Archive for the ‘Powis Castle’ Category

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.

A royal garden party

May 6, 2011

View of the royal wedding garden party from the Powis Castle terraces. ©National Trust/Emma Marshall

To celebrate the recent royal wedding, the colleagues at Powis Castle threw open the garden for free and invited everyone to come and watch the event on a giant screen.

A local marching band led a procession to Powis from nearby Welshpool, including the Mayor and many people in wedding costume and fancy dress. In all over 5,000 people came and the atmosphere was very festive.

I see velvet lawns

March 21, 2011

Powis Castle, with its terraced gardens below. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

One of the reasons why we were keen to acquire the Sargent drawing I mentioned last week is that the sitter, Violet, Countess of Powis, played an important role in revitalizing the gardens at Powis Castle in the Edwardian period.

Violet, Countess of Powis, by Ellis Roberts. ©NTPL/John Hammond/Powis Estate Trustees

There was another portret of her already on show at Powis Castle, by Ellis Roberts, but that depicts her in the 1880s. The Sargent, which was done in 1912, by contrast, is from the time she had just started taking the garden in hand.

View from the terraces. The Edwardian gardens created by Lady Powis can be seen in the middle distance. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

She enriched the planting on the terraces below the castle, which frame the building and provide myriad views into the surrounding landscape.

The Fountain Garden, one of gardens created by Lady Powis. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

Lady Powis also made a series of entirely new gardens, on the site of the decayed eighteenth-century kitchen garden. Like an archetypal designer she exclaimed grandly ‘I see velvet lawns and wide paths: rose gardens – fountains – clipped yews – marble seats – herbaceous borders’ – and her vision became reality.

The wyvern-topped gate commissioned by Lady Powis in 1912. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

Despite their Edwardian grandeur, the new gardens were intended to fit into the overall Baroque setting at Powis Castle. Lady Powis also commissioned new Baroque-style gates from architect G.F. Bodley. Today the gardens are a major part of Powis Castle’s appeal.

Sargent’s mug shots

March 14, 2011

Violet, Countess of Powis, by John Singer Sargent, 1912, at Powis Castle, Powys. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Last year we managed to acquire a charcoal sketch by John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) of Violet, Countess of Powis (1856-1929), for Powis Castle. The portrait is redolent of the grandeur and style of Edwardian upper-class life.

Nancy Astor by John Singer Sargent, at Cliveden, Buckinghamshire. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Sargent was hugely successful as a portrait painter, but in 1907 he effectively abandoned portraiture in oils. He was financially independent and preferred to focus on landscapes and other subjects.

Edith, Marchioness of Londonderry, by John Singer Sargent, 1913, at Mount Stewart, Co. Down. ©NTPL/John Hammond

However, he could not entirely escape the demands of his high society clientele, and in response to persistent demands he would agree to do a charcoal portrait, which he could finish in an hour or two.

Charles, seventh Marquess of Londonderry, by John Singer Sargent, 1910, at Mount Stewart, Co. Down. ©NTPL/John Hammond

More than 500 of these ‘mug shots’ (as he called them) are known. He originally charged twenty-one guineas for them, which rose to fifty around 1910 and later to a hundred.

Jenny, Lady Randolph Churchill, by John Singer Sargent, at Chartwell, Kent. ©NTPL/Derrick E. Witty

Celebrities captured by Sargent in this way include Winston Churchill, King Edward VII, Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (later Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother), Henry James, Vaslav Nijinsky and W.B. Yeats.

The purchase of the portrait of the Countess of Powis was supported by a grant from the Art Fund.

When the bulls come home

December 15, 2010

Prize bull in a landscape, by Richard Whitford. This animal won third prize at Smithfield, London, in 1872. ©NTPL/Matthew Hollow

Earlier this year we bought a small herd of bulls at auction.

A prize bull in a landscape, by Richard Whitford. This animal won first prize at the Bath and West of England Show, Hereford, first prize at the West Midland Show, Oswestry, first prize at the Smithfield Club, London and first prize at the Bingley Hall, Birmingham, in 1876. The next year it again won first prize at the Bingley Hall, Birmingham. ©NTPL/Matthew Hollow

But it wasn’t at a livestock auction; it was at one of the paintings sales at Bonhams in London.

A prize bull in a barn, by Richard Whitford, 1875. This animal won second prize at the Smithfield Club, London, in 1874. ©NTPL/Matthew Hollow

The pictures show prize bulls that were bred at the home farm at Powis Castle,  Powys, in the 1870s.

A prize bull in a landscape, by Richard Whitford, 1878. This animal won first prize at Smithfield, London, in both 1877 and 1878. ©NTPL/Matthew Hollow

The painter, Richard Whitford, specialised in such proud records of animal husbandry.

A prize bull by a gate, by Richard Whitford, 1878. This animal won second prize at the Bingley Hall, Birmingham, in 1877. ©NTPL/Matthew Hollow

The frame of each painting records the prizes won by that particular animal – which is just as well, because otherwise there would be little for a layman to distinguish one slablike bull from the next.

A prize bull in a landscape, by Richard Whitford. This animal won first prize at the Bath and West of England Show, Hereford, first prize at the West Midland Show at Oswestry, second prize at the Smithfield Club, London and second prize at the Bingley Hall, Birmingham, in 1876. ©NTPL/Matthew Hollow

The pictures have now been cleaned by conservator Melanie Caldwell and will soon be on display at Powis.

A prize bull in a landscape, by Richard Whitford. This animal won second prize at the Smithfield Club, London, in 1878. ©NTPL/Matthew Hollow

There was quite a lot of competion in the saleroom for this group of eight pictures. They came up as separate lots, and in once case we were outbid. So there is one bull out there on its own somewhere, bellowing disconsolately, separated from the herd.


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