Masters of their Craft: The Art, Architecture and Garden Design of the Nesfields

By Shirley Rose Evans

A masterful work of biography and garden and art history, describing the styles and legacy of the eminent Victorian designers the Nesfields.

ISBN: 9780718893231


In this informative and charming volume, Dr Shirley Evans explores the lives of two of the most prominent designers of the nineteenth century; designers who have left their distinctive mark on buildings and gardens throughout the British Isles. William Andrews Nesfield and William Eden Nesfield, father and son, were infatuated with the beauty and romance of the past, and both played an important role in the nineteeth-century revivals of the Jacobean, Renaissance and Gothic styles.

The Nesfields produced horticultural and architectural designs for wealthy and influential landowners, later winning important public commissions at Kew Gardens and the Prince Consort’s Kensington museum complex. Shirley Evans considers the education of both men and the evolution of their aesthetic sensibilities in detail. William Andrews Nesfield’s early life in Durham, military training and travels in Canada and Europe fed his fascination with Renaissance proportion and the pre-Revolutionary French parterre-de-broderie, a design of intricate and highly artificial bedding that was to become his signature. His son flourished in the artistic milieu in which he was raised, but his main passion was for Gothic detailing. Both were highly accomplished painters, and Nesfield Senior’s watercolours were lauded by John Ruskin.

Extensively illustrated, Masters of their Craft will be of great interest to enthusiasts of the remarkable work of the Nesfields in particular, and of Victorian design in general.

Additional information

Dimensions 246 × 189 mm
Pages 228
Illustrations b&w and colour

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Trade Information LGENPOD

About the Author

Dr Shirley Rose Evans taught for many years in Shropshire, but she and her husband now live in Cornwall. The Nesfields have been the subject of her research for many years and she has written and spoken about them extensively. Dr Evans has also been involved in the conservation and restoration projects of prominent gardens including those at Regent’s Park in London, working closely with The Royal Parks agency, and at Alnwick Castle in Northumberland.


List of Illustrations
Family Tree

1. Early Days
2. Into the Army
3. Medieval Influences
4. Painting the Picturesque
5. Marriage and a Start in Landscape Gardening
6. Concerning the Landscape
7. The Return to Formality
8. The Parterre-de-Broderie
9. Painted Gardens
10. The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and Buckingham Palace
11. Enter William Eden
12. Breaking Free
13. Witley Court and Stoke Edith
14. 30 Argyll Street
15. Two Public Commissions
16. The End of an Era

List of William Andrews Nesfield’s Commissions
List of William Eden Nesfield’s Commissions
Watercolours Exhibited by William Andrews Nesfield


Endorsements and Reviews

At last we have a definitive study of the most influential landscape gardener of the Victorian period. Shirley Evans’s brilliant monograph combines meticulous scholarship with analytical site investigation to establish Nesfield as a practitioner of rare innovation.
Prof Timothy Mowl FSA, Professorial Research Fellow in History of Architecture and Designed Landscapes, Humanities Research Institute, University of Buckingham

Shirley Rose Evans’ long-awaited study of the Nesfields launches them into the limelight at last; her warm-hearted and colourful family saga of war and peace, of dutiful soldiering unleashed into passions for watercolours, decorative gardening and architecture reveals the humanity of these Victorian taste-makers.
Jane Brown, author of The Pursuit of Paradise, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown 1716-83 and A History of the Garden at Buckingham Palace

… this is a significant study of the Nesfields. It is an informative, well-illustrated volume with … family tress, list of commissions, an excellent bibliography and a glossary of words and terms used in the book.
Clare Greener, in Devon Gardens Trust Newsletter, No 94

… the beautiful drawings and watercolours, and the detailed planting lists, contribute hugely to making this an invaluable contribution to any study of mid-nineteenth century landscaping and to an understanding of the contemporary reasons for the decline in popularity of Lancelot Brown.
Judith Christie, in Cambridgeshire Gardens Trust Newsletter, No. 37, October 2014

William Andrews (W.A.) and William Eden Nesfield (W.E.), landscape architect and architect, have waited a long time for a monograph, but now Shirley Rose Evans has done them justice in a book that not only details their artistic accomplishments, but is full of insights into their age.
Clive Aslet, in Country Life, 28 Jan 2015

Nesfield’s relationship with other designers and theorists in the early 19th century is succinctly discussed, together with the aesthetics that under pinned the painting of his parterres with gravels as well as plants. … Nesfield’s two sons make many appearances in the book and usefully, William Eden Nesfield’s architectural commisions are listed.
David Whitehead, in Hereford and Worcester Gardens Trust Newsletter, Jan 2015

This book is a serious read and a historical account of the changes going on in public parks and private estates and it is also a very handy reference work about the many scores of stately homes and country estates that the Nesfields added to in many ways.
RW, in Follies: The International Magazine, Vol 24, Issue 1