A French Fix

I have been out and about again. I was invited to join members of the Capability Brown 300 Steering Group on a recce to see how the French have celebrated the 400th anniversary of the birth of their great landscape designer, André Le Nôtre and what lessons could be learnt for the celebration of Brown’s achievements in 2016.

On the way to the first exhibition at the municipal library in Versailles, we passed the most extraordinary display of computer generated images on the public wall of Le Potager du Roi. It was worth the trip just for this; let’s hope they come to the UK. The exhibition of Le Nôtre’s Labyrinthe de Versailles was no less intriguing except that part of the exhibition was clips from films like The Shining and Harry Potter. These included scenes with mazes and labyrinths which, without exception, were sinister or terrifying; it will be some time before I go back in a maze.

The main exhibition at Versailles was erudite and scholarly but all in French. We had the benefit of an English guide but if you go, an audio guide will be essential. Some people thought there were too many plans but for me there could not be enough; they were enchanting. The French authorities only allow original plans to be on display for eight weeks so a new set will appear in January. The last room looked at Le Nôtre’s legacy, his influence continuing, it was claimed,Wholesale NFL Jerseys through to the layout of Washington DC in the US (possibly) and even Ground Zero in New York (mmm….).

The Chateau de Vaux le Vicomte, which is 55km south east of Paris, is still very grand but easier to understand then Versailles particularly as their exhibition had an English translation. There was also a superb model with lighting effects that provided a clear explanation of how the design was developed. Le Nôtre had an exceptional understanding of topography and how it could be manipulated to create a landscape full of optical illusion and surprise.

We know Capability Brown was aware of Le Nôtre’s work but it seems the anti-French sentiment at the time was so strong that whatever Le Nôtre did, Brown was likely to do the opposite. The most outstanding memory from the visit was the overwhelming confirmation that the French totally embrace Andre le Nôtre, a landscape designer, as part of their mainstream culture. He is considered one of their ‘greats’ and accorded due respect. We need to elevate the profile of Capability Brown to give him the recognition he deserves. One of the steering group’s aims is to get people out and about looking at Brown landscapes. We need to be part of that, explaining how the designs worked and how we, as 21st century designers, contribute to our modern landscapes.

More information can be found here

and here.

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