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.





The Northumbrian (2016)

Chasing old paintings is all very well but let us return to more serious matters; a sitting which will fill in some of the gaps in knowledge for the posthumous portrait head.

Susan Campbell is a garden historian specialising in walled kitchen gardens and currently researching kitchen gardens, nation-wide, that might have been designed by Brown. A neighbour was born in Northumberland and she thought that he might share some of Brown’s facial characteristics. Indeed, on comparing his features with the Dance portrait, there was some similarity which I was keen to investigate further.

I am grateful for her perception and help in making this portrait come about, and for my sitter’s time and patience. I am hollowing the clay now so, whilst it will not be fired for Uppark on 6th March, it might accompany me to Winchester for the opening night of the two Brown exhibitions there. It will contribute to the thoughts for the Brown head, but it is, most importantly, an interesting portrait in its own right.

So how many Nathaniel Dances are there?

Hmm. So we have observed one in the National Portrait gallery. My guess is the original, as stated. NPG6049; rectangular image, dark surroundings, thickish paint. Inscription. Acquired 1989 from a Brown descendent.(detail – my image)

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There is also a copy or ‘after Dance’, acquired much earlier. NPG1490, acquired 1908 from one Warren Trevor Esq. It has an oval visible canvas, thinner paint; canvas character visible.(detail – my image)

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There is one at Burghley, which is shown in two web images. Jane Brown’s biography refers to the Burghley portrait sitter’s jacket as in ‘a sober green’.

interior-with-a-portrait-of-capability-brown-by-nathaniel-dance-burghley-houseThere was also recent TV coverage of Belvoir, where a Dance hangs behind Alan Titchmarsh. Here is a screen grab; Karen Lynch of Yorkshire Gardens Trust identifies that it is the same frame and panelling as our Burghley above, but with television lighting:Screen Shot 2015-09-24 at 21.41.26There is an image on National Trust’s main web site which is much more ‘polished’ (did they use lip gloss in the 18th century? or LED spotlights?) and does not appear to be any of the former. It appears to be at Wimpole, here.Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 21.06.58So that is four. Are there more Dance copies out there? Please make contact if you know of another location of a permanent work akin to these, as an inventory in 2016 would be a fine achievement if it does not exist already. Their lines of provenance may indeed give clues to the degree in which the portraits were originally valued or even hint at how and when they were created… as well as when and if they were restored.

Note: the use of photo editing and management by website staff may mean that generalisations are made here with images that are in easy public web access. Access to the originals is the only way of judging properly – seek out the works and study them. The Dance original will be travelling from NPG, London (not currently on view) to several locations during the 2016 Tercentenary. Get thee to Harrogate for 24th June!

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