See rare Capability Brown-era watercolours of Hampton Court

    The Privy Garden, The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

    Never-before-seen watercolours and drawings of Hampton Court Palace once owned by the Empress Catherine the Great of Russia will go on display at the palace later this month to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown’s birth.

    The Empress and the Gardener, which runs from 28 April to 4 September, features almost 60 intricately detailed views of the palace, park and gardens, vividly capturing Hampton Court at the time when Capability Brown served there as Chief Gardener to King George III.

    Arguably Britain’s most famous landscape gardener, Capability Brown served as Chief Gardener to King George III at Hampton Court Palace from 1764-83. The job came with a handsome salary and residence at the palace, but Brown, who famously transformed landscapes across the country, actually did very little to change the palace’s Baroque formal gardens, choosing instead to preserve them out of respect for his predecessors. 

    Hampton Court Palace, capability brown
    Hampton Court Palace

    The collection had previously lay forgotten in the stores of the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, Russia, for more than two centuries.

    Famously a voracious consumer of foreign culture, Catherine the Great was a great admirer of all things English. Spotting an opportunity, John Spyers, assistant to Brown, sold two albums of his detailed drawings from Brown’s home and workplace, Hampton Court Palace, to the Empress for the huge sum of 1,000 roubles.

    Credit: Richard Lea-Hair
    Credit: Richard Lea-Hair

    Today, the Spyers views are a unique survival: the richest and most revealing record of how Hampton Court gardens looked when Brown was in charge.  Together they are considered one of the most complete visual records of any historic landscape ever captured before the dawn of photography.

    Sebastian Edwards, exhibition curator, said: “We are thrilled to be able to present this remarkable window into a forgotten Georgian era in the palace’s past, in the year when garden lovers up and down the country are celebrating the 300th anniversary of Capability Brown’s birth.”


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