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Picturesque Transformations: A. J. Davis in the Hudson Valley and Beyond

Watson, Peter A.

This thesis examines the role English landscape gardening played in shaping the career and working methods of the American architect Alexander Jackson Davis (1803‐1892) and its implications for preserving his surviving body of work in the Hudson Valley. The study is organized around a detailed study of four Davis country house projects (Blithewood, The Dr. Oliver Bronson House, Montgomery Place, and Locust Grove), each of which involve the redesign of an existing house and landscape into a radically different form; a specific mode of transformation that has a long history within English landscape gardening tradition. What emerges from this study is a very different view of A. J. Davis's professional identity than has been traditionally appreciated and a different way to "read" his watercolor drawings. In an era before the professionalization of the architectural discipline, English landscape gardening offered Davis an attractive working model to practice architecture as an artist, using his compositional skills to create artistically cohesive scenes in real landscapes blending the techniques of landscape painting and architectural design. All of this was shaped by English precedents Davis learned about through his participation in the early National Academy of Design under Samuel F. B. Morse (1791‐1872) and Davis's documented reading of English landscape gardening books. Following such influential English role models as Humphry Repton (1752‐1818), Davis designed onsite rather than drafting plans and elevations in the office, working to capture the actual conditions of light and shade, texture and color, in his designs and compositions. And like Repton, Davis was equally concerned with both "aspects" and "prospects," the way architecture formed a part of the landscape composition and framed the view outward. This thesis explores how Davis employed landscape gardening in four major country house commissions, documenting the existing conditions before he arrived on the scene and the process by which both the architectural elements in the landscape and the landscape itself was transformed over time into unified picturesque compositions. Understanding Davis in this way has major implications for preservation and interpretation of his surviving work. Landscape restoration assumes an equal position with architectural restoration. To assist current preservation work, this thesis offers a set of recommended strategies for each of the four case study sites that flow directly from the analysis and Davis's conception of landscape and architecture as inseparable parts of a single artistic whole.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Dolkart, Andrew S.
Degree
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
June 6, 2012
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