Arriving at Compton Verney, the Grade I-listed mansion near Wellesbourne, it is good to see that the sculptures created from natural materials by American artist Patrick Dougherty last summer are still in rude health.
Now looking nicely integrated into the parkland near the car park, they have been joined by new works from artists Anya Gallaccio and Simon Patterson for a second 'Art in the Park' season which runs until the end of this month.
This year, visitors to the house's 40-acre Capability Brown landscaped grounds can also visit the ground floor of the house, which is being developed as an art museum by the Peter Moores Foundation.
Having opened for an extended preview season during the summer of 1998 the house is now normally closed pending further phases of development, with a full opening planned for 2003. But until August 28 visitors can see displays from the growing collections of Italian baroque painting and British portraiture, and 'Bedworth Portraits', an exhibition arising from one of Compton Verney's recent community art projects.
Both Anya Gallaccio and Simon Patterson have taken themes from Compton Verney's past for their environmental art works.
Gallaccio has taken the pattern from a Robert Adam ceiling design to create huge, crop-circle-like designs across the lawns. Although simple in concept and design, the piece was a major undertaking for the gardeners who mowed the patterns, each 55-metres across, with the aid of giant templates.
'I like the idea of taking something from nature that had been put inside the house and bringing it outside the house,' she said. 'On one level it's quite monumental but the finished result is quite simple. The pattern will gradually disappear as the grass grows.'
Simon Patterson, a nominee for the Turner Prize in 1996, has come up with an even simpler reference to Compton Verney's past. The multicoloured smoke flares which he has dotted around the parkland landscape, set off at regular times in the morning and afternoon, reflect its use by the army during the Second World War to experiment with smokescreens and camouflage, although it might also recall 18th century spectaculars.
The art works are low-key responses to the park, which is as pleasant a place to stroll around on a sunny summer's day as any in the West Midlands.
Meanwhile, plans for Phase II of the Compton Verney project are coming into focus, with the prospect of major building work starting as soon as next month.
The Compton Verney House Trust began with a historically important building - traditionally attributed to Vanburgh and certainly extensively remodelled by Robert Adam - in a very poor state of repair. In phase one architects Stanton Williams added a new block with visitor facilities including a cafe and shop and a new gallery for temporary exhibitions, as well as adapting rooms on the ground and first floors as picture galleries.
The practical experience of opening to the public during 1998, as well as the arrival of new director Richard Gray, former director of Manchester City Art Galleries, led to a revaluation of Phase II, including a decision that environmental …