Archive for the ‘Furniture’ Category

Pictorial furniture for Montacute

November 28, 2013
Figured walnut and gilt sofa with embroidered upholstery depicting a scene from the History of Troy, 1720s, formerly at Chicheley Hall. Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Montacute. ©National Trust Images/Paul Highnam

Figured walnut and gilt sofa with embroidered upholstery depicting a scene from the History of Troy, 1720s, formerly at Chicheley Hall. Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Montacute. ©National Trust Images/Paul Highnam

As I mentioned in my previous post, the Acceptance in Lieu panel has recently published its review for 2012-13. This also included a number of pieces of early Georgian furniture which has been allocated to Montacute.

Beechwood chair veneered with walnut and decorated with gesso and gilding and upholstered with embroidery depicting Boreas and Oreithyia, 1720s, formerly at Chicheley Hall. Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Montacute. ,©National Trust Images/Paul Highnam

Beechwood chair veneered with walnut and decorated with gesso and gilding and upholstered with embroidery depicting Boreas and Oreithyia, 1720s, formerly at Chicheley Hall. Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Montacute. ,©National Trust Images/Paul Highnam

The furniture was originally commissioned for Chicheley Hall, mostly by Sir John Chester, 4th Baronet (1666-1724). It remained in the house until it was given on loan to Montacute by Major Greville Chester in the late 1940s. Chicheley Hall was sold to the 2nd Earl Beatty in 1954 and to the Royal Society in 2009 (and there is an excellent history of the house by Peter Collins and Stefanie Fischer on the Royal Society website).

Detail of one of the embroidered chairbacks, this one depicting Diana and her nymphs, formerly at Chicheley Hall. Accepted in lieu of inheritance tax by HM Government and allocated to the National Trust for display at Montacute. ©National Trust Images/Paul Highnam

Detail of one of the embroidered chairbacks, this one depicting Diana and her nymphs, formerly at Chicheley Hall. Accepted in lieu of inheritance tax by HM Government and allocated to the National Trust for display at Montacute. ©National Trust Images/Paul Highnam

The National Trust acquired Montacute in 1931 through the generosity of Ernest Cook, but without any contents. During the Second World War the house was used as one of the stores for the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, which was under threat from bombing. Towards the end of the war a project was initiated to gather suitable furniture and furnishings to bring Montacute to life. The loan from Major Chester was one of the groups of items that came to the house then.

Folding screen decorated with embroidered mythological scenes and floral motifs, 1720s, formerly at Chicheley Hall. Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Montacute. ©National Trust Images/Paul Highnam

Folding screen decorated with embroidered mythological scenes and floral motifs, 1720s, formerly at Chicheley Hall. Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Montacute. ©National Trust Images/Paul Highnam

The single most important item in the group is a swaggering giltwood and gilt-gesso side table probably made for Sir John Chester, 6th Baronet (1693-1748) incorporating his coat of arms and those of his wife, Frances Bagot.

Giltwood and gilt gesso side table with the arms of Sir John Chester, 6th Baronet, and his wife Frances Bagot, 1720s, formerly at Chicheley Hall. Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Montacute. ©National Trust Images/Paul Highnam

Giltwood and gilt gesso side table with the arms of Sir John Chester, 6th Baronet, and his wife Frances Bagot, 1720s, formerly at Chicheley Hall. Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Montacute. ©National Trust Images/Paul Highnam

The group also includes a sofa, ten chairs and a screen upholstered with embroidery. Although the furniture is English, the embroidery may be French, depicting various scenes from Ovid based on engravings. Dudley Dodd identified the embroidered scenes in an article in the 2011 National Trust Historic Houses and Collections Annual, but the identity of the makers remains unclear.

Virtue and vice at Hardwick Hall

October 29, 2013
Detail of a painted wall hanging, depicting the conversion of Saul, c. 1600, in the Chapel at Hardwick Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Detail of a painted wall hanging, depicting the conversion of Saul, c. 1600, in the Chapel at Hardwick Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

An exhibition at Hardwick Hall explores the political, religious, and social upheaval of the Reformation. It shows how these new ideas and beliefs were reflected in the historic interiors and collections of the house.

The virtuous Penelope, in an appliqué wall hanging in the Hall at Hardwick Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Hammondbyshire

The virtuous Penelope, in an appliqué wall hanging in the Hall at Hardwick Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Hammondbyshire

The exhibition, called Virtue and Vice, has been curated by the Centre for Renaissance and Early Modern Studies at the University of York. It has also benefited from the Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project European Conversion Narratives, c.1550-1700.

The Eglantine table, inlaid with musical instruments, sheet music, games and arms, crests and mottoes, possibly c. 1567, in the High Great Chamber at Hardwick Hall. ©National Trust Images/Nick Guttridge

The Eglantine table, inlaid with musical instruments, sheet music, games and arms, crests and mottoes, possibly c. 1567, in the High Great Chamber at Hardwick Hall. ©National Trust Images/Nick Guttridge

In this video Dr Helen Smith, reader in Renaissance literature at the University of York, talks about the concept of the exhibition. And in this one a choral group performs the motet ‘Oh Lord in Thee is all my trust’ inlaid in the so-called Eglantine table in the High Great Chamber. At Hardwick, at least, Virtue seems to have found an ally in Beauty.

Master of marquetry

August 8, 2013
Top of a table veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-83 (NT114043), at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Top of a table veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-83 (NT1140043), at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Another fascinating article in the recently published book about Ham House is Reinier Baarsen’s investigation of the seventeenth-century Dutch furniture in the house.

Table veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-83 (NT1140043), at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Table veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-83 (NT1140043), at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The courts of Charles II, James II and William and Mary employed numerous foreign artists and craftsmen, and as a result English late seventeenth-century taste in interior decoration was decidedly international.

Top of a table veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-82 (NT1139568), at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Top of a table veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-82 (NT1139568), at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Baarsen attributes a number of pieces of marquetry furniture at Ham to the cabinetmaker Gerrit Jensen. Not much is known about Jensen, but he seems to have come to England from Holland, possibly in the 1660s, and he appears to have been one of the craftsmen who exported the Dutch taste for floral marquetry across Europe.

Table veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-82 (NT1139568), at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Jensen appears to have wowed the London scene with his floral marquetry, and by the early 1680s he was accredited as a royal cabinetmaker.

Mirror veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-83, at Ham House (NT1139551). ©National Trust Images/John Hammond.

Mirror veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-83 (NT1139551), at Ham House . ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The pieces at Ham attributed to Jensen appear to date from the 1670s or early 1680s.

Crest of a mirror veneered with floral marquetry, featuring a medallion with a Roman emperor, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-83 (NT1139551), at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Crest of a mirror veneered with floral marquetry, featuring a medallion with a Roman emperor, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-83 (NT1139551), at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The tables all have twisted legs, which is an English characteristic of the period and shows how Jensen was adapting his work to English taste.

Table veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-83 (NT1139923), at Ham House . ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Table veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-83 (NT1139923), at Ham House . ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The marquetry also includes French motifs, such as the a chevron-patterned outer border and a central panel showing a vase of flowers with acanthus scrolls on one of the table-tops. Baarsen speculates whether Jensen may have spent some time in Paris before coming to London.

Top of a table veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-83 (NT1139923), at Ham House . ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Top of a table veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-83 (NT1139923), at Ham House . ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

This inventive mixture of styles represents the international taste of the period, and Ham House is one of the few places where this can still be studied in detail.

The myth of the sleeping beauty

June 11, 2013
Detail of an oval pier-glass in the Queen's Bedchamber at Ham House, one of a pair by supplied by William Bradshaw, c.1743. It reflects a carved and gilded garland by John Bullamore dating from the 1670s. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Detail of an oval pier-glass in the Queen’s Bedchamber at Ham House, one of a pair by supplied by William Bradshaw, c.1743. It reflects a carved and gilded garland by John Bullamore dating from the 1670s. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

I have just been perusing an advance copy of the book Ham House: 400 Years of Collecting and Patronage. The sale copies of this book are apparently somewhere on the high seas en route from the printer, and are due become available within the next a few weeks, but I thought I might provide a little preview here.

Fruitwood armchair, c. 1730, in the Queen's Bedchamber at Ham House, with velvet upholstery in red, green and cream silk velvet woven in either Genoa, Lyons or Spitalfields. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Fruitwood armchair, c. 1730, in the Queen’s Bedchamber at Ham House, with velvet upholstery in red, green and cream silk velvet woven in either Genoa, Lyons or Spitalfields. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

This book is the result of a conference held a couple of years ago about the history and collections of Ham House, one the best preserved 17th-century houses in Europe. It includes 28 essays by internationally recognised scholars accompanied by specially commissioned photography, as well as transcriptions of Ham’s historic inventories.

Detail of the silk velvet upholstery of the fruitwood furniture in the Queen's Bedchamber at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Detail of the silk velvet upholstery of the fruitwood furniture in the Queen’s Bedchamber at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Ham is justly famous for its 17th-century interiors and has acquired the reputation of being a kind of ‘sleeping beauty’, a house where nothing ever changed. However, several essays in this book puncture that myth and focus on restorations and embellishments carried out by its 18th- and 19th-century owners.

Detail of the marble topped pier table in the Queen's Bedchamber at Ham House, by William Bradshaw, c.1743, with a Portoro marble top and carved and gilded legs. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Detail of the marble topped pier table in the Queen’s Bedchamber at Ham House, by William Bradshaw, c.1743, with a Portoro marble top and carved and gilded legs. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Christopher Rowell, the National Trust’s furniture curator, discusses the taste and patronage of Lionel Tollemache, the 4th Earl of Dysart (1708-70), who inherited Ham in 1727. The 4th Earl repaired and remodeled a number of rooms in the house, and introduced new furniture, but Christopher demonstrates that he did so with great sensitivity to what was already there.

Parcel-gilt pier-glass and table possibly by William Bradshaw, c.1740, in the Volury Room at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Parcel-gilt pier-glass and table possibly by William Bradshaw, c.1740, in the Volury Room at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The 4th Earl commissioned cabinetmakers George Nix (1744-51) and William Bradshaw (1700-75), among others, to supply chairs, tables, stands and even tapestries. But the new acquisitions were designed to harmonise with the existing furnishings, or to function as facsimiles of items which had become damaged or worn out.

Gilt X-frame sofa, 1735-40, in the style of William Kent and with velvet upholstery, in the Volury Room at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Gilt X-frame sofa, 1735-40, in the style of William Kent and with velvet upholstery, in the Volury Room at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The subtlety of the 4th Earl’s contributions have almost caused him to be written out of Ham’s history.

Torchere by Peter Hasert, one of a pair, 1741, in the Marble Dining Room at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Torchere by Peter Hasert, one of a pair, 1741, in the Marble Dining Room at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Horace Walpole (171-97), who lived in nearby Twickenham, may have started that process by describing Ham, in his characteristically vivid and sweeping manner, as a house that time forgot: ‘Close to the Thames in the centre of all rich and verdant beauty, it is so blocked up an barricaded with walls, vast trees and gates that you think of yourself an hundred miles off and an hundred years back.’

Pier-glass, pier-table and stands veneered with incised Chinese lacquer, c. 1675, in the Withdrawing Room at Ham House. The table and stands were supplied with new supports by John Hele in 1741. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Pier-glass, pier-table and stands veneered with incised Chinese lacquer, c. 1675, in the Withdrawing Room at Ham House. The table and stands were supplied with new supports by John Hele in 1741. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

I hope to do a few more posts highlighting aspects of this splendid new book in the near future.

The meaning of furniture

May 21, 2013
Jewel coffer and secrétaire by Jean-Henri Riesener (1734-1806), veneered in grey-stained sycamore with marquetry of other woods on a carcase of oak, late 1770s. Victoria and Albert Museum, inv. no. 1106-1882, bequeathed by John Jones. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Jewel coffer and secrétaire by Jean-Henri Riesener (1734-1806), veneered in grey-stained sycamore with marquetry of other woods on a carcase of oak, late 1770s. Victoria and Albert Museum, inv. no. 1106-1882, bequeathed by John Jones. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Last Friday I attended an excellent seminar at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London entitled Furniture: Making and Meaning. This seminar was celebrating the new Dr Susan Weber Gallery of Furniture (which I posted about earlier) and to investigate issues around materials, making and design.

Japanese tiered box decorated with clam shells used in the shell matching game (kai awase) in high-relief lacquer (takamaki-e), 19th century. Victoria and Albert Museum, inv. no. 822:1-1869. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

One of the exciting features of this seminar was a set of talks about the construction and the tactile and visual effects of a French 18th-century jewel cabinet and a Japanese 19th-century lacquer box. The objects had been brought to the auditorium to star as ‘live’ performers, with a camera on hand to project close-ups  on the screen for all to see.

Bone armchair by Joris Laarman (b. 1979), Carrara marble dust mixed with resin, designed with algorithms based on bone and tree growth, 2008. ©Joris Laarman Lab

Bone armchair by Joris Laarman (b. 1979), Carrara marble dust mixed with resin, designed with algorithms based on bone and tree growth, 2008. ©Joris Laarman Lab

The day also included talks on the ‘reception history’ of carving, plywood and shagreen, and a stimulating discussion with three contemporary designer-makers.

What I particularly took away from this event was a vivid awareness that furniture is never just furniture: it is simultaneously social attitude, consumption pattern, political ideology, technical development, personal taste and manufacturing process. And I was inspired by the fact that all those ways of looking at furniture are just as relevant to historical collections as they are to the latest creations.

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.

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.

Boulle’s eye

September 4, 2012

Portrait of the 3rd Duke of Dorset by Sir Joshua Reynolds. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The taste of John Frederick Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset, was nothing if not flamboyant. He had an Italian ballerina mistress and a Chinese page; he collected old master paintings and patronised Sir Joshua Reynolds, both on a lavish scale; he was a patron of the Paris opera while he was there as ambassador in the 1770s; and he built hothouses for pineapples and other exotic plants at Knole.

Plaster sculpture of La Baccelli, a dancer and the 3rd Duke of Dorset’s mistress. ©National Trust/Jane Mucklow

The Boulle furniture at Knole is yet more evidence of the 3rd Duke’s taste. He seems to have acquired it during his ambassadorial tenure in Paris, during which he reputedly spent around £11,000 a year.

Boulle clock by Etienne Baillon. ©National Trust/Jane Mucklow

‘Boulle’ is a kind of marquetry using tortoiseshell, gilt brass, copper and tin perfected by André Charles Boulle (1642-1732).

Boulle table in the style of Etienne Levaseur. ©National Trust/Jane Mucklow

The extraordinary Boulle clock in the Ballroom at Knole is by the late 17th century clockmaker Etienne Baillon. There is also a table in the style of cabinetmaker Etienne Levasseur (1721-1798), and an early 18th century desk.

Early 18th century Boulle desk. ©National Trust/Jane Mucklow

It is interesting that the 3rd Duke acquired both new and ‘antique’ pieces of Boulle furniture. By placing them in the Jacobean Ballroom (originally a dining room) at Knole he created an almost surreally anachronistic but supremely rich ensemble.

The Ballroom at Knole. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Knole Conservation Blog has recently highlighted these items. They have suffered over the years due to the fluctuating humidity in the house, which is one of the problems that the current major conservation project is designed to tackle.

Clever waiters

April 3, 2012

Black basaltes ware bust of the actor David Garrick, on a dumb waiter in the Book Room at Wimpole Hall. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Courtney Barnes recently mentioned the tiered tables known as ‘dumb waiters’ on her blog Style Court. These tables were originally developed in the eighteenth century as convenient pieces of furniture to keep food and drink available in the evening after the servants had been dismissed. The traditional name presumably refers to the tables’ role as mute servants, rather than mentally challenged ones.

The Book Room at Wimpole. The plasterwork in the forground dates from the James Gibbs phase of the room, while the elliptical arches were designed by John Soane. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

I have found another example of such a tiered table in the Book Room at Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire. I am not sure whether this particular one was originally used to hold food and was later moved to the library, or whether tiered tables were sometimes specifically made to hold books.

The chimneypiece and overmantel mirror in the Book Room designed by Soane. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The two main library rooms at Wimpole have a fascinating history. The original Library was created by James Gibbs in the late 1720s to house part of the the huge collection of books and pamphlets of the manic accumulator Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford.

View from the Book Room into the Library. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Gibbs also created part of what is now the Book Room by annexing half of the orangery and turning it into an anteroom to the Library. This room was extended in 1806 by Sir John Soane for Philip Yorke, 3rd Earl of Hardwicke. Soane designed the characteristic elliptical arches decorated with paterae, executed by the plasterer John Papworth.

The Library at Wimpole, originally created by Gibbs for the 2nd Earl of Oxford. The windows at the far end and on the left were added later. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The history of the books at Hardwicke is even more convoluted: almost all of the 2nd Earl of Oxford’s books left Wimpole after his death, but the 1st Earl of Hardwicke brought in his own collection, as well as one inherited from Lord Chancellor Somers. His sons Philip Yorke, the 2nd Earl, and Charles Yorke also added to the books at Wimpole, including a collection inherited by the latter’s wife from Tittenhanger in Hertfordshire.

View of the Library looking towards the Book Room. The set of library steps began its life as a pulpit. The pair of globes dates from the early nineteenth century. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Philip Yorke, the 3rd Earl, sold some books in 1792 (while simultaneously commissioning Soane to enlarge the Book Room) and Charles ‘Champagne Charlie’ Yorke, the 5th Earl, sold a large part of the library in 1888. In the 20th century Captain and Mrs Bambridge once again added collections of books. These included some rare editions of Rudyard Kipling’s works, Elsie Bambridge being his only surviving child.

Upward thrust at Beningbrough

March 22, 2012

State bed, probably made in the early eighteenth century for James, 3rd Viscount Scudamore, by Francis Lapierre and at Holme Lacy until brought to Beningbrough in about 1918 (inv. no. 1190812). ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Seeing these images of the baroque state beds at Beningbrough Hall, North Yorkshire, reminded me of the upward thrust of much baroque decoration.

The State Bedchamber at Beningbrough. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The beds with their elaborate canopies happily echo the vertically oriented panelling of the rooms crowned by intricately carved friezes. You are encouraged to look up, and be amazed.

Carving over one of the doors and in the frieze of the State Bedchamber. ©NTPL/Horst Kolo

The beds originally came from Holme Lacy in Herefordshire, latterly the seat of the Earls of Chesterfield. The 10th Earl of Chesterfield sold Holme Lacy in 1909 and bought Beningbrough in 1917.

State bed probably made by Francis Lapierre for Holme Lacy in the early eighteenth century. Given to the National Trust by the Art Fund in memory of Graham Baron Ash of Wingfield Castle, Suffolk, 1980 (inv. no. 1190874). ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The red state bed came to Beningbrough at around that time. The blue state bed was sold by the Chesterfields when they left Holme Lacy but rejoined its twin at Beningbrough in 1980.

The Blue Bedroom at Beningbrough. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Both beds were probably made by the émigré French upholsterer Francis Lapierre (active 1683 – d. 1714) and are in the style of Daniel Marot (1661-1752), the court architect and designer who popularised baroque decoration in Britain.

The Hall at Beningbrough. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

So here the story here is not just about art history, social history and family history, but also about the visual and spatial interaction between objects and spaces.


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