Contributor: Nicola J. Watson
Location: Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, USA
Description: This oil painting executed in 1819 by Thomas Daniell (1749-1840) shows part of an extraordinary ‘Indian’ landscape at Sezincote House in Gloucestershire, UK. Still extant, and open to the public, this expensive experiment in the Indian style was completed in 1817. The style was characteristically British rather than European, associated with wealthy ‘nabobs’ returning from long residence in India to make their way in British society as best they could; the eclecticism of le jardin à l’anglaise when exported to Europe stretched more usually to the exoticism of chinoiserie. (1) Nevertheless, this garden illustrates a Europe-wide truth about how inland water was imagined in the period; water was Romantic if – and only if — it appeared to be wild rather than tame. By contrast, explicitly instrumentalized water – the waters of spas and canals, for example – remained resolutely unromantic.
The transformation of Sezincote House and its grounds was planned by Lieutenant-Colonel John Cockerell (1753-1798) of the Bengal Army and completed by his brother Sir Charles Cockerell (1755-1837), who rose from writer to Postmaster-General in the Bengal Presidency administration. House and grounds, finished by 1817, were financed by the wealth accrued by the brothers through their work for the East India Company. The design is thought to have been created by Humphrey Repton in close consultation with the painter of this canvas, Thomas Daniell. Preliminary sketches for this part of the garden, the Temple, Pool and Cave, held in the R.I.B.A. library (Victoria & Albert Museum, London), are dated 1795. Daniell had published six volumes of aquatints based on three tours of India undertaken along with his nephew William between 1786 and 1793, entitled Oriental Scenery: Twenty-Four Views of Hindustan (1795-1808). Extremely popular, these images were reproduced across Europe: as ‘Indian Views’ on Staffordshire pottery and on French wallpaper (‘L’Indoustan’ in 1806 by Zuber, ‘Paysage indien’ in 1815 by Dufour). Daniells’ volumes would influence the design of both house and garden at Sezincote. The temple seems to have been inspired by the Hindu temple at Rohtasgarh (Bihar) sketched by Daniell in 1790, while the cave and the pool beneath it may have been derived from his aquatints of the cave-temples at Elephanta dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. The design of the so-called ‘Indian bridge’ is reminiscent both of Elephanta, and of a gateway to the Meenakshi Temple at Madurai depicted by Daniell as ‘An Hindoo Temple at Madura’. The continuity of pottery, wallpaper and country-house landscape suggests that Sezincote was a vastly expensive extension of a contemporary cross-class yen for the exotic brought within the bounds of private domesticity.
The Temple contains a Coade stone plaque which depicts Surya in his chariot, steered by Aruna, drawn by seven horses. Lotus flowers are pictured in relief above the hands of Surya. The fountain in the Temple Pool takes the form of the Shiva-linga, a form which celebrates the union of male and female principles. From the Pool, a stream tumbles down many waterfalls and rills, passing under a succession of small bridges to where the main drive up to the house passes over the Indian bridge which is supported by octagonal columns carved with lotus motifs; the balustrade above is adorned by Brahmin bulls. Stepping-stones under the bridge lead to the Serpent Pool, where another fountain in the shape of a three-headed snake coiled around a tree-trunk, another Shiva-linga, is positioned on an island with pipes conducting water to the snakes’ fangs which spit water. Beyond this, the waters tumble on down to a series of ever wilder pools under yet more bridges. As Daniell’s painting makes clear, the whole is carefully designed to make a pleasant, amusing, and dry-shod walking excursion from the house, suitable for family and house-guests including women, children, and even their pet dog.
Scholarship on Sezincote, summarized above (see James’ excellent and careful survey to which this account is indebted), has made great efforts to decipher the garden’s spiritual and even sexual meanings, but there is frustratingly little evidence as to how this landscape was imagined or read at the time. Some evidence is supplied by visual depictions such as this painting, one of a series commissioned from Daniells, along with those commissioned from John Martin (1789-1854) in 1817 which appeared as etchings at the Royal Academy, London, in 1818. Martin’s compositions describe the landscape as attractively wild, and this must surely have evidenced fantasy rather than actuality, since the newly-planted landscape could not conceivably have achieved that level of shagginess. Given its evident congruence with the visual language of the picturesque and its affiliation with the various orientalist fantasies of Southey, Byron, Moore, Scott, and Shelley, this designed landscape can at least be recognised as profoundly Romantic in impulse. Its aesthetic is of the ‘deep romantic chasm which slanted/Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover’’ celebrated in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem ‘Kubla Khan’ (c. 1797); set to the side and away from the house, it provides an immersive experience of the exotically strange. Eminently artificial, it nevertheless draws on Romantic ideas of the elemental wildness of water. The Temple and its pool and stream are more closely related to Ossian’s Hall and the falls of Bra-an (see Falla) than seems at all likely at first glance. Both stage water as wild, strange, ancient, visionary, even sacred – and best enjoyed from a safe and comfortable vantage-point a short walk from a country house.
Creator: Thomas Daniell (1749-1840)
Object type: oil painting
Physical format: oil on canvas, 101.4×127 cms
Media rights: Temple, Fountain and Cave in Sezincote Park, 1819 (oil on canvas), Daniell, Thomas (1749-1840) / Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, USA / Bridgeman Images XYC265048
Diane James, “An Endless Variety of Forms and Proportions”: Indian Influence on British Gardens and Garden Buildings, c.1760-c.1865. PhD (Warwick University) 2019. Chapter 3, Case Study 7 pp. 215-240 http://wrap.warwick.ac.uk
- According to Diane James, an exception would be the Palm House on the island of Pfaueninsel, near Potsdam, designed by Albert Dietrich Schadow for Frederick William III. This island was the location for oriental tented grand parties, but it gradually became a landscape park with the Palm House constructed with fragments of jali screens and marble arches from an undisclosed Mughal building. It was likely that the early concept for the House was by Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781-1841) who was familiar with the Daniells’ aquatints and had already designed opera sets based on Oriental Scenery, for Spontini’s Nurmahal in 1822. James, p. 212, citing Koppelkamm, p.83.