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Book Review: Noble Propects: Capability Brown and the Yorkshire Landscape

Noble Prospects ExhibitionKaren Lynch, Noble Propects: Capability Brown and the Yorkshire Landscape (2016), £12. ISBN 9781898408215 

This summer (between 25 June and 11 September) the Yorkshire Gardens Trust is putting on an ambitious exhibition in Harrogate’s Mercer Art Gallery, curated by Karen Lynch,  to celebrate the tercentenary of Capability Brown’s birth, and specifically his Yorkshire commissions. This handsome full-colour publication, a generous nine inches square, forms  an admirable permanent record of the exhibition and the  clearest of demonstrations of why Brown is such an important cultural figure for the second half of the 18th century.

This is a publication of admirable clarity in every respect, briskly carrying the reader through Brown’s background and rise to prominence, his design concepts and working methods – it’s especially gratifying to see the earth moving on an heroic scale given proper emphasis – and how these were brought to bear in Yorkshire.

Some of the sites will be better known to readers outside the county than others: Burton Constable, Harewood, Sledmere and Temple Newsham, for instance. Brown’s 1762 plan of proposals for improving the last is stunningly reproduced, and shows with great clarity that however ‘natural’ the result might appear on the ground, from above, or on plan, the artifice and scale of Brown’s alterations are clear with sinuous lakes, tight clumps of trees and park perimeter shelter belts cut through with carriage drives. Other sites are likely to be less well known, such as Whitley Beaumont, near Huddersfield, and Stapleton, near Pontefract, one of Brown’s very last commissions, in the months before his death in 1783.

What, above all else, makes this Noble Prospects a joy, is the range of illustrations: modern photographs (many by Simon Warner), and a plethora of contemporary – that is 18th-century - paintings, sketches and plans. All are reproduced to the highest standards on heavyweight paper. In every respect this is a venture the author, and the Yorkshire Gardens Trust, should take great pride in.

Paul Stamper, Historic England

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