The Draughtsman's Contract

In Peter Greenaway's films, the familiar becomes thoroughly unfamiliar through the elaborate, rigorous application of a defined structure. Thus it should not be surprising that in this, his breakthrough feature, a Restoration comedy ends up as a mystery. A seventeenth-century landowner, Mrs. Herbert, hires a noted landscape architect, Mr. Neville, to create a series of drawings of her house and gardens; as payment, Neville may sleep with his patroness, once for each drawing. A technical virtuoso, Neville produces detailed, carefully composed drawings. But, inexplicably, unwanted objects creep into his scenes. And as the harmony of his drawings is disturbed, so is his ordered (outlined-in-contract) life. Thus Greenaway begins his investigation into realism and illusionism, and the difference between seeing and interpreting. The ivy-strewn human statues in the garden echo the central irony: a patron's purchase is actually the artist himself.

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