Seeing red at the Royal Pavilion

July 22, 2014
Detail from a panel in the south wall of the Music Room at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, painted by Frederick Crace, oil on canvas. ©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove, photograph Jim Pike

Detail from a panel in the south wall of the Music Room at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, painted by Frederick Crace, oil on canvas. ©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove, photograph Jim Pike

Another example of the decorative complexity of the Royal Pavilion, which Alexandra Loske discussed in her recent talk, is the ‘red lacquer’ used on the walls in the Music Room.

Coloured engraving of a Chinese city gate after William Alexander, published by G. and W. Nicol, London, 1798, and later included in the book The Costume of China (1805). ©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove, photograph Jim Pike

Coloured engraving of a Chinese city gate after William Alexander, published by G. and W. Nicol, London, 1798, and later included in the book The Costume of China (1805). ©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove, photograph Jim Pike

As Alexandra explains, the motifs for this scheme were derived from illustrated books on China, such as William Alexander’s The Costume of China (1805).

Japanned cabinet imitating Chinese lacquer, at Snowshill Manor, inv. no. 1331909. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

Japanned cabinet imitating Chinese lacquer, at Snowshill Manor, inv. no. 1331909. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

The colour scheme, however, is clearly influenced by red and gold Asian lacquer, which had long been popular in the west.

The Japan Room at Frogmore House by Charles Wild, 1819. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

The Japan Room at Frogmore House by Charles Wild, 1819. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

Both at Buckingham Palace and at Frogmore House on the Windsor estate there were chinoiserie interiors incorporating lacquer and lacquer effects, which may also have influenced the Prince Regent and his design team.

View of the Music Room at the Royal Pavilion, engraved by J. Agar, J. Stephanoff and J. Tingli after Augustus Charles Pugin, 1824, and used to illustrate John Nash’s book The Royal Pavilion at Brighton (1826). © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

View of the Music Room at the Royal Pavilion, engraved by J. Agar, J. Stephanoff and J. Tingli after Augustus Charles Pugin, 1824, and used to illustrate John Nash’s book The Royal Pavilion at Brighton (1826). © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

However, Alexandra also noted the artistry of the designers purely at the level of colour. The Music Room is dominated by the three primary colours red, blue and yellow/gold in pure, saturated tints. This combining of complementary colours was known from contemporary colour theory to produce a particularly brilliant effect.

Thinking pink at the Royal Pavilion

July 15, 2014
The Long Gallery at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. ©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

The Long Gallery at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. ©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

At the recent ‘Objects, Families, Homes’ conference of the East India Company at Home project I heard a fascinating lecture by Dr Alexandra Loske about the rich array of colours and motifs in the interiors of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton.

Chinese famille rose porcelain lidded vase, inv. no. 1245511, at Polesden Lacey. ©National Trust/Lynda Hall

Chinese famille rose porcelain lidded vase, inv. no. 1245511, at Polesden Lacey. ©National Trust/Lynda Hall

Alexandra teased out how some of the decoration came from Chinese sources, such as famille rose porcelain and mandarins’ robes, while other elements came from European illustrated books about China and the ongoing tradition of imitation-Chinese – or chinoiserie – decoration.

The Long Gallery in John Nash's Views of the Royal Pavilion, 1826 (image from Austenonly)

The Long Gallery in John Nash’s Views of the Royal Pavilion, 1826 (image from Austenonly)

Out of these diverse and and sometimes unexpected influences the ‘design team’ – comprised of the Prince of Wales (client), John Nash (architect) and John and Frederick Crace and Robert Jones (designers) – then created the extraordinarily rich synthesis that we can still experience at the Royal Pavilion today.

Alexandra Loske holding Moses Harris's influential The Natural System of Colours (c.1769-76), and with a fragment of Chinese wallpaper in the collection of the Royal Pavilion in the background.

Alexandra Loske holding Moses Harris’s influential The Natural System of Colours (c.1769-76), and with a fragment of Chinese wallpaper in the collection of the Royal Pavilion in the background.

Alexandra has also master-minded a special display at the Royal pavilion entitled ‘Regency Colour and Beyond – 1785-1850′, about the Regency-period fascination with colour. The display has been based on Alexandra’s research, which was carried out in collaboration with the conservators at the Royal Pavilion and pigment specialists at the National Gallery.

Fragment of the original wall decoration of the Long Gallery, inspired in part by Chinese wallpaper and in part by famille rose porcelain. ©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

Fragment of the original wall decoration of the Long Gallery, inspired in part by Chinese wallpaper and in part by famille rose porcelain. ©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

The project was part of Alexandra’s collaborative doctorate, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, which aims to encourage interaction between academic and non-academic institutions and businesses. I, for one, hope to learn more from Alexandra about the role of Chinese wallpaper in the development of the Royal Pavilion.

Questions of value

July 10, 2014
Leather fire bucket at Florence Court, Co Fermanagh, inv. no. 630933. The painted tendrils shaped into an 'E' stand for 'Enniskillen', the earldom of the Cole family which owned Florence Court. ©National Trust

Leather fire bucket, at Florence Court, Co. Fermanagh, inv. no. 630933. The painted tendrils shaped into an ‘E’ stand for ‘Enniskillen’, the earldom of the Cole family which owned Florence Court. ©National Trust

Yesterday I attended a conference organised by the Art Fund about the value of museums. There were a number of stimulating discussions about what kind of value museums have and how that value operates.

There seemed to be a consensus that museums should focus on what they are really good at: collecting, looking after, researching and making accessible interesting and beautiful things. It was commented that museums can have social and economic benefits too, but that those are best delivered through that core purpose.

Painted 'grotesque' decoration with tendrils, leaves and ribbons in the boudoir at Attingham Park, 1780s, possibly by Louis-André Delabrière. ©National Trust Images/James Mortimer

Painted ‘grotesque’ decoration with tendrils, leaves and ribbons in the boudoir at Attingham Park, 1780s, possibly by Louis-André Delabrière. ©National Trust Images/James Mortimer

There were some fascinating and contrasting examples of ‘value’. At one end of the spectrum, Graham W.J. Beal, director of the Detroit Institute of Arts, described the struggle to preserve a collection which is threatened with sale in order to plug the pensions deficit of the city. At the other end, Jack Persekian, director of the Palestinian Museum – as yet without a building and without a collection – showed examples of the objects cherished by individual Palestinians, objectively modest things which nevertheless have enormous subjective power.

This investigation of ‘value’ reminded me of the collections of the National Trust, where the modest can sometimes be just as significant as the fine. The leather bucket shown above was once simply an item of fire prevention at Florence Court. But the way it was made, its aged appearance and its connection to a particular place now give it an distinct aura, speaking to us on a number of different levels.

The charming conceit of painting the house owner’s initial on the bucket in vaguely classical tendrils links it to a long tradition of classicised floral decoration. The boudoir at Attingham, in the second image above, is another, particularly fine example of that tradition. And that boudoir, in turn, demonstrates how objects never exist in a vacuum, but always ‘speak’ to other objects within certain spaces and relationships.

So that leads me to propose that the value of museums, and of heritage more widely, resides in relationships: between objects, between objects and places and between objects and people.

Silver at Belton: new, old and recycled

July 8, 2014
The south front of Belton House, painted by an anonymous artist in about 1720. Inv. no. 436145. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The south front of Belton House, painted by an anonymous artist in about 1720. Inv. no. 436145. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

A thread of silver runs through the history of Belton House. From the time the house was built in the 1680s by Sir John Brownlow, 3rd Bt. (1659-97), silver was an integral part of the interior. Even the staff of the porter, shown in a painting of about 1720 (but still surviving in the house), had a silver pommel and ferrule.

One of the set of four silver gilt 'pilgrim bottles' at Belton House, c. 1690. Inv. no. 436544. ©National Trust/Jack Heath

One of the set of four silver gilt ‘pilgrim bottles’ at Belton House, c. 1690. Inv. no. 436544. ©National Trust/Jack Heath

One of the third Baronet’s acquisitions is the rare set of  silver gilt chained water bottles, sometimes known as ‘pilgrim bottles’.

Silver gilt sconces originally made for king William III. Inv. no. 436541. ©National Trust Images/Angelo Hornak

Silver gilt sconces originally made for king William III. Inv. no. 436541. ©National Trust Images/Angelo Hornak

Later generations of the Brownlow and Cust families continued to add silver. John Cust, 2nd Baron and 1st Earl Brownlow (1779-1853), was one of the first collectors of antique silver. He bought a considerable number of late-seventeenth-century silver items from the royal silversmiths Rundell, Bridge and Rundell. These had been recycled from various royal palaces, where they were considered outmoded. As a result, some of the silver gilt sconces now housed at Belton give a flavour of the decoration of king William III’s palaces.

Silver and silver-gilt items on the dining table in the Hondecoeter room at Belton. ©National Trust Images/Robert Morris

Silver and silver-gilt items on the dining table in the Hondecoeter room at Belton. ©National Trust Images/Robert Morris

This year there is even more emphasis on silver at Belton than usual, with silversmith Angela Cork working as artist in residence, sponsored by the Goldsmith’s Company.

The gardens of Woolbeding

July 1, 2014
View over the lake to the chinoiserie bridge in the landscape garden at Woolbedding, created with the help if Julian and Isabel Bannerman from the late 1990s. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

View over the lake to the chinoiserie bridge in the landscape garden at Woolbedding, created with the help if Julian and Isabel Bannerman from the late 1990s. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

I just wanted to share these images of Woolbeding, the garden, or rather series of gardens, created by the Hon. Simon Sainsbury and Stewart Grimshaw.

River god in the landscape garden at Woolbeding. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

River god in the landscape garden at Woolbeding. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

Simon Sainsbury leased the house and garden from the National Trust in 1973, and together with his partner Stewart Grimshaw he gradually transformed the garden.

Rootwood bench at Woolbeding. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Rootwood bench at Woolbeding. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

An article by Stephen Lacey in the Sunday Times describes the development of the garden in some detail.

The rotunda at Woolbeding, designed by Philip Jebb to fill the place of a tulip tree that was blown over in the great storm of 1987. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

The rotunda at Woolbeding, designed by Philip Jebb to fill the place of a tulip tree that was blown over in the great storm of 1987. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

Various designers were involved, including Lanning Roper (1912-83), Philip Jebb (1927-95) and Julian and Isabel Bannerman.

View towards one of the cedars at Woolbeding. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

View towards one of the cedars at Woolbeding. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Simon Sainsbury died in 2006, but Stewart Grimshaw still uses Woolbeding as a weekend home and continues to be involved in the garden.

The 'ruined abbey' at Woolbeding. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

The ‘ruined abbey’ at Woolbeding. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Although Woolbeding is still a private garden, visits can be pre-booked. More about the history of the house and garden can be found on the Parks and Gardens UK website.

Wearing the garden

June 26, 2014
Damask waistcoat in 1770s style, using fabric from 1755. Wade collection, Berrington Hall, inv. no. 1349699. ©National Trust

Damask waistcoat in 1770s style, using fabric from 1755. Wade collection, Berrington Hall, inv. no. 1349699. ©National Trust

I just spotted these images of yet more gorgeous waistcoats from the Wade collection at Berrington Hall, on the well-illustrated Hidden Wardrobe blog. I have previously showed some of these exuberantly ‘pre-Brummell’ waistcoats here.

Cream satin waistcoat with copper-plate printed decoration, 1810-20. Wade collection, Berrington Hall, inv. no. 1349304. ©National Trust

Cream satin waistcoat with copper-plate printed decoration, 1810-20. Wade collection, Berrington Hall, inv. no. 1349304. ©National Trust

They are on show in an exhibition entitled ‘Wearing the Garden’, about the floral decoration on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century waistcoats. The exhibition is on view until 30 June – just an few days left.

1760s beryl blue satin waistcoat with snowdrops, daffodils and stylised leaves in silver gilt. Wade collection, Berrington Hall, inv. no. 1349008. ©National Trust

1760s beryl blue satin waistcoat with snowdrops, daffodils and stylised leaves in silver gilt. Wade collection, Berrington Hall, inv. no. 1349008. ©National Trust

I find it difficult to imagine how men could unselfconsiously wear such sumptuous and theatrical clothes – but they evidently did.

Early-nineteenth-century waistcoat decorated with embroidered flowers and spangles. Wade collections, Berrington Hall, inv. no. 1349300. ©National Trust

Early-nineteenth-century waistcoat decorated with embroidered flowers and spangles. Wade collections, Berrington Hall, inv. no. 1349300. ©National Trust

I suppose it would have helped that this style and level of luxury was considered perfectly appropriate for a certain class of person in the late eighteenth century.

Cream ground satin waistcoat with floral designs in cut and uncut velvet, inv. no. 1349007. ©National Trust

Cream ground satin waistcoat with floral designs in cut and uncut velvet, inv. no. 1349007. ©National Trust

But even then, as costume curator Althea Mackenzie writes, there were grumblings that it was becoming difficult to distinguish a master from a servant just on the basis of dress.

Spangled and patched

June 24, 2014
The proper left foot curtain of the spangled bed (inv. no. 129462), shown from the top end. ©National Trust

The proper left foot curtain of the spangled bed (inv. no. 129462), shown from the top end. ©National Trust

One of the objects at Knole currently undergoing conservation treatment is the so-called ‘spangled bed’. This bed may have been created in the early eighteenth century using an Elizabethan or Jacobean royal canopy of state which was sewn with silver sequins.

The spangle bedroom at Knole. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The spangle bedroom at Knole. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The silk curtains of this bed are being analysed and treated at the National Trust’s Textile Conservation Studio. The Knole Conservation Team Blog has recently shown these images of the initial findings.

Yellow damask section at the top end of the proper left head curtain, which seems to have been part of the original lining. ©National Trust

Yellow damask section at the top end of the proper left head curtain, which seems to have been part of the original lining. ©National Trust

It turns out that the curtains are a patchwork of different elements, including six different types of silk damask, a plain silk section and a linen section.

Pink damask patches at the bottom of one of the curtains. ©National Trust

Pink damask patches at the bottom of one of the curtains. ©National Trust

All these patches seem to have had previous uses before they were inserted into the bed curtains, as they show additional seams and darning.

Green damask patch at the top of one of the curtains. ©National Trust

Green damask patch at the top of one of the curtains. ©National Trust

There are a number of different types and styles of seams, suggesting that there were several successive repairs.

Yellow damask patch. ©National Trust

Yellow damask patch. ©National Trust

At some point the curtains seem to have been turned upside down, so that the damaged and patched hems would be at the top and therefore less obvious.

Patch of a different crimson damask. ©National Trust

Patch of a different crimson damask. ©National Trust

All this gives some glimpses of the life of this venerable bed, as well as of the thrifty housekeeping methods of previous generations.

Alfred, the emblematic king

June 20, 2014
Historic building conservator Philip Scorer inspects the fabric of King Alfred's Tower. ©National Trust

Historic building conservator Philip Scorer inspects the fabric of King Alfred’s Tower. ©National Trust

The National Trust’s South West Blog keeps coming up with great images at the moment. A suitable caption for this one might be ‘Just another day working for the National Trust.’ I love Philip Scorer’s studious pose, pen and paper at the ready, while dangling off the side of an eighteenth-century folly.

King Alfred's Tower, Stourhead. ©National Trust Images/Stephen Robson

King Alfred’s Tower, Stourhead. ©National Trust Images/Stephen Robson

In fact it shows Philip inspecting King Alfred’s Tower, on the Stourhead estate, which is in need of repair. Significant funds have already been raised, including grants from the Viridor Environmental Credits Company and from the Mackintosh Foundation, but we are now trying to find the final £24,000.

King Alfred the Great, attributed to Samuel Woodforde (1763-1817), at Stourhead, inv. no. 732296. ©National Trust, image  supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

King Alfred the Great, attributed to Samuel Woodforde (1763-1817), at Stourhead, inv. no. 732296. ©National Trust, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

The tower demonstrates how the figure of King Alfred (849-99) was used as a cultural emblem in the eighteenth century. This Anglo-Saxon king was known for repelling vikings, rebuilding towns and cities, reforming the legal system and encouraging scholarship and religion.

Bust of King Alfred in the Temple of British Worthies at Stowe. ©National Trust Images/Jerry Harpur

Bust of King Alfred in the Temple of British Worthies at Stowe. ©National Trust Images/Jerry Harpur

From the sixteenth century onwards Alfred ‘the Great’ came to be revered as the epitome of a virtuous monarch. He was seen as a symbol of British virtues such as patriotism, love of liberty and respect for the rule of law.

Portrait of Anne Hoare, later Lady Mathew (d.1872), with King Alfred's Tower in the distance, by William Owen, RA (1769-1825), at Stourhead, inv. no. 732267. Image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Portrait of Anne Hoare, later Lady Mathew (d.1872), with King Alfred’s Tower in the distance, by William Owen, RA (1769-1825), at Stourhead, inv. no. 732267. Image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

King Alfred’s Tower at Stourhead was designed by Henry Flitcroft (1697-1769) for Henry Hoare II (1705-85). It commemorates the peace with France in 1762 and the recent accession of King George III (1738-1820), like Alfred seen as ‘a truly British King’.

Painted plaster relief of King Alfred, probably 1760s, in the Caesar's hall, Kedleston Hall, inv. no. 109000.2. ©National Trust/Andrew Patterson

Painted plaster relief of King Alfred, probably 1760s, in the Caesar’s hall, Kedleston Hall, inv. no. 109000.2. ©National Trust/Andrew Patterson

American readers of this blog might well question George III’s credentials as a champion of liberty, but I suppose that is one of the ironies of history.

Cover to reveal

June 17, 2014
Collections officer Ruth Moppett showing the protective Eyemats in the chapel at Tyntesfield. ©National Trust

Collections officer Ruth Moppett showing the protective Eyemats in the chapel at Tyntesfield. ©National Trust

I just read on the National Trust’s South West Blog that the colleagues at Tyntesfield have commissioned high-tech floor coverings for the high Victorian chapel there.

View into the chapel. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

View into the chapel. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The chapel floor is an elaborate and sumptuous feature created by Powell and Sons for the ‘high church’ Gibbs family in the early 1870s. The materials used include marble, faience, Mexican onyx and blue john or Derbyshire fluorspar.

Detail of the vine leaf mosaic on the floor of the chapel. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Detail of the vine leaf mosaic on the floor of the chapel. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The floor is too fragile to withstand the wear and tear of the 220,000 visitors that Tyntesfield receives each year. So previously there had been carpets in the chapel, but that meant that the floors could not really be appreciated.

Quatrefoil stained glass window in the chapel at Tyntesfield. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Quatrefoil stained glass window in the chapel at Tyntesfield. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

So Tyntesfield commissioned the Eyemats company to create protective flooring printed with ultra high definition photographs of the floor. These ‘mats’ are so realistic that visitors often don’t notice them at all. And it allows the design of the floor to be appreciated in concert with the other decorations and furnishings in the chapel.

Detail of the wrought iron gate through which the priest would enter the chapel. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Detail of the wrought iron gate through which the priest would enter the chapel. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Similar illusionistic floorings has been used at a number of other National Trust properties and also at places such as Bowhill, Dumfries House and Houghton Hall. Apart from being a practical solution, they can also be appreciated as a metaphor for conservation in general: a little bit of artifice to bring out more of the historical reality of a place.

The many faces of a Rembrandt

June 10, 2014
Four images of the Rembrandt self portrait at Buckland Abbey (clockwise from top left): after cleaning, x-ray, before cleaning, infrared. ©National Trust/Brian Cleckner

Four images of the Rembrandt self portrait at Buckland Abbey (clockwise from top left): after cleaning, x-ray, before cleaning, infrared. ©National Trust/Brian Cleckner

The results of the technical investigation into the Rembrandt self portrait at Buckland Abbey, which I reported on earlier, have just been announced.

The self portrait after cleaning. Inv. no. 810136 ©National Trust/Chris Titmus

The self portrait after cleaning. Inv. no. 810136 ©National Trust/Chris Titmus

For more than forty-five years the authorship of this self portrait was in doubt. But the newly discovered physical evidence supports the opinion of Rembrandt scholar Dr Ernst van de Wetering that the picture is largely by the artist himself.

Painting conservation adviser Tina Sitwell inspecting the self portrait. ©National Trust/Steven Haywood

Painting conservation adviser Tina Sitwell inspecting the self portrait. ©National Trust/Steven Haywood

The self portrait has been cleaned and examined at the Hamilton Kerr Institute. This included visual inspection under magnification, infra-red reflectography, x-radiography, raking light photography and pigment and medium analysis.

X-ray image of the self portrait. ©National Trust/Brian Cleckner

X-ray image of the self portrait. ©National Trust/Brian Cleckner

The wood of the panel was identified as being of the poplar/willow family and the pigments include azurite, smalt and bone black. These are all materials that Rembrandt and his pupils used.

Infrared image of the self portrait. ©National Trust/Brian Cleckner

Infrared image of the self portrait. ©National Trust/Brian Cleckner

Signs pointing more specifically to the master himself were found when cleaning and removal of the yellowed varnish revealed the original depth of colour and skilful brushwork. The signature – thought possibly to be a later addition – was discovered to be contemporary with the creation of the painting.

Technicians Simon Jacobs and Martin Bartyle hang the self portrait. ©National Trust/Steven Haywood

Technicians Simon Jacobs and Martin Bartyle hang the self portrait. ©National Trust/Steven Haywood

The infra-red and x-ray images showed how the composition was changed as the painting progressed, something that is again consistent with an original work by a master and not with a copy being made by an assistant.

Young visitor Harry Dempster views the self portrait. ©National Trust/Steven Haywood

Young visitor Harry Dempster views the self portrait. ©National Trust/Steven Haywood

The investigation was funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery. The picture will be the centre-piece of an exhibition at Buckland Abbey entitled Rembrandt Revealed, opening on Friday 13 June.


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