleanor who have been discussing the sensational novels of Mrs Radcliffe such as The Mysteries of Udolpho, a favourite target of Jane Austen in this period. Scoring another bullseye, Austen mocks the picturesque by having Tilner give Catherine a lecture on viewing landscape that includes the vocabulary of its theorists such as William Gilpin and Uvedale Price: the heroine is instructed in how to look at landscape, putting it at its most simplest, as if it were a picture. In his Tour to the Lakes Gilpin compiled a list of features suitable for inclusion in a picture such as the three main parts: Background (containing mountains and lakes); Off-skip (Valleys, Woods. Rivers: Foreground (containing rocks, cascades, rough ground and ruins). It is these Gilpinesque categories that Tilney is using for his “lecture on the picturesque”. Note that Catherine rejects the city of Bath set out below; it was fashionable for the middle-classes to talk about the countryside and rural locations as part of the affectation of the picturesque. Something of this vogue for the countryside on the part of the smart set can be seen in Joseph Wright of Derby’s the Cokes in a rural environment, probably the grounds of Brookhill Hall, Pinxton, a property recently inherited by the Reverend Coke who is shown with his wife and another member of the family. As Brewer points out, Catherine Morland, a clergyman’s daughter, would not have been ignorant of theories of the picturesque, an implausible detail which is accounted for by Jane Austen’s satiric intention. The “curate’s picturesque” by Gilpin the “high priest of the picturesque” was mercilessly sent up by the caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson who illustrated the character of the curate the Reverend Dr Syntax ( created by William Coombe) who is shown riding off on his horse in search of the pleasures of nature. His fortunes are mixed: he is shown sketching a scenic lake whilist gawked at by tourists in a boat; and he has to endure misadventures such as getting lost, and being chased by a bull. This mocks the pretensions of the genteel middle-class who claim preference for the aesthetics of landscape compared to the city or the town.
|Thomas Rowlandson, The Country House, 1800, watercolour over traces of black chalk on paper, Victoria & Albert Museum, London.|
|Henry Walton, Portrait of William Gilpin, 1781, oil on panel, 25.4 x 20.3 cm, National Portrait Gallery, London.|
|Cover of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, 1799.|
|Joseph Wright of Derby, ‘The Reverend D’Ewes Coke, His Wife Hannah, and Daniel Parker Coke’, probably 1782, oil on canvas, 152.4 x 177.8 cm, Derby Art Gallery, Derby.|
Thomas Rowlandson, “Dr Syntax sketching the Lake.”
Houses, Gardens & the Picturesque.
There is a strand of literature in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries which comprises visits to country houses which are described in terms of painting and the picturesque. When Horace Walpole visited Stanstead, the country estate of the Earl of Halifax, he viewed it as a painting: “the very extensive lawn at that seat…particularly when you stand in the portico of a temple and survey the landskip that wastes itself in rivers of broken sea, recall such pictures of Claude Lorrain that it is difficult to conceive that he did not paint them from this very spot.” Comparisons between landscape painters and country house gardens were made frequently, and even affected the appearance of the gardens. At Kensington Gardens, dead trees were planted in imitation of Salvator Rosa’s landscapes. And it is said that the designer of Blenheim, Sir John Vanbrugh when consulted on the layout said that “you must send for a landscape painter” while Pope declared that “all gardening is painting.” Not all gardener painters were successful at turning landscapes into pictures. This was true of one of the most famous, Lancelot “Capability” Brown so called because his response to an aristocrat’s query about landscape design, Brown would answer: “Well, my lord, I observe that your park has great capabilities.” Rather than being likened to a painter, many of Brown’s contemporaries compared him to a poet, though some like Joseph Warton invoked the famous group of landscape artists to characterise Brown:
“What’er Lorraine light-touched with softening hue,
Or savage Rosa dash’d, or learned Poussin drew.”
The concept of the picturesque also became part of the vocabulary of architecture with such buildings as Blenheim whose edifices consisted, in Hussey’s phrase of “a dramatic outline built up like an apotheosis of Rubens.” Irregularity was the governing idea here, which Blenheim’s architect Sir John Vanbrugh pursued with bold invention, Though Vanbrugh did not succeed in the eyes of such stern classicists as Robert Adam, his picturesque experiments were unexpectedly endorsed by Sir Joshua Reynolds who said that painters, like architects should avail themselves of “accidents” rather than follow a predetermined plan, a belief that must have seemed “revolutionary” coming from the Director of the Royal Academy.”
|Nathaniel Dance Holland, Portrait of Lancelot “Capability” Brown, c. 1769, oil on canvas, 75.2 x 63.4 cm, National Portrait Gallery.|
|Gardens at Stourhead, Wiltshire.|
Claude Lorrain, Aeneas at Delos, 1660s, oil on canvas, 99.6 x 134.3 cm, National Gallery, London.
Unknown artist, Portrait of Humphrey Repton,
landscape gardener. |
Collecting, the Country House & the Picturesque.
In the early to mid-eighteenth-century, when one entered these houses in their magnificent grounds, hardly any landscape pictures were to be seen which might be explained by the vogue of the picturesque which saw views of houses in their rural environment as pictures in themselves. There were notable exceptions such as landscapes by Claude and Gaspar: pictures by the latter could be found at Wilton House, Houghton Hall, Holkham Hall, and Devonshire House, Piccadilly. Most of Claude’s pictures entered England after the French Revolution, but there was the famous group of eight Claudes bought by Thomas Coke, Earl of Leicester (1697-1759); four of these were acquired by Frederick, Prince of Wales (1707-1751) as well as probably six of the Claudes in the National Gallery. Landscape “was very much in the background” in novels. Writers tended to “paint” portraits, i.e. sketches or delineations of character, rather than prospects; and this hierarchy of portrait over prospect was to be found in the country houses themselves. Portraits were associated with the family line and walking through a portrait gallery would be like retracing one’s steps back through the ancestry of the family, as for example in the portraits of the Bedfords at Woburn. This makes sense as the portrait was obviously connected with the history of the family who owned the stately home and surroundings, while landscape was more associated with travel and tourism, particularly the Grand Tour. The Grand Tour in the form of pictures would be transplanted to England where aristocrats who had travelled abroad could recall their experience through pictures, while imagining themselves as Italian aristocrats. As Francis Haskell says, with the influx of pictures through major sales such as the Orleans sale, “the nobility and gentry could now decorate their houses in the same style as the aristocrats of Rome, Venice, and Genoa on whom they had called during the Grand Tour.” Eventually, more landscapes would find their way onto the walls of country houses next to the religious Madonnas, renaissance portraits, and other genres such as mythologies. An instructive painting is Huskisson’s view of the galleries at Thirlstaine House, Cheltenham, the seat of Lord Northwick from 1818. Painted about 1846, we see a room full of renaissance art, some Flemish paintings, and English mythologies by artists like Reynolds. On one side of the door are a landscape by Claude (according to Waagen, there were no less than six Claude landscapes at Thirlstaine) and the other side a mythological fantasy by Francis Danby. Thirlstaine House was visited by Waagen in 1838, and the German regretted the unsystematic arrangement of the pictures in the house’s rooms, which is mirrored in the display of pictures here a few years later. Studying Waagen’s list at Thirlstaine there seem to be more pictures in genres other than landscape, though Northwick owned a number of examples. We shall return to Thirlstaine in the company of Gustave Waagen in week 4.
|Thirlstaine House, Cheltenham, started in 1820, bt by Lord Northwick in 1838.|
Robert Huskisson, Interior of Thirlstaine House, Dining Room, Cheltenham, Lord Northwick’s Pictures, Yale Centre for British Art, between 1846-47.
|Sandro Botticelli, Virgin adoring the Child, 1490, tempera and gold on canvas, 122 x 80.3 cm, Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland.|
|Titian, Portrait of Pope Paul III, 1543, oil on canvas, 106 cm (41.7 in). Width: 85 cm (33.5 in).Capodimonte, Naples.|
After Reynolds, The Infant Hercules strangling Serpents in his Cradle, oil on canvas, 127.5 x 102 cm, Bradford Museums & Art Galleries.
The Picturesque & Country House Visiting.
As Peter Mandler observes, the picturesque trend “helped polite taste become more English and less cosmopolitan” which held implications for country house visiting in the nineteenth century. For one thing, the picturesque helped popularise a number of English sites, e.g. Chatsworth which would lead the tourist field at the end of the nineteenth-century. Instead of ignoring the rough and wild woods around Chatsworth House, by the mid eighteenth-century these attracted as much interest as the smooth parkland and regimented gardens of the house. This shift in aesthetic taste encouraged landscape architecture as well as inspiring the landscape paintings of Gainsborough, stimulating a new school of watercolour painting, and producing engravings of scenes. With the end of the Grand Tour halted by war in 1790, this process had reached its end. However by the Victorian era, the appeal of the picturesque was on the wane; it was considered too recherché, too much the preserve of an aesthetic elite. Moreover its theorists such as Horace Walpole, Uvedale Price and Richard Payne-Knight were all owners of country houses themselves: Walpole had the gothic fantasia of Strawberry Hill; Knight had his estate at Downton in Shropshire; and Price possessed a meticulously landscaped retreat at Foxley in Hertfordshire (demolished in 1948). As for the Reverend Gilpin, though a member of the professional classes with some capital, he was not rich enough to own a large country estate, and thus Rowlandson showed his caricatured alter-ego, Dr Syntax, setting off in search of the picturesque. As we shall see, though respectful of the aristocracy and country house owners, the Victorians believed in democratic taste and targeting the mass market; the high priests of the picturesque were seen as just too privileged, an enclave out of touch with changing attitudes towards heritage and the country house.
|Henry Lark Pratt, View of Chatsworth House & Park, 1852, oil on canvas, 67.5 x 94 cm, Buxton Museums & Art Gallery.|
|Thomas Sandby, Windsor Castle from the Great Park, Near the End of the Long Walk, watercolour on paper, Victoria & Albert Museum, London.|
|Sir Thomas Lawrence, Richard Payne Knight, 1794, oil on canvas, 127 x 101.5 cm, University of Manchester, Whitworth Gallery, Manchester.|
|Downton Castle, Shropshire, acq by Richard Knight, and passed to his grandson, Richard Payne Knight.|
Sir Thomas Lawrence, Uvedale Price, 1st Baronet, (1769-1830), c. 1799, oil on canvas, 76.2 x 63.5 cm, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
1) James Ward, St Donats Castle, Bulls Fighting, oil on canvas, Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
2) Rubens, A View of Het Steen in the Early Morning, Château de Steen, 1636, oil on canvas, National Gallery, London.
3) Penshurst Place, Sevenoaks, Kent, built 1341.
4) Henry Walton, Portrait of William Gilpin, 1781, oil on panel, 25.4 x 20.3 cm, National Portrait Gallery, London.
5) William Gilpin, Penrith Castle, 1772, from Gilpin’s book on Cumberland and Westmoreland.
6) William Gilpin, Tintern Abbey, Wye Tour, 1770, 1782.
7) Gaspar Dughet Poussin, View of Tivoli, Italy, with the Temple of the Sybil, c. 1645-1648, oil on canvas, 73 x 98 cm, Hatton Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne.
8) Salvator Rosa, Saint John the Baptist Revealing Christ to his Disciples, c. 1655, oil on canvas, 173.4 x 260. 7 cm.
9) Nicolas Poussin, Landscape with a Man Killed by a Snake, 1648, oil on canvas, 118.2 x 197.8 cm, National Gallery, London.
10) Claude Lorrain, Landscape with Pysche outside the Palace of Cupid (“The Enchanted Castle”), 1664, oil on canvas, 87.1 x 151.3 cm, Wallace Collection, London.
11) Thomas Rowlandson, The Country House, 1800, watercolour over traces of black chalk on paper, Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
12) Unknown artist, Stoneleigh Abbey, Warwickshire,
13) Cover of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, Penguin edition.
14) Blaise Castle, 1766.
15) Blaise Castle House.
16) Interior with selection of pictures on walls.
17) Joseph Wright of Derby, ‘The Reverend D’Ewes Coke, His Wife Hannah, and Daniel Parker Coke’, probably 1782, oil on canvas, 152.4 x 177.8 cm, Derby Art Gallery, Derby.
18) Title Page to William Coombe & Thomas Rowlandson, “Dr Syntax’s Three Tours: in Search of the Picturesque,” 1812.
19) Thomas Rowlandson, “Dr Syntax sketching the Lake.”
20) Thomas Rowlandson, “Dr Syntax loses his way.”
21) Thomas Rowlandson, “Dr Syntax attacked by a Bull.”
22) William Gilpin, Group of Cows.
23) Stansted House, Chichester, West Sussex, built 1688.
24) Nathaniel Dance Holland, Portrait of Lancelot “Capability” Brown, c. 1769, oil on canvas, 75.2 x 63.4 cm, National Portrait Gallery.
25) Gardens at Stourhead, Wiltshire.
26) Claude Lorrain, Aeneas at Delos, oil on canvas, 99.6 x 134.3 cm, National Gallery, London.
27) Pantheon, Stourhead.
28) Aerial View of Blenheim Palace & Gardens.
29) Trade Card of Humphrey Repton, his design, engraved by Thomas Medland.
30) Unknown artist, Portrait of Humphrey Repton, landscape gardener.
31) Robert Huskisson, Interior of Thirlstane House, Cheltenham, Lord Northwick’s Pictures, Yale Centre for British Art, between 1846-47,
32) Thirlstaine House, Cheltenham, started in 1820, bt by Lord Northwick in 1838.
33) Claude Lorraine, Landscape with a Goatherd, 1660, oil on canvas, 74.5 x 110.4 cm, Wallace Collection, London.
34) Titian, Portrait of Pope Paul III, 1543, oil on canvas, 106 cm (41.7 in). Width: 85 cm (33.5 in).Capodimonte, Naples.
35) Sandro Botticelli, Virgin adoring the Child, 1490, tempera and gold on canvas, 122 x 80.3 cm, Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland.
36) After Reynolds, The Infant Hercules strangling Serpents in his Cradle, oil on canvas, 127.5 x 102 cm, Bradford Museums & Art Galleries.
37) Chatsworth Park.
38) Henry Lark Pratt, View of Chatsworth House & Park, 1852, oil on canvas, 67.5 x 94 cm, Buxton Museums & Art Gallery.
39) Thomas Sandby, Windsor Castle from the Great Park, Near the End of the Long Walk, watercolour on paper, Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
40) Sir Thomas Lawrence, Uvedale Price, 1st Baronet, (1769-1830), c. 1799, oil on canvas, 76.2 x 63.5 cm, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
41) Sir Thomas Lawrence, Richard Payne Knight, 1794, oil on canvas, 127 x 101.5 cm, University of Manchester, Whitworth Gallery, Manchester.
42) Downton Castle, Shropshire, acq by Richard Knight, and passed to his grandson, Richard Payne Knight.
43) John Giles Eccardt, Horace Walpole, 1754, oil on canvas, 43 x 34.5 cm, English Heritage, Marble Hill House,
44) Strawberry Hill House, Twickenham, built 1749 by Horace Walpole.
 Christopher Hussey, The Picturesque, (1967), 9.
 This is not the only reference to the picturesque in Austen’s novels: In Sense and Sensibility, Edward and Marianne discuss the picturesque. Marianne says: “It is very rare that admiration of landscape scenery has become a mere jargon. Everybody pretends to feel and tries to describe it with the taste and elegance of him who first defined what picturesque beauty was.” Edward is not so fond of the picturesque preferring “a fine prospect”: ““I like a fine prospect, but not on picturesque principles. I do not like crooked, twisted, blasted trees. I admire them much more if they are tall, straight, and flourishing. I do not like ruined, tattered cottages. I am not fond of nettles or thistles, or heath blossoms. I have more pleasure in a snug farm-house than a watch-tower,- and a troop of tidy, happy villages please me better than the finest banditti in the world.”
 Brewer The Pleasures of the Imagination, 616.
 According to Hussey, (The Picturesque, 128), Uvedale Price credited Vanbrugh with this remark.
 Hussey, The Picturesque, 192.
 Reynolds, cited in Hussey, The Picturesque, 192-03: “To speak, then, of Vanbrugh in the language of a painter, he had originality of invention, he understood light and shadow, and had great skill in composition…What the background is in painting, in architecture is the real ground on which the building is erected; and no architect took greater care than he that his work should not appear crude and hard; that is, it did not abruptly start out of the ground, without expectation or preparation.”
 See Humphrey Wine’s survey of three centuries of collecting 17th century French art in England,”Collecting French Seventeenth-Century Paintings in England,” Seventeenth-Century French Paintings in the National Gallery, (Yale, 2001), x-xxii, xiv.
 Wine, “Collecting,” xiv.
 Hussey, The Picturesque, 232.
 Hussey, The Picturesque, 232.
 Francis Haskell, Rediscoveries in Art: Some Aspects of Taste, Fashion and Collecting in England and France, ( Phaidon, 1976), 44.
 In the 1722 sale of Henry, 1st Duke of Portland, were 7 Dughets, of which 4 were boughtby Frederick, Prince of Wales. Vertue said of a Dughet View of Tivoli that it was “the strongest of the greatest force that could possible can be. Sombrous manner.”
 In England by 1773.
 The joke is that Blaize Castle is a fake, but Thorpe misleads the innocent Catherine. “Blaize Castle!" cried Catherine. "What is that'?"
"The finest place in England--worth going fifty
miles at any time to see."
"What, is it really a castle, an old castle?"
"The oldest in the kingdom."
"But is it like what one reads of?"
"Exactly--the very same."
"But now really--are there towers and long galleries?"
 “Cattle are so large that when they ornament a foreground, a few are sufficient. Two cows will hardly combine Three make a good group- either united- or when one is a little removed from the other two. If you increase the group beyond three; one of more in proportion must necessarily be a little detached .This detachment prevents heaviness and adds variety…”
 Stanstead was purchased by Vere Ponsonby, 9th Earl of Bessborough, in 1924. Since 1983 the House and Estate have been owned by Stansted Park Foundation, a charitable trust charged with the preservation of the estate for the benefit of the nation. The trust was set up by Frederick Ponsonby, 10th Earl of Bessborough, who died without a male heir in 1993. The history of Stansted Park since the 12th century is told in Lord Bessborough's book "The Enchanted Forest.”