A History of Garden Art.
Edited by Walter P. Wright. Translated from the German by Mrs. Archer-Hind.London: J. M. Dent & Sons Limited, 1928 Stock Code: 114828
Annotated by Walter Beck, creator of the celebrated "Innisfree" gardens at Millbrook, New YorkFirst edition in English, originally published in German in 1913. With a superb provenance: from the library of the artist Walter Beck (1864-1954), with his delightful "Singing Trees" bookplates (designed by him and wood-engraved by T. Cole) and captioned "Innisfree" after his celebrated gardens at Millbrook, New York; both volumes - but particularly volume II - annotated by him and with loosely inserted notes and drawings.
"In the late 1920s, Walter Beck and his wife, avid gardener and heiress Marion Burt Beck, began work on Innisfree, their country residence in Millbrook, New York. Walter Beck's fascination with Asian art influenced his painting, the collecting he and his wife pursued, and their ideas on garden design. In the 1930s, Beck discovered the work of 8th-century Chinese poet, painter and garden maker Wang Wei. Studying scroll paintings of his famed garden, the Wangchuan Villa, Beck observed that Wang created carefully defined, inwardly focused gardens and garden vignettes within a larger, naturalistic landscape. Wang's place-making technique - christened "cup gardens," by Beck - influenced centuries of Chinese and Japanese garden design. It is also the principal design motif in the Innisfree landscape. Like his Chinese predecessor, Beck created three-dimensional pictures in the garden, incorporating both rocks from the site and horticultural advice from his wife. Unlike Wang Wei, or perhaps more familiar figures like Lawrence Johnston, who used his cup-like rooms at Hidcote in England to draw one through a sequence of events and create an overall sense of place, Beck focused more on individual compositions. Relating these to each other and to the landscape as a whole was the genius of Lester Collins... Innisfree is perhaps unique as the creation of a single landscape architect in two incarnations, a private and then a public garden" (innisfreegarden.org).
Volume II contains extensive pencilled notes by Beck, dealing primarily with the gardens of China and Japan, Beck's chief inspiration. It is clear from his dynamic and opinionated marginalia that these volumes, with inserted leaves of notes and sketches, were instrumental in Beck's planning. The notes extract aesthetic principles of eastern gardens, dwell a good deal on rock work and other natural features ("I now have these at Innisfree" he comments against a listing of Chinese rock types), and contrasts eastern and western priorities. Unabashed in his antipathy to much of Western gardening, Beck scatters critical assessments freely: next to a catalogue of follies found in a continental garden he writes, "Avoid this at Innisfiee"; and beside an illustration of Chatsworth's parterres, "The whole is sacrificed"; and to an illustration of a full-blown English perennial border Beck responds, "What is the difference between this garden and a table spread with all to be served at once. And what a despotic path." Even Gothein herself does not escape Beck's criticism: "Nowhere does Gothein betray the least insight in art, especially that art which is touched by Oriental studies. To her the Orient remains a series of styles, and her recital of what produced the styles does not induce her anywhere to analyze the technique to discover guides to creativity... Why does she not see the basic weakness behind all these garden efforts of the Occidentals?". Gertrude Jekyll, briefly mentioned, receives Beck's rare approbation for her painterly belief in the serene grouping of appropriate plants. Otherwise Beck reserves his greatest contempt for the modern English garden: "The expression of a taste unformed, ideas of art unfathomed, opportunity abundant but misapplied and lost."
These few examples hardly convey the extent of analysis present, and the degree to which these volumes offer revealing documentation of the evolving thought of the artist-creator of one of America's most individual and intriguing landscape creations, a subtle and restrained garden attuned to an Eastern aethetic. There are indications that the notes were being transcribed by Beck in preparation for a book never realised and form - apart from Innisfree itself - the closest thing we have to a Walter Beck manifesto.
2 volumes, octavo. Original green cloth, gilt lettered spine and front cover (the latter within an ornamental cartouche).
Illustrated throughout with line drawings, plans and half-tone plates.
Spines sunned and a little rolled, coves lightly soiled.
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