Sarah Rutherford: Discovering ‘Capability’ Brown

We caught up with Dr. Sarah Rutherford, author of The World of Capability Brown, as she prepares to give a fascinating talk on ‘Discovering Brown’ on 19 May at Compton Verney.

Dr. Sarah Rutherford
Dr. Sarah Rutherford



Sarah talking Brown

I discovered Brown for my book, which was a brilliant opportunity for me. He’s an elusive chap, and as a professional garden historian I’d rather avoided him. But visiting his landscapes one by one I found I could spot him in them, and I grew to understand and admire his design eye more and more. It’s a privilege to be able to write and talk about him and show people his artistic, technical and business genius. His parks look simple but were really hugely complex. He was a good egg, got on well with his clients and was very genial. He was also in the right place at the right time, during a maelstrom of developments in Georgian Britain. He took advantage of every opportunity.’

What inspired you to write this book?

I decided I needed to know more about the great man and also that the world needed a simple explanation of him and his work. How and why could he say so confidently ‘why my lord the place has its capabilities’ when he looked at a new, and often pretty unpromising, project? He was a phenomenon who advised at over 250 places, covering over 200 square miles, and I was inspired to find out just what was the secret of his success.

What places did you visit to inspire you when writing the book?

I visited his great set pieces including Alnwick, Audley End, Petworth, Berrington, Combe Abbey, Compton Verney, Longleat, Blenheim. These are some of his masterpieces but there are many more.

Did you make any exciting discoveries about Brown whilst researching the book?

I worked out that he worked for the King, 6 prime ministers and half the House of Lords (both peers and peeresses): a unique client list, then and now; no wonder he was all over the country like a rash!

Portrait of Lancelot 'Capability' Brown, c.1770-75; by Cosway, Richard (1742-1821); oil on canvas; Private Collection;
Portrait of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, c.1770-75; by Cosway, Richard (1742-1821)

Brown has been labelled a “landscape legend”. What do you think set him apart from other landscape gardeners of his time?

He was not called the ‘Shakespeare of gardening’ for nothing. He was unique for his combination of talents, self-taught skills, genial nature, phenomenal contacts list, his driven nature and business acumen. He was literally, and metaphorically, ground-breaking: he blended artistic genius and engineering, and moved mountains and villages, to create beautiful naturalistic landscapes which are still much admired today. His rivals could never hope to compete on the same scale.

Do you have any personal favourite designs of his?

Probably Audley End, Essex. It is ringed by low wooded hills with various classical buildings as eye-catchers in the distance, and has the silvery River Cam threading its way through the park and under Robert Adam’s elegant bridge.

Tell us about the Capability Brown Festival and where the public can see Brown’s work? The Capability Brown Festival is a celebration of the extraordinary life,

The Capability Brown Festival is a celebration of the extraordinary life, work and legacy of this 18th-century landscape gardener w.  A range of exciting events will be taking place in England and Wales throughout 2016, many at the places he landscaped so successfully such as Blenheim, Petworth, Wimpole, Berrington, Wallington. There will be something for everyone to enjoy – from young to old, from the most ardent of fans to those that know nothing of his work but simply enjoy stunning landscapes. Full details are available at

Do you think the 2016 events will introduce new audiences to Brown’s work?

Absolutely! He’s being talked about all over the traditional media and social  media, he’s on tv, radio and in the newspapers as well as trending on Twitter! We hope he will become not just a name but someone who people recognize as the Face of the landscape park.

Join us on 19 May 3 – 4pm for sarah rutherford’s talk: discovering brown. click here to find out more.

3 thoughts on “Sarah Rutherford: Discovering ‘Capability’ Brown

  1. Dear Dr. Rutherford,

    The ALCS has collected secondary royalties for you in relation to some of your works.

    Please do get in contact for more information on this matter.

    Many thanks,

    Will Haszard

  2. I am the speaker secretary for the Rotary Club of Henley Bridge. Having seen an article on Dr Sarah Rutherford and her book about Capability Brown, I am hoping to contact her with regarding to talking to our club at one of our meetings.
    I wonder if you could either, let me know how I can contact her, or send her my email address in the hope that she will get in touch and allow me to arrange something.
    Many thanks.
    Nicky Emms
    Rotary Club of Henley Bridge

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