Looking at how English country houses were represented in print, this article explores the process through which the status of country houses was transformed from private property to symbolic of national taste. From the mid-18th century, with the rise of domestic travel and the printmaking industry, views of country houses became a conspicuous new genre of publication. Increasingly published guidebooks and travel accounts also provided plentiful descriptions of the buildings, gardens, and art collections of country houses. The end of 1770s even witnessed the appearance of a new kind of books which combined pictorial and literary descriptions of country houses. These publications brought country houses into visual focus for the public, and helped popularize the way of seeing country houses as representative of the English landscape and national artistic treasures.
This article first traces the development of printed views of country houses and investigates the context in which books of county house prints arose. Guidebooks and travel accounts will then be explored specifically in relation to their descriptions of art collections. Finally, the focus will be on the development of books of country house prints in the early 19th century, so as to examine the proposed new ways of looking at county houses and their art collections.