Petworth Park Revealed: The Naked Landscape

Illustration of Petworth House and Park by Mark Buck

Petworth Park today appears to most as natural, timeless and untouched, but nothing could be further from the truth. This year, as part of the national celebration, we are marking the tercentenary of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, who crafted this landscape with a series of exhibitions and talks.

Our latest exhibition, Petworth Park Revealed: The Naked Landscape explores the scale and impact of Capability Browns’ work at Petworth. This multi media exhibition draws on three years of archaeological investigations and documentary research, helping us understand more about the scale and impact of Capability Brown’s work at Petworth.

The Petworth Capability Brown story is one of immense change, a total transformation from the order and symmetry of formal gardens, to the graceful curves and wide sweeping vistas of a perfect ‘natural’ landscape – an elaborate fake on a truly epic scale. Capability Brown stopped at nothing to achieve this, moving thousands of tons of earth and even to the extent of removing nearby villages to realise his vision.

Petworth’s Pleasure Grounds and Park were one of Brown’s earliest large-scale commissions (begun in 1753), and considered by many to be his masterpiece, taking 12 years and no less than five contracts to complete.

In this exhibition visitors will be able to experience an interactive touch-screen with seven film options to explore including dramatic drone footage, animation and 3D reconstructions that tell the story of Capability Brown and his dramatic transformation of Petworth Park. Visitors will also have the ability to compare Browns original plans with the modern landscape.

The 2013 excavations revealed boundary walls, building foundations and sunken lanes from the village cleared by Capability Brown
Archaeology dig at Petworth

Archaeological finds such as gaming counters, tobacco pipes, broken tankards and loom weights forweaving will also be on display, giving a real picture of what life was like in the nearby villages before they were swept away to make way for Brown’s vision.

For the very first time, we’re opening up Colonel Wyndham’s room on the first floor of the mansion to host this intriguing exhibition. Colonal Wyndham (1787 – 1869) was the son of the 3rd Earl Egremont, who later became 1st Baron Leconfield. This room was his bedroom, complete with commanding views across Petworth Park, which you cannot see from anywhere else.