Romantic Circles Gallery
View from the house at Tatton, showing the manner of connecting the two waters; and also the effect of the net-fence as a false scale, which lessens the size of the nearest water
This painting exists in two states: the first portrays the actual, "unimproved" prospect from the house at Tatton Park, as it was when Repton first visited the Park, on 8 Nov. 1791; the second depicts the same prospect as it would appear if "improved" by Repton. The improved prospect is uncovered when viewers fold back the flaps on which the lower third of the first prospect has been painted (when folded, the flaps meet in the lower-centre of the design, in what seems at first to be a dark vertical line). Both prospects are contained by two sets of three lines, creating an inner and outer frame, each composed of two thin bands. Three of the four bands are coloured grey; the fourth, the innermost one, is light yellow.
The unimproved prospect is divided into two by the horizon. In the upper half, large white clouds seem to rise up from the skyline into a light blue, almost grey sky. The lower half of the design is centred on a "meer," a body of water described by Repton as "too large to be deemed a pool, and too small as well as too round in its form, to deserve the name of a lake" (30-1). On the far side of the meer, the prospect extends through a lightly wooded park to a second body of water (glimpsed in the middle distance) on which two boats are sailing, then to a heavily forested zone, and finally to a couple of mountains or large hills. The viewer (and the stately House where he/she is standing) is divided from this landscape first by a net fence (which stretches from the left- to the right-hand side of the design), then by a herd of sheep grazing on what seems to be a thin slip of land between fence and meer, and finally by the meer itself.
The upper-half of the improved prospect is, of course, the same as the unimproved view; but changes made in the lower-third of the image dramatically change the scene: the net-fence has been removed, trees planted, and the land surrounding the meer variously raised or lowered so that it now seems a lake, of irregular shape and indeterminate size, which draws the various elements of the landscape into an irregular but nevertheless pleasing whole. The viewer's gaze now moves without interruption from the foreground to the first lake (apparently no longer a meer), then to the distant lake, and finally to the forest and mountains. The effect is heightened, first, by the "arm of a river" (33) that seems to link the two bodies of water (although the point where it meets the lake nearer the viewer can't be seen); second, by the boats that now seem to be passing from one lake to the other); and third by the carefully placed groups of animals—sheep in the foreground; next cows and another group of sheep; and then in the middle distance, two herds of deer.
Copyright 2009, Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
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Printing ContextThe image was included in Humphry Repton's Sketches and Hints on Landscape Gardening, between pages 32 and 33.
Associated PlacesTatton Park, Knutsford, Cheshire, England—the Egerton family owned this estate from the late 16th century until 1958, when it was bequeathed to the National Trust.
Tatton Hall, Knutsford, Cheshire, England—the place where the implied spectator of "View from the house at Tatton," in both its versions, is standing.
Associated TextsRepton, Humphry, Tatton Park in Cheshire—A Seat of William Egerton Esqr.
Red Book sent to the client in February 1792, now held by the National Trust for England. This is one of the Red Books on which Sketches and Hints was based (xi). It was "displayed by the London bookseller Nicol to raise subscriptions" for Repton's book (Rogger 70).
SubjectThe first image seen by the viewer depicts the unimproved prospect seen from the House at Tatton Park; but when the flaps are opened, the prospect as improved by Repton is revealed. One might say, therefore, that the subject of the first is a present reality, while the second is concerned with an imagined reality, and with a possible future in which the appearance of the first has been brought into alignment with the second. These "large scenes" therefore indirectly present, while beginning to colonize for practical purposes, the possible and the future. When placed inside Sketches and Hints" these images become illustrations of Repton's theory of gardening and, more particularly, of the effect of appearances on observers and the ways in which those appearances, and the emotions they produce, can be manipulated by landscape gardeners.
Repton writes that at Tatton Park, as illustrated by the first prospect, the meer is so nearly circular, and the eye is consequently drawn "round its border with such . . . velocity," that it seems much smaller than its real circumference. The "false scale" established by the "net fence," which once again "lessens the size of the nearest water", compounds the problem. It is however not the mismatch between reality and appearance that concerns Repton, but that at Tatton Park the latter construes the former in ways that are undesirable. It must therefore be solved by managing and editing appearances, whether or not this involves a corresponding change in the real world.
In the second prospect the ground-levels have been variously raised or lowered, a branch of the distant lake has been extended, trees planted, the net fence removed, and animals placed at key points in the landscape. These changes are designed to evoke appearances that together conjure the desired rather than the real prospect. To quote Horace Walpole out of context: "open country is but a canvas on which a landscape might be designed" (4: 149). In other words, Repton creates a second nature on the grounds of the first, a process that is allegorized, and the results of which appear, each time we fold back the flaps to reveal the improved "View from the house at Tatton."
This introduces the next subject of the images we are considering (and of the text they illustrate), namely the landscape gardener as creative artist. "Landscape gardening . . . can only be advanced and perfected," Repton writes in Sketches and Hints, "by the united powers of the landscape painter and the practical gardener." If this is to occur, "the luxuriant imagination of the painter must be subjected to the gardener's practical knowledge" (xiii); but once disciplined, the painter's imagination gains the upper hand—the practical skills of the first manufacture the forms and "pigments" arranged by the second (34-5).
The nature conjured by this creative artist is not innocent or pristine. Prospect views are closely associated with a masculine, aristocratic point of view (Labbe), which on grand estates is symbolized by the stately home—in this case Tatton House, from where the "View" is taken. Further, the proposed improvements at Tatton Park—by removing the net fence, linking the two bodies of water, and so on—create a prospect that foregrounds what Repton describes as "[t]he first essential of Greatness in a place," namely "the appearance of united and uninterrupted property" (51). Seen in this light, the prospect is interesting for what it excludes: signs of agricultural labour; local roads; the "large manufacturing town" of Knutsford (51), just outside the Park gates; and so on. As Rogger remarks, "the view over woods and fields must give the impression that the landscape served only the purposes of pleasure and convenience, not for yielding an income"; even though in reality "the income from woods, hunting and animal husbandry—all significant factors in a park economy—could well exceed that generated by the same area of land leased to tenant farmers" (139-41. See also Williamson).
And the landscape painter-gardener conjuring this "appearance" is hardly less "interested" in his work, the unity of which advertises to potential clients his own practical and creative powers. For some observers, this involved more than the normal mix of truth and hyperbole. The agricultural writer William Marshall (1745-1818) "doubted the topographical reliability of Repton's views and felt that Repton ... used his proficiency in drawing to demonstrate persuasively the superiority of his improved version" (Rogger 70). The deceptions practiced by the landscape gardener/painter are here doubled by those more closely associated with the entrepreneur/publicist.
SignificanceFollowing Horace Walpole's lead in "On Modern Gardening" (printed with his Anecdotes of Painting in England in 1771), histories of eighteenth-century garden design normally describe the step-by-step emancipation of nature from the formal symmetries and geometrical designs of French and Dutch gardens. Walpole's account of these changes begins with William Kent (1684-1748), the "inventor" of this new style of gardening (4: 116)—he was the first to leap "the fence" and discover "that all nature was a garden" (4: 138)—and concludes with Lancelot "Capability" Brown (1716-83), the most fashionable landscape-gardener when Walpole was writing "On Modern Gardening" (Hunt; Daniels; Hyams; Stroud; Turner). Brown's most important successor, nearly everyone agrees, was Repton, who self-consciously placed himself in that role (xiv; Rogger 37-8). "View[s] from the house at Tatton," the book it is deployed to illustrate, and the Red Book from which it is drawn, are representative products of this third phase in the development of modern landscape-gardening, which is closely entwined with the eighteenth-century tradition of the picturesque and with the emergence of a romantic sensibility, which valued the appeal of landscape to the emotions rather than reason. When seen in the context of Repton's Red Books, it marks a shift from "the album form in which architecture or garden plans had [previously] been presented," to the "didactic interweave of image and text" commonly found in later gardening discourse" (Rogger 61, 39).
William Gilpin famously describes the Claude Glass, named after the seventeenth-century landscape painter Claude Lorraine (1600-82), as a device for mechanically turning everyday scenes into "visions of the imagination" (3: 225). Each time we fold back the flaps on Repton's "View from the house at Tatton," we witness a similar "mechanical" transformation, although in this case it is Repton's vision that appears, in "real time," before our eyes. The oscillation between actual and imagined space that this inaugurates, the use of the latter to critique and improve the first, and the role of the landscape painter-gardener in these exchanges, anticipates in a down-to-earth key some of the most important ideas of Romanticism. Much the same might be said of Repton's matter-of-fact demonstration that landscapes, whether improved or unimproved, are "half-created" and half-perceived (Wordsworth, "Tintern Abbey," lines 105-7); development of the prospect-view (and of the before/after pictures used by his competitors) as a form of "future looking"; and multi-faceted exploration and exploitation, for his own and his clients' purposes, of what we would call virtual space.
FunctionAs presented in Sketches and Hints, this image illustrates the principles of landscape gardening introduced in that book's fourth chapter, "On Water." Its primary functions might therefore seem at first to be pedagogical. But in Sketches and Hints, as in the Red Book from which this image is drawn, illustration is also persuasion and, for the landscape gardener, self-promotion. Repton's before/after images, with their carefully-finished "staging [of] future effects" (Rogger 69), can therefore also be described as gimmicks or "brand marks," which like the Red Books themselves help fashion for Repton a public identity as landscape painter-gardener.
BibliographyBoswell, James, The life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. comprehending an account of his studies and numerous works, in chronological order; a series of his epistolary correspondence and conversations with many eminent persons; and various original pieces of his composition, never before published . . .. 2 vols. London: Printed by Henry Baldwin, for Charles Dilly, 1791.
Daniels, Stephen. Humphry Repton: Landscape Gardening and the Geography of Georgian England. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999.
Gilpin, William. Remarks on Forest Scenery; and other Woodland Views, (Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty) . . . 3 vols. London: Printed for R. Blamire, 1791.
Hunt, John Dixon. William Kent, Landscape Garden Designer: an Assessment and Catalogue of his Designs. London: A. Zwemmer, 1987.
Hyams, Edward. Capability Brown and Humphry Repton. London: Dent, 1971.
Labbe, Jacqueline M. Romantic Visualities: Landscape, Gender, and Romanticism. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan Press, 1998.
Repton, Humphry. Sketches and Hints on Landscape Gardening. London: Printed by W. Bulmer, Shakespeare Printing Office, 1794.
Repton, Humphry. Tatton Park in Cheshire—A Seat of William Egerton Esqr. (Red Book), 1792. Now held by the National Trust for England.
Rogger, André. Landscapes of Taste: The Art of Humphry Repton's Red Books. London and New York: Routledge, 2007.
Stroud, Dorothy. Capability Brown. London: Faber, 1975.
Turner, Roger. Capability Brown and the Eighteenth-Century English Landscape. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1985.
Williamson, Tom. "The Landscape Park: Economics, Art and Ideology." Journal of Garden History 13 (1993): 49-55.
Wordsworth, William. "Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour. July 13, 1798." William Wordsworth: The Poems. Ed. John O. Hayden. 2 vols. 1977; rpt. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1982. 1: 357-62.
Long Title[Plate] XII."View from the house at Tatton, showing the manner of connecting the two waters; and also the effect of the net-fence as a false scale, which lessens the size of the nearest water," in Sketches and Hints on Landscape Gardening. Collected from Designs and Observations now in the possession of the different noblemen and gentlemen, for whose use they were originally made. The whole tending to establish fixed principles in the art of laying out ground. By H. Repton, Esq. London: Printed by W. Bulmer and Co. Shakspeare Printing-Office, and sold by J. and J. Boydell, Shakspeare Gallery; and by G. Nicol, bookseller to His Majesty, Pall-Mall .