Friday, February 20, 2009

Belle Isle, Windermere

The Round House, Belle Isle, Windermere
Source: Flickr

William Wordsworth described this building in a letter of 1844 as 'the first house that was built in the Lake District for the sake of the beauty of the country.' Belle Isle had already been identified as a Picturesque 'station' from which to view the surrounding landscape, e.g. by Arthur Young in his tour through the North of England in 1768, and the house itself was started in 1774 and completed in the 1780s. In a recent essay for The Georgian Group Journal, Peter Leach has discussed this 'house with a view' in relation to evolving tastes in landscape. Such a location would have been hard to imagine a generation or so earlier, nevertheless, the house seems poised midway between classical and Romantic tastes. Leach includes an engraving of the landscape around Belle Isle by John 'Warwick' Smith, in which the house resembles one of Claude's circular temples, and notes that the wilder, more Salvator Rosa parts of the Lake District were built on at a later period.

Some contemporaries saw buildings like Belle Isle as graceful additions to the landscape, enhancing the view for others as well as providing a viewpoint for their owners. Others disagreed - Leach quotes Richard Warner's condemnation of the 'miserable buildings' Joseph Pocklington erected on Pocklington's Island in 1778-80 which destroy 'the effects of those scenes of Nature... which the general voice have pronounced to be beautiful.' However, after 1800 houses in the Lake District tended to be more discreet, and about this time Picturesque theorists were emphasising the importance of the view of the house rather than simply the view from the house. Richard Payne Knight, in his Analytical Inquiry into the Principles of Taste, sums this up nicely:

'In choosing the situation for a house ..., which is to be a principal feature in a place, more consideration ought to be had of the views towards it, than of those fromwards it: for, consistently with comfort, which ought to be the first object in every dwelling, it very rarely happens that a perfect composition of landscape scenery can be obtained from a door or window; nor does it appear to me particularly desirable that it should be; for few persons ever look for such compositions or pay much attention to them, while within doors. It is in walks or rides through parks, gardens, or pleasure grounds, that they are attended to and examined, and become subjects of conversation...'

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