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Lancelot Brown and the Capability Men

Landscape Revolution in Eighteenth-century England

Lancelot “Capability” Brown is often thought of as the innovative genius who single-handedly pioneered a new, naturalistic style of landscape design, but he was in fact only one of many landscape designers in Georgian England. Published to commemorate the three hundredth anniversary of Brown’s birth, this book casts important new light on his world-renowned work, his eventful life, and the wider and robust world of landscape design in Georgian England.
            David Brown and Tom Williamson argue that Brown was one of the most successful designers of his time working in a style that was otherwise widespread—and that it was his skill with this style, and not his having invented it, that linked his name to it. The authors look closely at Brown’s design business and the products he offered clients, showing that his design packages helped define the era’s aesthetic. They compare Brown’s business to those of similar designers such as the Adam brothers, Thomas Chippendale, and Josiah Wedgwood, and they contextualize Brown’s work within the wider contexts of domestic planning and the rise of neoclassicism. Beautifully illustrated throughout, this book celebrates the work of a master designer who was both a product and harbinger of the modern world.

352 pages | 60 color plates, 65 halftones | 7 1/2 x 9 3/4 | © 2016

Architecture: British Architecture

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“In this beautifully illustrated, thoroughly researched volume, the authors elucidate the social, cultural, political, and economic context within which Brown operated. His predecessors, imitators, rivals, and successors are all painstakingly documented to provide a rich composite portrait of the many influences at work in transforming the English landscape. Brown was indeed instrumental in ushering the landscape business into the modern era, but he was part of an intricate network of patrons, contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers. Many had different goals, tastes, and time lines. At times, Brown’s contributions were more subtle and his transformations less total than reputed. This book is an important contribution to the history of landscape design. Recommend.”


"In the cluster of publications on Lancelot 'Capability' Brown coinciding with the tercentenary of his birth in 2016, Brown and Williamson’s contribution stands out in its attempt to place the man and his oeuvre firmly into context. This should be essential reading for anyone wishing to understand the Brownian style of landscapes. For, as the authors capably illustrate, Brown was only one of many practitioners 'contriving improvements' in that manner in the second half of the eighteenth century. This book takes in a wide arc to explain the designs of Brown and his contemporaries—the aptly named 'Capability Men' of the title. . . . An enjoyable and highly informative read."

Landscape History

"The authors primary goal is to allow students and scholars to distinguish the work of Brown from that of his rivals and followers. . . . There are many plans by other designers reproduced here, a contribution that on its own establishes the permanent usefulness of this book."


“This book sheds important new light on [Brown’s] world-renowned work, eventful life, and the new ‘naturalistic’ style of landscape design that became popular in Georgian England. . . . This beautiful, innovative book, illustrated with more than 120 images, shows that Brown’s style, like the organization of his business, was the product of a distinctly modern world.”

Welsh Border Life

“This is an utterly fresh and yet very disciplined account of Brown and his ‘men’. It will be an invaluable guide for readers who want to see a famous figure in contexts that extend their understanding of him. This is a book to reread, and a reference book that not just garden historians will want on their shelves, but historians of the eighteenth-century culture of England and its landscapes.”

John Dixon Hunt, author of "The Making of Place"

“This is a most enjoyable and important book. It is the first to assess Brown’s landscape revolution within the context of its time and to analyze the contribution to the eighteenth-century landscape style of his protégés and rivals. It presents a rounded picture of the way these practitioners responded to the directions of patrons to create a new template for the landscaped park. It also acknowledges that this move towards a more open, minimalist style began with the work of Bridgeman and Kent, and argues convincingly that many other landscape styles, especially the geometric and the Rococo, hung on well into Brown’s career and, indeed, were still being promoted after his death. All this analysis is set intelligently against the social, cultural, political, agrarian, and architectural developments in the period. I have no doubt that it will prove to be the most important book to come out on Brown during the tercentenary.”

Timothy Mowl, University of Bristol

Table of Contents

  1. The World of Mr Brown
  2. Gardens and Society, 1700-1750
  3. The ‘Brownian’ Landscape
  4. The Brown Connection
  5. Landscape and Modernity
  6. Alternatives and Oppositions
Conclusion: Afterlife and Legacy
Photo Acknowledgements

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