Author Archive

Living history

January 31, 2013
HM Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, Palace of Huis ten Bosch, 2010. © RVD, foto: Vincent Mentzel © RVD, photo: Vincent Mentzel

HM Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, Palace of Huis ten Bosch, 2010. © RVD, photo: Vincent Mentzel

Earlier this week HM Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands made the announcement that on 30 April 2013 she will abdicate in favour of her son, the Prince of Orange. By then she will have been on the throne for 33 years, and at 75 she will have been the oldest reigning Dutch monarch.

As constitutional monarch Queen Beatrix represents an element of continuity, an embodiment of ‘living history’. Various members of the House of Orange have had a connection with the Dutch nation from its foundation in the 1570s and 1580s, first as stadtholders and later as monarchs. Now Queen Beatrix’s reign, too, will become ‘history’.

HM Queen Beatrix signing legislation at her desk at the Palace of Huis ten Bosch, 2011. © Rijksoverheid

HM Queen Beatrix signing legislation at her desk at the Palace of Huis ten Bosch, 2011. © Rijksoverheid

The recent portraits shown here hint at that continuity in various, almost old-masterly ways. The photograph at the top was taken in the Witte Eetzaal (White Dining Room) of the Palace of Huis ten Bosch in The Hague. This room is in one of the wings added to the building by Daniel Marot for Prince William IV of Orange between 1734 and 1737. The image of the Queen at her desk shows her under a portrait of the Dutch pater patriae, Prince William I of Orange.

Mixing your drinks

January 29, 2013
Silver wine cooler, from a set of four, by Aaron Lestourgeon, London, 1776. Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Knole, 2012. ©National Trust Collections

Silver wine cooler, from a set of four, by Aaron Lestourgeon, London, 1776. Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Knole, 2012. ©National Trust Collections

Wine and milk don’t really mix. Nevertheless, the design of these silver wine coolers, from a set of four at Knole, was inspired by the appearance of milk pails. They were made by Aaron Lestourgeon in 1776, at a time when there was an increasing taste for idealised country life.

The Dairy at Uppark, West Sussex, c. 1800 or 1810. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The Dairy at Uppark, West Sussex, c. 1800 or 1810. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

As Meredith Martin has described in here recent book Dairy Queens, this period saw the building of model farms and pleasure dairies, such as the Hameau de la Reine at Versailles and the Bergerie Royale at Rambouillet, where aristocratic ladies could channel their inner milkmaid.

with gilt liners by Paul Storr, 1813.

One of a set of four silver wine coolers by Aaron Lestourgeon, London, 1776, with a gilt liner by Paul Storr, 1813. Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Knole, 2012. ©National Trust Collections

There was a serious philosophical and moral undertone to this, as both milk and country life in general were praised as healthy, wholesome and socially regenerative.

The Dairy at Berrington Hall, Shropshire, by Henry Holland, 1780s. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The Dairy at Berrington Hall, Shropshire, by Henry Holland, 1780s. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Perhaps it is an indication of the pervasiveness of that trend that even a relatively hedonistic object like a wine cooler was given ‘dairy’ styling.

The Dairy at Ham House, Surrey, c. 1800. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel.

The Dairy at Ham House, Surrey, c. 1800. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel.

This set of wine coolers, together with another set of four, was recently accepted by the Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Knole.

Framing China

January 25, 2013
Chimney-board in the Yellow Taffeta Bedroom at Osterley Park, decorated with a Chinese picture of birds, insects, flowers and rocks surrounded by decorative floral patterns, second half 18th century, possibly originally used as wall decoration. ©National Trust Collections

Chimney-board in the Yellow Taffeta Bedroom at Osterley Park, decorated with a Chinese picture of birds, insects, flowers and rocks surrounded by decorative floral patterns, second half 18th century, possibly originally used as wall decoration. ©National Trust Collections

When I was at Osterley Park yesterday I noticed this chimney board covered with Chinese painted paper. I was wondering if it might be a remnant of what had once been the decoration of the walls of one of the rooms.

View of the Chinese Room at Erddig, showing the Chinese pictures on paper mounted on the walls in the 1770s. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

During the third quarter of the 18th century it seems to have been popular to decorate walls with Chinese pictures on paper or sections of Chinese wallpaper, framed with paper borders or gilded fillets.

Some of the 17 Chinese paintings hung in the bedroom of the 5th Lord Leigh's sister at Stoneleigh Abbey, Warwickshire, in 1765. They were sold from the house in 1981.

Some of the 17 Chinese paintings hung in the bedroom of the 5th Lord Leigh’s sister at Stoneleigh Abbey, Warwickshire, in 1765. They were sold from the house in 1981.

This practice is an intriguing example of Asian objects being inserted, literally and figuratively, into a western decorative framework, conceptually similar to the encasing of Asian porcelain in European ormolu mounts.

Some of the Stoneleigh Abbey pictures when they hung at Albemarle House, Virginia, from which they were sold in 2010. ©Sotheby's

Some of the Stoneleigh Abbey pictures when they hung at Albemarle House, Virginia, from which they were sold in 2010. ©Sotheby’s

In some cases there seems to have been a practical element to this as well, as a means of making the expensive and relatively scarce ‘India paper’ cover larger expanses of wall.

The Chinese Room at Carton House, County Kildare, decorated c. 1759. Image from Lordbelmontinnorthernireland.blogspot.co.uk

The Chinese Room at Carton House, County Kildare, decorated c. 1759. Image from Lordbelmontinnorthernireland.blogspot.co.uk

Stella Tillyard, in her book Aristocrats (1994), quotes the Countess of Kildare writing from Carton House to her husband in London: ‘My dear Lord Kildare, don’t let Louisa forget the India paper, and if you see any you like buy it at once for that I have will never hold out for more than three rooms, and you know we have four to do; for I have set my heart upon that which opens into the garden being done, for ‘tis certainly now our only and best good living room.’ Perhaps Lord Kildare didn’t manage to obtain any more, as the end result was a careful composition of framed fragments.

View of the interior of a Santa Monica residence decorated by Schuyler Samperton, incorporating Chinese wallpaper panels produced by Fromental. ©Schuyler Samperton Interior Design

View of the interior of a Santa Monica residence decorated by Schuyler Samperton, incorporating Chinese wallpaper panels produced by Fromental. ©Schuyler Samperton Interior Design

And this practice persists to this day, with framed sections of both antique and new Chinese wallpaper being used as decorative focal points.

Lyme Park’s rococo moment

January 22, 2013
Detail of one of the pair of carved giltwood side tables with Portoro marble tops, accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Lyme Park. ©National Trust Collections

Detail of one of the pair of carved giltwood side tables with Portoro marble tops, accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Lyme Park. ©National Trust Collections

Among the items recently accepted by the Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to Lyme Park are some pieces of wonderfully sculptural rococo furniture.

One of a pair of carved giltwood side tables with Portoro marble tops, accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Lyme Park. ©National Trust Collections

One of a pair of carved giltwood side tables with Portoro marble tops, accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Lyme Park. ©National Trust Collections

This allocation includes a pair of carved giltwood side tables with Portoro marble tops and two pairs of carved giltwood wall brackets. One of the pairs supports two Chinese Dehua porcelain female figures.

Pair of carved giltwood brackets, mid 18th century, accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Lyme Park. ©National Trust Collections

Pair of carved giltwood brackets, mid 18th century, accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Lyme Park. ©National Trust Collections

The rococo furniture at Lyme was originally acquired by Peter Legh XIII, who inherited the house in 1744. He finished the decoration of a number of rooms remodeled by his uncle Peter Legh XII in the 1730s and early 1740s.

Female figure in Chinese Dehua porcelain, Kangxi period (1662-1722), on English carved giltwood bracket, mid 18th century, accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Lyme Park. ©National Trust Collections

Female figure in Chinese Dehua porcelain, Kangxi period (1662-1722), on English carved giltwood bracket, mid 18th century, accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Lyme Park. ©National Trust Collections

Pseudo-Chinese birds, perhaps echoing the decoration of the Chinese porcelain in the house, appear on some of the rococo girandoles introduced by Peter XIII. At the same time he also seems to have added the 17th century oak paneling that came from another family house, Bradley in Lancashire, demonstrating the eclecticism of the middle of the 18th century.

View of the Drawing Room at Lyme, showing one of the rococo carved giltwood girandoles. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

View of the Drawing Room at Lyme, showing one of the rococo carved giltwood girandoles. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The giltwood chandeliers and the harpsichord by Hitchcock also date from this period.

View of the Saloon at Lyme, with one of the carved giltwood rococo chandeliers and the contemporary harpsichord. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

View of the Saloon at Lyme, with one of the carved giltwood rococo chandeliers and the contemporary harpsichord. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

But it wasn’t all sweetness and light: Peter XIII ended up separated from his wife, led astray by his mistress and his manipulative sister, being wheeled up and down the galleries at Lyme in a bath chair. Following Peter XIII’s death in 1792 the house entered a period of neglect which wouldn’t be reversed until his great-nephew Thomas Legh came of age in 1813.

Stoneywell

January 17, 2013
The south front of Stoneywell. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The south front of Stoneywell. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

It has just been announced that the National Trust is acquiring Stoneywell, an Arts and Crafts house in Ulverscroft, Leicestershire.

The back of Stoneywell. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The back of Stoneywell. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Stoneywell was built by the architect-designer Ernest Gimson (1864-1919) for his elder brother Sidney and his wife Jeanie. Gimson consciously used local materials and tried to fit the house harmoniously into its undulating site.

The dining room at Stoneywell, with the Barsnley table and Gimson chairs. ©National Trust/Chris Lacey

The dining room at Stoneywell, with the Barsnley table and Gimson chairs. ©National Trust/Chris Lacey

Stoneywell has remained almost unaltered and still contains items of furniture created for it, such as a Sidney Barnsley dining table and a set of Ernest Gimson ladderback chairs.

Slate steps and curved doorway at Stoneywell. ©National Trust/Chris Lacey

Slate steps and curved doorway at Stoneywell. ©National Trust/Chris Lacey

The acquisition has been made possible by grants from the Monument Trust and the J Paul Getty Jnr Charitable Trust, as well as donations from local supporters and from the Gimson family.

The eponymous well house at Stoneywell. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The eponymous well house at Stoneywell. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The National Trust is still raising funds to make repairs, put visitor facilities in place and allow Stoneywell to open to the public in 2014.

The stables at Stoneywell. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The stables at Stoneywell. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Ernest Gimson’s furniture can also been seen at Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum and Rodmarton Manor. The Owlpen Manor website features a good introduction to his work.

Opening up the Uppark dolls house

January 15, 2013
The Uppark dolls house. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The Uppark dolls house. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Last week I joined a group of colleagues to discuss how we can better understand the dolls house at Uppark. This dolls house is a large miniature house that is also a piece of furniture, a toy and a work of art. It is a distinct object, but at the same time it is also a whole collection of very diverse objects. It is in effect a historic house with almost all of the contents from the time of its creation.

Four rooms in the Uppark dolls house, clockwise from top left: the Drawing Room, the Dining Room, the Staircase Hall and the Kitchen. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Four rooms in the Uppark dolls house, clockwise from top left: the Drawing Room, the Dining Room, the Staircase Hall and the Kitchen. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The dolls house dates from the late 1730s and came to Uppark with Sarah Lethieullier, who married Sir Matthew Fetherstonhaugh in 1746. But apart from that not much is known about it.

Close-up of the Dining Room in the Uppark dolls house. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Close-up of the Dining Room in the Uppark dolls house. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Who originally commissioned it – Sarah Lethieullier or perhaps another member of her family?  What motivated its creation? Was it a genteel amusement for the ladies of the family? Was it intended just for adults or also for children?

Close-up of the Principal Bedroom in the Uppark dolls house. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Close-up of the Principal Bedroom in the Uppark dolls house. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Was an architect involved in its creation, perhaps James Paine? Can we find out who supplied some of the contents – the furniture, the paintings, the household objects, the costumed dolls? Were its walls originally decorated with different colours and materials rather than in the uniform white we can see today? What can it tell us about early Georgian interior decoration and the life in a grand house?

Close-up of the Kitchen in the Uppark dolls house. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Close-up of the Kitchen in the Uppark dolls house. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

It will take time and research by a number of different experts to try answer these questions. One avenue of investigation will be to compare the Uppark dolls house with the more or less contemporary dolls house at Nostell Priory, and also with with the 17th century dolls houses surviving in the Netherlands, such as those created by Petronella Dunois and Petronella Oortman. Ultimately, the aim of the project is to make the Uppark dolls house better understood and better known.

Incarnations of an oak leaf

January 8, 2013

National Trust oak leaf logo designed by David Gentleman

The latest issue of the National Trust magazine includes an article about David Gentleman, the designer who in 1982 created the National Trust logo that we still use today.

The original 1936 National Trust logo on a sign at Derwentwater, Cumbria. ©National Trust Images/Paul Harris

The original 1936 National Trust logo on a sign at Derwentwater, Cumbria. ©National Trust Images/Paul Harris

The original National Trust oak leaf logo dates from 1936 and was designed by sculptor and designer Joseph Armitage. It was slightly more attenuated, in tune with its time, but already had a strong symbolic presence.

Sign at Nanjulian Farm with David Gentleman's post-1982 National Trust logo. ©National Trust Images/Ian Shaw

Sign at Nanjulian Farm with David Gentleman’s post-1982 National Trust logo. ©National Trust Images/Ian Shaw

By 1982 it was thought to be in need of an update (a ‘brand refresh’ as we would call it today). The commission was given to David Gentleman as he had already designed a series of successful posters for the National Trust during the 1970s. They conveyed the organisation’s changing identity through their refreshingly modern, semi-abstract style.

National Trust logo in chocolate powder. ©National Trust Images/William Shaw

©National Trust Images/William Shaw

For the new version of the logo David Gentleman went back to nature for inspiration, collecting oak leaves on Hampstead Heath. He then carved a number of designs in boxwood, ending up with one that was elegantly simple and yet still botanically feasible.

National Trust logo in new branded colours

The subtle harmony of the design reinforces the symbolic messages around Britishness, heritage, nature and growth. Recent National Trust brand updates have only made the Gentleman design more prominent, and it now features in a rainbow of colours.

David Gentleman has just published his latest book of almost ukiyo-e-like drawings, entitled London, You’re Beautiful. And images of his Camden studio and his and his wife Sue’s Suffolk cottage (very ‘English wabi‘, both of them) feature in Ben Pentreath’s recent book English Decoration.

Globalised lacquer

January 3, 2013
The Balcony Room at Dyrham Park, with the so-called Javanese lacquer table in the foreground. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Balcony Room at Dyrham Park, with the so-called Javanese lacquer table in the foreground. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

In mid-December I attended the Global Commodities conference at the University of Warwick, which examined the role of material culture in shaping world-wide connections in the early modern period. It was an extremely stimulating event that brought together social historians, economic historians and art historians.

Close-up of the table at Dyrham (inv. no. NT452980). ©National Trust Collections

Close-up of the table at Dyrham (inv. no. NT452980). ©National Trust Collections

Ulrike Körber, who is connected to the José de Figueiredo Laboratory at the University of Évora, gave a fascinating lecture about the complex manufacturing and trade patterns of east Asian lacquer in the 16th and 17th century. She described how objects could be designed in one place, made in another, lacquered or relacquered in a third and used in a fourth. Globalisation is clearly not just a recent phenomenon.

The Duchess's Private Closet at Ham House, with the so-called Javanese table raised on a European base. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The Duchess’s Private Closet at Ham House, with the so-called Javanese table raised on a European base. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

This reminded me of the unusual lacquer tables at Dyrham Park, Gloucestershire, and  Ham House, Surrey, which have traditionally been called ‘Javanese’. They both date from the late 17th century and somehow reached England through the East India trade. The one at Ham was adapted to the needs of chair-sitting Europeans by being mounted on a barley-twist base, a telling example of the appropriation – at once practical and symbolic – of an Asian object into a European setting.

Close-up of the table at Ham (inv. no. NT1140034). ©National Trust Collections

Close-up of the table at Ham (inv. no. NT1140034). ©National Trust Collections

But we are not even sure whether these tables did indeed come from Java. There are some related tables in a few German collections, dating from around the same time and with similar distinctive pie-crust rims, but drum-shaped instead of rectangular.

Drum-shaped, reputedly Javanese lacquer tea table (Teetrommel), formerly in the state apartments of the Residenz, Rastatt, Baden. ©Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe

Drum-shaped, reputedly Javanese lacquer tea table (Teetrommel), formerly in the state apartments of the Residenz, Rastatt, Baden. ©Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe

I am hoping to correspond further with Ulrike and with some of the other conference participants to try to find out more about this rare category of lacquer objects – and of course I would very much welcome any suggestions here too.

Lutyens in the details

December 20, 2012
The Kitchen at Castle Drogo, Devon, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. The room was provided with a Soane-style top-lit pendentive dome, echoed by the circular beechwood preparation table below. ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

The Kitchen at Castle Drogo, Devon, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. The room was provided with a Soane-style top-lit pendentive dome, echoed by the circular beechwood preparation table below. ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

If you are looking for some winter-time reading matter you could do worse than get Elizabeth Wilhide’s book about the interiors of the great Edwardian architect Sir Edwin Lutyens.

Detail of the Lutyens-designed lift door at Castle Drogo. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Detail of the Lutyens-designed lift door at Castle Drogo. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

It zooms in on the architectural and decorative details Lutyens excelled in.

Brass taps mounted on a teak sink, next to a granite window surround, in the Butler's Pantry at Castle Drogo. ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

Brass taps mounted on a teak sink, next to a granite window surround, in the Butler’s Pantry at Castle Drogo. ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

As with the buildings of Sir John Soane, you get a palpable sense of Lutyens’s enjoyment in solving the puzzles of volume, light and flow. The visual puns, references and juxtapositions draw you into the architectural game and invite you into Lutyens’s mind.

The Butler's Pantry at Castle Drogo, with its Lutyens-designed fittings. ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

The Butler’s Pantry at Castle Drogo, with its Lutyens-designed fittings. ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

Some elements of his buildings are just plain beautiful, as when he foregrounds interesting materials and contrasts.

Detail of a granite door frame on the Main Stairs at Castle Drogo. ©National Trust

Detail of a granite door frame on the Main Stairs at Castle Drogo. ©National Trust

In the introduction to the book Candia Lutyens, the architect’s granddaughter, mentions how unpopular Lutyens was in the middle of the twentieth century, as his eclectic and referential style was out of synch with the purity of high modernism.

The main stairs at Castle Drogo. ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

The main stairs at Castle Drogo. ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

I can still remember having a slightly dubious reaction to Lutyens’s work when first encountering it, being then an earnest young devotee of modern art. His work seemed almost too beautiful, too harmonious.

One of the shallow domes in the ceiling of the Main Staircase at Castle Drogo. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

One of the shallow domes in the ceiling of the Main Staircase at Castle Drogo. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

But now that modernism is increasingly recognised as being just another historical style rather than the end of history we are in a better position to appreciate Lutyens’s intelligent historicism.

And I have just learned that, by complete coincidence, Adrian Colston has also just featured the interiors and exteriors of Lutyens-designed Castle Drogo on his Dartmoor blog, with his own fascinating photographs.

Mixing and matching

December 14, 2012
A Chinese empress with attendants, by Robert Jones, c 1817, at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. ©Brighton & Hove Museums and Art Galleries, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

A Chinese empress with attendants, by Robert Jones, c 1817, at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. ©Brighton & Hove Museums and Art Galleries, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

It seemed madly ambitious: to make all of the UK’s publicly owned oil paintings available online via one website. But now the Public Catalogue Foundation and the BBC have completed their epic project, and as of yesterday 211,861 paintings are accessible via the Your Paintings site.

Chinese landscape with pagoda and boats, by William Alexander, at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire. ©National Trust Collections, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Chinese landscape with pagoda and boats, by William Alexander, at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire. ©National Trust Collections, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

The National Trust is the largest single collection on the site, with 12,567 paintings. But the National Trust hasn’t just contributed to this project, we have also greatly benefited by having had all of our paintings photographed in colour for the first time.

The Your Paintings site provides unprecedented opportunities for locating works by particular artists and discovering links between collections on a national scale.

A Chinese emperor with attendants, by Robert Jones, c 1817, at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. ©Brighton & Hove Museums and Art Galleries, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

A Chinese emperor with attendants, by Robert Jones, c 1817, at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. ©Brighton & Hove Museums and Art Galleries, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

I just spotted these wonderful images of hyper-elegant Chinese figures by Robert Jones. They were made to decorate the Banqueting Room at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, and they seem to depict the Prince Regent’s daydreams about the Chinese imperial court as a place of unquestioned power, vast wealth and refined luxury.

Chinese landscape with pagoda and boats, by William Alexander, at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire. ©National Trust Collections, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

The work of William Alexander was among the sources for Jones’s fantasy vision. Alexander accompanied Earl Macartney on a diplomatic mission to Beijing from 1792 to 1794. On his return he provided the illustrations for a number of books about China, including Sir George Staunton’s official account of the Macartney embassy (1797) and his own book The Costume of China (1805).

Although his work is generally realistic, it has a picturesque sense of composition and detail – as in the pictures shown here, also accessible through Your Paintings – that appealed to other artists and consumers of chinoiserie.


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