This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
[All our readers know our doctrine regarding the fancy of our countrymen for white paint. We are glad to find the subject so well touched upon in the right spirit, by the late Mr. Coopkr, in the following extract from an article by him on our Scenery contrasted with that of Europe, in Putnam's Home Book of the Picturesque. Ed].
It has been a question among the admirers of natural scenery, whether the presence or absence of detached farm-houses, of trees, of hedges, walls and fences, most contribute to the effect of any inland view. As these are the great points of distinction between the continent of Europe and our own country, we shall pause a moment to examine the subject a little more in detail. When the towns and villages are sufficiently numerous to catch the attention of the eye, and there are occasional fragments of forest in sight, one does not so much miss the absence of that appearance of comfort and animated beauty that the other style of embellishment so eminently possesses. A great deal, however, depends, as respects these particulars, on the nature of the architecture, and the color of the buildings and fences. It is only in very particular places, and under very dull lights, that the contrast between white and green is agreeable. A fence that looks as if it were copsr-td with clothes hung up to dry does very little towards aiding the picturesque.
And he who endeavors to improve his taste in these particulars, will not foil to discern in time that a range of country which gives up its objects, chiselled and distinct, but sober and sometimes sombre, will eventually take stronger hold of his fancy, than one that is glit tering with the fruits of the paint and white-wash brushes. We are never dissatisfied with the natural tints of stone, for the mind readily submits to the ordering of nature; and, though one color may be preferred to another, each and all are acceptable in their proper places. Thus, a marble structure is expected to be white, and as such, if the buildings be of suitable dimensions and proportions, escapes our criticism on account of its richness and uses. The same may be said of other hues, when not artificial; but we think that most admirers of nature, as they come to cultivate their tastes, settle down into a preference for the gray and subdued, over all the bright tints that art can produce. In this particular, then, we give the preference to the effects of European scenery, over that of this country, where wood is so much used for the purposes of building, and where the fashion has long been to color it with white.
A better taste, however, or what wees* teem as such, is beginning to prevail, and houses in towns and villages, are now, not un-frequently, even painted in subdued colors. We regard the effect as an improvement, though to our taste, no hue, in its artificial objects, so embellishes a landscape as the solemn color of the more sober and less meretricious looking stones. We believe that a structure of white, with green blinds, is almost peculiar to this country. In the most propitious situations, and under the happiest circumstances, the colors are unquestionably on-suited to architecture, which, like statuary, should have but one tint. If, however, it be deemed essential to the flaunting tastes of the mistress of some mansion, to cause the hues of the edifice in which she resides to be as gay as her toilette we earnestly protest against the bright green that is occasionally introduced for such purposes. There is a graver tint of the same color, that entirely changes the expression of a dwelling. Place two of these houses in close proximity, and scarcely an intellectual being would pass them, without saying that the owner of the one was much superior to the owner of the other, in all that marks the civilized man.
Put a third structure in the immediate vicinity of these two, that should have but one color on its surface, including its binds, and we think that nine persons in ten, except the very vulgar and uninstructed, would at once jump to the conclusion that the owner of this habitation was in tastes and refinement superior to both his neighbors. A great improvement, however, in rural, as well as town architecture, is now in the course of introduction throughout all the northern states. More attention is paid to the picturesque, than was formerly the case, and the effects are becoming as numerous as they are pleasing. We should particularise New-Haven, as one of those towns that has been thus embellished of late years, and there are other places, of nearly equal size, that might be mentioned as having the same claims to an improved taste. But to return to the great distinctive features between an ordinary American landscape, and a similar scene in Europe. Of the artificial accessories it is scarcely necessary to say any more.
One does not expect to meet with a ruined castle or abbey, or even fortress, in America; nor, on the other hand, does the traveller look for the forests of America, or that abundance of wood which gives to nearly every farm a sufficiency for all the common wants of life, on the plains and heights of the old world. Wood there certainly is, and possibly enough to meet the ordinary wants of the different countries, but it is generally in the hands of the governments or the great proprietors, and takes the aspect of forests of greater or less size, that are well cared for, cleared and trimmed like the grounds of a park. Germany has, we think, in some respects, a strong resemblance to the views of America. It is not so much wanting in detached copses and smaller plantations of trees, as the countries farther south and east of it, while it has less of the naked aspect, in general, that is so remarkable in France. Detached buildings occur more frequently in Germany than in France especially, and we might add, also, in Spain. The reader will remember that it is a prevalent usage throughout Europe, with the exception of the British Islands, Holland, and here and there a province in other countries, for the rural population to dwell in villages.
This practice gives to the German landscape, in particular, a species of resemblance to what is ordinarily termed park scenery, though it is necessarily wanting in much of that expression which characterises the embellishments that properly belong to the latter. With us, this resemblance is often even stronger, in consequence of the careless graces of nature, and the great affluence of detached woods; the distinguishing feature existing in in the Jarm-house, fences, and out-buildings. Of a cloudy day, a distant view in America often bears this likeness to a park, in a very marked degree, for then the graces of the scene are visible to the eye, while the defects of the details are too remote to be detected.
Mr. Cooper, in his foreign travel, if not in his home education, had an opportunity to cultivate a high and a correct taste in what constitutes propriety and truth of color in rural buildings. All who have sojourned in, or passed through the charming and picturesque village of Oooperstown, at the foot of Otsego lake, must have admired the fine baronial style of his dwelling, and its broad lawn of deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubbery - rthe fit repose of a ripe scholar, and an accomplished man. The mature taste of one who has fixed his home in the midst of such striking scenery, and whose life, for thirty years, had been in perpetual communion with its most attractive objects, is well worth the heed of all builders, and dwellers in the country. The judgment, and the taste of our people, is fast improving in the color of their buildings, although broad mistakes are now and then made in escaping from the old fashioned white, into some of the new-fangled colors which we see mis-applied to newly got-up houses.
Observation and experience will correct this; and we shall, it is hoped, work down into appropriate tones of color and shade for our buildings.