Uppark and a second Brown study

As Brown may well have been at National Trust’s Uppark, surveying the scene to look where the landscape’s capabilities lay, I had planned to be outside the Game Larder all day on March 6th, working on the clay head and talking with visitors. As Mother’s Day was bright, over 900 people circulated and the cafe sold out of food – my Brown sources were the nearest I got to the hot bacon baps on the menu close to where I was working.

Two recent blogs here and here give some background to the landscape at Uppark House, in a sleepy bit of the South Downs away from the disturbance of the larger roads. It is a mid eighteenth century informal walled garden, laid out to a plan perhaps attributed to Lancelot Brown, altered and added to in the early nineteenth century by Humphry Repton. The evidence is only the surviving plan in the West Sussex Record Office detailed in Sarah Rutherford’s 2013 Garden Conservation Statement for Uppark. Here for comparison are the References in an attributed 1768 Brown plan for Hills, Horsham (left), with the Uppark plan. It feels like the latter is by an apprentice, but supports the layout style Brown used personally. Brown expert John Phibbs gives a 55% chance of attribution for Uppark (Phibbs (2013), Journal of the Garden History Society 41:2)

There was ice on the ground when I arrived at 9.30 to set up, and my hat stayed in place all day. (I am confident Brown would have probably worn a forerunner to 19C longjohns whilst surveying in such temperatures). The cold meant that the clay stayed in good condition whilst working outside, where the sun normally dries the tips of the clay very quickly.

I was alerted to TWO Dance portraits in the main house at Uppark, which could have given some good comparison to the surfaces of the Brown portraits I had already inspected at the National Portrait Gallery. Alas, they were too high and in rooms in conservation-minded shade – they might have well have been posters.

So, what has emerged?

A0 BROWN.inddWhilst readying the headpeg for Uppark after my interpretative ‘reference’ board had arrived from the printer, I quickly threw up some clay late into one evening. A distorted head developed, nearly collapsed through much cutting and chopping around, but I have saved the evidence for firing, covering it and not looking back before putting clay back on the headpeg for Uppark once again. Thus, after Uppark, TWO heads will exist – the former with the Dance wig, the latter with Cosway informality – i.e. a semblance of Brown’s real hair. Comparing the two will be extremely interesting as it will contrast two independent periods of observation of the Brown sources, the second perhaps benefiting from the experience of the first. But it feels that the retention of these works – rather than continual reworking of one clay – could be useful for the third build which will be visible in progress at the Brown exhibition at Winchester on the afternoon of 31st March.

It will also be more useful for the viewer, able to see the stage development of a sculptor’s perception of Capability Brown. With two other 2016 Brown sculpture projects – Haddonstone bust and a full-figure statue – now having released their images, I still think there is Brown left to find.

Photographer Sarah Sheldrake captured progress through the Uppark day; some of her images in the next Journal post.




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