Photos, from top: Euston Hall, Houghton, Castle Howard, Corsham Court.
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B. J. Rahn became acquainted with Lancelot "Capability" Brown as a postgraduate at Columbia, then saw his gardens in England first-hand while conducting her Ph.D. research, and he continues to fascinate her. Brown was an engineer, an architect, an interior designer, and a landscape architect who created scenes of "luxuriant verdure" with Neoclassical references. With all of those abilities, he was truly a polymath of the Georgian era.

Born in 1716 to a middle-class family, Brown learned Latin, Roman history and literature, among other subjects, and this education proved fortuitous. His future clients had studied a similar curriculum so they were all on common ground, so to speak, and he understood their references. Incidentally, he was nicknamed "Capability" by those clients: he would tell the inquiring landowner that a potential commission had "capability" when he was going to accept.

He also was a workaholic: from 1749 until his death in 1783, Brown worked on over 170 properties in England, including Stowe, Packington, and Croome, his first and longest-standing commission. In 1783 over three quarters of England's population was dependent on land for their livelihood, either as landowners or workers. Landowners were practical when it came to land management: their first priority was that it fulfill various functions, from farms to game parks for hunting. Their second priority was that it be beautiful, with views and vistas that could be enjoyed from around the estate. Brown often employed ingenious techniques to hide "unsightly aspects." He also used his aesthetic sense to create spaces that united the indoor and outdoor lives of Georgians during a time when the house and garden were seen as parts of a whole, not separate elements.

Brown believed that landscapes should be experienced actively and adhered to the idea that the ideal point of view in a landscape garden is wherever one is: that the whole space is to be enjoyed from every aspect so that the viewer is "master of all he surveys." Brown died admired by his clients, evidenced by the Earl of Coventry erecting a monument to Brown at Croome. Given his significant talents, abilities, and visionary thinking, the term "artist" doesn't encompass all of Brown's talents: he was truly a Georgian polymath.

For those interested in more about Georgian gardens, B. J. concluded her talk with a recommendation for the recently published The Secret Life of the Georgian Garden: Beautiful Objects and Agreeable Retreats by Kate Felus.

After receiving a Ph.D. at Columbia University, Professor B. J. Rahn, joined the English Department at Hunter College in New York, where she taught, researched, and wrote about 18th century English literature and culture for three decades. Long an admirer of British landscape gardens, she celebrated Lancelot "Capability" Brown's tercentenary in 2016 by visiting his home in the Manor of Fenstanton in Cambridgeshire, touring nine estates with landscapes designed by Brown, and attending a conference sponsored by the Cambridgeshire Gardens Trust.



Cassiobury HouseOn Wednesday, April 5th, the AFGG had an exclusive peek behind the scenes of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's British Galleries, which are currently in year 3 of a 5-year restoration. Several curators spoke and gave fantastic, detailed presentations on the plans for the galleries, as well as on two specific components of the exhibit: the 17th Century staircase from Cassiobury House in Hertfordshire and a section of the 1748 wrought-iron balustrade from London's Chesterfield House. Both houses were demolished as part of the alarming trend that led directly to the formation of the Georgian Group in 1937 with its mission to save remaining great houses in London and around the country from destruction.

Cassiobury staircaseThe Cassiobury staircase was purchased by the Met in 1932 and has been on display in the existing British Galleries. Now it is being restored and reconfigured so the sections will be returned to their original order; unfortunately, because of the ceiling height in the galleries, the staircase can't be in its original configuration, but it will be more accurate than in its former “staircase to nowhere” location. The staircase is comprised of elm, pine, and oak and the balustrade sections feature intricate carving on both sides, originally believed to have been done by Grinling Gibbons but since attributed to Edward Pearce. The preparator shared the story of realizing a section of the balustrade was missing during her research preparations, searching the original documents from 1932, and eventually finding the missing section in an unmarked crate stored in the tunnels of the Met since the acquisition.

Chesterfield staircaseThe enormous wrought-iron balustrade from London's Chesterfield House has been part of the Met's collection for years but has never before been displayed because of its size. A small section will be exhibited and we learned about the detailed examination of microscopic paint chips that led to the discovery that the balustrade was originally painted Prussian blue, a color only in existence for 40 years at the time. The color would have been the height of fashion in 1748, but the exuberant Rococo style of the balustrade put the object itself slightly behind the times. The preparator discussed working for nearly a year to meticulously strip off layers of paint to get down to the original Prussian blue and gilt.

No photos were allowed so please enjoy these historic images of both staircases, and start looking forward to 2019!



AFGG President John Kinnear will be giving a talk on "The Scots Who Built New York", on Monday, April 3 as part of the Landmarks50 celebration, which AFGG has been participating in. For more information, including how to register for tickets, click on the image to the left.

The talk is sponsored by the American-Scottish Foundation.



The AFGG recently spent a wonderful evening on March 7th visiting two Manhattan antique shops: Lerebours Antiques and DeGournay.

Cathy Lerebours, founder of Lerebours Antiques, was our first host and gave a tour of her shop, highlighting some of the particularly special pieces, and answered questions. Though she represents 19th, 20th, and 21st Century continental designs, she did have pieces that overlapped with the Georgian period. Afterward, the group walked around the corner to De Gournay, founded in 1986 by Claud Cecil Gurney, where we learned about the history and labor-intense production of handpainted Chinoiserie wallpaper, the origin of the firm, and their specialty porcelains.



English historian Elizabeth Jamieson spoke to us on Thursday, February 16th about one of her areas of expertise: Horse-drawn carriages and how they can be used to explore what life was like in a country house.

Carriages were the dominant form of transport for the gentry in the 18th and 19th centuries and several models existed (coach, carriage, Victoria, brougham, governess cart, among others) for various purposes, so noblemen may have owned as many as ten. This was a change from the late 17th and early 18th centuries when carriages were a luxury item for royalty and featured heavy, sculptural designs and luxurious materials that signified power and status.

Initially not used for long-distance travel, carriages became more and more practical and popular after certain technological innovations improved conditions. In the 1790s self-lubricating axles allowed for longer distances to be covered with less maintenance and elliptical springs improved seating comfort. In the early 19th century the implementation of macadam meant smoother roadways, greatly improving conditions and making travel more comfortable still.

The great homes of the nobility were designed to be approached by carriage, so featured drives structured partly around maneuvering limitations. The properties also included large stableblocks that housed coachhouses, tack rooms, horses and stables, and staff accommodations for the coachmen and grooms (footmen also worked on the carriages, but lived in-house since their primary role was attending to the family). Some stableblocks were quite large and elaborate and featured interesting architecture. These buildings continue to be of interest today, and some of the surviving examples have been repurposed and provide glimpses of the building's original functions.

As automobiles began to appear in the early 20th Century, carriages became less popular. The carriages themselves were costly and also expensive to maintain, and the taxes (calculated per wheel) were quite high. The auto industry also exerted pressure to eliminate them and few intact examples survive today; those belonging to the Royal Family are some of the most notable examples and continue to be used.

Elizabeth Jamieson is an independent researcher and furniture historian. She is the External Advisor to the National Trust on Carriages and is currently researching and cataloguing their collection of over a hundred horse-drawn vehicles, the results of which are be published by Philip Wilson. She is Course Director of the Attingham Summer School, devising, teaching and leading the eighteen-day course that focuses on the British country house and its contents. In September 2018, Elizabeth will be leading a ten day Attingham Study Program entitled "The Horse and the Country House," based in Suffolk and Yorkshire.



Details about this October's trip to Scotland have been posted on the Calendar page of this site.
Click here for details.



On January 24th, the AFGG had our annual visit to the Winter Antiques Show at the Park Avenue Armory. The event began with a private tour of the show prior to the public's admission.

Mark Jacoby was our guide and gave us insight to many of the special objects at various booths. He also gave us details as to the incredible vetting process that every item goes through. A panel of five experts in each field examines every piece presented in the show. Any not of the highest quality are removed prior to opening day.

Following the tour we had lunch in the Board of Officers Room designed by the Herter Bros., and recently restored. After lunch guests returned to the Armory to continue visiting the many exhibits and booths.

— John Kinnear  

Photo: John Kinnear with Sandra Ayres,
member from California



The new headquarters of the Georgian Group was featured in the January 25, 2017 issue of Country Life magazine, with many fine photographs of the house at 6, Fitzroy Square.




The English Georgian Group now has a new website. American members should know that they can participate in events when in England.



Bettina Harden, a member of the Georgian Group’s Executive and Educational Committees, spoke to the AFGG on December 1st. The event was held at the New York Arsenal and those who attended were rewarded with Bettina’s fascinating talk, “Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown: Creating the Peak of Perfection.” Before starting her lecture, Bettina shared that it was a rare privilege to speak to the AFGG, adding that the Georgian Group highly values the US organization’s energy and efforts.

This year marks the 300th anniversary of Brown’s birth and has been widely observed in the UK. Brown (1716–1783) designed over 170 gardens in England and Wales, including Dinefwr, Weston Park (recently visited by AFGG members), Compton Verney, Blenheim Palace, and served as George III’s chief gardener at Hampton Court. He continues to inspire and is said to have revolutionized the British garden with his belief that a landscape should provide for every need of the great house while also cohering and looking elegant. After extensive research, including an MA in garden history and 25 years of visiting gardens, Bettina admitted to developing “much admiration” for the visionary Brown.

Gardens began to move away from the highly structured Baroque style in the 1730s and became more relaxed and less formally organized. Brown, the son of a yeoman farmer, got his first job as a gardener’s boy in 1732 and in 1740 was hired to work on William Kent’s design at Stowe, which greatly influenced him. Eventually, he set up his own firm and pioneered his signature landscape formula: a Brown garden always had multiple views visible from a swiftly moving coach or boat drifting by. His work focused the eye where he wanted it to go; he would use trees and plantings to set off buildings and create pleasing vistas that might include the house, deer park, lake or river, all meant to be seen from different angles along the walks and drives. No effort was too great in the service of a beautiful view: he once moved an entire village so the physical scene matched with his vision.

His leisured landscapes were for pleasure but they had a convenient aspect of financial practicality: Brown’s more natural, harmonious designs required less maintenance and also allowed for shooting and fishing, and lakes where “armadas” could recreate battles, all of which attracted guests. Sheep and other livestock might also graze freely on a Brown garden, a further cost-savings that also contributed to the view (shepherds were known to strategically time the passing of a flock for the entertainment of guests, among other theatrical touches).

Brown became known for surveying estate grounds from horseback and worked non-stop: he continued inspections of estates for five years after their completion. He actively designed until his death in 1783 and was deeply mourned by many clients with whom he developed close friendships. His influence can still be seen in the US, as well: Thomas Jefferson visited a number of his projects in England and incorporated Brown’s ideas into his landscape at Monticello. Bettina concluded by saying that Brown’s work was “the finest expression of landscape beauty and considered to be the peak of perfection.”

A lively Q&A was followed by a reception with wine and snacks. For those of you who missed it, or if your curiosity about Brown is piqued: AFGG member BJ Rahn will be speaking about Lancelot “Capability” Brown and his work as an architect and engineer, in addition to his landscape designs, on April 19, 2017 at 6:30 at the Colonial Dames of America; sign-up information will be available soon.

To learn more about historical gardens in the UK, Bettina Harden’s book, The Most Glorious Prospect, will be published on May 18, 2017. It reveals the history of garden visiting in Wales from 1639–1900 through the use of travellers’ letters, diaries, and tours.



Several participants returned from what has become AFGG's signature annual event: the Great Houses and Gardens tour in the UK.

This year, 30 attendees from around the US, the Cayman Islands, and the UK joined the AFGG for a customized tour to England and Wales, organized by Sue Bradbury and Caroline Rimell of the Anglo-American Committee of the Georgian Group. Historic Weston Park, from the 17th Century, was the group's home base for five days of visits to some of the Welsh border region's exclusive private estates. Because of the long-standing influence of the Georgian Group, the travelers were granted access to homes and gardens not generally open to the public, exploring grand architecture, interior design, and history. Gareth Williams, Weston Park's curator and architectural historian, provided detailed information on the families and their homes.

The tour began with a Sunday cocktail reception at the Georgian Group's headquarters at 6 Fitzroy Square, a 1792 house by architect Robert Adam, where a welcome letter from Georgian Group Secretary David McKinstry was read. Travelers set off the next morning for Weston Park and a day of exploring the house and grounds. Excursions to Iscoyd Park, Combermere Abbey, Preston Hall, Mawley Hall, Oakly Park, the village of Ludlow, Willey Park, Whitton Hall, Loton Park, and Compton Verney art gallery followed over the next four days.

Hosts were the estate owners or their children, representing the latest generation to care for the property. This opportunity to socialize, and in some instances share luncheon, with the owners provided unique insights into contemporary life in great historical homes, the generations that shaped the estate today and into the future. Should anyone forget people are indeed living in these homes, there were reminders: mixed in with ancestral portraits and antiques were family photos, other personal objects, and dogs. Additionally, the group had the good fortune to be joined by the Georgian Group's former President, Lord Crathorne, for a portion of the tour to add first-hand knowledge about life within Britain's great houses.

The Georgian Group's core mandate is historical building preservation. Financial assistance from AFGG, including proceeds from this trip, plays an integral part in its preservation campaigns. That relationship with the historical preservation community helps grant AFGG this tremendous level of access.

Mark your calendars for mid-October 2017! Next year's tour (Scotland is under consideration) is sure to be special, as 2017 marks the Georgian Group's 80th anniversary. The tour may be limited in number, given the nature of the homes visited; details will be shared as soon as available.



Thursday, December 8, 6:00 – 8:00
Annual General Meeting and Reception
The Baker House, 67 East 93rd Street

Celebrate the holiday season with AFGG!

Our holiday party and annual general meeting will be held Thursday, December 8th at 6pm at the beautiful George F. Baker Houses in Carnegie Hill, the highest point in Manhattan. We'll celebrate the season and have the opportunity to explore the immaculately preserved 1920s townhouse designed by Delano & Aldrich and built for one of New York's most important bankers. Our event will be in what is now the private home of Richard H. Jenrette; his foundation, Classical American Homes Preservation Trust, is also based here.

Please join us—we'd love to see you! We'll raise a glass and share a bite, hear about AFGG's upcoming plans, and spend some time together in a rarefied setting.

A note about George F. Baker: George F. Baker and J. P. Morgan, close friends and frequent allies, were America's most prominent bankers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Mr. Baker was the long-time Chairman and principal stockholder of The First National Bank of New York, which later became First National City Bank and then Citibank, as it is called today. Mr. Baker was known for his philanthropy, including building the entire original campus of the Harvard Business School in Boston during the 1920s. (credit: Classical American Homes Preservation Trust)

Business/festive attire requested.

$65 for AFGG members
$30 for American Young Georgians
$75 for non-members

Click on the links above to pay online with PayPal (slight surcharge), or pay by check made out and mailed to:
American Friends of the Georgian Group, 20 West 44th Street, New York, NY 10036



The new film, "Denial", starring Rachel Weisz and Tom Wilkinson, about a writer sued for libel by a Holocaust denier, features shots of both the interior and exterior of the Georgian Group's London headquarters. The Fitzroy Square building is depicted as villain David Irving's home.

— Nancy Hinkel  



Paula Bennett gave a wonderful talk about her new book, Imagining Ichabod, on October 4th. The evening was co-sponsored with the Colonial Dames of America and held in their acoustically ideal auditorium; the evening was warm so the door to the Mt. Vernon Hotel garden was open for anyone to take a peek.

Paula discussed how she became captivated by a photo in a book about colonial farmhouses she happened upon at Rizzoli's on 57th Street. Some time after that, she and her husband, Harvey, fell in love with Maine and eventually purchased the General Ichabod Goodwin House, dated 1797, the end of New England's Georgian Period. They felt particularly drawn to the house's keeping room, with its 8' by 5' walk-in hearth, and soon began decorating the space with authentic decor and learning how to cook on the spit-roast crane and beehive oven.

On their first night in the home, Paula described climbing into bed and thinking, "What was life like for that family then?". Soon, she was researching not just the history of the house, but also the Goodwin family that had originally occupied it. In particular, Paula was curious about the date of the house, finding details that hinted it was from earlier than 1797. Much research, some luck, and five years worth of archeological digging in the front yard eventually proved Paula's hunch correct: the house had been built in the 1740s, though most of it had been destroyed in a fire in 1795, except for the keeping room. As for the family, Capitan Goodwin was born in 1700 and his son, Major General Goodwin, was born in 1743 and took over the homestead upon in father's death and maintained it until his own in 1829. Both men brushed elbows with significant battles during their lifetimes.

Paula and Harvey went on to furnish and decorate the rest of the house with period-accurate elements and would have 18th Century Weekends, when they turned off phones and lights, set the heat as low as they dared to keep the pipes from freezing, and spent the weekend existing in a different time.

— Nancy Hinkel  



The AFGG has been participating in the celebration of 50th anniversary of the New York City Landmarks Commission. Landmarks 50+ is the group that is organizing the events listed on our calendar page. These events are taking place throughout the City.



You might like "At Home With the Georgians"

From Amazon.com: Prize winning author Professor Amanda Vickery sets her sights on the golden age of homemaking - the 18th Century Georgian era. Through dramatic reconstructions, she traces the story of the unique relationship Britons enjoy with their homes, arguing that the Georgians' obsession with decor helped to redefine the parts played by men and women in British society. Characters from all walks of life, including gentlewomen in their stately mansions and servants with only a locking box to call their own, are brought to life as Amanda reveals the private diaries, intimate letters and curious artifacts of the age where the modern notion of a 'home' was born.



Dear Members:

Here are the details of the October trip to the Welsh borders. We will be staying at Weston Park, the Bradford Family Seat. For those of you have stayed here before, you can attest to how special it is; and for those who have not, it will be a memorable experience.

2016 is the tercentenary celebration of Capability Brown's birth. He was the most famous landscape architect of the 18th century, and Weston Park is a great example of his work. We will be guests at many nearby estates that are not open to the public, and shall return each evening for dinner at Weston Park.

The trip is limited to about twenty participants, so a timely decision to take part is encouraged.

Regards,

John Kinnear
President, AFGG

A detailed trip brochure is available by clicking here.



Dear Members,

First of all, Happy New Year. I hope you all had a good Christmas and are now recovering. As you may have realised, the magazine is slightly delayed this year but will probably be with you mid-January.

As you all have been regular travellers and loyal supporters of our events and visits, I thought I would highlight a few things that might interest you in new programme for 2016:

Encombe - Those of you who came on our Dorset tour may have been aware we couldn't visit one particularly interesting house near Kimmeridge - Encombe. At the time, the family were busy so couldn't have us but they very kindly offered another date: Thursday, 16 June. This visit will be popular and spaces are limited so as soon as events go online, do book early if you would like to come.

Northumberland Tour - The trip to Northumberland is taking shape and is likely to be mid-May. Staying at the beautiful Smedmore House on our Dorset visit was very well received, and over-subscribed, so I am currently looking into hiring one of several historic houses in Northumberland for our exclusive use - the most appealing of which is a 14th century pele tower. As well as a selection of Georgian houses, we will be seeing a number of earlier fortified houses and castles. If you are interested in coming and would like to receive details when available, please let me know. And if there is anything in particular you would like to see or if you know of any private houses who might let us visit, please let me know and I will see what can be arranged.

Syon - Study Day

Thurs, 3 March

This study day will be led by Adam expert, Dr Adriano Aymonino (who spoke at our Adam Symposium) who knows the house well and has researched the patronage and collecting of the 1st Duke and Duchess of Northumberland (to be published by Yale University Press). The house will be closed to the public so we will have exclusive access and will tour the house and its collections with expert guides.

Talk & Supper - Something I have wanted to do for some time - have supper here after an evening talk. We have two especially good lectures in the programme which will be followed by supper:

Tuesday, 16 Feb - Prof Geoffrey Tyack will take about Nash country houses

Wed, 24 Feb - Richard Wheeler will talk about Vice & Virtue in the garden or, as he prefers, 'The Choice of Hercules'

Both of these talks will be very good indeed and both speakers are great company and will join us for supper afterwards which should be great fun. A 3 course dinner is an optional extra, bookable online in the usual way but places will be limited and offered on a first-come first-served basis.

If you have any queries, please let me know. And if you have any particular interests or ideas for visits that you would like to do, please let me know. Feedback from our members is very important so please don't hesitate to get in touch.


Look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes,

Tina



On Sunday, August 16 American Friends President John Kinnear and Vice President Gary Dycus motored to Lenox, Massachusetts to visit The Mount, home of the American author Edith Wharton (1862-1937). It was a perfect New England summer day, and The Mount and its gardens sparkled. Our travelers enjoyed lunch on the house's terrace overlooking the gardens, a one-hour guided tour of the gardens and a one-hour tour of the house. The carriage house awaits restoration.

As the visitor guide points out, Wharton "…was born into the privileged world of old New York, where, for women, social expectations eclipsed intellectual ambition." Essentially self-educated, she was the first woman awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (1921, The Age of Innocence) and the first woman to receive an honorary doctorate of letters from Yale University. She wrote over 40 books in 40 years, including novels, short stories, poetry, and authoritative works on travel, architecture, gardens, and interior design.

Wharton designed and built The Mount in 1902, creating an autobiographical house that showcased her architectural and landscape design theories. The Mount was built quickly with stuccoed frame construction for speed and economy. During her years at The Mount, "she produced some of her most enduring works…"

Belton house (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belton_House) in Lincolnshire England, built in 1685, was the seat of the Brownlow & Cust families. The Mount owes much of its design to Belton, which is considered to be the classic English country house, and is one of the finest examples of Carolean or Restoration architecture. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Restoration_style.

The form owes much to Palladio's villa designs, which became a model for many country estates in the Britain, Ireland and America. Some differences in The Mount stand out and make perfect sense. The projecting wings were omitted which allow the main first floor rooms to have access to the continuous terrace and to have views to the garden and lake beyond. The servants' quarters are an asymmetrical wing set back and lower than the main house to maintain the symmetry of the principal structure.

Ogden Codman, Jr., although not the architect for The Mount, collaborated with Edith on the decoration and furnishings. Their lifelong friendship produced The Decoration of Houses (published in 1897 and still in print) which details absolute good taste in every setting. Ogden and Edith both spent about half their lives in France, Ogden from 1920 at his home Villa Leopolda. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ogden_Codman,_Jr.

Wharton and her husband left The Mount and moved to France in 1911. She later divorced, and spent the remainder of her life in France.

See www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/bday/0124.html for more information about Wharton's life and work. Edith died in 1937 at her home in Saint-Brice-Sous-Forêt. The Mount went through several owners, was eventually acquired in 1971 by Edith Wharton Restoration, Inc.

Georgian Group members finding themselves in New England in the spring, summer or fall might well enjoy a visit to The Mount. More information about The Mount is at www.EdithWharton.org.

Those familiar with Wharton and her milieu might also enjoy an imagined report from her on visiting the Starbucks coffee shop recently installed in the street level space of her childhood home in New York at 14 West 23rd Street. See http://the-toast.net/2015/05/26/edith-wharton-reviews-the-starbucks-located-at-her-childhood-home/.

By Gary Dycus and John Kinnear

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The American Friends of the Georgian Group is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization that depends on subscriptions and tax-deductible donations for its support.

The American Friends of the Georgian Group
20 West 44th St. #508, New York, NY 10036
(212) 991-9191 • office@americangeorgians.org