Jane Austen, Humphry Repton & The Pierpont Morgan

A post to merely to remind you that the exhibition at the Pierpont Morgan Library & Museum on Romantic Gardens: Nature, Art, and Landscape Design will be there only until August 29, 2010:

Scenic vistas, winding paths, bucolic meadows, and rustic retreats suitable for solitary contemplation are just a few of the alluring naturalistic features of gardens created in the Romantic spirit. Landscape designers of the Romantic era sought to express the inherent beauty of nature in opposition to the strictly symmetrical, formal gardens favored by aristocrats of the old regime.
The Romantics looked to nature as a liberating force, a source of sensual pleasure, moral instruction, religious insight, and artistic inspiration. Eloquent exponents of these ideals, they extolled the mystical powers of nature and argued for more sympathetic styles of garden design in books, manuscripts, and drawings, now regarded as core documents of the Romantic Movement. Their cult of inner beauty and their view of the outside world dominated European thought during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
 [from the Morgan website; the Catalogue of the exhibition is available here


Jane Austen, as her brother Henry Austen writes in his Biographical Notice [included in the Northanger Abbey and Persuasion edition of 1819]:

“was a warm and judicious admirer of landscape, both in nature and on canvass.  At a very early age she was enamoured of Gilpin on the Picturesque; and she seldom changed her opinions either on books or men.”  

 And so just how did Austen express her opinions on these matters?

From Northanger Abbey, ch. 14: 

Jane Odiwe's Beechen Cliff

They were viewing the country with the eyes of persons accustomed to drawing, and decided on its capability of being formed into pictures, with all the eagerness of real taste. Here Catherine was quite lost. She knew nothing of drawing — nothing of taste… she confessed and lamented her want of knowledge, declared that she would give anything in the world to be able to draw; and a lecture on the picturesque immediately followed, in which his instructions were so clear that she soon began to see beauty in everything admired by him, and her attention was so earnest that he became perfectly satisfied of her having a great deal of natural taste. He talked of foregrounds, distances, and second distances — side–screens and perspectives — lights and shades; and Catherine was so hopeful a scholar that when they gained the top of Beechen Cliff, she voluntarily rejected the whole city of Bath as unworthy to make part of a landscape. Delighted with her progress, and fearful of wearying her with too much wisdom at once, Henry suffered the subject to decline, and by an easy transition from a piece of rocky fragment and the withered oak which he had placed near its summit, to oaks in general, to forests, the enclosure of them, waste lands, crown lands and government, he shortly found himself arrived at politics; and from politics, it was an easy step to silence….   

[The lovely watercolor of Henry, Miss Tilney and Catherine is from Jane Odiwe’s post on Beechen Cliff ]


Edward Ferrars in Sense & Sensibility, ch. 18:

“You must not inquire too far, Marianne — remember, I have no knowledge in the picturesque, and I shall offend you by my ignorance and want of taste, if we come to particulars. I shall call hills steep, which ought to be bold! surfaces strange and uncouth, which ought to be irregular and rugged; and distant objects out of sight, which ought only to be indistinct through the soft medium of a hazy atmosphere. You must be satisfied with such admiration as I can honestly give. I call it a very fine country — the hills are steep, the woods seem full of fine timber, and the valley looks comfortable and snug — with rich meadows and several neat farm houses scattered here and there. It exactly answers my idea of a fine country, because it unites beauty with utility — and I dare say it is a picturesque one too, because you admire it; I can easily believe it to be full of rocks and promontories, grey moss and brush wood, but these are all lost on me. I know nothing of the picturesque.” …    I like a fine prospect, but not on picturesque principles. I do not like crooked, twisted, blasted trees. I admire them much more if they are tall, straight and flourishing. I do not like ruined, tattered cottages. I am not fond of nettles, or thistles, or heath blossoms. I have more pleasure in a snug farm-house than a watch-tower — and a troop of tidy, happy villagers please me better than the finest banditti in the world.”   

[I love this passage from Sense & Sensibility.  Edward is bantering with Marianne, and one sees here a relaxed and humorous Edward – he is comfortable with Marianne and so much more himself – he is more stilted and uncomfortable with Elinor because of the feelings he has for her – this passage has always given me hope of the real Edward when the obstacle of Lucy is removed from the equation – and thankfully she is!]…


And let’s not leave out Mr. Rushworth and his efforts to “improve” Sotherton!  Mansfield Park, ch. 6: [image from Molland’s]

Mr. Rushworth at the gate at Sotherton

He [Mr. Rushworth] had been visiting a friend in the neighbouring county, and that friend having recently had his grounds laid out by an improver, Mr. Rushworth was returned with his head full of the subject, and very eager to be improving his own place in the same way; and though not saying much to the purpose, could talk of nothing else. The subject had been already handled in the drawing–room; it was revived in the dining–parlour…

 “I wish you could see Compton,” said he; “it is the most complete thing! I never saw a place so altered in my life. I told Smith I did not know where I was. The approach now, is one of the finest things in the country: you see the house in the most surprising manner. I declare, when I got back to Sotherton yesterday, it looked like a prison— quite a dismal old prison.”

“Oh, for shame!” cried Mrs. Norris. “A prison indeed? Sotherton Court is the noblest old place in the world.”

“It wants improvement, ma’am, beyond anything. I never saw a place that wanted so much improvement in my life; and it is so forlorn that I do not know what can be done with it…I must try to do something with it,” said Mr. Rushworth, “but I do not know what. I hope I shall have some good friend to help me.”

“Your best friend upon such an occasion,” said Miss Bertram calmly, “would be Mr. Repton, I imagine.”

“That is what I was thinking of. As he has done so well by Smith, I think I had better have him at once. His terms are five guineas a day.”  …

After a short interruption Mr. Rushworth began again. “Smith’s place is the admiration of all the country; and it was a mere nothing before Repton took it in hand. I think I shall have Repton.”

“Mr. Rushworth,” said Lady Bertram, “if I were you, I would have a very pretty shrubbery. One likes to get out into a shrubbery in fine weather.” …

… Mr. Rushworth, however, though not usually a great talker, had still more to say on the subject next his heart. “Smith has not much above a hundred acres altogether in his grounds, which is little enough, and makes it more surprising that the place can have been so improved. Now, at Sotherton we have a good seven hundred, without reckoning the water meadows; so that I think, if so much could be done at Compton, we need not despair. There have been two or three fine old trees cut down, that grew too near the house, and it opens the prospect amazingly, which makes me think that Repton, or anybody of that sort, would certainly have the avenue at Sotherton down: the avenue that leads from the west front to the top of the hill, you know,”

Fanny, who was sitting on the other side of Edmund, exactly opposite Miss Crawford, and who had been attentively listening, now looked at him, and said in a low voice—

“Cut down an avenue! What a pity! Does it not make you think of Cowper? ‘Ye fallen avenues, once more I mourn your fate unmerited.’”

He smiled as he answered, “I am afraid the avenue stands a bad chance, Fanny.”


[Humphry Repton, from Wikipedia]

The exhibit at the Morgan includes two of Humphry Repton’s Red Books.  Repton [1752-1818] was the leading landscape architect of his day, as Mr. Rushworth so notes – his Red Books were the compilations of his observations in words and watercolors of his landscape plans for a client’s property, and included the use of overlays for a before-and-after scenario.  – The Morgan has made available an online page-by-page view of two of these books:  The Hatchlands and Ferney Hall. 

Hatchlands Red Book

Ferney Hall Red Book

and a view of Hatchlands Park today [Ferney Hall was replaced in 1856 with a Victorian mansion and has recently been restored]


[A short note here also on William Gilpin: please visit Austenonly where Julie has posted a recent article for the Austenprose P&P event on Gilpin and Austen that covers this subject quite nicely!]

Gilpin first introduced the term “picturesque 1782 in his Observations on the River Wye, and Several Parts of South Wales, etc. Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty; made in the Summer of the Year 1770, a book that outlined for travelers in England a way to view the beauties of the country based on his rules of the picturesque.  Austen was very familiar with Gilpin’s writings – as seen above, both Henry Tilney and Edward Ferrars comment on and satirize his theories. And the trip taken by the Gardiners and Elizabeth in Pride & Prejudice closely follows a travelogue set forth by Gilpin, and so to Elizabeth relies on Gilpin to escape a walk with Mr. Darcy and the Bingley sisters:

But Elizabeth, who had not the least inclination to remain with them, laughingly answered, —

   “No, no; stay where you are. You are charmingly grouped, and appear to uncommon advantage. The picturesque would be spoilt by admitting a fourth. Good-bye.”  

[Pride & Prejudice, ch. 10]


Further Reading: [all Google Books sources are full-text]

 The two must-have books for your Austen Library on Jane Austen and the landscape:

Alistair Duckworth.  The Improvement of the Estate:  A Study Of Jane Austen’s Novels.  Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins U Press, 1971; reprinted in paperback, 1994  –  brilliant 

Mavis Batey.  Jane Austen and the English Landscape.  London:  Barn Elms, 1996   –  absolutely lovely!

Humphry Repton:

William Gilpin  and the “Picturesque”:

[Posted by Deb] 

5 thoughts on “Jane Austen, Humphry Repton & The Pierpont Morgan

    • I wish the same, Laurel Ann – but alas! no trips to NY City for me in the next month – the online links will have to do, unless I cannot resist getting that catalogue…hmmm…


    • Yes, Jane, another of your lovely watercolors! thank you for the use of it! – and I cannot make the exbitition either – no plans for NYCity in the next month – might just have to buy the catalogue.
      Thanks for visiting!


  1. Pingback: Humphry Repton: Landscape Gardener and Jane Austen Inspirer « Life Takes Lemons

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