Hollar’s Fashionable Landscapes

Wenceslaus Hollar, Self-portrait, 1647 University of Toronto

It’s strange how much of our visual knowledge of what mid-17thc England was like comes through the work of non-English artists, like Van Dyke  and Wenceslaus Hollar.  Whereas most people have heard of Van Dyke  I’m not so sure if the same is true of Hollar. This is partly because Van Dyke painted large flashy canvases portraying  the court and aristocratic world before the Civil War whereas Hollar usually worked on a miniature scale. Yet he  created prints and drawings of amazing accuracy and detail even if they  require careful study to appreciate his talent.  His work also required great technical skill but, because  printmaking smacks of artisanry rather than artistry, it has traditionally been considered a lesser art form.

However Hollar was the greatest engraver and print maker of the 17thc, indeed, arguably amongst the greatest of all time, and his work tells its own story. His range of interests and output was vast, and about 400 drawings 3000 different etchings and many sketches  and watercolours also survive. Between them they provide an amazing insight into 17thc life.

Todays’ post is a look at some of his  fashion prints, particularly a series of four full length figures he produced in  1643 and 1644, one for each season, and before you wonder why it sounds as if I’m intending to tell you about 17thc women’s clothes on a garden history blog take a look at the backgrounds… Continue reading

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Lord & Lady Penzance show their breeding…

Todays post is about a senior Victorian divorce and ecclesiastical court judge who  was a fellow of the Royal Geographical and Anthropological Societies,  and, believe it or not,  a member of the Cannibal Club.  He also thought that Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare and apparently had more than a passing interest in pornography.  So perhaps not the sort of person you’d expect to read about here, and especially not over your breakfast on a Saturday morning.  But today’s star turn was all of those things and more – and in particular  he was a keen gardener.

He was Lord Penzance and you might recall his name from nursery catalogues in connection with rampant thorny roses.

Lord Penzance

So read on to discover more about his interest in the queen of flowers but not the other things. [ However I’ve added some  references at the end  if you want to pursue them further under your own steam.]

Lady Penzance



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A Very British Revolution

The front cover of the guide book

51 years ago in May and June 1968 there was  a revolution  in Britain.  It did not include  rioting students on the streets as in Paris but  took place in the grounds of one of Britain’s grandest stately homes, Syon Park in Middlesex.   55 acres of the Duke of Northumberland’s  estate was set aside “for the establishment of a National Centre for Gardening, where all that is best in British horticulture will be on permanent display.” It was Britain’s first garden centre.

Plans for this had been announced in 1965 when the 10th Duke went into partnership with ICI.  They were soon joined in this venture by Percy Thrower, “known to millions of people in Britain as a broadcaster and writer on gardening topics” who became  a director of The Gardening Centre Ltd, and by Roy Hay, gardening correspondent of The Times, who chaired the advisory committee to set it up.  Continue reading

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Lawnmowers on Legs

from Country Life, 25th march 1954

As regular readers will know many of these posts are sparked by a chance discovery while researching something completely unrelated. Todays is certainly one of those odd quirks of fate.

I was looking at an article in a Country Life from 1954, but there on the following page was a much more intriguing short piece, which once I’d read it,  I knew I had to follow  up one day. Then I forgot.  But a few days ago I saw its counterpart, also in Country Life, from  some 50 years earlier, in 1903.  So that was that it. I had to down tools on everything else and get researching kangaroos  and wallabies in the British garden!

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The Bucks stopped here…

detail from A Prospect of Carmarthen

For about three decades in the mid-18thc two  brothers from Yorkshire, Samuel and  Nathaniel Buck, toured Britain every summer. They sketched towns, landscapes, estates and antiquities, and every winter they turned their sketches into engravings for publication.

Their work is an important source of evidence of what there was, and what has gone – including gardens – but it is also an important factor in understanding the development of the whole idea of what it meant to be British in the 18thc.

The Buck Brothers, 1774, British Museum

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