Online Exhibits@Yale

Lancelot "Capability" Brown

Portrait of Lancelot 'Capability' Brown

 Born to Grace Nature, and her works complete;
 With all that’s beautiful, sublime and great!
 For him each Muse enwreathes the Laurel Crown,
 And consecrate to Fame immortal Brown.

—Unknown

Although Lancelot Brown came from a humble background and began his career as a professional gardener at age sixteen, by 1751 he had established his reputation and was operating independently. Riding on horseback across an estate, Brown could capture a sense of place, while noting the potential “capabilities of improvement,” earning him the sobriquet “Capability” Brown.

Brown’s great achievement was his skill in transforming streams into large bodies of water, turning marshy land into rolling hills, and imitating nature so closely that the result was undistinguishable from nature. Trees were arranged in skillfully laid clumps, while pathways and drives snaked throughout the estate to provide a series of awe-inspiring views and vistas littered with glorious architectural buildings.

Brown married these abilities with unprecedented business acumen, talent as a builder, and an uncanny ability for what he described as “place-making.” It is estimated that Brown designed and executed more than 1gardens and landscapes.

 

Lancelot "Capability" Brown