Between 1738 and 1773, the Hon. Charles Hamilton (1704-86), youngest son of James, 6th Earl of Abercorn, created an outstanding landscape garden from a wasteland near Cobham in Surrey which was considered to rival those at Stourhead and Stowe as one of the most inspired in England.
The grounds were divided into two distinct parts, the ornamented pleasure grounds, amounting to just over 100 acres, and a stretch of open parkland around them in a free, natural style with 'clumps' of trees in the manner to be adopted later by 'Capability' Brown.
The pleasure gardens, part of which are shown here, were conceived as a series of pictures which altered continually, with surprises and illusions. The lake was shaped to make it seem bigger than it was, an effect which was accentuated by the arrangement of islands. Paths were designed to reveal different perspectives from which to view the lake and other parts of the grounds. Different areas of the gardens were also contrived to evoke different moods, and follies played an important part in this. A Roman amphitheatre was intended to remind visitors of the past and its ruinous appearance to warn of the transience of material things, while a Temple of Bacchus, in another area, was intended to create a spirit of cheerfulness.
This view shows the ruined Gothic Abbey, built circa 1770, of a type that was extremely popular in gardens of the time, which provided one of the focal points of the lake. The vineyard beside it, a reflection of Hamilton's deep horticultural interest, was reckoned to be one of the most successful in England. His speciality was a sparkling white wine which was sufficiently good to deceive a French ambassador into believing it to be champagne.
Eventually however the cost of creating this garden, much of which had been based on debt, obliged Hamilton to sell the estate in 1773 after which he went to live in Bath. The estate subsequently had many owners and was fragmented in 1948 when it was sold off in separate lots. However in 1980 one hundred and fifty eight acres of the Garden were purchased by Elmbridge Borough Council.
Barret, an Irish born artist, painted this picture after arriving in England in 1763. A landscape painter who enjoyed much recognition during his lifetime, Barret was known for his 'topographical accuracy' and the 'minimal visual demands he made upon the spectator'. Barret often worked collaboratively with Gilpin, who assisted by painting the animals in the foreground. Such collaboration enabled each artist to stay focussed on their respective area of expertise. On occasion Barret is also known to have worked with George Stubbs, John Zoffany, and Philip Reinagle. Barret was praised by Samuel Redgrave for representing 'English scenery in its true freshness and richness, excelling in the verdure peculiar to Spring'.