Lancelot Brown

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Brown, Lancelot called Capability (1716–83). Born in Northum., he was one of the most influential English landscape-architects who has ever lived, as well as an architect. He became head-gardener at Stowe, Bucks., in 1741, where, with Bridgeman and William Kent, he realized the ‘naturalization’ of the park. This much-admired work enabled Brown to set up on his own from 1749, and, for the next thirty years, he created many landscapes with artificial lakes, apparently randomly disposed clumps of trees, and expanses of grass that provided an admirable setting for the Palladian mansions that were such a feature of the period. Country-houses, which had once dominated the park, now tended to nestle in the composed Picturesque landscape, and Brown's famed ‘natural’ parks (where untidy Nature was tamed and carefully composed) became enormously popular throughout England as well as influential on the Continent. His nickname is said to have originated in his reputed habit of telling clients that their estates were ‘capable’ of or had ‘capabilities’ for improvement. His finest existing landscape-gardens, perhaps, are at Berrington Hall, Herefs. (1780s), Croome Court, Worcs. (1751–2), Bowood, Wilts. (1760s), and Nuneham Park, Oxon. (1778–82). Landscapes influenced by his work and ideas are referred to as Brownian.

He also designed buildings, and much of his work was executed by Henry Holland of Fulham (1712–85). In 1771 he took the latter's son Henry Holland (who became his son-in-law in 1773) into partnership and gradually handed over the architectural side of his practice. Brown's architectural works include Croome Court, Worcs. (1751–2), the bridge and chapel at Compton Verney, Warwicks. (1770–8), and Claremont House, Esher, Surrey (1771–4, with Henry Holland).


Colvin (1995);
J. Curl (2002a);
Hadfield,, Harling,, & and Highton (1980);
Hinde (1986);
Mowl (2000);
Stroud (1966, 1975);
R. Turner (1999);
P. Willis (2002)

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Brown, Lancelot (1715/16–83). English landscape designer, generally known as ‘Capability’ because of his references to the ‘capabilities’ of the places about which he was consulted. Born in Northumberland, he worked first for Sir William Loraine at Kirkharle but by 1741 had moved south to Stowe. Brown took a prominent part in the evolution of the Stowe landscape for which Gibbs and Kent were providing buildings. Soon Brown established his own distinctive landscape style with its clumps, belts, bridges, irregular lakes, and encircling woodland and lawns. Major commissions (sometimes involving the design of buildings) began to come his way, among them Croome Court (from 1750), Longleat, Burton Constable, Chatsworth (from 1761), and Blenheim (from about 1764). In 1764 Brown was appointed master gardener at Hampton Court, a post which carried with it an official residence within the palace grounds, Wilderness House. In 1771 he went into partnership with the younger Henry Holland (1745–1806), later his son-in-law, and together they undertook architectural commissions such as Claremont (1771–4), Cadland (1775–8), and Nuneham (1781–2). On his death in 1783 Brown was buried at Fenstanton in Huntingdonshire, where he had bought the manor in 1767. Horace Walpole wrote of him: ‘such was the effect of his genius, that when he was the happiest man, he will be least remembered. So closely did he copy nature that his work will be mistaken for it.’

Peter Willis