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Title: Stephen Switzer and garden design in Britain in the early 18th century
Author: Brogden, William Alvis
ISNI:       0000 0001 3481 2566
Awarding Body: Edinburgh University
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 1973
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The change in garden design from a composition of straight lines and formal spaces to a more indeterminate informal composition of seemingly natural countryside is an interesting one, for it has appeared, almost since its recognition in the middle of the 18th century, that landscape gardening is theoretically and stylistically opposed to the earlier system. There is a gap of some fifty years between the maturity of the baroque system in Britain and the maturity of landscape gardening, and for various reasons this period is largely uncharted. Stephen Switzer (1682-1745) bridges the two methods of garden design, and is among the writers and designers of the early 18th century the most pivotal, for his training was with London and Wise, the great exponents of formal gardening in-Britain, and in his late works of the 1730's and 1740's he made designs very closely approximating landscape gardens. His theory of garden design appeared in 1715 in The Nobleman, Gentleman and Gardener's Recreation and was expanded in 1718 as Ichnographia Rustica. Like his contemporaries Addison, Pope, and to a degree Shaftesbury, Switzer tried to reform garden design away from the mean-spiritedness of the "Dutch Taste" towards-la grand manier, and far from despising the designs of Prance, these writers held them up as models. There were factors which caused Switzerts conception of la grand manier to be very different from that of Andre Letostre. Wealth and power were more evenly distributed in Britain so that designs of the scale of Vaux-le-Vicomte or Marly-le-Roi were impossible. There was too a growing personal involvement of the landowners with their estates and a 'desire for the improvement of them both for profit and pleasure. Switzer's system took account of the peculiar conditions of the early 13th century and proposed a met hid of rural improvement which in its grand simplicity approached the character of the great French gardens, but because cheapness was one of his most cherished aims the precision of his designs was necessarily less than that of the preceding French or British gardens. His method was to place the country house in a simplified formal setting, using banked and formed earth covered in turf, gravel walks, forest trees, and water as the elements. This relatively small area was separated from the outer plantations by some form of haha (terrace walk, dry ditch, or encircling "river"). There was, however, both visual and actual connection between the polished and rustic parts of his design, for Switzer considered the whole estate as a garden and he scattered the costly furnishings formerly concentrated near the house throughout the estate. Switzer's outer plantations included fields, parks, ponds, meadows, fruit and kitchen gardens, and forests. Through these various elements he threaded walks and rides so that there was a correspondence of all the parts of his scheme. The necessary juxtaposition of polished and rough, or artificial and natural made Switzer's designs somewhat resemble 16th century Italian gardens, as hi5love of simplicity and grandeur derived from 17th century French designs. But Switzer is different from his predecessors and followers in that he appears to have been quite unconcerned with form. If there were a mature grove, a declivity, or a piece of ground ideal for some agricultural purpose, Switzer would have accomodated his design to them, whatever form might result. When the land was hilly and varied he recommended sinuous lines, and if the land were flat, straight lines. It is difficult to judge the success of such designs for they were necessarily short lived, diffuse and practically impossible of illustration, but a few have survived in part, or can be recovered and from these it appears that Switzer practised as well as advocated in some measure his system of garden design. This system grew out of certain assumptions and requirements, but the forms he employed to accommodate these became, as conditions changed, valued in themselves, and what was originally calculated far an entire estate had begun by the late 1720's to be drawn into a new kind of pleasure garden, a garden with formal and associational characteristics of the countryside. His original scheme developed into the ferme ornee and became associated with lack of wealth and poetic imagination, and latterly Switzer practised, whether willingly or not is unclear, the developing new kind of pleasure gardening. There is in Switzer"s work an observable tendency to abstraction in the formal setting of the house; slopes in imitation of fortification developed curves, at first symmetrically disposed and finally the polished parts of his schemes were freer in form and asymmetrical. So the baroque system of garden design, initiated in Italy and developed in France, grew logically in early 18th century Britain into landscape gardening, without theoretical or formal break.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available