Dance, Dance, Dance; all night long

There are two well known paintings portraying Capability Brown, created by different artists at different times. Or were they?

The Nathaniel Dance original has been at the National Portrait Gallery since 1989, acquired from a descendant of Brown. A painting derived from it has been there for a good deal longer, and it is interesting to compare the two; the copy (or rather, the “after Dance”) more finessed and considered, but less lively as a result.

The work by Richard Cosway is well known as it is the image of the Tercentenary campaign. It portrays a different Brown, with less coiffure, more natural; less formality.

These are my two core works for the posthumous head of Brown. After examining the Dances in the cellars of the NPG in December 2015, I started to consider the information I had before me for the reconstruction. I could discount the “after Dance” as it offered no more secondary evidence than the original. It is one step further removed from my sitter. But the Cosway was interesting. It appeared to yield no more formal information than the Dance, and indeed, on superimposing the two images, it was clear the sitter was at exactly the same angle to the painter. Perhaps his best side, but with 360 degrees to choose from, a curious find.

See what else emerges as photographic images of the two works are overlaid, after a slight tilting of one of the images, in this short film:

The limiting factor of this hypothesis is that we are creating overlays by superimposing images which are factored to each other; we have no absolute sizes to compare. The Cosway original is in the USA, but distances from pupil to pupil could easily now be taken from each painting to explore the anomalies further.

Could we being led a further merry Dance?

What was Cosway up to?  Indeed, is the Cosway really a Cosway?

Another interesting observation is that – admittedly from consideration of Cosway web imagery only – there are similarities in the qualities in – and handling of – the paint in the Cosway and the NPG’s “after Dance”.

An interesting debate to be had in this tercentenary year. In the meantime, my sitting with a Lancelot Brown look-alike takes place next week. My eyes will be considering the man then for his merits alone, but the result may additionally fill in gaps in our Brownian evidence – with those of a Northumbrian nature.

Brown family resemblances

Holland relative cropCheryl Gaynor’s father sent her a photo of her Grandfather (left).

His name was Alexander E. Holland. His parents were Charles E. Holland and Alexandrina Dickson; Charles’s parents were Frederic Holland and Bijsbertje Kuij; Frederic’s parents were Colonel Lancelot Holland and Charlotte Peters; Lancelot’s parents were Henry Holland and Bridget Brown. And Bridget Brown’s parents… well, you have it by now, I suppose?

What is clear is that from a genetic point of view there is a likely 50% dilution of the material directly from Lancelot Capability Brown at each successive generation. But that shouldn’t stop us studying this head for similarities as it IS a great find. The nose and brow seems similar; likewise the cheek lines running down into the chin.

What do YOU think?

Brownian Motion

Cosway sketchThings are hotting up! I have heard of a Northumbrian with features akin to Brown, who may be willing to sit for me to establish some base characteristics – the Reiver physiognomy – to guide the work of the portrait head of Capability Brown.

Several plans are now fixed for next year’s roadshow, engaging the public with the developing clay.

Firstly, a gathering at National Trust Uppark on the South Downs on Sunday March 6th, of which more about this interesting Brown-linked landscape in a future post.

Secondly, Hampshire Cultural Trust are involved with two free entry Capability Brown exhibitions at Winchester Discovery Centre from 26 March 2016. Capability Brown: Master of the Landscape runs until 12th June, and Capability Brown: Making the Landscape runs until 15 May. The clay will be being worked on the afternoon of Thursday 31 March and present for the Private View.

2015-09-25 12.53.40I am also starting work on a block of red sandstone, after an interesting discussion with Anthony Wallersteiner, Headmaster at Stowe School – closely connected with an important period of Lancelot Brown’s life and one of his most celebrated landscapes.  We will unveil the first terracotta head as well as a more abstract sculpture responding to all things Brownian in late May, to coincide with their Speech Day and the 26 May performance by The Fingask Follies.  HA-HA! is Brown-themed for the Tercentenary and also celebrates 21 Seasons of their performances.

Next on the agenda? A trip to National Portrait Gallery in early December with Steffie Shields, landscape historian and Capability Brown specialist – and Susan Darling, Garden & Landscape Historian & CBF2016 Research Co-ordinator for London Parks & Gardens Trust.

We will all be looking closely at the portrait material on Brown in our national collection. Personally, a great spur to proceeding with the first claywork in the New Year!

image top: Richard Cosway’s sketch of Brown (pictured right) c. 1773


The first statue of Brown?

DSC00619The challenge of immortalising Brown was recently brought up by Peter Bate, Sustrans Area Manager for Beds, Herts and Milton Keynes. He had needed to find out what Capability Brown looked like and how tall he was for a portrait bench statue on the National Cycle Network near Luton Hoo. This, he believes, is the only extant statue depicting Capability Brown and is conveyed as a pierced silhouette in Corten steel.

His brief in 2012 was to come up with characters with a connection to the site and route and then source images that could be used as the basis for the statues. The designs were developed by Katy Hallet, the then Sustrans Director of Art & the Travelling Landscape.

Peter noted: “It was rather difficult to find out anything about Capability Brown’s appearance apart from the NPG portrait. I specifically needed to find out his height, as the statues are life size, and his style of dress. The NPG portrait is head & torso only so I also had to find something for the bottom half! In the end two pictures were blended together. What was of great value was guidance from Jane Brown, author of the Brown biography ‘The Omnipotent Magician’. I eventually decided on a height of 1.8m based on historic accounts of Capability Brown looking William Pitt in the eye”.

Capability Brown designed the River Lea lakes on the valley bottom and the landscape on the other side of the valley, all part of the Luton Hoo estate. Finding out his likely height and style of dress was the most difficult part of the project. The other characters depict Eric Morecambe who lived in Harpenden (the route connects Luton & Harpenden) and used to go bird watching in the area, and the Sea Scout celebrates the long-established Sea Scout troop based on the shore of the Lea lakes.


I rather like the incongruity of it all. These sculptures of course can only be ‘read’ in two planes rather than in the round, but are simple and bold and incite the viewer to question. The artistic goal for Brown is somewhat different from my own – but a fine contrast.

Sustrans’ Portrait Bench series is a national social history project that celebrates uniqueness of location. More information here

Three Henry Hollands – one useful

IMG_4252_16-9Henry_Holland_(architect)Henry Holland ran a building firm and he built several of Capability Brown’s buildings. His son Henry Holland (1745-1806, images left and right) was an architect to the English nobility, who modernised Woburn Abbey. Born in Fulham, London, he entered a partnership with Brown in 1771.

Edridge-KLancelot Brown’s facial features show similarities to those of his daughter, Bridget who married Henry Holland (and who we saw in a previous post here). Their daughter, also Bridget, was Capability Brown’s grand-daughter and is captured (left) by Henry Edridge in a framed sketch at Abbot and Holder Ltd.

Their eldest son was Henry Holland Junior (1775-1855).It would be good to find an image of him; he had connections to Okehampton where he was MP 1802-1804. Can you help?

Three Henry Hollands. To the sculptor there are no useful visible genetic links for the two eldest generations. Our Okehampton MP has 1/4 of Brown’s genetic material, as has Bridget, above. But it is Brown’s direct progeny that are most useful being potentially ‘half of him’ and perhaps giving us best chance of conveying an alternative glimpse of some of Brown’s long Northumbrian features.

Co-incidentally, I recently heard from a living relative in Australia (née Holland) in Australia who reads this blog. Whilst the genetic character will have diluted over the generations, there is always the chance of imagery passed down through family archives emerging to help us.

Statues, busts and heads

a well made torso contains all of life – one doesn’t add anything by joining legs and arms to it  Auguste Rodin 1908

The Brown Advisor speculates here that more than just a head of Brown could emerge for the Tercentenary. This will be rather exciting, seeing the diverse outputs of a number of artistic processes with a common subject. But it is worth considering the difference between statues, busts and heads.

Figurative statues cost a lot of money – at least £50,000 for a single, full length figure at a human scale. Subscriptions usually fund statues, at local, national or governmental level. In Britain, public art is sometimes financed through contributions from commercial developers for the benefit of the communities which their developments  serve. Works outside must be capable of withstanding vandalism and weather.  A plinth is needed between the work and the substrate for reasons of security and fixing; traditionally plinths elevated the work above the viewer to confer more importance and perhaps to enable it to be seen more easily over the heads of a crowd. Their height needs to cope with viewing from those who are standing or walking. Rodin’s masterpiece Burghers of Calais (above) has traditionally been plinthed high though the artist actually wanted it at ground level so the figures could have a human scale interaction with the viewer, meeting at or near eye level so that expression can be sensed.

If a statue becomes over-descriptive, it loses artistic qualities and becomes merely interpretative. We can tell Barbara Jordan’s physical characteristics
from this Texas statue (right), but does it contribute as an artform as well as a memorial to her? What we must ascertain is whether the sources which influence the creation of the work are actually personal enough to contribute to a truthful work – or whether it just provides something more bland and general. Much public sculpture is not art.

powerslongmThe bust has classical roots, and often conveyed the head and shoulders – or the upper body – on a raised socle, which gave the sculpture ‘lift’ both physically and visually. The addition of the shoulder and/or upper torso in the bust form adds mass to the head to enable it it cope better with public display (perhaps on a column), as well as giving further information as to the stature of the sitter. The portrait head is often confusingly and erroneously referred to as a bust just because the term ‘bust’ links it more firmly to sculpture rather than painting.

Two simple sculptural building blocks, the ovoid and cylinder, equate to the head and neck and arguably give us everything we could possibly ask for in conveying the feel of the individual, if we can get both the relative proportions of each form correct and the relative balance to each other.  Think of Henry Moore. His monumental works sit across the globe. His own physical presence? Marked by a tiny – smaller than lifesize – portrait head modelled directly from Moore by Marino Marini in 1962, now in the National Portrait Gallery collection.  It has immense power.

WrestCroomeI don’t think Moore would have appreciated a full-length statue. One might ask the same of Brown, someone who appreciated the rigorous visual experience. It is interesting that 18th Century memorials erected to him by long-standing, appreciative clients at Wrest (left) and at Croome (right) are both in form of an urn on column.

A more detailed post on the posthumous Balzac memorial by Rodin can be seen here.

portraits attributed, uncertain and related

Nick Ray for the Times 2013I want to be working on the clay for the Brown head during the early part of 2016; discussions are already underway with visitor locations that Brown has worked at so that we may take the modelling process into the eyes of the general public… and perhaps benefit from the sense of place – the views Brown would have seen whilst he was engaged in creative thought. All these can seep into the work in the most curious way. The sculptor is a little understood beast and few know or see their working processes so this is a good opportunity to engage.

I aim to study some of the definitive portrait works in December. There are also various new leads emerging to less certain works of Brown. Whilst these may presently lack sufficient attribution, what better than an artist’s eyes to decide whether they offer some link to the man for our purposes here.

Hoppner_Bridget-HollandI am also particularly keen to have a closer look at the portraits of Brown’s daughter Bridget Holland. One miniature exists, and this work by John Hoppner. Possibly others?  Any one could offer a lead to drawing or strengthening some common thread in the Lancelot Brown evidence presently available to us.

But we have no sitter…

The posthumous bust is a difficult animal. Many public sculptures concentrate on the descriptive and decorative, achieving great combinations of the features and clothing of personalities of their day, often on rather more generic heads and bodies for which there is inadequate documentary information existing. They often do not enlarge experience.

With Capability Brown, there are Continue reading

A head of Brown for 2016

Lancelot Brown never sat for a portrait sculpture although three portraits exist.

I’d been thinking that Capability Brown would make a great posthumous subject, working from documentary sources just as Rodin did with his sculpture of Balzac – see here.

The forthcoming 2016 tercentenary celebrations suggest this would be a good time for it to happen; this diary will account the working process.