The myth of the sleeping beauty

Detail of an oval pier-glass in the Queen's Bedchamber at Ham House, one of a pair by supplied by William Bradshaw, c.1743. It reflects a carved and gilded garland by John Bullamore dating from the 1670s. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Detail of an oval pier-glass in the Queen’s Bedchamber at Ham House, one of a pair by supplied by William Bradshaw, c.1743. It reflects a carved and gilded garland by John Bullamore dating from the 1670s. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

I have just been perusing an advance copy of the book Ham House: 400 Years of Collecting and Patronage. The sale copies of this book are apparently somewhere on the high seas en route from the printer, and are due become available within the next a few weeks, but I thought I might provide a little preview here.

Fruitwood armchair, c. 1730, in the Queen's Bedchamber at Ham House, with velvet upholstery in red, green and cream silk velvet woven in either Genoa, Lyons or Spitalfields. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Fruitwood armchair, c. 1730, in the Queen’s Bedchamber at Ham House, with velvet upholstery in red, green and cream silk velvet woven in either Genoa, Lyons or Spitalfields. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

This book is the result of a conference held a couple of years ago about the history and collections of Ham House, one the best preserved 17th-century houses in Europe. It includes 28 essays by internationally recognised scholars accompanied by specially commissioned photography, as well as transcriptions of Ham’s historic inventories.

Detail of the silk velvet upholstery of the fruitwood furniture in the Queen's Bedchamber at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Detail of the silk velvet upholstery of the fruitwood furniture in the Queen’s Bedchamber at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Ham is justly famous for its 17th-century interiors and has acquired the reputation of being a kind of ‘sleeping beauty’, a house where nothing ever changed. However, several essays in this book puncture that myth and focus on restorations and embellishments carried out by its 18th- and 19th-century owners.

Detail of the marble topped pier table in the Queen's Bedchamber at Ham House, by William Bradshaw, c.1743, with a Portoro marble top and carved and gilded legs. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Detail of the marble topped pier table in the Queen’s Bedchamber at Ham House, by William Bradshaw, c.1743, with a Portoro marble top and carved and gilded legs. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Christopher Rowell, the National Trust’s furniture curator, discusses the taste and patronage of Lionel Tollemache, the 4th Earl of Dysart (1708-70), who inherited Ham in 1727. The 4th Earl repaired and remodeled a number of rooms in the house, and introduced new furniture, but Christopher demonstrates that he did so with great sensitivity to what was already there.

Parcel-gilt pier-glass and table possibly by William Bradshaw, c.1740, in the Volury Room at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Parcel-gilt pier-glass and table possibly by William Bradshaw, c.1740, in the Volury Room at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The 4th Earl commissioned cabinetmakers George Nix (1744-51) and William Bradshaw (1700-75), among others, to supply chairs, tables, stands and even tapestries. But the new acquisitions were designed to harmonise with the existing furnishings, or to function as facsimiles of items which had become damaged or worn out.

Gilt X-frame sofa, 1735-40, in the style of William Kent and with velvet upholstery, in the Volury Room at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Gilt X-frame sofa, 1735-40, in the style of William Kent and with velvet upholstery, in the Volury Room at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The subtlety of the 4th Earl’s contributions have almost caused him to be written out of Ham’s history.

Torchere by Peter Hasert, one of a pair, 1741, in the Marble Dining Room at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Torchere by Peter Hasert, one of a pair, 1741, in the Marble Dining Room at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Horace Walpole (171-97), who lived in nearby Twickenham, may have started that process by describing Ham, in his characteristically vivid and sweeping manner, as a house that time forgot: ‘Close to the Thames in the centre of all rich and verdant beauty, it is so blocked up an barricaded with walls, vast trees and gates that you think of yourself an hundred miles off and an hundred years back.’

Pier-glass, pier-table and stands veneered with incised Chinese lacquer, c. 1675, in the Withdrawing Room at Ham House. The table and stands were supplied with new supports by John Hele in 1741. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Pier-glass, pier-table and stands veneered with incised Chinese lacquer, c. 1675, in the Withdrawing Room at Ham House. The table and stands were supplied with new supports by John Hele in 1741. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

I hope to do a few more posts highlighting aspects of this splendid new book in the near future.

22 Responses to “The myth of the sleeping beauty”

  1. The Devoted Classicist Says:

    Really handsome. And the wallcovering in the Marble Dining Room is one of my all-time favorites.

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes that leather wallcovering was also installed for the 4th Earl, by the London ‘leather gilder’ John Hutton, replacing earlier polychrome leather hangings (quoting Christopher’s essay again).

  3. robert Says:

    So lovely Emile, thank you. Would you know the for the root or meaning for the word Volury, referred to here? The covering on some of the walls was referred to as Paragone by a 19th Century woman also querying in 1894. Is the polychrome gilt leather installed by John Hutton indeed Paragone? I’m curious about the root or beginnings of that term as well. Thank you.

    Robert

  4. helen ghosh Says:

    Emile – can’t comment on Paragone, but lovely coincidence to see this since I’m off to Ham this afternoon! Helen G

  5. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Robert, the Volury Room is named after the large birdcages which were there in the late 17th century (presumably it is derived from the French ‘volière’, or aviary.

    I am not sure why the leather wallcovering in the Marble Dining Room was called ‘Paragone’ at some point. Could it have been a reference to it being ‘top quality’? John Hutton apparently simply called it ‘mosaic pattern’.

    Helen, after reading this you will be able to do some ‘4th Earl spotting’ :)

  6. Fiona Says:

    Lovely to be learning more about the history of such a wonderful place. Look forward to reading any future posts about Ham and to reading the publication when it’s available.

  7. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks Fiona.

  8. Heather Tetley Says:

    Thank you, this looks wonderful, I’m impatient to buy the book.

  9. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    The container ship is inching its way towards these shores as we speak :)

  10. deana Says:

    I can’t wait to get this book as houses that time forgot are such treasures. You have a few at NT don’t you? In the US the Aiken-Rhett house is one of my favorites but Ham house is in another league. That gold x-frame sofa is worth the cost of the book.

    Magnificent collection and the photos are sensational, you must be terribly happy with the result. I would love to work with the NT and play in all of those remarkable houses! At the least, I feel a Ham House post in the works!

  11. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Deana, I didn’t know about the Aiken-Rhett House, it looks like a very evocative place (http://bit.ly/14yuJXs).

    And from the point of view of your metier you might be interested to know that Ham is used from time to time as a film location, most recently for a version of Anna Karenina I believe: http://bit.ly/11hKY7c

  12. columnist Says:

    I am much taken by the gilt X-framed sofa, having never seen anything like it.

  13. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    It is one of a pair, with six accompanying chairs. Christopher describes it as ‘of Kentian inspiration’. It was originally upholstered with a tricolour velvet – the pale green and gold gros-de-tours silk damask is a copy of that used by the 9th Earl of Dysart on this suite of furniture in about 1890 – he is another important figure in the history of the house.

  14. Andrew Says:

    Like this one – http://www.nationaltrustimages.org.uk/image/180348 – “in the style of William Kent” if anyone was confusing him with the county!

    Is it my imagination, or does it take some inspiration from the Roman sella curulis?

  15. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Sorry, yes that was slightly obscure art-historical vocab :)

    Yes it does seem to be inspired by the sella curulis type of legs, doesn’t it? That would make sense in the context of William Kent’s obsession with all things Roman.

    See also this even more exuberant example of a chair attributed to Kent with sella curulis-ish legs: http://bit.ly/11krajJ

  16. Andrew Says:

    “Kent Wallace”? In the Wallace Collection then? Yes – http://wallacelive.wallacecollection.org/eMuseumPlus?service=ExternalInterface&module=collection&objectId=64072&viewType=detailView

    “Possibly 3rd Earl of Burlington, one of a set of 8 in the Blue Velvet Room, Chiswick House; possibly Charlotte, Marchioness of Hartington, Devonshire House.”

    Spoiled rather by the straight legs at the back.

  17. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Aha, well spotted Andrew. Yes Kent designs often seem to have an element of awkwardness or strangeness in them, which according to your taste may or may not be engaging (I am in for former camp).

  18. Andrew Says:

    Well, for my money, the ones at Ham House are much more elegant. As they say, chacun à son goût. Hogarth railed against Kent and his “foreign” taste. http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/pd/w/william_hogarth,_the_bad_taste.aspx

  19. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Fascinating to see how Palladianism was then seen as ‘foreign’, whereas now it is seen as so ‘British’ (or perhaps ‘Anglo-Saxon’).

  20. Andrew Says:

    Indeed. Although Inigo Jones had brought Palladian architecture to England first – the Queen’s House in Greenwich was started in 1616! – I believe Hogarth thought the proper “British” architecture was the Baroque of Wren, Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor. That aligned with his desire for a sense of movement – the sinuous line of beauty – in his art.

    Of course Baroque was later seen as too “Roman” in a religous context and too restrained in a domestic setting when the Gothic revival got going, along with the picturesque and romanticism. What goes around comes around!

  21. imogen88 Says:

    Love the Fruitwood armchair and silk velvet cover, how vibrant the colours are, and I guess there is no way of telling how or when it was restored or if at all, or how often. For 1730 it looks still modern, even with the signs of fading and age. Does the wood originate from actual fruit trees or is it just a term used? Beautiful post and lovely to see.

  22. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Imogen, the velvet appears to be original – this set was provided with shaped paper covers to protect against fading when not in use, which may account for their relatively good condition.

    Watts & Co are said to have repaired almost all of the furniture at Ham in the 1880s, but exact records don’t survive.

    Apparently fruitwood can be either apple, cherry, pear of plum. Wild cherry seems to have been the most popular, partly because it resembled mahogany. Some more info here: http://bit.ly/17kJrRQ

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