I am an Art Historian whose work focuses on the design and representation of landscape gardens in 18th and 19th century Europe and America. My current fascination is with the ideological and practical ties between theater and landscape during the 18th century in Britain. My work at the Folger focuses on intersections between the use of scenery and spectator experience in 18th century theatres like Drury Lane, and the development of Garrick’s landscape garden at his Hampton Villa.
Along the river Thames, a little way outside of London proper, near Hampton Court, there are several beautiful estates that border the river. One of these includes the residence of David Garrick, one of the best-known actors of the 18th century. Today, he is known as one of the key figures who helped to revive the reputation of William Shakespeare, who is situated as a quasi-deity in a temple on the Garricks’ Hampton property.
Pictured here in a print by JA Farington and JC Stadler, made after a painting in Boydell’s Shakepeare Gallery, the Temple to Shakespeare is depicted to the far left, balanced with the Garricks’ House on the right. Nestled in the height of 18th century landscape fashion, the Temple appears in a so-called ‘Brownian’ or English-style landscape garden, which was defined by an apparent informality and naturalism. While the villa and its Temple are often seen as symbols of David Garrick, the influence of his wife Eva might help us to better understand its design as a whole.
While researching David Garrick’s theatrical career at the Folger, I was thrilled to find a wealth of resources regarding the vibrant life of Eva Maria (née Veigel) Garrick. She was a dancer who performed under the name ‘Violette’ or ‘Violetti’, who first came to England with the Italian Opera Company at King’s Theatre at Drury Lane in 1746. The Folger collections includes a print of a Minuet with handwritten notes indicating that it is the same music to which ‘Mlle Violette’ debuted at Drury Lane Theatre on December 3rd, 1746.
While in England, Eva enjoyed the patronage of Richard Boyle 3rd Earl of Burlington and his wife Dorothy Boyle, née Savile, Countess of Burlington. She lived with them as part of the family until she married Garrick in 1749, and the young couple were frequent guests of the Burlingtons after their marriage.1 Lord Burlington played a key role in the beginning of the so-called ‘English’ landscape garden style. His work as an architect was lauded in Alexander Pope’s An Epistle to the Right Honourable Richard Earl of Burlington, which is seen by many as a key starting point of the English landscape style. Burlington’s circle also included William Kent, a noted practitioner of landscape design who was lauded by Horace Walpole as the first to leap the fence and see that all nature was a garden.2 The influence of these ideas is clearly seen in the informal design of Eva’s home at Hampton.
The Hampton estate was purchased by the Garricks in 1754, just a few short years after they were married in 1749. Changes in the landscape were initiated in the years immediately following the purchase, with the Temple to Shakespeare dedicated in 1758. The Temple is often thought to be the work of Robert Adams, while the landscape is sometimes attributed to Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. Yet actual evidence regarding this early period of development is lacking from much of the scholarly record.3 Perhaps some of these gaps might be filled by looking at Eva’s letters and involvement in the home she and David made at Hampton after their marriage.
In my research on landscape gardens I have often found that the nexus of ideas for such designs come from a multitude of sources that are bound together by 18th century social networks, which tend to focus on the women of the family. While their names might not appear on receipts or contracts, the involvement of women like Eva in such domestic affairs was expected, and often appears in less publicized sources. These include small notes of thanks or lengthy letters about family affairs between family members or friends that sometimes contain some of the best descriptions of how and why these estates are developed and experienced.
While the informal landscape style and neoclassical temple were the height of fashion and taste at the time, and therefore an obvious choice for Garrick who is well-known to have played to fashion to advance his reputation, the implications of Eva’s involvement cannot be ignored. Between Shakespeare and the landscape design, the villa as a whole demonstrates a marriage of ideas between Eva, or at least Burlington’s circle, and David’s acting career. The Temple very closely resembles one at the Burlington’s estate at Chiswick, and by placing Shakespeare at its core, the ideas of both Eva’s circle and David’s become one.
Eva’s active role in David’s career is playfully hinted at by Hogarth in his double portrait of the couple c. 1757–64, shown here in a 19th century reproduction.
As David rests in a pensive stance, Eva is poised above him, either to take the pen, or move it for him in a muse-like fashion. As scholars have noted, Eva’s depiction in the double portrait implies an active role in her husband’s affairs.
That this was the case in a practical sense is supported by letters like one from Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg (Folger MS W.b.487, no. 45) who, in 1771, asked Eva to intercede on his behalf regarding his Drury Lane salary.
It is more than likely that she should be equally active in managing their estate at Hampton. Such a role is implied visually in Zoffany’s painting of the couple. Like Hogarth’s double portrait, Zoffany’s piece puts Eva above Garrick on the visual plane by placing her higher up on the steps of the Temple. Again, this positioning may indicate her role as muse, but also hints at her importance to the villa at Hampton specifically. Given Garrick’s careful modeling of his own reputation in visual media, it is unlikely that Zoffany’s placement of the couple is accidental.
As a garden ‘folly’ or fabrique, the Temple to Shakespeare forms the focal point of the landscape’s design. It is featured prominently in the prints of the estate at the Folger, which are all taken from the point of view of the Thames. The Folger’s collection includes a beautifully carved ‘replica’ of the temple as a bookshelf. The bookshelf deviates from the design of the actual Temple in that it does not have the Grecian portico on the front, and the top is crowned with a statue of Shakespeare.
The statue of Shakespeare on the bookshelf is a replica of one that was commissioned by and rumored to be modeled on David Garrick, created by the Louis François Roubiliac, a small-scale model of which resides in the Folger library. During Garrick’s time, the statue was the focal point of the Temple’s interior. While the original statue was donated to the British Museum, a replica stands in the Temple today. The estate was recently (1996 – 2006) restored through the Temple Trust, in coordination with the London Borough of Richmond.
Another work that would have appeared inside the temple at the time is the so-called ‘President’s Chair’. This chair in the Folger collection is thought to be the same one designed by William Hogarth for the interior of Garrick’s temple at the Hampton Estate. Like a book frontispiece come to life, the chair back enfolds a medallion of Shakespeare’s bust in profile in the icons of the theatre.
After her husband’s death in 1779, Eva inherited the Hampton estate. Under Eva’s management, the villa continued as a notable landmark of Garrick’s genius, and his devotion to reviving the reputation and spirit of William Shakespeare . While the centrality of Shakespeare often places her husband at the center of the story, Eva’s role in this estate is more subtly implicated in the ‘English’ landscape design and neoclassical temple. The aesthetic qualities from Eva’s circle reinforce the ‘naturalism’ and patriotism imbued in the figure of Shakespeare as the deity of the temple, and of Garrick as his ‘chief priest’.
- Peter Thomson, “Garrick [née Veigel], Eva Maria [performing name Violette],” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2008. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/28330
- Horace Walpole, The History of the Modern Taste in Gardening: Journals of Visits to Country Seats. Edited by John Dixon Hunt, New York, London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1982): 264.
- Michael Symes, “David Garrick and landscape gardening,” The Journal of Garden History, 6:1, (1986) 34–49.
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