“… far the greatest contribution England has made to aesthetic theory…”*

Image: Sir Robert Smirke designed the main Neoclassical façade of the British Museum in 1823.

*In an essay for the Architectural Review of 15.4.54, Nikolaus Pevsner defended that journal’s promotion of the Picturesque:

“…Mr. (Basil) Taylor’s arguments ran approximately as follows: The picturesque, viewed historically, came as a reaction against Neo-Classicism and as a kind of Transitional before Romanticism, ‘related to them as Mannerism is to the High Renaissance and the Baroque’. There is an historical mistake here (Lord Burlington and Pope started Neo-Classicism and picturesque garden layout at exactly the same moment, in exactly the same places, and with exactly the same conviction)- but we can let that stand for now. Mr. Taylor proceeded to define the qualities of the picturesque.

The characteristic qualities of the picturesque, according to Mr. Taylor, are ‘irregularity of form, of colour, of light and shade, of texture,’ and in addition ‘intricacy and sudden variation’. It was an excellent touch to link these qualities to the emergence of historicism in architecture, that is, to the admission of various styles of building all acceptable in their place and their mood, and also to the new belief in nature, according to which ‘nature is virtuous in herself and not only when subject to man’s refinements’.

So far no quarrel. But Mr. Taylor then almost imperceptibly exchanged such terms as varied and irregular against ‘accidental’ and ‘disorderly.’ Here to my mind lies his fundamental error, an error especially fatal in considering the Picturesque today. Its full implication will only gradually come out.

But even if we confine ourselves for the moment to the theorists of 1800, what Uvedale Price and Payne Knight taught was not to let accident have its way or create disorder. Their message was: Keep your eyes open. See, analyze what impresses you, and for what reasons. You will then realize that we have available an infinitely richer body of materials for artistic creation than classical theory would make you believe. Use it in your work. To this day we cannot do better than follow that advice…”

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