Thomas Robins 1715-1770
- Thomas Robins
- The Grounds of Honington Hall, Warwickshire, showing the Ornamental Water designed by Sanderson Miller
- watercolour, pen and brown ink and bodycolour over pencil on vellum
Commissioned from the artist by Joseph Townsend, August 1759;
by descent to Mr E.Townsend;
by whom presented to Mary Stanton, 1900;
by whom presented to the Townsend Hall Management Committee, 1964;
The Trustees of Townsend Hall, their sale at Christie’s, 14th July 1987, lot 135
Royal Institute of British Architects, Heinz Gallery, Gardens of Delight: The Art of Thomas Robins, 9th December 1975 - 20th March 1976
John Harris, Gardens of Delight: The Art of Thomas Robins, Royal Institute of British Architects Exhibition Catalogue, 1975, pl.2;
John Harris, Gardens of Delight: The Rococo English Landscape of Thomas Robins the Elder, 1978, no.12, pl.81
‘An artist who painted English houses and gardens when they were most enchanting; whose eye captured the rococo garden at its perfection and when it was most whimsical; whose paintings are almost sensual in the sheer delight they give; such was Thomas Robins the Elder’ (John Harris, Gardens of Delight: The Art of Thomas Robins, Royal Institute of British Artists exhibition catalogue, 1975, p.1). Robins clearly took great delight in drawing the beautifully landscaped grounds of Honington Hall. In the present watercolour the viewer’s eye is led from a chinese bell pavilion in the foreground, past a small grove of trees and on to the ornamental water. The water meanders through the landscape, at one point breaking into a gentle cascade. Crossing the water is a Chippendale bridge and beyond, almost hidden amongst the trees, is a classical temple. The sinuous forms of the small group of picnicers in the foreground become part of the landscape. Although depicted in minute detail they are incidental and only appear to exist for decorative effect.
Robins’ attention to detail is further demonstrated by the mixture of rare and familiar flowers which frame this view. These include Ipomoea coccinea, a native of tropical America (top left), the common sweet-scented Jasmine (Jasminium officinale), a native of the Himalayas (centre), and the larger yellow-flowered Jasmine (Jasminum humile) hanging in the corner above a large spray of the common wild Honesuckle (Lonicera pericyclemum). In the left foreground lies a blue Iris (Iris sibirica) a native of central Europe, and on its right a wild Cyclamen (probably C.hederaefolium). In the centre are two gold-laced Polyanthus: these appeared in gardens in about 1750, and were very popular by the time the present watercolour was drawn. They retained their popularity until the 1830’s, but are rare in gardens today. Next to the Polyanthus is a stem of the Tuberose (Polianthes tuberosa), a native of Mexico, which has to be grown in a greenhouse. The single moth is a Wood Tiger (Parasemia plantaginis).
Sanderson Miller, who designed the fabulous gardens celebrated in the present watercolour, was born at Radway Grange near Edgehill in 1817. He was the son of a wealthy merchant of Banbury and when his father died in 1727 he inherited his fortune and settled down to the life of a country gentleman. He soon became interested in landscape gardening and architecture and began embellishing the houses and parks of his ever widening circle of aristocratic friends and neighbours. He also designed gardens and garden buildings, such as those at Honington Hall, and was a pioneer of Gothic Revival architecture. In 1746 he married Susannah Trotman, daughter of Edward Trotman of Shelswell in Oxfordshire, by whom he had several children. After completing the grounds at Honington he became prone to fits of insanity which recurred four or five times before his death on 23rd April 1780