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The Hampton Court Albums of Catherine the Great

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The Hampton Court Albums of Catherine the Great
Mikhail Dedinkin, Mikhail Piotrovsky, David Jacques

In the early 2000s two albums of drawings were discovered in storage in the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Purchased by Catherine the Great in 1783, they had lain unnoticed for over 200 years. Hermitage curator Mikhail Dedinkin identified the artist as John Spyers, Capability Brown's draughtsman and surveyor for many of his most famous landscape designs. The drawings in the first album are exclusively of Hampton Court Palace and its parks and gardens, where Capability Brown was Chief Gardener to King George III for the last 20 years of his life. The second album contains a mixture of landscapes, architectural drawings and studies. This book reproduces all 149 drawings.

Remarkably this is the story of a con job. Spyers drawings were sold, sight unseen, to the Empress as evidence of Browns plans for the transformation of Hampton Court’s gardens. In reality his position was an honorary one, bestowed in recognition of his fame and influence but with the proviso that no changes would be made to the Williamite planting scheme. It is intriguing to see his desires for the area so beautifully drawn. Perhaps more interesting is the effect, the drawings had on the planting style at Catherine’s great summer house, Tsarskoye Selo.

Fontanka (2016)
Hardback, 144 pages