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Looking ahead

February 22, 2013
The Boudoir at Bowhill, created in the 1830s for the 5th Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch.

The Boudoir at Bowhill, created in the 1830s for the 5th Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch.

I have been reading some of the papers of the Attingham Trust’s 60th Anniversary conference, held in London in October 2012. The Trust is well known for organising the scholarly summer schools which allow heritage professionals and aficionados from across the world to gain a greater understanding of the historic houses and gardens of Britain.

Bowhill

Bowhill

The papers provide a fascinating snapshot of the current environment for historic houses and gardens. I was particularly struck by the lively paper presented by the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, chairman of the Buccleuch Group, which not only includes the family’s ancestral houses and estates but also a host of commercial activities. The Duke of Buccleuch’s outlook is not only cheerful, but also very personal, reminding us of the huge value individuals and families bring to the preservation of heritage.

Speaking of the personal, I am a fan of the Boudoir at Bowhill, one of the Buccleuch houses, with its wonderful 1830s decor which includes a Chinese wallpaper. Bowhill features in the recently published book by James Knox, The Scottish Country House.

Double-take

February 14, 2013
The Peacock Room wityh blue and white Chinese Ceramics of the Kangxi period. © 2010 - 2013 Smithsonian Institution and Wayne State University Libraries

The Peacock Room with blue and white Chinese porcelain of the Kangxi period. © 2010 – 2013 Smithsonian Institution and Wayne State University Libraries

Fellow blogger Courtney Barnes recently mentioned a website called The Story of the Beautiful, which chronicles the remarkable and revealing history of the Peacock Room in the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, part of the Smithsonian Institution.

As The Story of the Beautiful describes, the Peacock Room was originally constructed by architect Thomas Jeckyll for the London house of shipowner Charles Leyland in the mid 1870s, as a cabinet to display blue and white Chinese porcelain. Then the artist James McNeill Whistler spectacularly redecorated the room, transforming it into a three-dimensional work of art.

The Peacock Room with various Asian ceramics. © 2010 - 2013 Smithsonian Institution and Wayne State University Libraries

The Peacock Room with various Asian ceramics. © 2010 – 2013 Smithsonian Institution and Wayne State University Libraries

After Leyland’s death the room was purchased by American industrialist and collector Charles Lang Freer in 1904 and shipped to his house in Detroit. Freer had a different taste in ceramics, preferring subtle glaze effects and collecting wares from across the whole of Asia.

After being moved from Detroit to the public art gallery Freer had initiated and funded in Washington, the Peacock Room was initially displayed with blue and white porcelain, as it had been in London. Now, following the cleaning and conservation of the painted decoration, Freer’s choice of ceramics has been reinstated.

Apart from having a model website, this project also demonstrates brilliantly how objects are changed by their physical context. It simultaneously proves how the context is changed when the objects within it are changed. And on top of that it illustrates how a historic interior can have more than one valid appearance – quite an achievement for a single room, but then this is not just any old room.

Dancing on the Edge

February 12, 2013
The Long Gallery at Upton House, Warwickshire. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The Long Gallery at Upton House, Warwickshire. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

As I was watching the first episode of Stephen Poliakoff’s new television series Dancing on the Edge the other day, I noticed that one of the scenes was shot at Upton House. The Long Gallery at Upton, with its celadon green paneling, features as part of the 1930s mansion of Mr Masterson, a mysterious and slightly sinister plutocrat.

The entrance front of Upton House, as remodeled by Percy Morley Horder in 1927. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Antrobus

The entrance front of Upton House, as remodeled by Percy Morley Horder in 1927. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Antrobus

The debate is already raging about the pros and cons of Poliakoff’s casting, dialogue and plot. But what is without doubt is that this auteur director has a great eye for evocative locations.

The Hall at Upton. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The Hall at Upton. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

And the atmosphere at Upton is in fact very ‘interwar’. The house was remodeled in 1927-9 by Percy Morley Horder for Walter Samuel, 2nd Viscount Bearsted.

The Picture Room at Upton, looking into the Library and the Billiard Room. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The Picture Room at Upton, looking into the Library and the Billiard Room. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The 2nd Lord Bearsted was chairman of Shell and owner of the bank M. Samuel (now part of Lloyds TSB). He was a great philanthropist, particularly in the areas of hospitals and schools, and a fervent collector of paintings, tapestries, furniture, French gold boxes, English silver, English miniatures, illuminated initials, oriental works of art and English porcelain.

The Billiard Room at Upton. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The Billiard Room at Upton. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The Long Gallery contains some of these collections, but there is also a dedicated Picture Gallery in the house (which I have shown before). In fact, Lord Bearsted’s passion for collecting is evident in almost every room.

Lady Bearsted's Bathroom at Upton, with its walls covered with aluminium leaf. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Lady Bearsted’s Bathroom at Upton, with its walls covered with aluminium leaf. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Although Upton was decorated by Horder in a restrained neo-Georgian style, there are certain spaces, such as the two-storey Picture Room with a view down from the Library, which have a theatrical, distinctly interwar atmosphere. There are wonderful ‘Curzon Street baroque’ touches like the velvet-covered uplighters in the Billiard Room. And Lady Bearsted’s silver bathroom is pure Hollywood.

Norah Lindsay’s Welsh hats

February 8, 2013
'Welsh hats' in clipped yew, at Chirk Castle, Wrexham. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

‘Welsh hats’ in clipped yew, at Chirk Castle, Wrexham. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

I recently picked up a copy of Norah Lindsay: the Life and Art of a Garden Designer, by Allyson Hayward (2007). This book is an interesting reappraisal of a designer who created a number of influential gardens in the interwar period. After her death her work was rapidly forgotten, perhaps because her image as an upper-class social butterfly obscured the quality of her designs, and the sustained work that went into creating them.

The Formal Garden at Chirk Castle from above. ©National Trust Images/Stephen Robson

The Formal Garden at Chirk Castle from above. ©National Trust Images/Stephen Robson

Norah Lindsay was born in India in 1873. Her father, Major Edward Bourke, and her mother Emma were well connected among the British aristocracy, and Norah grew up in the company of assorted Wyndhams, Desboroughs, Grenfells and Rutlands. In 1895 Norah married Harry Lindsay, a younger son of the Earl of Crawford. As a wedding present the couple was given the manor house of Sutton Courtenay, then in Berkshire (now Oxfordshire).

The Parterre at Blickling Hall, Norfolk, which Norah Lindsay remodeled in the 1930s. ©National Trust Images/Nick Meers

The Parterre at Blickling Hall, Norfolk, which Norah Lindsay remodeled in the 1930s. ©National Trust Images/Nick Meers

At Sutton Courtenay Norah developed her gardening style, a mixture of formal clipped trees and hedges with informal planting in the style of Gertrude Jekyll. But the idyll ended at the end of the First World War, when Norah and Harry separated. From then on Norah had to earn her living as a professional garden designer, but the fame of her garden at Sutton Courtenay, as well as her network of friends and relations, stood her in good stead.

Detail of the Parterre at Blickling. ©National Trust Images/Nick Meers

Detail of the Parterre at Blickling. ©National Trust Images/Nick Meers

A number of gardens where Norah worked are now in the care of the National Trust. At Chirk Castle she reshaped the topiary and created a large herbaceous border. The distinctive topiary shapes at Chirk, consisting of cylinders surmounted by cones, and which she called ‘Welsh hats’, would become something of a Norah Lindsay trademark.

The Pillar Garden at Hidcote Manor, Gloucestershire. ©National Trust Images/Stephen Robson

The Pillar Garden at Hidcote Manor, Gloucestershire. ©National Trust Images/Stephen Robson

At Blickling Hall in the 1930s, working for the Marquess of Lothian, Norah once again combined topiary with flowering plants to transform the Victorian Parterre.

The Long Garden at Cliveden, Buckinghamshire, where Norah Lindsay advised in the 1920s and 1930s. ©National Trust Images/Clive Nichols

The Long Garden at Cliveden, Buckinghamshire, where Norah Lindsay advised in the 1920s and 1930s. ©National Trust Images/Clive Nichols

Norah knew Lawrence Johnston and often stayed at Hidcote Manor. Their respective gardening tastes, favouring combinations of formality and informality, green structure and floral abundance, were very similar.

The Water Garden at Cliveden, which Norah Lindsay surrounded with shrubs and trees for autumn colour. ©National Trust Images/Ian Shaw

The Water Garden at Cliveden, which Norah Lindsay surrounded with shrubs and trees for autumn colour. ©National Trust Images/Ian Shaw

Viscountess Astor, a close friend of the Marquess of Lothian, employed Norah at Cliveden, and evidence of her work can still be seen in the Long Garden and the Water Garden. During Ascot week she also helped to create the lavish floral arrangements in the house, which were changed three times a day.

The walled garden at Mottisfont Abbey, Hampshire. ©National Trust Images/Jonathan Buckley

The walled garden at Mottisfont Abbey, Hampshire. ©National Trust Images/Jonathan Buckley

At Mottisfont Abbey Norah designed a parterre for Maud and Gilbert Russell and also advised on the planting of the walled garden.

Socialite though she may have been, what comes across now is the quality and professionalism of her work.

Of books and their owners

February 5, 2013
18th-century pamphlets in the Library at Dunham Massey, Cheshire. ©National Trust Images

18th-century pamphlets in the Library at Dunham Massey, Cheshire. ©National Trust Images

The colleagues at Dunham Massey have just created an online classroom called the À Ma Puissance Channel. It will feature interviews and lectures given by various experts and produced by Unity House Films, originally for the benefit of Dunham’s volunteers but now universally accessible.

First up is Mark Purcell, our libraries curator, with a brisk gallop through the different types of libraries the National Trust looks after, and the insights they provide about social and intellectual history.

Lady Mary Booth, Countess Stamford (1704-1772), who bought and read some of the books now in the Library at Dunham. ©National Trust Images/Fraser Marr

Lady Mary Booth, Countess Stamford (1704-1772), who bought and read some of the books now in the Library at Dunham. ©National Trust Images/Fraser Marr

As Mark says, the libraries in the historic houses of the National Trust contain relatively large numbers of books which would have been ordinary or even ephemeral at the time of their publication, and which for that very reason have not survived in large numbers. The collection of pamphlets at Dunham Massey is one example of such a group of rare ‘ordinary’ publications.

The Library at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The Library at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The library of the 1st Lord Fairhaven, a 20th-century millionaire bibliophile, at Anglesey Abbey is at the other end of the scale in being full of beatifully produced books. But even there the perceived value of certain books was subject to change: the first edition of Ian Fleming’s You Only Live Twice, originally bought purely for amusement, is now a valuable rarity.

Early 20th-century editions of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, with bindings by Sangorski and Sutcliffe, in the Library at Anglesey Abbey. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Early 20th-century editions of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, with bindings by Sangorski and Sutcliffe, in the Library at Anglesey Abbey. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Mark gives many more fascinating examples, illustrating that subtle but immensely valuable feature of historic houses: the eloquence of objects in their original settings. I am looking forward to many more such talks.

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.


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