This summer is the 300th anniversary of the birth of the great landscape gardener Capability Brown.
To mark this key event the Mercer Art Gallery has commissioned an exhibition of new work by contemporary artist Kate Whiteford OBE that looks at the way Capability Brown transformed the English landscape through the manipulation of scale and perspective. False Perspectives, which is funded by Arts Council England, will see the gallery transformed by Whiteford’s dramatic large-scale images printed on to the walls of the gallery.
Whiteford has drawn inspiration from the oak trees originally planted in the 18th century by Brown on the Harewood Estate. The exhibition reflects Brown’s clever technique of planting trees of different scales to make the horizon seem further away, making the landscape appear to be on a grander scale. He would also place a ‘feature tree’ in the centre of a vista to divide the view and Whiteford plays with this idea within the gallery setting.
Just as Brown's trees in the landscape contribute to an illusion, the trees on the walls of the Mercer Art Gallery will also play on the idea of illusion as they are printed in optical colours, which shift and shimmer when seen from different directions.
Kate Whiteford is a renowned Scottish artist now based in London; her work is in the permanent collection of the Tate Gallery and she has represented Great Britain at the Venice Biennale.
In 2001 in Sitelines, Harewood Whiteford made a drawing of a monumental Chippendale Sofa onto the Capability parkland within the Harewood estate. Situated below the horizon line and above the lake the sofa plays with Hogarth's 18th century concept of 'the line of beauty'. The furniture of Chippendale and the landscape of Brown were both made at the same time, manufactured and manipulated to serve the prevailing ideas of the time. A large photo-print of Sitelines, Harewood, after Chippendale will be included in the Mercer show as will the drawings for Whiteford's sofa revealing the scale of manipulation of the drawing so that is can be read in the correct perspective.
Whiteford comments: “I feel that it’s ironic that the Capability Brown parklands are now seen as 'natural English landscapes’ when in fact they were anything but natural. Through his designs he transformed the Yorkshire moorland into an Italianate landscape, inspired by those he would have seen in the paintings of Claude Lorrain.”
Whiteford has also been allowed access to Harrogate’s permanent art collection, from which she has carefully selected a range of works on paper, which will also be on show.
Showing alongside this exhibition, in the Mercer’s north gallery space, is Noble Prospects: Capability Brown and the Yorkshire Landscape (25 June to 11 September 2016) a show which reveals more about the designer and his designs through portraits of himself and his Yorkshire clients, original plans, drawings and documents, paintings of his creations as well as works of art that inspired his landscapes.