Lancelot Brown (1715/1716 - February 6, 1783), more commonly known as Capability Brown, was an English landscape gardener, perhaps the first of his kind.
Born in Northumberland, he was employed by various landed families to improve the layout of their gardens, and worked at Blenheim Palace, Kew Gardens, Warwick Castle, Bowood House, Milton Abbey (and nearby Milton Abbas village) and many other locations.
Brown laid out his Brownian parklands at an accelerated pace around England. This man who refused work in Ireland because he had not finished England was called ‘Capability’ Brown because he was ‘capable’ of seeing the ‘capabilities’ within the landscape.
His style of smooth undulating grass in which would run straight to the house, clumps, belts, scattering of trees and his serpentine lakes was a new style within the English landscape and hence opened Brown to criticism by many landscape theorists. Richard Owen Cambridge, the English poet and satirical author, declared that he hoped to die before Brown so that he could “see heaven before it was ‘improved’”; this was a typical statement reflecting the controversy about Brown's work, which has continued over the last 200 years.
However Brown has not only been criticised, he has also been praised by many notable authors; his landscapes were at the forefront of fashion and they were fundamentally different to what they replaced. The well-known formal gardens of England were removed by Brown and replaced with his grammatical landscapes.
Russell Page described Brown’s process as “encouraging his wealthy clients to tear out their splendid formal gardens and replace them with his facile compositions of grass, tree clumps and rather shapeless pools and lakes” . On the other hand a recent historian and author, Richard Bisgrove, described Brown's process as perfecting nature by “judicious manipulation of its components, adding a tree here or a concealed head of water there. His art attended to the formal potential of ground, water, trees and so gave to English landscape its ideal forms. The difficulty was that less capable imitators and less sophisticated spectators did not see nature perfected ... they saw simply what they took to be nature”.