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Paul Mellon Centre: “Accommodating the Picturesque: The Country Houses of James Wyatt, John Nash and Sir John Soane, 1793–1815”

January 29, 2021 @ 6:00 am - 7:00 am

A Research Lunch event by Rebecca Tropp
Whilst much has been written about the development of Picturesque theory at the end of the eighteenth century, regarding both the landscape itself and prescriptions for the sitting of buildings within it, these discussions have generally been limited to two-dimensional snapshots, such as those represented in Humphry Repton’s Red Books. This paper, based upon ongoing research for a doctoral dissertation, seeks to push beyond the visual to investigate some of the physical implications and repercussions of the Picturesque ideal – the intersection between the visual two-dimensional picture-plane and the practical three-dimensional architectural response – on the design and construction of country houses at the turn of the nineteenth century.
Focusing on the work of James Wyatt (1746–1813), John Nash (1752–1835), and Sir John Soane (1753–1837), and limiting investigation to those country houses designed during the pivotal period from 1793 to 1815, the paper investigates two specific implications related to the lowering of the principal floor from piano nobile to ground level, as part of a general repositioning of the house within the landscape. First is the use of level changes within the ground floor – the inclusion of a few steps up or down in entrance halls or between rooms, as distinct from staircases between floors – considering some possible reasons for their incorporation and the purposes they served. Second, and sometimes connected to these level changes, is an increase in permeability between interior and exterior, through the use of full-length windows, loggias and attached conservatories – social/botanical spaces that were first incorporated into the design of the house during this period. Taken together, these developments furthered the evolving relationship between house and landscape and, as a result, the experience of moving through and between those spaces.