This tumbledown 18th century English cottage, from Des Jardins Anglo-Chinois à la mode published in 1784, a few years before the beginning of the French Revolution, is not actually in England at all, but in France. A constructed feature in a fashionable English style garden in Paris, it belonged to one M Le Comte d’Harcourt.
At first glance the building looks like it might be authentic; the stone surrounds around the door, windows and side of the building could be English, but the windows (artfully broken in places) are an unlikely patchwork of different sized leaded lights. The jumble of outbuildings don’t seem to match the central cottage and the round window in the roof that might be made from a wheel doesn’t look convincing as an example of English vernacular style.
And who is the couple in front of this structure? Their pose seems too romantic for them to be children, but if they are adults they are strangely out of scale with the buildings. These little people are scarcely as tall as the dog house next to the front door.
Des Jardins Anglo-Chinois à la mode is, as the title suggests, a pattern book of fashionable garden plans from all over Europe, consisting of both existing gardens and generic plans from a range of designers, and an array of features such as temples, kiosks, Chinese buildings, mosques, lakes, etc from which wealthy clients could select ideas.
The author George-Louis Le Rouge (1707 – 1790) developed and collated this vast project over many years from 1770 – 1787 as a series of 21 cahiers. The V&A has an almost complete set of these in their collection (see below for link). Biographical details for Le Rouge are somewhat sketchy, but as well as his work as a cartographer and engraver, he appears to have been employed as a civil engineer (ingénieur géographe) for Louis XV.
Des Jardins Anglo-Chinois à la mode shows how fashionable the English landscape garden had become in France, and in other parts of Europe. A selection of plans for Jardins Anglais in Paris and Amsterdam shows a range of ways in which the English garden style was implemented. Some gardens adopt the English style wholesale throughout the garden while others retain their formal French parterre gardens close to the house with the rest of the grounds divided to sections for an English garden, Chinese garden, and so on. One garden design by le Rouge at Montbelliard has half of the garden in English style with the other half in formal style.
One of the examples of English gardens included in the book is the Jardin de l’Hotel Buckingham à Londres (which it took me some time to realise is Buckingham Palace). The plan shows a relatively simple garden design with a perimeter path winding through a planting of shrubs and trees. The central area is a fenced field for sheep with a pond and shelter. As with the people outside the cottage, these sheep are also curiously out of scale with their surroundings, this time being too large.
Whatever the individual style of these gardens, it’s hard to avoid a unifying thread of ostentation and the conspicuous show of wealth. Studded with exotic buildings, plants, bridges, rocky caves, and temples these are luxurious theme parks. What did they represent to ordinary people? Another very visible example of the gulf between the super-rich and the poor? It’s a reminder that grand gardens aren’t neutral spaces – they have a political context.
There’s a link to Des Jardins Anglo-Chinois à la mode at the end of this post via the Biodiversity Heritage Library. It’s an incomplete version, but well worth viewing to see these (and many more) images in a larger format than is possible here.