Archive for the ‘Felbrigg Hall’ Category

Peeling back the years

January 23, 2014
Fragments of Chinese wallpaper recently discovered in the 4th Duke's Bedroom at Woburn Abbey. ©Woburn Abbey

Fragments of Chinese wallpaper recently discovered in the 4th Duke’s Bedroom at Woburn Abbey. ©Woburn Abbey

Exciting things are coming to light at Woburn Abbey, the seat of the Duke of Bedford – and in quite a literal sense. Historic interiors consultant Lucy Johnson has been discovering the remains of an early Chinese wallpaper in the 4th Duke’s Bedroom there, which had been hidden by later wallcoverings.

Section of the wallpaper in the Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Hammonder from the Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk

Section of the wallpaper in the Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Hammonder from the Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk

What makes this discovery even more interesting is that these fragments seem to relate to a Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall: the head of a bird visible on one of the sections of wallpaper in the 4th Duke’s Bedroom is identical to a bird that is part of the wallpaper scheme in the Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg Hall.

Part of a bird on the Chinese wallpaper recently discovered in the 4th Duke's bedroom at Woburn Abbey. ©Woburn Abbey

Part of a bird on the Chinese wallpaper recently discovered in the 4th Duke’s bedroom at Woburn Abbey. ©Woburn Abbey

Andrew Bush, the National Trust’s paper conservation adviser, has established that the Felbrigg wallpaper was printed in outline and then painted in by hand. It looks like the Woburn paper was produced in the same way, presumably by the same workshop.

Detail of a bird in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Detail of a bird in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Since we know that the Felbrigg scheme was put up in 1752, by a London paper hanger called John Scrutton, it would seem likely that the Woburn paper was put up in about the same period.

Detail of a peony in the Chinese wallpaper discovered at Woburn Abbey. ©Woburn Abbey

Detail of a peony in the Chinese wallpaper discovered at Woburn Abbey. ©Woburn Abbey

And indeed Lucy has found references in the Woburn archives to the decorating firm of Crompton and Spinnage having hung ‘India paper’ in ‘His Grace’s Bedroom’ in that very same year. This wallpaper must have represented the height of chinoiserie fashion in the early 1750s.

Detail of a peony in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Detail of a peony in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Lucy is preparing an exhibition about these and other discoveries at Woburn (opening on 11 April) which will highlight the links between the orientalist elements in the interiors and the Asian plants and chinoiserie garden features outside.

Chinese wallpaper’s tetrapod moment

December 10, 2013
Recently conserved panel of Chinese wallpaper in the collection of the V&A, formerly at Eltham Lodge. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Recently conserved panel of Chinese wallpaper in the collection of the V&A, formerly at Eltham Lodge. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The early history of Chinese wallpapers is tantalisingly vague. At some point during the first half of the eighteenth century Chinese pictures, which were in demand in Europe as wall decoration, seem to have morphed into panoramic wallpaper. We don’t know exactly when that crucial transition – like the first tetrapod crawling out of the sea onto dry land – took place, but a few surviving wallpapers are known to date from that early period.

Another Eltham Lodge wallpaper panel, which had been conserved earlier. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Another Eltham Lodge wallpaper panel, which had been conserved earlier. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Yesterday I was listening to a fascinating talk by V&A conservator Susan Catcher about one of those Chinese Ur-wallpapers. She was describing the hair-raising process of treating a panel from the Eltham Lodge wallpaper, which seems to have been originally hung during the second quarter of the eighteenth century.

The Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

The Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

The wallpaper had to be given a new backing, but the extremely brittle and fragile condition of the paper made this an unexpectedly tricky task. Susan had to call in the help of all available colleagues to limit the time the paper was kept moist, but the whole procedure still took ten days. The wallpaper was relined onto Chinese xuan paper coloured to an appropriate tint with Japanese yasha dye (a fuller account of the project can be found here). Susan told us that this panel was due to be installed behind the chinoiserie bed from Badminton House in the V&A’s British Galleries today.

Section of the Felbrigg wallpaper during conservation. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Section of the Felbrigg wallpaper during conservation. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

This Eltham Lodge wallpaper is stylistically quite close to the Chinese wallpaper surviving at Felbrigg Hall, which we know was purchased in 1751 and hung in 1752. The scenery in these wallpapers has been depicted in a rather painterly manner, quite different from the smoother and more stylised look of later Chinese wallpapers. Similar early Chinese wallpapers survive or have been recorded at Dalemain, Ightham Mote, Newhailes and Uppark in Britain and at Oud Amelisweerd in Holland.

Detail from the Chinese wallpaper at Ightham Mote. ©National Trust Images/Rob Matheson

Detail from the Chinese wallpaper at Ightham Mote. ©National Trust Images/Rob Matheson

By the way, the catalogue of Chinese wallpapers in the historic houses of the National Trust, which I have mentioned earlier, is due to be published in March 2014.

The art of hanging Chinese wallpaper

September 12, 2013
The Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg Hall, hung with Chinese wallpaper in 1752. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg Hall, hung with Chinese wallpaper in 1752. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Another insight we have gained while working on the forthcoming catalogue of Chinese wallpapers in the historic houses of the National Trust is that there was a lot of skill involved in installing them. The paper was physically different from western paper and the drops were often wider. Sometimes the scenery was panoramic, requiring the joins to be either very exact or fudged and disguised.

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg, showing various artfully cut additions along the bottom.  ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg, showing various artfully cut additions along the bottom. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

If the paper didn’t quite fit the walls the paper hangers had various tricks up their sleeves to achieve a harmonious end result. They would cut motifs from extra rolls and stick them over the joins to disguise breaks in the scenery. If they needed more height they would add plant and rock motifs at the bottom, cropped in various artful ways to make these disjointed elements look more natural. And as we saw in a recent post about the wallpaper at Blickling, they sometimes added a bit of sky at the top.

The Chinese Dressing Room at Saltram, with pairs of Chinese prints hung in an alternating pattern with various cut-out additions to create a wallpaper effect, possibly in the 1750s. ©National Trust Images/John Hammondn the Chinese Dressing Room at Saltram, Devon

The Chinese Dressing Room at Saltram, with pairs of Chinese prints hung in an alternating pattern with various cut-out additions to create a wallpaper effect, possibly in the 1750s. ©National Trust Images/John Hammondn the Chinese Dressing Room at Saltram, Devon

As Chinese wallpaper was very expensive – and, as catalogue co-author Andrew Bush has noted, you couldn’t just nip around the corner for an extra roll – this ‘cutting and pasting’ must have required considerable skill and nerves of steel.

Partition in the Chinese Dressing Room at Saltram, decorated with fragments of prints in a slightly less sophisticated manner, suggesting a later, amateur hand.©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Partition in the Chinese Dressing Room at Saltram, decorated with fragments of prints in a slightly less sophisticated manner, suggesting a later, amateur hand. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

These techniques were first noticed by conservator Mark Sandiford a number of years ago when he was working on the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg. When I was at Saltram recently  I noticed exactly the same ‘tricks of the trade’ being used in the Chinese Dressing Room there.

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.

God is in the details

October 11, 2012

Detail of the hangings on the mid-19th-century bed in the Red Bedroom at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

Modernist guru Mies van der Rohe is supposed to have said that ‘God is in the details.’ But that dictum doesn’t only apply to modernist design, of course.

Items on the writing table in the Red Bedroom. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

When looking at images of Felbrigg Hall recently I found these amazing shots by David Kirkham, which zoom in on details of objects and surfaces in the house.

A corner of the Regency sofa in the Drawing Room. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

From an objective, rational viewpoint, these ‘things’ – and the collective thing that is Felbrigg – are the direct and indirect evidence of history, of the coming and going of different  generations who left successive layers of objects and decorations.

Rosewood teapoy, c.1820, in the Drawing Room. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

But quite apart from the causal relationships between objects and events, the different textures, shapes and colours in the house also seem to communicate with us on a more subliminal level.

Detail of Rococo giltwood pier table, c. 1752, in the Cabinet at Felbrigg. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

The myriad material factors in a house like Felbrigg, and the juxtapositions between those factors, are simultaneously deliberate – in reflecting the choices of specific people at specific points in time – and random – in that they represent not one moment of taste but many, and that some evidence has inevitably been lost or erased over time.

Gilded overmantel mirror and French ormolu and marble clock in the Cabinet. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

The result is perhaps similar to what Marcel Duchamp called the ‘art coefficient’, the effect that art has on the viewer: an arithmetical relation between the unexpressed but intended and the unintentionally expressed.

View of part of the Dining Room. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

In the context of a historic house we would probably call that ineffable coefficient the ‘spirit of place’.

Celestial and terrestrial globes in the Library. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

And to that immensely complex body of material evidence we then need to add the subjectivity of the visitors, each of whom is unique and brings yet another set of factors into the equation.

A corner of the Library, with its 18th-century Gothick style bookcases. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

So, paraphrasing Mies, we might say that the spirit of place is in the details: in our unique, subjective reactions to the innumerable sensory impressions as we move around a historic house.

The rococo taste of ‘boxing’ Windham

August 29, 2012

The Cabinet at Felbrigg, designed to contain William Windham II’s Grand Tour pictures. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The remodelling of Felbrigg Hall mentioned in the previous post, which took place between about 1749 and 1755, created a sequence of fashionable rococo interiors cleverly integrated into a much older house.

Portrait of William Windham II in hussar uniform by John Shackleton. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Much of Felbrigg reflects the lively, almost contradictory personality of William Windham II. In his youth he was known as ‘boxing’ Windham and it was said that ‘he had an utter abhorrence of restraint, which made him love to associate with those that put him under none at all: here he might throw his legs against the chimney, round himself into a hoop in his elbow chair, and at the same time read one subject, and converse on another …’ 

One of a pair of pier glasses in the Rose Bedroom, supplied by John Bladwell in about 1752, but made to fit old mirror glass. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

Windham did not go to university, but toured the Continent with his tutor Benjamin Stillingfleet, staging plays and touring a glacier with his friends, acquiring paintings and books as well as contracting an impetuous marriage to the daughter of the First Syndic of Geneva.

The Drawing Room, remodelled by Paine in 1751 but retaining its late 17th century ceiling ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

When Windham inherited Felbrigg in 1749 he first employed Paine to build a new service wing, which included workshops where he could pursue his interests in woodturning and bookbinding.

The Dining Room was created by Paine in 1752, but its family portraits and reused mirrors connect it to the previous century. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

Paine then restructured the main house, creating a number of beautiful rococo interiors. However, older features such as 17th century ceilings and chimneypieces were often left in place out of respect for the history of the house.

A mirror of about 1750, probably by John Bladwell, in the Grey dressing Room, used by William Windham II as his personal dressing room. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

Outside, too, Windham retained the different appearance of the two wings of the house, dating respectively from the early and the late 17th century. In his house as in his personal life, he seemed to revel in contradiction.

Researching Chinese wallpaper

August 21, 2012

The Chinese Bedroom, originally a dressing room, at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Andrew Bush, Dr Helen Clifford and I are hoping to produce a little catalogue of the Chinese wallpapers in the historic houses of the National Trust. Andrew is the paper conservation adviser for the National Trust, and Helen is a scholar who is also participating in the East India Company at Home research project.

We are hoping to add to the publicly available information about the phenomenon of Chinese wallpapers, which is still not very well understood. Equally, we are keen to compare the examples in National Trust houses with other extant or recorded Chinese wallpapers.

Detail of a gilded rococo mirror by John Bladwell, c. 1752, against the wallpaper in the Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

At the moment we are aware of seventeen houses now owned by the National Trust which have or had Chinese wallpapers. Within the wider context of Britain and Ireland we have so far found references to about 65 other houses with such papers, and we will probably come across more of them as we progress with our research.

One serendipitous connection which I discovered a while back is the strong similarity between a Chinese wallpaper at Belton House and a section owned by fellow blogger the Columnist, suggesting that they may have been made by the same workshop. We hope to find more such links, so do contact me if you have any information or images that you wish to share.

Detail of the wallpaper in the Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg Hall, showing pheasants. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

I have been surprised by the wide geographical spread of the houses where Chinese wallpapers ended up, from Cornwall to East Lothian and from Norfolk to County Westmeath. This seems to indicate how powerful these papers were as a commercial product, their desirability clearly outweighing the obstacles of distance, time and cost.

Chinese nodding-head figurine, c. 1820, placed on a bracket against the wall in the Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

The Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk, reflects some of these economic and social factors. It was purchased in 1751 by the Norfolk squire William Windham II as part of the redecoration of the house then being masterminded by architect James Paine.

The room it was intended for was then a dressing room, which together with the adjoining bedroom was decorated in shades of off-white. The paper, with its white background and light colouring, was obviously chosen to harmonise with this scheme.

Detail of the wallpaper in the Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg Hall, showing a bird, flowers and fruit. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

Windham was shocked that it was considered necessary for a specialist to be called in to hang the paper, ‘at 3s 6d per day while at Felbrigg & 6d per mile travelling charges which I think a cursed deal.’ Nevertheless ‘the India Paper hanger’ John Scruton did indeed hang this and other papers in the house between 30 March and 9 May 1752.

James Paine interiors

January 14, 2011

The Saloon at Uppark, West Sussex, probably designed by James Paine. The compartmented ceiling and the pedimented chimneypiece are typical of Paine. ©NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie

The previous post showing Gibside Chapel designed by James Paine gave me the idea to feature some of his interiors.

The Drawing Room at Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire. The chimneypiece and ceiling were designed by Paine, while the doorcases and sofas are slightly later additions by Robert Adam. ©NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie

Paine seems to have been born in Andover, Hampshire, in 1717 as the youngest child of a carpenter.  

Detail of the chimneypiece designed by Paine in the Dining Room at Nostell Priory, West Yorkshire. The grotesque decoration on the wall is by Adam. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

He appears to have studied at the St Martin’s Lane Academy in London and then to have come into contact with the circle of the 3rd Earl of Burlington, the promotor of Palladian architecture.

The top-lit Stair Hall by Paine at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk. ©NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie

Paine built up a succesful architectural practice, both in Yorkshire and the north-east as well as in southern England.

The Dining Room at Felbrigg, created by Paine in 1752. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Although he worked within the context of Palladianism, he emphasized the need to make classical architecture fit contemporary needs. Top-lit staircase halls were one of his specialities.

The Staircase Hall at Uppark, another example of Paine's compact, top-lit staircases. The red baize door leads to the servants' quarters. ©NTPL/Geoffrey Frosh

In his earlier interiors Paine mixed Palladian with Rococo, but later he also adopted the newly fashionable neoclassical style.

Paine's Rococo ceiling of the Staircase Hall at Uppark. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Elegant chimnneypieces were another signature element of Paine’s, for which he ran a dedicated workshop.

For this post I consulted the guidebooks for Felbrigg Hall, Kedleston Hall, Nostell Priory, Uppark and Wallington as well as the entry on Paine by Peter Leach in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.


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