Two views of a massacre

April 3, 2014
Probably Pieter Breughel the Younger, The Massacre of the Innocents, at Upton House. ©National Trust/Angelo Hornak, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Probably Pieter Breughel the Younger, The Massacre of the Innocents, at Upton House. ©National Trust/Angelo Hornak, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

The team at Upton House are raising funds to conserve the painting Massacre of the Innocents, possibly painted by Pieter Breughel the Younger (1564-1638).

The Upton Breughel awaiting conservation. ©National Trust

The Upton Breughel awaiting conservation. ©National Trust

It has been in need of attention for a while, and is now looking a bit sorry for itself, covered in stabilising tissue ‘plasters’. A JustGiving page has been opened to help raise the £15,000 required for the extensive investigation and treatment.

The picture shows the massacre of children ordered by Herod following the birth of Christ. But there is also a political undertone to the imagery: it is set in a Flemish village, with the figures clad as in Breughel’s own time. It is thought to be a semi-veiled reference to the atrocities committed by the troops of the Spanish Habsburgs who then ruled the Netherlands.

Pieter Breughel the Elder (c.1525-69), Massacre of the Innocents, in the Royal Collection. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

Pieter Breughel the Elder (c.1525-69), Massacre of the Innocents, in the Royal Collection. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

There is a version of this painting by Pieter Breughel the Elder in the Royal Collection, in which the image of massacre has been partially repainted to make it look less gruesome. Interestingly, this was done when that picture was owned by the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolf II, also a Habsburg – an example of sixteenth-century ‘image management’.

 

Traces of Rembrandt

April 1, 2014
Detail of the partially cleaned Buckland self-portrait. ©National Trust Images/Hamilton Kerr Institute

Detail of the partially cleaned Buckland self-portrait. ©National Trust Images/Hamilton Kerr Institute

Research continues into the Rembrandt self-portrait recently allocated to Buckland Abbey in lieu of inheritance tax.

X-ray image of the self-portrait. ©National Trust Images/Hamilton Kerr Institute

X-ray image of the self-portrait. ©National Trust Images/Hamilton Kerr Institute

The tests and analysis undertaken by the Hamilton Kerr Institute, in order to establish how confident we can be whether the portrait was actually painted by Rembrandt himself, are almost completed. But some interesting facts and images have already emerged.

Verso of the Buckland self-portrait photographed in raking light, showing the way the panel was carved. ©National Trust Images/Hamilton Kerr Institute

Verso of the Buckland self-portrait photographed in raking light, showing the way the panel was carved. ©National Trust Images/Hamilton Kerr Institute

X-ray images show what looks like the outline of a lace cuff, suggesting that the artist sketched in an arm but then changed his mind. Pentimenti like this make it more likely that a painting is an autograph work rather than a copy, as copyists would naturally follow the original rather than chop and change.

Date (1635) on the back of the panel - but is it original? ©National Trust Images

Date (1635) on the back of the panel – but is it original? ©National Trust Images

The date 1635 has been written on the back of the panel, matching  the ‘f.1635′ painted on the front, but these dates could have been added later and are not conclusive by themselves.

Labels on the back of the panel. ©National Trust Images/Hamilton Kerr Institute

Labels on the back of the panel. ©National Trust Images/Hamilton Kerr Institute

The back also shows two labels documenting the former ownership of the painting by the Princes of Liechtenstein, and its inclusion in an exhibition in Luzern in 1948. The number 84 corresponds to its inventory number when it was in the Galerie Liechtenstein in Vienna. And traces have been found of a seal fixed to one of the front corners, apparently similar to the seals regularly affixed to the paintings in the Liechtenstein collection.

Detail of the thickly painted motifs on Rembrandt's cape. ©National Trust Images/Hamilton Kerr Institute

Detail of the thickly painted motifs on Rembrandt’s cape. ©National Trust Images/Hamilton Kerr Institute

The relatively crude brushwork seen in parts of the picture would be consistent with Rembrandt’s style in the 1630s – as also seen in, for instance, Belshazzar’s Feast in the National Gallery in London.

Detail of the self-portrait showing a medallion. ©National Trust Images/Hamilton Kerr Institute

Detail of the self-portrait showing a medallion. ©National Trust Images/Hamilton Kerr Institute

The sitter’s highly theatrical costume includes a medallion on a chain – it would be nice to find out if this represents a particular symbol or ornament, or whether it is purely ‘impressionistic’.

We await further news from the conservation studio.

Alive and well

March 28, 2014
Part of 'Folly' by Fromental. ©Fromental

Part of ‘Folly’ by Fromental. ©Fromental

Fromental has just produced a new wallpaper called Folly which was consciously inspired by Chinese wallpapers from the mid eighteenth century.

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper hung at Felbrigg Hall in 1752. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper hung at Felbrigg Hall in 1752. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

With its tall decorative rocks, prominent lotus leaves and pomegranates, Folly clearly references the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall and Ightham Mote.

Part of 'Folly' by Fromental. ©Fromental

Part of ‘Folly’ by Fromental. ©Fromental

Folly’s colour scheme, too, with its pale, misty atmosphere punctuated by blue-green leaves and vividly red flowers, is reminiscent of the look of mid-eighteenth-century Chinese wallpapers.

Section of a Chinese wallpaper from Eltham Lodge, probably hung during the second quarter of the eighteenth century. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Section of a Chinese wallpaper from Eltham Lodge, probably hung during the second quarter of the eighteenth century. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

But Tim Butcher of Fromental tells me that they were also influenced by some Chinese wallpapers in the V&A which are from the same period – and when you compare Folly to the Eltham Lodge wallpaper you can see what he means.

Part of 'Folly' by Fromental. ©Fromental

Part of ‘Folly’ by Fromental. ©Fromental

In spite of all that, Folly is a clearly a contemporary wallpaper, not a facsimile.

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper hung at Felbrigg Hall in 1752. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper hung at Felbrigg Hall in 1752. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

It conveys a softer, more delicate impression than its historical cousins, and it contains anticipatory hints of the highly coloured and finished Chinese wallpapers from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Part of 'Folly' by Fromental. ©Fromental

Part of ‘Folly’ by Fromental. ©Fromental

In this way ‘Folly’ is part of a living tradition: loving the past but reinventing it for the present.

Exotic and contemporary

March 21, 2014
Hunting scene in one of the Chinese wallpapers at Oud Amelisweerd. ©Buitenplaatsen2012

Hunting scene in one of the Chinese wallpapers at Oud Amelisweerd. ©Buitenplaatsen2012

Today Oud Amelisweerd, a small country house just outside Utrecht, was officially reopened as a museum by HRH Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands.

Oud Amelisweerd ©Jeroen Wielaert/NOS

Oud Amelisweerd ©Jeroen Wielaert/NOS

The house contains several Chinese wallpapers dating to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as well as historic European wallpapers.

Section of one of the floral wallpapers at Oud Amelisweerd. ©Erfgoed Utrecht

Section of one of the floral wallpapers at Oud Amelisweerd. ©Erfgoed Utrecht

The Chinese wallpapers are important both because of their quality and beauty and because they are related to similar wallpapers in Britain, for instance at Penrhyn Castle, at the Royal Pavilion, and at Saltram.

The foreground of one of the floral wallpapers at Oud Amelisweerd. ©DUIC

The foreground of one of the floral wallpapers at Oud Amelisweerd. ©DUIC

Much remains uncertain about the decorative history of Oud Amelisweerd, but the links between the Chinese wallpapers there and elsewhere are helpful in piecing together parts of the chronology.

Work by Armando at Oud Amelisweerd. ©Jeroen Wielaert/NOS

Work by Armando at Oud Amelisweerd. ©Jeroen Wielaert/NOS

Following conservation work Oud Amelisweerd now also houses a collection of work by the contemporary artist Armando – to add a frisson of modernity to the frisson of exoticism.

The aesthetic instinct

March 19, 2014
View from Glastonbury Tor, Somerset, looking north-west towards Wedmore. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

View from Glastonbury Tor, Somerset, looking north-west towards Wedmore. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

I just spotted these images of some of the recent flooding in Somerset, taken from Glastonbury Tor.

View from Glastonbury Tor, Somerset, looking south-west towards Street and the surrounding hills. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

View from Glastonbury Tor, Somerset, looking south-west towards Street and the surrounding hills. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

It strikes me how beautiful the images are, contrasting with the devastation these floods caused.

Landscape by Jacob van Ruisdael (1628-1682), known as 'Le coup de soleil', possibly a fanciful view of Alkmaar, at Upton House, inv. no. 446731. ©National Trust Images/Angelo Hornak

Landscape by Jacob van Ruisdael (1628-1682), known as ‘Le coup de soleil’, possibly a fanciful view of Alkmaar, at Upton House, inv. no. 446731. ©National Trust Images/Angelo Hornak

We seem to have an instinct to aestheticise whatever we see, even if it is negative and painful.

View from Glastonbury Tor, Somerset, looking south-west towards Street and the surrounding hills. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

View from Glastonbury Tor, Somerset, looking south-west towards Street and the surrounding hills. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

When confronted with a flooded landscape we intuitively reach back to the vocabulary of old master paintings, to help us define what we are looking at.

Crossing the ford by Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), at Upton House, inv. no. 446672. ©National Trust Images/Angelo Hornak

Crossing the ford by Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), at Upton House, inv. no. 446672. ©National Trust Images/Angelo Hornak

Presumably this is a semi-conscious coping mechanism: we want to discover patterns in the chaos, so that we feel we have a chance of creating some order out of it.

View from Glastonbury Tor, Somerset, looking north-west towards Wedmore with the Mendip Hills in the distance. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

View from Glastonbury Tor, Somerset, looking north-west towards Wedmore with the Mendip Hills in the distance. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

In this sense art can be defined simply as a sophisticated information processing tool, helping us to analyse positive as well as negative experiences.

Mellow albarello

March 13, 2014
Sicilian albarello decorated with a female saint. Inv. no. 824608. ©National Trust Collections

Sicilian albarello decorated with a female saint. Inv. no. 824608. ©National Trust Collections

In the March issue of Apollo I read a piece by Emma Crighton-Miller about Delft blue-and-white which mentioned that albarelli – maiolica apothecary jars – are sometimes adapted and used as water jars by Japanese tea ceremony devotees.

Back of the albarello shown above, decorated with acanthus leaves. ©National Trust Collections

Back of the albarello shown above, decorated with acanthus leaves. ©National Trust Collections

An example of a Japanese-made water jar inspired by the albarello look, in the Freer collection, can be seen here.

Sicilian albarello decorated with a heraldic lion. Inv. no. 824610. ©National Trust Collections

Sicilian albarello decorated with a heraldic lion. Inv. no. 824610. ©National Trust Collections

This shows rather nicely how the taste for exoticism is not exclusively western. Indeed, Japanese tea taste is a rich mixture of international influences, including wares and materials from both Asia and Europe.

Back of the albarello shown above, decorated with a winged cherub's face. ©National Trust Collections

Back of the albarello shown above, decorated with a winged cherub’s face. ©National Trust Collections

With that in mind the original albarelli do indeed have an air of wabi – the imperfect, modest beauty associated with the Japanese tea ceremony. Perhaps we could even call it ‘Hispano-Moresque wabi‘ or ‘Italian wabi‘?

Sicilian albarello decorated with a woman's head and shoulders. Inv. no. 824609. ©National Trust Collections

Sicilian albarello decorated with a woman’s head and shoulders. Inv. no. 824609. ©National Trust Collections

These particular albarelli were bequeathed to the National Trust by antiques dealer Reginald Sneyers in 1989. They are on display at Ightham Mote, an ancient half-timbered house that was carefully restored by the Colyer-Fergusson family in the late nineteenth before being given to the National Trust by American philanthropist Charles Henry Robinson in 1985.

Back of the albarello shown above, decorated with floral motifs. ©National Trust Collections

Back of the albarello shown above, decorated with floral motifs. ©National Trust Collections

So like that Japanese pseudo-albarello in an American collection, these jars, too, convey a multi-layered message about how we value and channel the past. In heritage, nothing is ever straightforward.

Time and space at Bateman’s

March 11, 2014
Looking from the Inner Hall to the Hall at Bateman's. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Looking from the Inner Hall to the Hall at Bateman’s. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Following my recent post about the leather hangings at Bateman’s I thought I would show a few more images of the interiors of the house.

The Grange, North End Road, Fulham, London, by Thomas Matthews Rooke, at Bateman's. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Grange, North End Road, Fulham, London, by Thomas Matthews Rooke, at Bateman’s. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The writer Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) and his wife Caroline (known as Carrie, 1862-1939) bought the Jacobean-period house in 1902 and filled it with antiques. Kipling’s father, John Lockwood Kipling (1837-1911), helped with sourcing furniture and furnishings from the antiques trade.

Indian silver bottles and tray at Bateman's. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Indian silver bottles and tray at Bateman’s. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Although the Kiplings clearly tried to make the interiors as authentic as possible, the house also has a distinctly Edwardian feel, reflecting the period’s taste for artful antiquarianism.

Caricature of Rudyard Kipling by 'Spy' (Sir Leslie Ward). ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Caricature of Rudyard Kipling by ‘Spy’ (Sir Leslie Ward). ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

It is no coincidence that two pillars of British conservationism, Country Life magazine and the National Trust, were founded at around this time (in 1897 and 1895 respectively).

Plaque with an Indian subject by John Lockwood Kipling, at Bateman's. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Plaque with an Indian subject by John Lockwood Kipling, at Bateman’s. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The house also reflects the Kiplings’ memories of India. Rudyard was born in Bombay and set many of his stories and novels there. Kipling senior worked as an art teacher and museum curator in Lahore and used many Indian subjects and motifs in his own art.

Early eighteenth century japanned cabinet in Elsie Kipling's Sitting Room at Bateman's. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Early eighteenth century japanned cabinet in Elsie Kipling’s Sitting Room at Bateman’s. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Mixing and melding these diverse places and times, the interior is a self-conscious work of art in its own right.

Detail of the embroidery (copy of the original) on the bed in the West Bedroom at Bateman's. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Detail of the embroidery (copy of the original) on the bed in the West Bedroom at Bateman’s. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

In addition it is now of course a ‘shrine’ to a well-known author.

Globe showing the imperialist world-view in the Study at Bateman's. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Globe showing the imperialist world-view in the Study at Bateman’s. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

So Bateman’s does multiple things at once: it contains genuine historic objects and works of art, it provides a snapshot of a certain period and mindset, and it is the unique home of certain individuals, one of whom happened to be a famous writer.

Birds and flowers

March 4, 2014
©National Trust/Andrew Bush

©National Trust/Andrew Bush

The catalogue of Chinese wallpapers in the historic houses of the National Trust is now on its way to the printers and should be out by the middle of March.

©National Trust/Andrew Bush

©National Trust/Andrew Bush

We hope it will stimulate debate and research around the dating, stylistic development and social and economic contexts of Chinese wallpaper – as well as providing some jolts of visual beauty, of course.

©National Trust/Andrew Bush

©National Trust/Andrew Bush

It is interesting to compare the wallpaper at Erddig, hung in the 1770s (seen here), with the wallpaper at Nostell Priory, mostly hung in 1771 (as seen in this post). They are technically and stylistically similar: fully painted (without the printed elements seen in earlier wallpapers), but with ‘painterly’ scenery quite close to traditional Chinese ‘bird and flower’ painting.

©National Trust/Andrew Bush

©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Later, nineteenth-century Chinese wallpapers tend to more stylised – developing away from ‘art’ and more towards ‘design’, perhaps – but these late eighteenth century examples at Erddig and Nostell seem to define the ‘middle style’.

©National Trust/Andrew Bush

©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Such issues will become clearer as we compare more examples from historic houses and collections across the world, and hopefully our catalogue will make a small contribution towards that ongoing research.

©National Trust/Andrew Bush

©National Trust/Andrew Bush

We also want to learn more about the Chinese background to this imagery. The Buddha’s hand citron, which appears in the Erddig wallpaper, for instance, has a number of auspicious meanings ranging – depending on the context – from the spiritual to the erotic, as I have just been discovering in the catalogue Beauty Revealed: Images of Women in Qing Dynasty Chinese Painting by the late Timothy Cahill and others.

Art history, family history

February 27, 2014
William Dobson (1611-46), self-portrait. ©National Trust/John Hammond

William Dobson (1611-46), self-portrait. ©National Trust/John Hammond

Osterley Park is well known as an architectural and decorative masterpiece by Robert Adam, but the role of the Child family which owned the house has not been so obvious. From 1 March a group of portraits and other paintings will go on display at Osterley which will bring various members of the family and their personalities and tastes back into the frame.

The Dobson self-portrait on display at Osterley together with the portraits of Robert and Sarah Child and The Music Lesson by Sir Peter Lely. ©National Trust/Chris Lacey

The Dobson self-portrait on display at Osterley together with the portraits of Robert and Sarah Child and The Music Lesson by Sir Peter Lely. ©National Trust/Chris Lacey

The pictures are being lent to Osterley for a ten-year period by the trustee of the Earldom of Jersey Trust following consultation and backing from the 10th Earl of Jersey. The house and grounds of Osterley Park were given to the National Trust by the 9th Earl of Jersey in 1949, and the furniture in the house was purchased by the nation. However, most of the paintings were retained by the family, so it has been more than sixty years since these portraits were last on display in the house.

Attributed to John Collett (1725-80), view of Temple Bar. The premises of Child & Co are immediately to the left of Temple Bar. ©National Trust/John Hammond

Attributed to John Collett (1725-80), view of Temple Bar. The premises of Child & Co are immediately to the left of Temple Bar. ©National Trust/John Hammond

The most important picture from an art-historical point of view is undoubtedly the self-portrait by William Dobson, the first native English painter of major stature, in its exuberant baroque frame. It was bought by Sir Francis Child the elder (1642-1714) in 1712, together with the Van Dyck self-portrait which I featured earlier.

Lord Jersey pointing at Child's banking house in the view of Temple Bar attributed to John Collett (1725-80). ©National Trust/Chris Lacey

Lord Jersey pointing at Child’s banking house in the view of Temple Bar attributed to John Collett (1725-80). ©National Trust/Chris Lacey

Sir Francis Child the elder was a goldsmith, banker and property developer who became Mayor of London and a Member of Parliament. He acquired Osterley shortly before his death in lieu of an unpaid mortgage. The Child banking premises were based at 1 Fleet Street, next to the gateway called Temple Bar, and can be seen in the painting attributed to John Collett which will now be on display at Osterley. Indeed, Child & Co, now part of Royal Bank of Scotland, are still there today.

Alan Ramsay (1713-84) portrait of Francis Child III (1735-63). ©National Trust/John Hammond

Alan Ramsay (1713-84) portrait of Francis Child III (1735-63). ©National Trust/John Hammond

Sir Francis the elder’s sons Sir Robert Child (bapt.1674-1721), Sir Francis Child the younger (1684-1740) and Samuel Child (1693-1752) continued the family firm and also participated in the flourishing East India trade. The loan to Osterley also includes a number of lacquer and japanned items of furniture which were acquired by this generation of the family.

Child family

Margaret Battine after Daniel Gardner (1750-1805), portrait of Robert Child, his wife Sarah and their daughter Sarah Anne, originally created 1781. ©National Trust/John Hammond

Francis Child (1735-63, sometimes called Francis Child III to distinguish him from his uncle and grandfather) commissioned Robert Adam to remodel Osterley. Following his early death his brother Robert (1739-82) continued to employ Adam, giving the house the appearance it still has today.

George Romney (1734-1802), portrait of Sarah Jodrell, Mrs Robert Child, later Countess Ducie (c.1740-93), on display at Osterley Park. ©National Trust/Chris Lacey

George Romney (1734-1802), portrait of Sarah Jodrell, Mrs Robert Child, later Countess Ducie (c.1740-93), on display at Osterley Park. ©National Trust/Chris Lacey

Robert and Sarah’s only child, Sarah Anne (1764-93), eloped with the 10th Earl of Westmoreland. Robert changed his will so that the family fortune and posessions would devolve on the couple’s second child, bypassing the Westmorelands. This daughter, Sarah Sophia (1785-1867), married the 5th Earl of Jersey in 1804 and held such sway over Regency society that she was known as ‘Queen Sarah’.

A short video about the return of the pictures can be viewed here.

Roofscape and landscape

February 25, 2014
©National Trust/Lucy Reynolds

©National Trust/Lucy Reynolds

When you have a big roof that leaks, you have a big problem.

©National Trust/Steve Heywood

©National Trust/Steve Heywood

At Castle Drogo the roof has never really been watertight since the castle was built by Sir Edwin Lutyens for grocery magnate Julius Drewe between 1910 and 1927. But then they do say that all great architecture leaks…

©Lobster Vision

©Lobster Vision

Following intermittent repairs over the years, the National Trust has now initiated a five-year project, with major support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, to finally sort out the problems with the Drogo roof.

©National Trust

©National Trust

A huge and almost Piranesian scaffolding structure has been erected to provide access and protection for the contractors.

©National Trust/Lucy Reynolds

©National Trust/Lucy Reynolds

A two-layer membrane designed by Bauder will be introduced to cope with the extreme temperature fluctuations and heavy rainfall of the Dartmoor area. This will involve the removal and reinstatement of 2,355 separate granite blocks weighing 680 tonnes.

Channel 4 television has just broadcast a special Time Team programme about the restoration of Castle Drogo, entitled The Edwardian Grand Design.


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