Author Archive

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.

Lord Fairhaven’s wardrobe

March 7, 2013
A pair of the 1st Lord Fairhaven's co-respondent shoes. ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

A pair of the 1st Lord Fairhaven’s co-respondent shoes. ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

Anglesey Abbey, its garden and its sumptuous collections are largely the creation of Huttleston Broughton, 1st Baron Fairhaven (1896-1966). The co-heir to several American-made fortunes, he made Anglesey Abbey into a microcosm of luxury, craftsmanship and art.

Lord Fairhaven and his mother, Cara Rogers, on board her yacht Sapphire. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Lord Fairhaven and his mother, Cara Rogers, on board her yacht Sapphire. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Lord Fairhaven left Anglesey Abbey to the National Trust, and in his will he expressed the wish that the house and the garden ‘should be preserved and kept representative of an age and a way of life that is quickly passing.’ Part of Lord Fairhaven’s extensive wardrobe has been preserved in the house and it, too, is redolent of mid-20th-century upper-class life.

Part of Lord Fairhaven's wardrobe. ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

Part of Lord Fairhaven’s wardrobe. ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

Lord Fairhaven owned about 50 suits. He regularly wore a carnation in his buttonhole – coloured during the day and white during the evening.

Lord Fairhaven's umbrellas and walking sticks in the Long Gallery at Anglesey Abbey. ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

Lord Fairhaven’s umbrellas and walking sticks in the Long Gallery at Anglesey Abbey. ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

Although – or perhaps because – he lived alone, Lord Fairhaven liked to invite friends over for dinner, for which formal dress would be worn. The after-dinner conversation would stop promptly at 9, when the butler brought in a radio on a silver tray so that the assembled company could listen to the BBC news.

Chinese wallpaper families

March 5, 2013
Detail of the Chinese wallpaper in the Drawing Room at Ightham Mote, Kent. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper in the Drawing Room at Ightham Mote, Kent. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

As the work on the catalogue of Chinese wallpapers in National Trust houses progresses, an informal ‘advisory committee’ has sprung up around it consisting of a dozen or so academics, curators and conservators. We bombard each other with information and queries and general enthusiasm – a genuine little liquid network.

The Drawing Room at Ightham. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The Drawing Room at Ightham. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

This morning one member of the group, Dr Clare Taylor, mentioned the similarities between the Chinese wallpaper at Ightham Mote in Kent and the one at at Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk. They are in fact almost identical, which makes them a good example of how Chinese wallpapers were sometimes produced as multiples, with the combined use of printing and hand-painting resulting in near-identical copies.

Detail ofthe  Chinese wallpaper at Ightham. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper at Ightham. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Another member of the group, conservator Allyson McDermott, then chipped in by saying she had examined the Ightham paper in the past, and found that it had had quite a hard life, with quite a lot of overpainting and restoration over time. This probably explains the difference in colouring between the Ightham and the Felbrigg papers.

The Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk. A pheasant identical to one in the Ightham paper can be seen behind the bell cord. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk. A pheasant identical to the one in the Ightham paper can be seen behind the bell cord. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Allyson also mentioned that a Chinese wallpaper that was discovered under later wallpaper at Uppark, West Sussex, was also rather similar, and indeed it has the same ‘frosted’ palette of a white background, subfusc greens and bright reds, purples and blues.

Fragment of Chinese wallpaper found under later wallpaper in the Little Parlour at Uppark, West Sussex.

Fragment of Chinese wallpaper found under later wallpaper in the Little Parlour at Uppark, West Sussex.

We know that the Felbrigg paper was hung in 1752, and the Uppark paper is thought to have been put up in about 1750, so this appears to be a relatively early type of Chinese wallpaper. The Ightham one is said to have been hung in about 1800, which suggests that it was hung or stored somewhere else before coming to Ightham.

The antiquarian setting of the Drawing Room at Ightham, with its Jacobean fireplace, is in some ways quite incongruous for a Chinese wallpaper, but that is part of the fascination of this subject: to learn more about the different ways people used Chinese wallpaper in different places and at different times.

Fiction and truth

February 28, 2013
The Drawing Room at Fenton House, as redecorated by John Fowler in 1973. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The Drawing Room at Fenton House, as redecorated by John Fowler in 1973. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Those who have followed the debates around the Stephen Poliakoff’s recent TV series Dancing on the Edge and its sometimes convoluted (or seemingly convoluted) plot may appreciate the interiors at Fenton House, in Hampstead, north London. Fenton House was used as a location for Dancing on the Edge, and features as the house of the wealthy, charming and determinedly superficial Arthur Donaldson.

Another view of the Drawing Room. The curtain flounces were inspired by similar examples seen by John Fowler at Kasteel Duivenvoorde in the Netherlands. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Another view of the Drawing Room. The curtain flounces were inspired by similar examples seen by John Fowler at Kasteel Duivenvoorde in the Netherlands. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Although Fenton House was built around 1686, its neo-Georgian interiors reflect its ownership from 1936 by Katherine, Lady Binning, who left it to the National Trust on her death in 1952. She had been married to the heir of the Earl of Haddington, and Fenton House was furnished with Haddington family heirlooms as well as with the collections she had inherited from her mother, Milicent Salting, and the latter’s brother-in-law, George Salting.

The Oriental Room at Fenton House, also redecorated by John Fowler. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The Oriental Room at Fenton House, also redecorated by John Fowler. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

As some of the furnishings were returned to the various Haddington houses after 1952, certain rooms at Fenton House were left somewhat bare. In 1973 the National Trust invited the decorator John Fowler to help refurbish the house and give it a mellow, lived-in atmosphere. Fowler aficionados will recognise the subtle multi-tone painted woodwork in several rooms, the varied upholstery fabrics and the sophisticated curtain treatments.

Mid-20th-century white King Pyramid telephone, acquired for Fenton House in 2003. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Mid-20th-century white King Pyramid telephone, acquired for Fenton House in 2003. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

So there is a strong element of fiction in the presentation of Fenton House, giving an added poignancy to its use as a sumptuous film set. But as Poliakoff’s work demonstrates, if fiction is successful it acquires a certain kind of truth.

Pictures and their uses

February 26, 2013
Attributed to Gaspard Dughet, Landscape with a Storm, at Osterley Park, London, donated by the estate of Sir Denis Mahon, 2013. ©National Trust Collections, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation.st, Osterley Park; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Gaspard Dughet, Landscape with a Storm. NT 771276. ©National Trust Collections, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation.

It has just been announced that the estate of Sir Denis Mahon is donating a painting attributed to Gaspard Dughet (1615-1675), Landscape with a Storm, to Osterley Park, where it had been on loan since 2001. Through the Art Fund the Mahon estate is also donating a further group of important Italian baroque paintings to a number of UK museums.

Sir Denis Mahon (1910-2011)

Sir Denis Mahon (1910-2011)

Sir Denis Mahon, CH, CBE (1910-2011) was an art historian of independent means who in the 1940s and 1950s pioneered the study of Italian 17th-century painting. He built up his own collection of Italian baroque pictures at a time when they were out of favour and relatively inexpensive.

Perhaps as a result of his fascination with ‘unfashionable’ pictures, Sir Denis was strongly opposed to the deaccessioning of art from public collections. He also campaigned for free entry to museums and to improve the effectiveness of the scheme whereby works of art can be accepted by the Government in lieu of inheritance tax. He effectively used his own collection as a juicy carrot dangled in front of the various civil servants and ministers of the day – an interestingly ‘political’ use of fine art.

Gaspard Dughet, Wooded Rocky Landscape, at Osterley Park, London, donated by Sir Denis Mahon, 1996. NT 772275. ©National Trust Collections, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation.

Gaspard Dughet, Wooded Rocky Landscape, at Osterley Park, London, donated by Sir Denis Mahon, 1996. NT 772275 ©National Trust Collections, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation.

Sir Denis had already donated another Dughet, Wooded Rocky Landscape, to Osterley in 1996. Both paintings help to recreate the lost late 18th-century picture hang at Osterley. This painting had previously been owned by the important 19th-century collectors William Graham (1818-1885), a Glasgow cotton manufacturer, and Charles Henry Mills, 1st Baron Hillingdon (1830-1898), owner of the bank Glyn, Mills & Co (which, coincidentally, took over the bank Child & Co, owned by the Child-Villiers family of Osterley, in 1924).

Dughet, a French painter born in Italy, was the brother-in-law and pupil of Nicolas Poussin, and his pictures were popular among British Grand Tourists.

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.


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