Archive for the ‘Sainsbury, Simon’ Category

A noble thing

October 4, 2011

The Carved Room at Petworth, West Sussex. The conservation of the Grinling Gibbons carvings was funded by Simon Sainsbury. ©NTPL/Bill Batten

As I mentioned in a previous post, the late Simon Sainsbury was one of the great recent benefactors of the National Trust, and indeed of the visual arts in Britain generally. He was not only very generous, but could also act as an effective negotiator and persuader. When he and his two brothers were sponsoring the building of what was to become the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery in London it was Simon Sainsbury who found a way through when the discussions became fraught. ‘Thank God for Simon’, architect Robert Venturi scribbled on one of his plans.

The Ballroom at the Assembly Rooms in Bath, redecorated in the 1990s with funding from Simon Sainsbury. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Simon Sainsbury features in the recently published book A Noble Thing, in which Merlin Waterson describes some of the people who helped the National Trust to acquire the extraordinarily diverse colection of historic houses, gardens, countryside and coastline that it manages today.

View of Verona by Bernardo Bellotto (1720-1780), at Powis Castle, Powys, purchased in 1981 with a major contribution from Simon Sainsbury. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The book not only provides astute vignettes of various – and variously motivated - benefactors, including aristocratic donors of country houses, inspired-but-difficult members of staff such as James Lees-Milne and generous supporters such as Simon Sainsbury, but it also charts the changing attitudes to heritage and philanthropy during the second half of the twentieth century.

Embroidered chair, 1714, part of a set secured by Simon Sainsbury for Canons Ashby, Northamptonshire, in the early 1980s. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The donation of Attingham Park in Shropshire by Thomas, 8th Lord Berwick and his wife Teresa in 1947, for instance, was a very generous and at the same time a very unobtrusive act. More recently, Simon Sainsbury was similarly self-effacing about the many acquisitions and projects he helped to fund.

Woolbeding, a National Trust property in West Sussex, where Simon Sainsbury restored the house and created a new garden. ©NTPL/Stephen Robson

During the last couple of years, by contrast, acquisitions like that of Seaton Delaval Hall and the Nostell Priory Brueghel have been made possible by donations from many different quarters, and have been accompanied by intense publicity.

Pair of silver salvers, 1746, purchased for Uppark, West Sussex, in 2010 with a contribution from a fund created by Simon Sainsbury. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Autres temps, autres moeurs. And now the Government is contemplating extending tax incentives for the donation of pre-eminent works of art and other ‘heritage objects’ – something the National Trust would welcome.

The garden at Woolbeding

May 8, 2010

The potager at Woolbeding House. ©NTPL/Stephen Robson

Barbara, of the beautiful and lively blog It’s about Time, recently did a fascinating post about glass cloches. She has since also done one about ceramic forcing pots. This picture of the garden at Woolbeding House, West Sussex, shows two of each.

©NTPL/Stephen Robson

Woolbeding is a National Trust property which was tenanted by the late Simon Sainsbury and Stewart Grimshaw. The restrained and yet characterful interiors of the house were featured in the June 2009 issue of World of Interiors. The gardens will be open to the public for the first time in 2010 (details to be announced).

©NTPL/Stephen Robson

Simon Sainsbury was a scion of the eponymous grocery dynasty. He worked in the family firm and was an extremely generous, albeit self-effacing, philantropist.

The Gothic summerhouse and the cascade. ©NTPL/Stephen Robson

As well as contributing to many cultural and social projects, he set up a fund which supported a number of important National Trust acquisitions. The latest of these was the purchase at auction of a pair of silver salvers for Uppark.

The chinoiserie bridge, with the River God in the distance. ©NTPL/Stephen Robson

During his lifetime Simon Sainsbury always wished for his support to remain anonymous, but now we are able to celebrate the generosity and taste of this remarkable man.

Fruitful symbolism

May 3, 2010

Pair of silver salvers by William Peaston, London, 1744, engraved with the arms of Sir Matthew Featherstonhaugh (1714-1774). Image courtesy of Sotheby's

We have just managed to buy at auction a pair of silver salvers with a connection to Uppark, West Sussex. They were purchased at Sotheby’s in London on 27 April for £6,250, with funds originally donated by the late Simon Sainsbury and from various other gifts and bequests.

The Red Drawing Room at Uppark.

Salvers were developed from the second half of the seventeenth century onwards as a kind of tray used to bring in drinks, but they could also be used for display on a sideboard. The silversmith William Peaston specialised in salvers, but National Trust silver expert James Rothwell says that the vine-leaf border seen on these examples is unusual. It fits in well with the decorative scheme at Uppark, as we shall see below.

Sir Matthew Featherstonhaugh (1714-1774), first Baronet, by Pompeo Batoni. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The arms engraved on the salvers are of Sir Matthew Featherstonhaugh (pronounced Featherston-hoar) and his wife Sara, née Lethieullier. Sir Matthew descended from an ancient Northumbrian family who had made their fortune in coal and wine. Sarah was the great-granddaughter of a Huguenot who emigrated to England and became a prominent London merchant.

Apollo mask, sunburst and garlands of fruit on the ceiling of the Little Drawing Room. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Soon after marrying Sarah in 1746, Sir Matthew bought and began to remodel Uppark, probably using James Paine as his architect. Paine was close to the St Martin’s Lane Academy circle, a group of artists and architects who were instrumental in spreading the Rococo style in England. 

Sarah, Lady Featherstonhaugh (1722-1788), by Pompeo Batoni.

In 1749 Sir Matthew and his wife went on a two-year tour of Italy, taking in Florence, Venice, Rome and Naples. They brought back a subtantial number of pictures, including portraits of themselves wreathed in fruits by Pompeo Batoni.

Carved-wood head of Bacchus on the Little Parlour chimneypiece. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The asymmetrical foliage, flower and fruit motifs typical of the Rococo are clearly in evidence in the decoration at Uppark associated with Paine.

Deatil of the ceiling plasterwork in the Red Drawing Room. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Bunches of grapes obviously referred to wine and to the pleasures of the table. More generally, fruits were auspicious as symbols of bounty. Perhaps all this symbolism was too reassuring, suggesting limitless resources: Sir Matthew’s son Sir Harry became a spendthrift Regency rake - but that’s another story.


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