The beauty of change

Newton House from the east in about 1710

Responding to the discussion inspired by a recent post, about the interesting problems around beauty, taste and historical accuracy, Stephanie Evans has now sent me some more pictures of Newton House, in two of its previous incarnations.

The picture above shows the house in about 1710. It is a straightforward rectangular block only decorated with quoins at the corners and with a modest pediment over the front door.

The painting is quite honest in showing the jumble of service wings and outbuildings clustered around the main house, including a row of haystacks. But one can also see the enclosed formal gardens complete with corner pavilions or banqueting houses, and an avenue of trees leading up to the house.

Newton House in an 1822 print after J.P. Neale

As mentioned earlier, the house was remodelled during the second half of the eighteenth century for George Rice and his wife Cecil. The above print shows the house in the 1820s with square corner turrets capped with smal domes. The walls seem to be uniformly covered in a light-coloured render and a crenellated parapet has been added.

The house is now set in a Reptonian ‘picturesque’ landscape, with the lawn sweeping almost right up to the house. The service buildings seem to have been removed from the immediate vicinity of the house and hidden behind a strategically placed clump of trees. The whole composition has been consciously conceived as ‘beautiful’ and has been represented as a painterly composition by the artist, rather than as just a topographical view.

A recent view of the east front of Newton House, showing the changes made in the 1850s.

The Victorians, with their interest in engineering, favoured elaborately fitted-out servants’ quarters. The image above shows how the service wing was reattached to the house in the 1850s remodelling, and how various other Franco-Venetian elaborations were added, as discussed earlier.

Quite apart from the merits or demerits of the successive appearances of the house, I tend to think that the changes have a certain beauty in themselves, like the development of a person’s character (or indeed face) in response to life’s changing circumstances. But that is just my personal bias – what do you think?

7 Responses to “The beauty of change”

  1. Barbara Says:

    I do. Evolving beauty, like aging, tells an intriguing story. Looking at beauty from the lens of change over time allows us to become time travelers; to see what beauty meant in different eras & circmumstances; and to examine why those standards & criteria changed. It encourages us to escape our subjective, provincial boxes.

  2. le style et la matière Says:

    Yes indeed! Each generation should “apporter sa pierre à l’edifice” whether it is to preserve or to transform. I agree with Barbara’s time travel. I like to hold hands with those who came before. Respectfully adapting, changing, adding … makes them come half way to meet us.

  3. columnist Says:

    Thanks Emile. I much prefer the original, honest architecture shown in the 1710 picture. The 1822 picture of the house is fine too. But…the later change fails, in my opinion! All a matter of taste. I subscribe to your argument about people’s character or face changing through time. But not always for the better, of course.

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    You are all three true to form, excellent :)

  5. Povey’s pictures « Treasure Hunt Says:

    [...] Treasure Hunt National Trust Acquisitions « The beauty of change [...]

  6. style court Says:

    Tonight in Atlanta we have an artist’s talk — Cathryn Miles on her contemporary landscapes that incorporate abstracted aerial perspectives. So I was immediately drawn to the topographical piece you posted. I love that view.

    But I also love your analogy, comparing changes in a structure to a person’s evolving character. For me intent has a lot to do with how I feel about architectural changes. In other words, when I look at the construction and renovations where I live, I wonder if the changes occurred to accommodate a new family member or make life more comfortable. Did the homeowner have a life-long dream of living in a certain style house? Or was the change simply about being bigger and more impressive. Some perfectly charming houses are butchered because of fleeting trends. Still, I guess change is the essence of life :)

  7. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes that is a good way to analyse the ‘success’ of architecture.

    That reminds me of something Marcel Duchamp once said, that what makes art ‘art’ is the difference between the unexpressed but intended and the unintentionally expressed. I think your comment proves that that applies to architecture as well.

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