Hybrids in time and space

The Blue Drawing Room at Powis Castle, Powys. ©National Trust Images/Paul Highnam

The Blue Drawing Room at Powis Castle, Powys. ©National Trust Images/Paul Highnam

The Blue Drawing Room at Powis Castle is an extraordinary alamgam of objects, periods and styles. It was originally constructed in the 1660s within the medieval castle walls as part of a baroque state apartment for William Herbert, 1st Earl and later 1st Marquess of Powis. It would then have been used as a ‘great chamber’ or ‘saloon’.

One of a pair of commodes attributed to Pierre Langlois, probably 1760s. ©National Trust Collections

One of a pair of commodes attributed to Pierre Langlois, probably 1760s. ©National Trust Collections

The colour of the paneling and the name of the room are relatively recent, however, dating from a 1930s redecoration by Sir Edward Guy Dawber for George, 4th Earl of Powis of the 3rd creation. In addition to European pictures and furniture, the room also contains a number of magnificent Asian lacquer objects dating mostly from the 18th century.

Chinese black lacquer screen, late 17th century, with English mounts of c. 1715. ©National Trust Collections

Chinese black lacquer screen, late 17th century, with English mounts of c. 1715. ©National Trust Collections

The pair of commodes attributed to Pierre Langlois, a French cabinetmaker with a shop in London, probably dates from the 1760s. The Chinese lacquer incorporated in them most likely came from a Chinese screen. An actual Chinese six-fold black lacquer screen decorated with similar scenery stands nearby.

One of a pair of Japanese lacquer dressing-cum-writing boxes, c. 1730. ©National Trust Collections

One of a pair of Japanese lacquer dressing-cum-writing boxes, c. 1730. ©National Trust Collections

The Blue Drawing Room also contains a rare pair of Japanese dressing-cum-writing boxes, hybrids items of furniture combining Japanese and European shapes and motifs. The Japanese craftsmen were probably not aware that the frames above were intended for mirrors and so dutifully lacquered the back panels with beautiful mountain landscapes.

One of a pair of Japanese lacquer knife boxes, second quarter of the 18th century. ©National Trust Collections

One of a pair of Japanese lacquer knife boxes, second quarter of the 18th century. ©National Trust Collections

The pair of knife boxes is similarly hybrid, combining European shapes with exquisite Japanese lacquer decoration. It is rather nice that the room as a whole is a similarly evocative mixture of native and exotic, old and (relatively) new.

2 Responses to “Hybrids in time and space”

  1. Susan Walter Says:

    Tricky business these hybrids. For one thing, they are so reliant on taste to succeed. To our eyes these are a beautiful and creative re-usage along the lines of found objects, combined by an artisan with finesse and a patron with money. That is presumably the reaction when they were made too. Just buying shiny stuff you fancy from all over and then force fitting it in your historic interior to ‘improve’ it doesn’t necessarily work if you don’t have an eye for design (and yes, I have a particular chateau in mind here).

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Indeed, but in Places like Powis Castle you have the added complication – or added richness – of successive generations adding and subtracting things and superimposing layers. It then becomes something similar to what Marcel Duchamp called the ’art coefficient’: the arithmetical relation between the unexpressed but intended and the unintentionally expressed (which I quoted before in a post about Felbrigg Hall – I am a Duchamp nut :)).

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