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Petworth Park

October 28, 2010

I am writing this blog because I have been interested in the English Landscape Garden (1750-1850) for the past 20 years.  My interest was piqued in a seminar in graduate school, and then developed in post-graduate independent research and travel.  This blog is an outlet and motivator for my continued study. 

As an architect working in a predominantly landscape-oriented job, the interaction between landscape and architecture is a daily concern for me.  In fact I have been thinking about it ever since graduate school and the English Landscape Garden is actually a terrific vehicle for exploring the possibilities of that relationship or problem.  So when we talk about the landscape garden we must also consider the country house associated with it.

One of my favorite sites is Petworth (West Sussex).  It’s a favorite for several reasons, the listing of which might help to forecast the nature of this blog.  For starters, the painter J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) spent time at Petworth in the 1820s and 30s as the guest of the third Earl of Egremont (1751-1837).  Turner had a studio in the Old Library on an upper floor of the house.  Here he painted large scenes of Petworth Park and other Egremont-related sites that are now displayed in the Petworth Carved Room.

 But the work he did at Petworth that grabs me most is the small atmospheric gouaches he made of the interior life at Petworth.  He painted views of interior decorations, furniture and picture arrangements, and groups of people.  The paintings are amazingly detailed yet they are also abstract studies in light, color, form and composition. 

Another reason why Petworth is so great is that the landscape was designed for the most-part by Capability Brown (1716-83), for the second Earl of Egremont (1710-63).  Brown swept away the walled garden at the front of the house, dammed a stream to form the lake, rerouted the entry drive, and enhanced a pleasure garden at the side of the house.  Petworth is a quintessential Brown landscape.

Petworth also has a very fine example of a ha-ha, a landscape device used to invisibly separate the park from the areas near to the house.  At Petworth though the ha-ha is at the side of the house so there is no impediment to having deer graze right up to the front door. 

Petworth also has a stunning art collection, gathered primarily by the second and third Earls, consisting of many paintings (don’t forget the Turners) and classical sculpture.  This is  A Florentine Youth by Agnolo Bronzino (1503-72) . 

Also interesting is the servants’ quarters at Petworth.  They have been lovingly restored and show what it takes to support life in a large country house.

These are the kinds of topics that attract me to the English Landscape Garden and will be developed in coming posts.

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