Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Garden Design - Vaux Le Vicomte

One of the most brilliant aspects of Le Nôtre’s concept was the use of an optical illusion known as ‘anamorphosis abscondita’, resulting in decelerated or accelerated perspective according to whether the gardens were viewed away from, or towards the château. This was achieved by means of visual devices that rendered ovular pools as circular, and changed the apparent level of the grottoes at the far end of the park, by means of an optical effect based on the tenth theorem of Euclid’s optics - Andrew Lyndon Skeggs 
Le Nôtre employed an optical illusion called anamorphosis abscondita (which might be roughly translated as 'hidden distortion') in his garden design in order to establish decelerated perspective. The most apparent change in this manner is of the reflecting pools. They are narrower at the closest point to the viewer (standing at the rear of the château) than at their farthest point; this makes them appear closer to the viewer. From a certain designed viewing point, the distortion designed into the landscape elements produces a particular forced perspective and the eye perceives the elements to be closer than they actually are. That point, for Vaux-le-Vicomte, is at the top of the stairs at the rear of the château. Standing atop the grand staircase, one begins to experience the garden with a magnificent perspectival view. The anamorphosis abscondita creates visual effects, which are not encountered in nature, making the spectacle of gardens designed in this way extremely unusual to the viewer (who experiences a tension between the natural perspective cues in his peripheral vision and the forced perspective of the formal garden). The perspective effects are not readily apparent in photographs, either, making viewing the gardens in person the only way of truly experiencing them.
From the top of the grand staircase, this gives the impression that the entire garden is revealed in one single glance. Initially, the view consists of symmetrical rows of shrubbery, avenues, fountains, statues, flowers and other pieces developed to imitate nature: the elements exemplify the Baroque desire to mold nature to fit its wishes, thus using nature to imitate nature. The centrepiece is a large reflecting pool flanked by grottos holding statues in their many niches. The grand sloping lawn is not visible until one begins to explore the garden, when the viewer is made aware of the optical elements involved and discovers that the garden is much larger than it looks. Next, a circular pool, previously seen as ovular due to foreshortening, is passed and a canal that bisects the site is revealed, as well as a lower level path. As the viewer continues on, the second pool shows itself to be square and the grottos and their niched statues become clearer. However, when one walks towards the grottos, the relationship between the pool and the grottos appears awry. The grottos are actually on a much lower level than the rest of the garden and separated by a wide canal that is over half a mile (almost a kilometre) long. According to Allen Weiss, in Mirrors of Infinity, this optical effect is a result of the use of the tenth theorem of Euclid's Optics, which asserts that "the most distant parts of planes situated below the eye appear to be the most elevated".
In Fouquet’s time, interested parties could cross the canal in a boat, but walking around the canal provides a view of the woods that mark what is no longer the garden and shows the distortion of the grottos previously seen as sculptural. Once the canal and grottos have been passed, the large sloping lawn is reached and the garden is viewed from the initial viewpoint’s vanishing point, thus completing the circuit as intended by Le Nôtre. From this point, the distortions create the illusion that the gardens are much longer than they actually are. The many discoveries made as one travels through the dynamic garden contrast the static view of the garden from the château. - Wikipedia 

Sunday, 18 September 2016

The River Test

The Test at Wherwell

Recently, I was fortunate enough to be invited for a day's fishing on a beautiful stretch of the river at Awbridge by old friends, and as I don't actually fish, spent an hour after lunch reading a marvellous book, 'A Summer On The Test' by John Waller Hills, published in 1946. In it he tells the history of fishing on the Test and extolls its virtues as well as institutions such as the Houghton Club, which did - and still does - much to keep the river so well. He writes beautifully of course, and his prose has the marvellous limpidity of the river itself .

Chalk streams are regarded by their admirers with an affection which is unreasoning as true love ever should be, and of all such streams, the Test commands their deepest devotion. To appreciate its full individuality you have to go to the middle or lower reaches. The higher stretches are delicately beautiful, but you must get down about to Wherwell before the special qualities of the Test are apparent. There are its broad valley, the half cliffs, the swing and rush and depth of the river, and its strong clear volume. Most people think that Hampshire streams consist either of thin shallows, spread wide between flat meadows, or else still almost steamless depths, and it is a surprise to find the Test is strong, quick and deep. And, in spite of all the damage man has done and is is doing, it still keeps its character. Perhaps, to those who can look back so many years as I can, it has deteriorated. On the whole the hatch of fly is less plentiful, for you do not so often see those great volumes which were common thirty years ago. But I am satisfied that small fly is increasing and mayfly is quite as thick as any angler could want. In the upper reaches, too, trout are less abundant. Lastly, I am convinced, though the conviction rests on fallible personal observation, that the water is not as clear as it was. In order to appreciate the change, you have only to look at one of its pure tributaries, such as the Bourne, and you can then realise what the old Test was like. It was not so much that the water was stainless,: many streams are that, such, for instance, as the Dartmoor brooks: but it was as if it possessed a crystalline quality of its own, different from all other water. The colour of weeds and stones and gravel, seen through its medium, was not only not dimmed but acquired an added brilliancy and radiancy. This you do not see now, and in fact, even the upper Test is slightly tinged with colour. But still, in spite of the wear and tear of time, in spite of man and his many iniquities, the essential Test remain to us. She is still the greatest trout river in the world,: and it is to be hoped that this present generation will hand her on unspoilt to their successors. 

'A Summer On The Test' - John Waller Hills, 1946

The Test at Wherwell
See also The Joy of Fly Fishing

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Sunday, 11 September 2016

De Profundis - Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde

De Profundis is a wonderfully wise, profound and moving letter written by Oscar Wilde from Reading Jail, and is here read in the same jail by Stephen Rae for the BBC.

An excerpt:

'Who never ate his bread in sorrow, Who never spent the midnight hours Weeping and waiting for the morrow, - He knows you not, ye heavenly powers.'

They were the lines which that noble Queen of Prussia, whom Napoleon treated with such coarse brutality, used to quote in her humiliation and exile; they were the lines my mother often quoted in the troubles of her later life. I absolutely declined to accept or admit the enormous truth hidden in them. I could not understand it. I remember quite well how I used to tell her that I did not want to eat my bread in sorrow, or to pass any night weeping and watching for a more bitter dawn.

I had no idea that it was one of the special things that the Fates had in store for me: that for a whole year of my life, indeed, I was to do little else. But so has my portion been meted out to me; and during the last few months I have, after terrible difficulties and struggles, been able to comprehend some of the lessons hidden in the heart of pain. Clergymen and people who use phrases without wisdom sometimes talk of suffering as a mystery. It is really a revelation. One discerns things one never discerned before. One approaches the whole of history from a different standpoint. What one had felt dimly, through instinct, about art, is intellectually and emotionally realised with perfect clearness of vision and absolute intensity of apprehension.

I now see that sorrow, being the supreme emotion of which man is capable, is at once the type and test of all great art. What the artist is always looking for is the mode of existence in which soul and body are one and indivisible: in which the outward is expressive of the inward: in which form reveals. Of such modes of existence there are not a few: youth and the arts preoccupied with youth may serve as a model for us at one moment: at another we may like to think that, in its subtlety and sensitiveness of impression, its suggestion of a spirit dwelling in external things and making its raiment of earth and air, of mist and city alike, and in its morbid sympathy of its moods, and tones, and colours, modern landscape art is realising for us pictorially what was realised in such plastic perfection by the Greeks. Music, in which all subject is absorbed in expression and cannot be separated from it, is a complex example, and a flower or a child a simple example, of what I mean; but sorrow is the ultimate type both in life and art.

Behind joy and laughter there may be a temperament, coarse, hard and callous. But behind sorrow there is always sorrow. Pain, unlike pleasure, wears no mask. Truth in art is not any correspondence between the essential idea and the accidental existence; it is not the resemblance of shape to shadow, or of the form mirrored in the crystal to the form itself; it is no echo coming from a hollow hill, any more than it is a silver well of water in the valley that shows the moon to the moon and Narcissus to Narcissus. Truth in art is the unity of a thing with itself: the outward rendered expressive of the inward: the soul made incarnate: the body instinct with spirit. For this reason there is no truth comparable to sorrow. There are times when sorrow seems to me to be the only truth. Other things may be illusions of the eye or the appetite, made to blind the one and cloy the other, but out of sorrow have the worlds been built, and at the birth of a child or a star there is pain.

More than this, there is about sorrow an intense, an extraordinary reality. I have said of myself that I was one who stood in symbolic relations to the art and culture of my age. There is not a single wretched man in this wretched place along with me who does not stand in symbolic relation to the very secret of life. For the secret of life is suffering. It is what is hidden behind everything. When we begin to live, what is sweet is so sweet to us, and what is bitter so bitter, that we inevitably direct all our desires towards pleasures, and seek not merely for a 'month or twain to feed on honeycomb,' but for all our years to taste no other food, ignorant all the while that we may really be starving the soul.

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Thursday, 8 September 2016

Old Swan House Garden in September

The garden in early autumn

The grasses and euphorbia seen through verbena

The brighter colours of autumn
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Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Lines of Thought – Isabel Seligman

Lines of Thought – Isabel Seligman

Isabel Seligman has written a marvellous book on drawing for the British Museum that I started reading while fishing with her parents. It's available at an exhibition of drawings from the British Museum in Poole but will be published at the end of September, when I'll be able to complete my reading.  

'Drawing is the clarification of thought.' – Henri Matisse

'I know of no art that calls for the use of more intelligence than that of drawing. Whether it be a question of conjuring from the whole complex of what is seen, the one pencil stroke that is right, of summarizing a structure, of not letting one’s hand wander, of deciphering and mentally formulating before putting down; or whether the moment be dominated by creation, the controlling idea becoming richer and clearer by what it becomes on the paper and under one’s eyes; every mental faculty finds its function in the task'.  – Paul Valery

'Be bold, have a go and risk your paper' - Samuel Van Hoogsgraten

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