Author Archive

Reframing China

April 26, 2013
Chinese mirror painting depicting two women sitting at the water's edge, in an English rococo frame, possibly late 1750s, at Saltram (inv. no. NT872228.1). ©National Trust Images/Rob Matheson

Chinese mirror painting depicting two women sitting at the water’s edge, in an English rococo frame, possibly late 1750s, at Saltram (inv. no. NT872228.1). ©National Trust Images/Rob Matheson

A while ago I mentioned some of the different ways in which Chinese pictures have been framed in the west.

Chinese picture on paper showing a dance performance in a palace courtyard, in an English rococo frame, at Shugborough Hall, mid 18th century (inv. no. NT1271100.4). ©National Trust Collections

Chinese picture on paper showing a dance performance in a palace courtyard, in an English rococo frame, at Shugborough Hall, mid 18th century (inv. no. NT1271100.4). ©National Trust Collections

While doing some research on the forthcoming catalogue of the Chinese wallpapers in the houses of the National Trust I recently came upon a few more examples of this phenomenon.

Chinese mirror painting depicting a landscape with a woman sitting at the water's edge and a town in the distance, in a neoclassical frame, at Osterley Park, c. 1760 (inv. no. NT771801). ©National Trust Collections

Chinese mirror painting depicting a landscape with a woman sitting at the water’s edge and a town in the distance, in a neoclassical frame, at Osterley Park, c. 1760 (inv. no. NT771801). ©National Trust Collections

Chinese pictures have an interesting an puzzling relationship with Chinese wallpaper. The popularity of Chinese pictures in Europe in the late 17th century, which were sometimes mounted into the wall paneling, seems to have stimulated the development of purpose-made Chinese wallpaper during the 18th century.

Chinese picture on paper depicting a stage in the production of silk, with a Chinese paper border and mounted as wallpaper at Erddig in the 1770s. ©National Trust Collections

Chinese picture on paper depicting a stage in the production of silk, with a Chinese paper border and mounted as wallpaper at Erddig in the 1770s. ©National Trust Collections

Even at the end of the 18th century, though, Chinese pictures were still being used as ‘wallpaper’, alongside ‘proper’ Chinese wallpaper. As ever, the marketplace has a habit of creating diversity and disrupting clear-cut, teleological stories.

Painted pomp

April 23, 2013
Portrait of Lady Anne Sackville, Lady Beauchamp (1586–1664) or Frances Prynne or Prinne, Lady Seymour of Trowbridge (d.1626), attributed to William Larkin, at Petworth House (inv. no. NT486187). ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Portrait of Lady Anne Sackville, Lady Beauchamp (1586–1664) or Frances Prynne or Prinne, Lady Seymour of Trowbridge (d.1626), attributed to William Larkin, at Petworth House (inv. no. NT486187). ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Over the weekend I visited an excellent small exhibition at the Holburne Museum in Bath, entitled Painted Pomp, about portraiture and fashion in the Jacobean period.

Ushak carpet at Gawthorpe Hall, Lancashire (inv. no. NT42883). ©National Trust Collections

Ushak carpet at Gawthorpe Hall, Lancashire (inv. no. NT42883). ©National Trust Collections

The exhibition includes nine full-length portraits by William Larkin (early 1880s-1619) of relatives of Thomas Howard, 1st Earl of Suffolk (1561-1626). The paintings originally hung at Charlton Park, Malmsbury, a seat of the Earls of Suffolk and Berkshire, and were given to the nation in 1974. They are now in the care of English Heritage at Kenwood in north London.

In this post I am showing some other portraits by and after Larkin in various National Trust collections.

Portrait of Francis Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Trowbridge (c.1590-1664), in the style of William Larkin, at Petworth House (inv. no. NT486188). ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Portrait of Francis Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Trowbridge (c.1590-1664), in the style of William Larkin, at Petworth House (inv. no. NT486188). ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The pictures document some of the extravagant and highly crafted fashions of the period, such as pinked silk, embroidered shirts, punto in aria (‘stitches in the air’) lace collars and shoes and gauntlets trimmed with gold and silver thread.

Ushak carpet at Sudbury Hall, Derbyshire (inv. no. 653287). ©National Trust Collections

Ushak carpet at Sudbury Hall, Derbyshire (inv. no. 653287). ©National Trust Collections

It is interesting to see how the men are sometimes more gorgeously attired than the women. This was clearly an age when ‘power dressing’ meant dressing as flamboyantly as possible.

Portrait of Mary Curzon, Countess of Dorset (1585 -1645), by William Hamilton RA (1751-1801) after William Larkin, at Kedleston Hall (inv. no. NT108775). ©National Trust Images/Ian Blantern

Portrait of Mary Curzon, Countess of Dorset (1585 -1645), by William Hamilton RA (1751-1801) after William Larkin, at Kedleston Hall (inv. no. NT108775). ©National Trust Images/Ian Blantern

Prominently visible in the portraits are the Turkish Ushak rugs, expensive status symbols in the early 17th century, and the exhibition includes an actual Ushak rug.

Ushak carpet at Chastleton House, Oxfordshire (inv. no. NT1430658). ©National Trust Collections

Ushak carpet at Chastleton House, Oxfordshire (inv. no. NT1430658). ©National Trust Collections

There are also a few surviving items of Jacobean clothing on show, as well as two replica costumes made for use at Shakespeare’s Globe, London.

A Chinese conundrum at Shugborough

April 19, 2013
The Chinese House at Shugborough. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The Chinese House at Shugborough. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The East India Company at Home project has been harnessing debate and research into the influence of the Asian trade on life in Britain. As part of its online archive of case studies, Stephen McDowall has just published a paper on Shugborough Hall’s Chinese connections.

Portrait of Thomas Anson (1695-1773), manner of John Vanderbank the Younger (1694-1739). Inv. no. NT1271032. ©National Trust Images

Portrait of Thomas Anson (1695-1773), manner of John Vanderbank the Younger (1694-1739). Inv. no. NT1271032. ©National Trust Images

Stephen demonstrates how Shugborough epitomises the paradoxes inherent in the use of Chinese objects and styles in Britain.

Plate from a Chinese porcelain armorial dinner service decorated with various symbols including the Anson crest and arms, reputedly given to Commodore Anson by the European merchants in Canton. Inv. no. NT1271545. ©National Trust Collections

Plate from a Chinese porcelain armorial dinner service decorated with various symbols including the Anson crest and arms, reputedly given to Commodore Anson by the European merchants in Canton. Inv. no. NT1271545. ©National Trust Collections

In about 1747 the owner of the Shugborough estate, Thomas Anson, added a Chinese House to the garden, probably inspired by the recent visits to China of his younger brother, Commodore (later Admiral and Baron) George Anson. Its design is said to have been based on a drawing of a Chinese building made by one of George’s officers. Moreover, it was George’s fortune, the result of the capture of a Spanish silver galleon, that enabled the embellishment and expansion of Shugborough from the mid-1740s onwards.

Portrait of Admiral Sir George Anson, Baron Anson of Soberton (1697-1762), by William Hoare of Bath, RA (1707–1792). Inv. no. NT1271098. ©National Trust Collections, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Portrait of Admiral Sir George Anson, Baron Anson of Soberton (1697-1762), by William Hoare of Bath, RA (1707–1792). Inv. no. NT1271098. ©National Trust Collections, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

George Anson himself, however, is on record as condemning Chinese art and design as imitative, and he was generally rather rude about Chinese culture and society.  How do we reconcile his negative stance with the evidence of Chinese and Chinese-inspired decoration at the house?

Chinese mirror painting at Shugborough, one of a pair, mid-18th-century. Inv. no. NT1270818.2. ©National Trust Collections

Chinese mirror painting at Shugborough, one of a pair, mid-18th-century. Inv. no. NT1270818.2. ©National Trust Collections

The Chinese House was said at the time to be an authentic facsimile of Chinese architectural forms, but with the benefit of hindsight it looks more like a classic rococo chinoiserie folly. Moreover, the Chinese House was situated close to other garden pavilions and structures in classical and antiquarian styles, illustrating how flexible the concepts of authenticity and identity could be in mid-18th-century Britain.

Portrait of Lady Elizabeth Yorke, Lady Anson (1725–1760), by studio of Thomas Hudson (1701–1779). Inv. no. NT1271067. ©National Trust Collections, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Portrait of Lady Elizabeth Yorke, Lady Anson (1725–1760), by studio of Thomas Hudson (1701–1779). Inv. no. NT1271067. ©National Trust Collections, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Stephen has also found a reference to George Anson’s wife Elizabeth being involved in the finishing of the Chinese House, which may be significant as ‘China’ – in its various meanings – was often associated with femininity in 18th-century Britain.

Chinoiserie cabinet possibly by Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779) in the Blue Drawing Room at Shugborough. Inv. no. 1270692. ©National Trust Images/Geoffrey Shakerley

Chinoiserie cabinet possibly by Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779) in the Blue Drawing Room at Shugborough. Inv. no. 1270692. ©National Trust Images/Geoffrey Shakerley

There are a number of Chinese objects at Shugborough, including an armorial dinner service and several mirror paintings, which were traditionally thought to have been brought back by George Anson. But there is not much actual evidence for that, and it is not clear whether ‘Chinese Shugborough’ was the creation of Thomas, George, or Elizabeth – or indeed all three. Shugborough appears to be a fascinating case study of the ambiguity of the idea of ‘China’ in Britain in the 18th century.

Black and grey

April 11, 2013
Attarine Medersa, Fez, by Katie Cooke, taken with a pinhole camera. ©Katie Cooke

Attarine Medersa, Fez, by Katie Cooke, taken with a pinhole camera. ©Katie Cooke

An exhibition at the Fox Talbot Museum, Lacock, which runs from 12 April until 22 September 2013, examines the relevance of black and white photography today.

Musée Gallo-Romain, Lyon, by Nettie Edwards, taken with an iPhone. ©Nettie Edwards

Musée Gallo-Romain, Lyon, by Nettie Edwards, taken with an iPhone. ©Nettie Edwards

The exhibition features the work of six artists working with black and white photography: Anthony Jones, Deborah Parkin, Trevor Ashby, Nettie Edwards, Mark Voce and Katie Cooke.

Ben Youssef Medersa, Marrakech, by Katie Cooke, taken with a pinhole camera. ©Katie Cooke

Ben Youssef Medersa, Marrakech, by Katie Cooke, taken with a pinhole camera. ©Katie Cooke

Roger Watson, the curator at the Fox Talbot Museum, comments that the absence of colour forces us to notice the texture, line and shape in the images.

Versailles Grand Canal: February 2013, by Nettie Edwards, taken with an iPhone. ©Nettie Edwards

Versailles Grand Canal: February 2013, by Nettie Edwards, taken with an iPhone. ©Nettie Edwards

The cameras and techniques used vary from the most recent – the iPhone – to the most traditional – the pinhole camera – demonstrating the almost infinite possibilities of black and white photography. However, all the artists seem to share an interest in contemplative observation and an appreciation of the passing of time.

In a mottled mood

April 9, 2013
Detail of the Chinese wallpaper with its imitation bamboo trellis border in the Chinese Bedroom at Blickling Hall, inv. no. NT354141. ©National Trust Collections

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper with its imitation bamboo trellis border in the Chinese Bedroom at Blickling Hall, inv. no. NT354141. ©National Trust Collections

Our little Chinese wallpaper study group was recently discussing the use of printed and painted paper borders which give a trompe l’oeil impression of mottled bamboo trelliswork. They were probably made by the same Guangzhou workshops which produced the actual wallpapers and they seem to have been particularly popular during the second half of the 18th century.

Fragment of a painted imitation bamboo trelliswork border, formerly at Hampden House, Buckinghamshire. Victoria & Albert Museum, inv. no. E.948A-C-1978. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Fragment of a painted imitation bamboo trelliswork border, formerly at Hampden House, Buckinghamshire. Victoria & Albert Museum, inv. no. E.948A-C-1978. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The discussion was sparked off by the border in the Chinese Bedroom at Blickling Hall. We also discussed a very similar border in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum, originally from Hampden House, Buckinghamshire. There may be a direct link between the Blickling and the Hampden borders, as both houses were owned by the Earls of Buckinghamshire, albeit at different times.

Sections of Chinese wallpaper framed with a faux bamboo trelliswork paper border, second half 18th century, from a house at no. 10 Ginnekenstraat, Breda, which was demolished in 1961. Breda's Museum, inv. no. S06489.  ©Breda's Museum

Sections of Chinese wallpaper framed with a faux bamboo trelliswork paper border, second half 18th century, from a house at no. 10 Ginnekenstraat, Breda, which was demolished in 1961. Breda’s Museum, inv. no. S06489. ©Breda’s Museum

Anna Wu and Sander Karst told us about another similar border which frames two ‘pictures’ made up of sections of wallpaper that had formerly hung in a town house in Breda, in the Netherlands.

Imitation bamboo chair made of turned, carved and painted beech, c. 1790, owned by David Garrick's widow. Victoria & Albert Museum, inv. no. W.27-1917 ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Imitation bamboo chair made of turned, carved and painted beech, c. 1790, owned by David Garrick’s widow. Victoria & Albert Museum, inv. no. W.27-1917 ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The taste for mottled bamboo caught on in England to the extent that the actor David Garrick and his wife had a number of faux mottled bamboo chairs in their villa on the Thames at Hampton between the 1770s and the 1790s.

Corner of the wallpaper in the Chinese Bedroom at Belton House (nv. no. NT433859), showing the faux bamboo European paper border and the imitation bamboo trim on the doorframe. ©National Trust Images/Martin Trelawny

Corner of the wallpaper in the Chinese Bedroom at Belton House (inv. no. NT433859), showing the faux bamboo European paper border and the imitation bamboo trim on the doorframe. ©National Trust Images/Martin Trelawny

Even as late as 1840 imitation mottled bamboo woodwork and paper borders were still fashionable, as can be seen in the Chinese bedroom at Belton House.

Detail of a Chinese watercolour picture pasted on the wall as part of the 'wallpaper' in the Study at Saltram, inv. no. 871979. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Detail of a Chinese watercolour picture pasted on the wall as part of the ‘wallpaper’ in the Study at Saltram, inv. no. 871979. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

A representation of a decorative mottled bamboo fence in an elegant Chinese garden is visible in one of the pictures used as ‘wallpaper’ on the walls of the Study at Saltram, probably in the late 1760s.

Detail of a mottled bamboo armchair, in scroll 4 of a set of hanging scroll paintings entitled 'The Eighteen Scholars', by an anonymous Ming-dynasty artist. ©National Palace Museum, Taipei

Detail of a mottled bamboo armchair, in scroll 4 of a set of hanging scroll paintings entitled ‘The Eighteen Scholars’, by an anonymous Ming-dynasty artist. ©National Palace Museum, Taipei

In China mottled bamboo was  considered a rare and refined material suitable for scholars and other members of the elite, as is explained in an online exhibition of the National Palace Museum, Taipei. The patterning was thought to add a sophisticated touch of natural boldness to fencing, fretwork, furniture and other objects.

Mottled bamboo and goat's hair writing brush by Li Dinghe, mid-19th-century. ©The Palace Museum, Beijing

Mottled bamboo and goat’s hair writing brush by Li Dinghe, mid-19th-century. ©The Palace Museum, Beijing

Jonathan Hay has recently written a fascinating study, entitled Sensuous Surfaces, about how materials like mottled bamboo interacted with other patterns, textures and shapes in Chinese interiors during the late Ming and early Qing periods, creating subtle interweavings of visual delight and cultural meaning.

Books as social history

March 26, 2013
View of Gardner Wilkinson Library at Calke Abbey. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

View of Gardner Wilkinson Library at Calke Abbey. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Mark Purcell and Nicola Thwaite have recently published a fascinating collection guide to the libraries at Calke Abbey.

Some of the library shelves at Calke with books on exploration and travel. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Some of the library shelves at Calke with books on exploration and travel. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Calke Abbey was acquired by the National Trust in 1985 and was consciously preserved as a house on the brink of ruin, a snapshot of a moment in time and a multi-dimensional archive of the history of a particular family.

Bookplate of Sir Henry Harpur, 5th Bt (1708-1748). ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Bookplate of Sir Henry Harpur, 5th Bt (1708-1748). ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

As Mark and Nicola demonstrate, the books at Calke are a record of the tastes and occupations of various generations of the Harpur-Crewe family, including ‘music, novels, big-game hunting, spiritual anguish, exotic travel, improving the estate, suing the neighbours, saying your prayers, learning Latin, catching rats, or choosing the upholstery.’

The Library at Calke. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Library at Calke. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Certain generations of the Harpur-Crewe family suffered from extreme shyness and other forms of unsociable and obsessive behaviour, which today we might describe as symptoms of hereditary autism.

Bookplate of Sir John Harpur, 4th Bt (1680-1741). ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Bookplate of Sir John Harpur, 4th Bt (1680-1741). ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

This family trait expressed itself, for instance, in the huge collections of geology and taxidermy assembled by Sir Vauncey Harpur Crewe (1846-1924). But it is also evident in the progressive transformation of the house into a time capsule – which, poignantly, makes it all the more valuable for us today.

The people behind the objects

March 21, 2013
Conservator inspecting the back of the headboard of the King James II bed at Knole. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

Conservator inspecting the back of the headboard of the King James II bed at Knole. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

Perhaps I don’t feature people often enough in this blog.

Conservator the late Linda Shelley dusting an urn in the Entrance Hall at Osterley Park. ©National Trust Images/Ian Shaw

Conservator the late Linda Shelley dusting an urn in the Entrance Hall at Osterley Park. ©National Trust Images/Ian Shaw

It is easy to overlook the people who actually preserve and open up the collections of the National Trust. Many of them beaver away modestly behind the scenes.

Volunteers conserving textiles at Tyntesfield. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Volunteers conserving textiles at Tyntesfield. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Also, unlike objects, people tend not to stay still for very long and are therefore more difficult to capture in photographs.

Food historian Peter Brears carrying a silver item to the Dining Room at Attingham Park. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

Food historian Peter Brears carrying a silver item to the Dining Room at Attingham Park. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

But here are a few of the many different types of people involved with the collections of the National Trust, with some of the objects in their care.

When is a Rembrandt a Rembrandt?

March 19, 2013
Attributed to Rembrandt van Rijn, self-portrait wearing a white feathered bonnet, at Buckland Abbey. NT810136 ©National Trust/Steve Haywood

Attributed to Rembrandt van Rijn, self-portrait wearing a white feathered bonnet, at Buckland Abbey. NT810136 ©National Trust/Steve Haywood

Rembrandt’s oeuvre is a fascinating case study in how paintings are evaluated differently by succeeding generations.

When the above portrait of Rembrandt was donated to Buckland Abbey in 2010 it was catalogued as ‘studio of’ rather than as by the artist himself. It had been described like this since 1968 when Rembrandt scholar Horst Gerson suggested that it was painted by one of the artist’s pupils. This judgement was then confirmed by the Rembrandt Research Project, a committee dedicated to tracking down and authenticating the artist’s oeuvre.

David Taylor, the National Trust's curator of pictures, scrutinising the self portrait. ©National Trust/Steve Haywood

David Taylor, the National Trust’s curator of pictures, scrutinising the self portrait. ©National Trust/Steve Haywood

Prior to that it had been considered a work by the artist himself. It had previously been in the collection of the Princes of Liechtenstein and in the 1960s it was acquired by Harold Samuel, Lord Samuel of Wych Cross, from the London dealer Edward Speelman.

©National Trust/Steve Haywood

©National Trust/Steve Haywood

Lord Samuel was a property developer (who founded and built up Land Securities) and philanthropist who assembled an important collection of Netherlandish old master paintings, many of which were bequeathed to the City of London and are now on display at Mansion House.

In 2010 two paintings from the estate of Lord Samuel’s wife, Edna, Lady Samuel, were accepted by the Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to Buckland. At the same time the estate donated three more paintings directly to Buckland, including the Rembrandt self portrait – then still described as ‘studio of’.

The self portrait being rehung after inspection ©National Trust/Steve Haywood-

The self portrait being rehung after inspection ©National Trust/Steve Haywood-

But now Ernst van de Wetering, the chair of the Rembrandt Research Project, has reversed his assessment of the picture, in view of subsequent research into the artist’s work. He has noted that the same relatively crude brushwork can also be seen in other Rembrandt pictures of the 1630s, such as Belshazzar’s Feast in the National Gallery, London, and the Rabbi in the Royal Collection.

The frame being given a once-over by Patricia Burtnyk, house steward at Buckland. ©National Trust/Steve Haywood

The frame being given a once-over by Patricia Burtnyk, house steward at Buckland. ©National Trust/Steve Haywood

The picture will soon undergo further technical analysis funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery, to try to firm up this re-attribution. The research will include dendrochronology, study of the pigments and the paint layers, infrared reflectography and ex-ray photography.

Regardless of the ultimate verdict, however, one undoubted benefit of this ongoing process of attribution (and reattribution, and re-reattribution) has been to make us all look more closely at this beautiful and intriguing portrait.

Scrubs up nicely

March 14, 2013
Portrait of ‘young’ Sir George Booth, 1st Baron Delamer (1622-1684), by circle of Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723), at Dunham Massey, photographed following conservation. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Hollow

Portrait of ‘young’ Sir George Booth, 1st Baron Delamer (1622-1684), by circle of Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723), at Dunham Massey, photographed following conservation. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Hollow

In June 2012 we managed to buy this portrait of ‘Young’ Sir George Booth, 1st Baron Delamer of Dunham Massey (as I reported at the time). It was sent to London-based conservator Sophie Reddington for treatment and Sophie has just sent me these images of the work.

The portrait before conservation. ©Christie's

The portrait before conservation. ©Christie’s

The picture was quite dusty and dirty and even had some white splash marks which appeared to be emulsion wall paint. At some point it had also been relined using too much heat, causing the paint to melt in places.

The portrait midway during varnish removal. ©Sophie Reddington

The portrait midway during varnish removal. ©Sophie Reddington

Sophie cleaned the painting with deionised water and then removed several layers of discoloured varnish with various solvents. Old retouching and overpainting was removed, again with solvents and also mechanically with a scalpel.

Lord Delamer's sleeve during varnish removal. ©Sophie Reddington

Lord Delamer’s sleeve during varnish removal. ©Sophie Reddington

Then Sophie refilled the small paint losses with acrylic putty, applied a first coat of new varnish and added new retouchings, followed by a final coat of varnish sprayed on in several thin layers.

The portrait after the filling in of the losses and the application of the first coat of varnish, but before retouching. ©Sophie Reddington

The portrait after the filling in of the losses and the application of the first coat of varnish, but before retouching. ©Sophie Reddington

Where the canvas had become brittle and torn around the sides and the back of the stretcher Sophie mended it with nylon gossamer impregnated with adhesive.

Fragile and brittle tacking edges before treatment. ©Sophie Reddington

Fragile and brittle tacking edges before treatment. ©Sophie Reddington

Sophie also treated the frame, consolidating loose parts, retouching damaged areas with watercolours and bronze paint, lining the rebate with paper tape and felt and reinserting the picture.

The same tacking edges after treatment. ©Sophie Reddington

The same tacking edges after treatment. ©Sophie Reddington

On the back of the frame there is a label of James Bourlet and Sons, London frame makers, as well as the more recent Christie’s label.

Labels old and new on the back of the frame. ©Sophie Reddington

Labels old and new on the back of the frame. ©Sophie Reddington

All this has vastly improved the readability of the image and given it a new lease of life.

Hybrids in time and space

March 12, 2013
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.


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