Picturesque Gardens
from 1768 onwards

Another style of gardening which began during the eighteenth century was the Picturesque. Edmund Burke provided a platform in A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757) from which later writers developed their ideas. He attempted to establish standards of Taste by placing emphasis on passion and emotion rather than reason. William Gilpin first used the word ‘Picturesque’ in 1768 in his An Essay on Prints, defining it as ‘that kind of beauty which would look well in a picture’ [1]; he is the link between Burke and the writings and gardens of Richard Payne Knight and Uvedale Price.

As friends, Payne Knight and Price argued on the correct definition of the word ‘Picturesque’. For Price, a scene or painting was only Picturesque if the drama was inherent in the object while Payne Knight believed that Picturesque beauty could only be appreciated by someone looking at a landscape in the abstract, while bringing their own emotions and feelings to the scene. Payne Knight was critical of the work of ‘Capability’ Brown:

To improve, adorn, and polish, they profess;
But shave the goddess, whom they come to dress;
Level each broken bank and shaggy bound,
And fashion all to one unvaried round;
One even round, that every gently flows,
Nor forms abrupt, nor broken colours knows;
But wrapt all o’er in everlasting green,
Makes one dull, vapid, smooth, unvaried scene. [2]

Works by Salvator Rosa were admired while Mary Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho was popular. Written in 1794, it is a story full of incidents of physical and psychological terror as well as remote, crumbling castles and seemingly supernatural events. Catherine Morland is reading The Mysteries on her visit to Northanger Abbey.

[1] The Genius of the Place.   The English Landscape Garden 1620 – 1820.  Edited by John Dixon Hunt and Peter Willis  The MIT press.  1988 pp 337

[2] Richard Payne Knight, The Landscape, II, (Kindle) lines 79-86

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