The power of pastel

George Rice, later third Baron Dynevor, by John Russell. ©NTPL/John Hammond

These pastel portraits depict George Rice (1765-1852), later third Baron Dynevor, and his sister Henrietta Rice (1758-1849). They are by John Russell (1745-1806), who has been called the last of the masters of pastel painting in the heyday of the art.

Henrietta Rice, also by John Russell. ©NTPL/John Hammond

These portraits were purchased in 2006 with generous donations from the late Simon Sainsbury and from the Kensington and Chelsea National Trust Association.

The Drawing Room at Newton House, Wales, arranged on the basis of a 1926 photograph. ©NTPL/John Hammond

They have returned to Newton House, formerly the ancestral home of the Rice family, Barons Dynevor, and are on display in the Drawing Room.

Newton House. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The Rice family (originally spelled Rhys, the name was anglicised in 1547) has roots in this part of Carmarthenshire dating back to the twelfth century.

George Rice (1724-1779), the father of the children shown above, in a pastel portrait by William Hoare of Bath (1707-1792). ©NTPL/John Hammond

In about 1770 George Rice and his wife Cecil, the parents of the children shown here, gothicised the house and, with the help of ‘Capability’ Brown, naturalised the park. Further alterations in the 1850s turned the house into a cross between a Venetian Palazzo and a French chateau.

One of the distinctive white cattle that have been associated with the estate for at least 700 years. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The National Trust acquired the park in the 1980s, with the help of local authorities and other organisations, and the house in 1990. The interiors have been recreated as they would have looked in the Edwardian era.

16 Responses to “The power of pastel”

  1. Barbara Says:

    Oh my, including that cow in the pastel sky was a very nice gift. Beauty is, indeed, all around us. We just have to look. Thank you.

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    I hadn’t noticed the powder-blue of the sky, but it is rather pastel-like, isn’t it? And I find it interesting that photographer John Hammond was willing and able to photograph live bulls as well as portraits.

  3. Barbara Says:

    I am sure he saw that blue sky. The rare white bull is fine but much more impressive in the pastel sky.

  4. columnist Says:

    The 1850s alterations are a bit odd – neither one or t’other. The French chateau-esq “hats” may be the problem; it might have looked better without them. But chateaux are usually in flat landscape in France, so maybe that’s what is making me think it looks totally out of place. The desired “Venetian” effect eludes me.

    That whingeing notwithstanding, I think the pictures by John Russell are charming, and very much of their time.

  5. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    I agree that the turrets look a bit ‘foreign’, and slightly out of proportion – one of those slightly over-enthusiastic Victorian additions. But I am inclined to think it gives the house a ‘jolie laide’ quality :)

    The ‘Venetian’ element comes to the fore in the Gothic tracery of the arcade and conservatory on the other side of the house, which I unhelpfully haven’t shown here.

  6. Stephanie (Curator at Newton House) Says:

    I quite agree Emile with your description of the house – the turrets very much remind me of the Loire valley. By the time it was ‘made over’ of course, the house had become little more than a Welsh retreat for the family who had by this time settled itself at Barrington on the Oxford / Gloucester border.

  7. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks Stephanie. It is great to have comments from NT curators here – I think you are the first!

  8. littleaugury Says:

    Emile, all the things that draw me to read your stories! I relate to the oddities of the house-it seems as if it might be alive with a personality-each bit of knowledge, interests, loves, passions-shows. I find myself constantly adding things that appeal.
    it is quirky, what a heavenly view though, and that photograph is the most alluring of them all. pgt

  9. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Gaye, It is the lively response from readers like you that make this blog rewarding.

  10. Toby Worthington Says:

    I’ve got nothing against pictures (or in this case, pastel drawings) being “skied”
    as James Lees Milne used to say, wouldn’t you agree that those in the drawing room at Newton House are hung rather too high on the walls, for the most part?
    Considering the delicacy of the work, they appear to be somewhat isolated at
    that distance from eye level. (Not that I approve of the arrangements of pictures in art galleries today, where things are practically resting on the floor.) I suppose
    in the case of Newton House it was a decision that had more to do with pedantry
    than logic.

  11. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Toby, I don’t know the answer to that – it may have something to do with the arrangement of the room in Edwardian times, which the colleagues at Newton House have been trying to recreate. I will ask Stephanie (the curator) to get back to us.

  12. Stephanie (Curator at Newton House) Says:

    Yes, it is true that they are hung rather too high to fully appreciate their delicate beauty. By the time they became available Newton House was in the middle of a complete review of the interior spaces. It had none of the original furniture, only a collection of family portraits. As the NT wanted the house to be used for events, meetings and such like, we resolved to furnish the house c.1912. This date wasn’t too far from the date of the external architecture (1857) and it made sourcing furnishings that could be used and would look right for this period relatively easy. We also had a photo from 1926 which showed the Drawing Room at this time. something. The pastels are now hung more or less as they were in this photo and they escape the worst of the afternoon sun in this west facing room. There are always connundrums in reaching these decisions and I’m sure things may change again in the future. I’d be happy to attach the 1926 photo – but not sure how to do that a the moment!

  13. Toby Worthington Says:

    Thank you, Stephanie, for your thoughtful explanation.
    I agree about conundrums surrounding these decisions!
    Apart from the high up pastels, I think the room looks wonderful.

  14. Rosie West Says:

    I was wondering what the blue bands across the face of but inside the bookcase are? I could try to guess but would rather leave it to you, if I may.

  15. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Rosie, The bookcase seems to be lined with blue fabric – yet another visual echo of the pastel blue visible in the other images :)

  16. Rosie West Says:

    Oh yes, of course it’s the blue lining now I look again. How daft can one be!

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