KNOLE PARK in Kent, the seat of his Grace the DUKE of DORSET. / P. Sandby R.A. pinxt.; M.A. Rooker sculp. Illustration to: 'The Copper plate magazine; or, Monthly treasure, for the admirers of the imitative arts'. (London [England] : printed for G[eorge]. Kearsly, no. 46, Fleet Street, 1774-1778.).  View of Knole Park, the large and sprawling house beyond with turrets on either side of the gatehouse, a lake and woods in the park beyond, a carriage driving along the road, a large tree to the middleground with an encircling bench with a gentleman reading a book, three elegant riders with a dog to the foreground.

Country houses and The Copper Plate Magazine

The King’s Topographical Collection includes dozens of extraordinary albums of images, organised geographically. The images within these volumes, however, vary considerably: some are maps, some are watercolours, and some are prints. Jocelyn Anderson discusses prints of country houses from The Copper Plate Magazine: now spread across George III’s Collection, these views were originally part of a single series.

The Copper Plate Magazine was published by George Kearsley, a London bookseller who published a wide range of works including radical political texts. It comprises over 100 prints, less than a third of which are views of country houses: other prints in the series included portraits and mythological scenes, and its subtitle was ‘a monthly treasure for the admirers of the imitative arts’. 

In including country houses in the series, Kearsley promoted them as sites which were important for British culture, sites which deserved the attention of those interested in art and should be considered as of interest to a national audience. Commercial priorities undoubtedly accompanied cultural ones, however. 

The advertisement for The Virtuosi’s Museum, a series of printed views which Kearsley began publishing in 1778, announced that that series would only cost one shilling a plate and in attempting to attract subscribers, it declared:

What a cheap and rational amusement then will these Gentlemen possess monthly, for the same consideration that is given for one night’s admittance to the pit of a theatre! And in the course of a year, what a beautiful addition will be made to the furniture of their apartments, for less than the value of a masquerade ticket![1] 

Prints in the Copper Plate Magazine were similar in size, and very likely in price as well: they would have been available to a wide range of customers, not just those interested in collecting art.[2] Furthermore, not only did Kearsley advertise his prints as inexpensive luxuries, he had them reissued: the first 32 landscapes were reissued under the title A Collection of Landscapes, drawn by P. Sandby, Esq. R.A. in 1777.[3] In his discussion of print series of country-house prints, Tim Clayton has argued that: 

The fact that the principal wholesale distributors […] made an effort to acquire views of seats and gardens suggests that they sold well. Through these printsellers they would have reached the widest possible market in the provinces, in Europe and in the colonies.[4]

Views and descriptions from The Copper Plate Magazine

North East View of Sir John Elvil's House on Englefield Green near EGHAM in SURRY. / P. Sandby pinxt. ; M. A. Rooker sculp.

These views and their accompanying descriptions were published in the hugely popular print series: The Copper Plate Magazine.

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Usage terms Public Domain

Given that they were marketed as inexpensive, even cheap, it is not surprising that prints of country houses were viewed in a myriad of ways: they could be kept loose, they could be bound into a single volume in the order in which they were published, they could be framed (generous margins on the pages allowed for this), and they could even be pasted onto walls, as wallpaper-like decorations.[5]  

The country houses represented in The Copper Plate Magazine included a wide range of types of houses. Some, such as Colonel Onslow’s Lodge at Try-Hill (Surrey), were relatively small country houses or suburban villas which were near London. Some were ducal estates; for example, in 1775, Kearsley published a view of Chatsworth (Derbyshire), the Duke of Devonshire’s estate, and in 1776 he published a view of Hackwood (Hampshire), an estate belonging to the Duke of Bolton. 

In addition to houses of various sizes, the series included houses built in different styles and at different times. It included an image of Knole (Kent), the residence of the Duke of Dorset and a house which dates back to the 1400s, and a view of the Earl of Harcourt’s villa at Nuneham Courtenay, a house which had been finished in 1757. What the houses have in common is how they were presented: most were shown in lush landscapes and with figures in the foreground; in addition, they were all published with accompanying descriptions.

Views and descriptions from The Copper Plate Magazine

KNOLE PARK in Kent, the seat of his Grace the DUKE of DORSET. / P. Sandby R.A. pinxt.; M.A. Rooker sculp. Illustration to: 'The Copper plate magazine; or, Monthly treasure, for the admirers of the imitative arts'. (London [England] : printed for G[eorge]. Kearsly, no. 46, Fleet Street, 1774-1778.).  View of Knole Park, the large and sprawling house beyond with turrets on either side of the gatehouse, a lake and woods in the park beyond, a carriage driving along the road, a large tree to the middleground with an encircling bench with a gentleman reading a book, three elegant riders with a dog to the foreground.

These views and their accompanying descriptions were published in the hugely popular print series: The Copper Plate Magazine

View images from this item  (15)

Usage terms Public Domain

Unlike architectural elevations or perspective views, the country houses in The Copper Plate Magazine were shown in landscapes which were composed such that the houses were framed by powerful trees and rich forests. In the views of Chatsworth, Hackwood Park and Sir John Elvil’s house, for example, trees dominate the foregrounds of the scenes; not only were trees critical to the views, in some scenes, such as the view of Knole, they partially obscure the house itself. In addition, many views incorporated forests with rich variation in light and shade, such that the forests add considerable variety to the middle of these scenes.  These are not unusual as compositional strategies for landscapes, but it is revealing that these images, nominally depictions of buildings, might more accurately be described as depictions of the estates these houses were on. 

Most views showed people in the foreground of these scenes. Some scenes show people on horseback, such as the views of Knole, Chatsworth and Wakefield Lodge (Northamptonshire). In the view of Nuneham Courtenay, two figures are shown at a prominent viewpoint, and although they are tiny, the figure on the left appears to be gesturing to the scene, as if he was explaining his admiration for it. 

The print of Colonel Onslow’s Lodge shows two men fishing in front of the house. The print of Wakefield Lodge shows a women and two children out for a walk. In other prints, there are figures at work. In the view of Hackwood Park, for example, the scene includes several estate workers, some resting next to a cart and others resting in a field; only one figure is actually working. In effect, most of these estates were depicted as places of leisure or pastoral harmony rather than work, as if to heighten the idyllic quality conveyed by the trees and forests. 

Alongside each of these images was a sheet of letterpress which described the house: the information usually includes a combination of information on the house’s history, its location and its interior. The description of Chatsworth, for example, noted that: 

the ceilings and walls of all the apartments [were] painted by Verrio, and other eminent masters […] The chapel is a most beautiful place; the altar end and the floor, of marble; the seats and gallery, of cedar; and the rest of the wall and ceiling painted. 

Similarly, the description of Strawberry Hill declared that inside the house there: 

is a large collection of portraits and other pieces relative to English history and manners, in oil, miniature, and enamel; with some other good pictures by great masters, besides antique busts, the celebrated eagle from the baths of Caracalla, medals and coins, ancient and modern, porcelain of various countries, arms, armour, and many other curiosities. 

The letterpress about Knole celebrated the house’s history: it ‘lay neglected for some time, ‘till Thomas Sackville, earl of Dorset, and lord treasurer, obtained it in king James the First’s reign. He made considerable additions and improvements, and rendered it a superb mansion’. When The Copper Plate Magazine was originally published, these texts framed the images, ensuring readers understood the significance of the houses as sites rather than objects in landscapes. 

Ultimately, the images and descriptions of country houses in The Copper Plate Magazine were part of a network of images which made country houses well known across Britain. Elizabeth Helsinger has suggested that for a middle class audience, views like these offered purchasers ‘visual possession of an England whose images have been placed in circulation’.[6] 

Because these images offered viewers a form of access to a landscape they might not otherwise have, they were invited to possess it visually, and assume the role of the owner. At the same time, because these prints enabled images of sites to circulate all over the country, they offered viewers the chance to be virtual tourists, what we might refer to as armchair-travellers. It was through these types of images that the idea of touring Britain became not simply a potential itinerary, but a powerful cultural force. 

Footnotes

[1] ‘Proposals for Publishing [...] Number I. of the Virtuosi’s Museum’, The Copper Plate Magazine (London: George Kearsley), 31 December 1777. 

[2] Andrew John Kennedy, ‘British topographical print series in their social and economic context, c. 1720 – c. 1840’, (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of London, Courtauld Institute of Art, 1998), p. 85.

[3] Felicity Myrone, ‘“The Monarch of the Plain”: Paul Sandby and Topography’, in Paul Sandby: Picturing Britain, ed. by John Bonehill and Stephen Daniels (London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2009), pp. 56–63 (p. 61). 

[4] Tim Clayton, ‘Publishing Houses: Prints of Country Seats’, in The Georgian Country House: Architecture, Landscape and Society , ed. by Dana Arnold (Stroud, Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing, 2003), pp. 43–60 (pp. 59–60). 

[5] Myrone, '“The Monarch of the Plain”', p. 62. 

[6] Elizabeth Helsinger, ‘Turner and the Representation of England’, in Landscape and Power, ed. by W.J.T. Mitchell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), pp. 103–25 (p. 105).

  • Jocelyn Anderson
  • Jocelyn Anderson holds a PhD from The Courtauld Institute of Art, where she wrote a dissertation entitled 'Remaking the Country House: Country-House Guidebooks in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries'.

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