Cecil Ross Pinsent’s Infinity of Graces

People / Places / August 11, 2016

One of my all-time favorite books on landscape architecture came out in 2013. It’s by Ethne Clarke and it covers the work of Cecil Ross Pinsent in Italy during the early years of the 20th century. His work was elegantly understated, but lush. So is Clarke’s book, re-posted here today:

Ethne Clarke is a writer, an editor and a publisher who’s on a mission.

Besides serving as editor-in-chief of Organic Gardening, she’s just written a book on Cecil Ross Pinsent.

If the name doesn’t ring a bell – well, that’s exactly why she wrote it.

Pinsent was an English architect who worked in and around Florence, Italy in the first half of the 20th century. While others were doing Italianate gardens in the U.S. and England, he was working with the originals – like the Villa Medici. He labored mightily on two fronts: he kept his clients happy while respecting the places in which he worked.

Moreover, he did it all while the profession was in transition. “He was educated in the Arts & Craft tradition, when architecture was going through a huge revolution, moving from classical landscapes and into a more modern style,” she says.

At Villa La Balze, he took on the entire project, helping to choose the site, designing the villa as well as all the decorative motifs. In its grotto, he created shelves to hold busts of major philosophers, working with Italian craftsmen to get the pieces precisely the way he wanted them.

“He designed the latches on the windows, the carpets on the floor, and the garden – he did it all,” she says. “He was known best for helping to shape what we think of today as the beautiful, romantic Italian gardens and villas. He had a light touch.”

Pinsent was the architect of choice for Anglo-American expats living in Florence. Edith Wharton sought his advice; Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicholson admired and were influenced by his work. Geoffrey Scott, author of The Architecture of Humanism, dedicated the book to him.

Alas, Pinsent, gifted though he might have been, was not one for self promotion. “He was unable to articulate his ideas,” she says. “At the end of his life, he remarked that he’d never chased recognition, but that it was too late now.”

The result was decades of neglect. “He was completely overlooked,” she says.

But that’s about to change.

For more information, go to http://books.wwnorton.com/books/An-Infinity-of-Graces/

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Michael Welton
I write about architecture, art, and design for national and international publications. I am the author of "Drawing from Practice: Architects and the Meaning of Freehand" (Routledge, 2015), and the former architecture critic for the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C.

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1 Comment

on September 29, 2016

Thanks for bringing this to my attention!

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