Audio Tour 3
3a) The Artist Admires His Handiwork
3b) The Obelisk, Lord Burlington and William Kent
(Scroll down for second part of tour)
3a The Artist Admires His Handiwork
The Artist Admires His Handiwork, a.k.a. ‘It’s not Bill,’ by Under 18s competition winner Florence Read, aged 15.
I really do wish that they’d all stop calling me Bill. My name’s William for God’s sake. I just wish that they’d leave me be, stop questioning my methods. Just because I may not be as qualified as the next horticultural wizard doesn’t mean that I lack enough talent to see this project through. It’s pretty simple really, doesn’t take much of a mind to do; bit of shrubbery here, a tree or two there, the odd topiary duck, simple.
Or not so simple.
Insanity runs in my family I think, I think it runs deep in all those who create, who inspire. When you’re sane you have to care, only the truly insane can be carefree, or free at all. I have thought a lot over the past few months, while working in the gardens. In nature, there is nothing of the city to distract you; you are utterly alone with yourself and your thoughts.
No, not at all. [Pause] It’s laughable, once I even contemplated giving it all up and leaving someone else to finish the garden. My garden. My creation. My child… almost. [Pause]
After so much effort and time and hardship to let it all go, that would have been the true definition of madness. Luckily, I have the ability to expel these thoughts as quickly from my head as they enter it. And that was that, I had to finish. And now… and now I am finished. And it is a strange, humbling feeling. To sit in a part of the world that has come from me, from my head and my heart alone.
I’ve created my own Garden of Eden, my home for Adam and Eve. In that case does that mean that I have become Adam? Or perhaps more fittingly have I in fact become God? I have created, after all, this land. I am the creator; I have the power to create, and to destroy in equal measure. This is what scares me I think; this is why I come back night after night, so unsure of my standing. This power, this control, over so much life. It frightens me, but more, more than that. It, it makes me sad, lonely even. Nothing can ever be as perfect as I can imagine it and that’s just it, the way I imagined it can only lead to disappointment, don’t you see?
Tell me if I’m boring you. I don’t wish to be a bore, I’ve had to endure my fair share of those at all these stuffy, grand parties. Those are the ones who call me Bill, always Bill never William. I was born William wasn’t I? I don’t meet a man who introduces himself as Geoffrey and call him Edgar or Roger or anything. I don’t do that, I wouldn’t do that.
Do you like the arch? Beautiful isn’t it? My favourite thing in the whole grounds. Funny how my favourite thing is also one of the only things that I didn’t create here. It’s a shame really, a lovely piece of stonework. I love to watch it in the moonlight; everything in the gardens sparkle.
And then you dance for me. I know that you try to humour me, so that I won’t dig up your burrows. It seems to have worked so far, hasn’t it? You keep me sane I think, at the end of the day. After hours of calculation and deliberation and conversation you just put my mind at rest. You remind me what this place is for. I would dance with you tonight but my feet are tired and my back is aching. Perhaps tomorrow, or the day after that.
3b The Obelisk, Lord Burlington and William Kent
Burlington added the Obelisk to the garden in 1732. Built into its base is a classical sculpture of a man and a woman, probably carved to record a marriage. It had been given to the young Burlington in 1712 and he had it inserted into the base of the obelisk in 1728. The sculpture was replaced with a copy in 2006, and the original is now on display in Chiswick House.
Lord Burlington was just 10 years old when he inherited his title from his father. His inheritance included a house here at Chiswick, vast estates in Yorkshire and Ireland, and a fine town mansion in Piccadilly — today the home of the Royal Academy of Arts. In 1719, on a tour of Italy, he met William Kent, where Kent was training as a painter. By 18th century standards, they were an unlikely match: a formal and reserved aristocrat and a warm, witty and irreverent Yorkshireman. But they formed a close lifelong friendship. In fact, when Kent died in 1748, he was buried in Lord Burlington’s family vault.
Kent became one of the most influential designers of the 1730s and 1740s with the support of Lord Burlington. The art historian and writer Horace Walpole said that ‘Lord Burlington became England’s ‘Apollo of the arts’ and Kent ‘his proper priest.’ However, the two men never laid out an overall plan for Chiswick. Instead, the garden changed in stages that spanned more than 20 years.
One celebrated feature of the garden was the Ionic temple, which you should see ahead. It was modelled on similar circular temples in ancient Rome and Lord Burlington designed it himself. While it wasn’t unusual for 18th century aristocratic men to be involved with architecture, Burlington was extremely unusual, going on to design substantial buildings, like the dormitory at Westminster School and the Assembly Rooms at York. His wife, Lady Burlington, was also a talented artist. William Kent taught her to paint and draw — and she might have contributed ideas for both the house and garden.