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Chapter 6 - The ‘Ingenious Mr Bridgeman’

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 February 2024

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Summary

AS WE HAVE seen in the previous chapter, Bridgeman's work sits on the cusp of the decline of the formal geometric garden and the rise of the ‘natural’ garden. The geometric garden had not quite died, and the ‘natural’ garden was still in the throes of its birth. It was a period when coexistence was possible. This seems to have made defining the precise nature of Bridgeman's style problematic for modern scholarship. Dixon Hunt, for example, dismisses the idea that Bridgeman had any clear style at all: ‘Bridgeman seems to have had little interest in design theory or in annexing his work to any cultural or political cause; he seems to have been very much at the mercy of specific commissions, so it is hard to determine exactly what is truly Bridgemanick’ (Dixon Hunt 1986, 189). Mostly, though, as we have seen, the loose orthodoxy that Bridgeman's style in some way prefigures the rise of the ‘natural’ garden has been perpetuated, generally, as a deficit model. Bridgeman is seen as a pale and rather incompetent imitator of the pioneers of the natural garden style; Peter Willis has him ‘taking his cue from Switzer's advocacy of a Farm-like Way of Gardening’ (Willis 2002, 132) while Mowl considers he had ‘not mastered [the] style or captured the spirit of an Arcadia’ (Mowl 2000, 77). However, we can perhaps now dismiss the idea that Bridgeman was a forerunner of the ‘natural’ garden. It is hard to imagine that any examination of his style is helped by attempting to retrofit Bridgeman's designs into models that often postdate his work by 40 years. It is more helpful to find his roots in a late geometric style which derives directly from the later part of the seventeenth century, and then consider how he loosened the formality which bound it. As Mowl (in some contradiction of the remark quoted above) also suggests: ‘Bridgemanesque – symmetry modified by art’ (Mowl 2000, 104).

In fact, the majority of the individual components of Bridgeman's landscapes are found in the gardens of seventeenth-century Europe, particularly in France and Italy.

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Charles Bridgeman (c. 1685-1738)
A Landscape Architect of the Eighteenth Century
, pp. 95 - 112
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2023

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