Archive for the ‘Saltram’ Category

Portrait of a lady

November 12, 2013
Chinese mirror painting showing an elegant lady seated at a table, mid-eighteenth century, in the Chinese Bedroom at Saltram. ©National Trust Images/Rob Matheson

Chinese mirror painting showing an elegant lady seated at a table, mid-eighteenth century, in the Chinese Bedroom at Saltram. ©National Trust Images/Rob Matheson

I managed to see the exhibition Masterpieces of Chinese Painting 700-1900 at the V&A yesterday. It is a heroic and I think successful attempt to represent the entire history of Chinese painting in one exhibition, drawing on loans from museums across the world.

Pictures of elegant Chinese ladies. mid-eighteenth century, mounted on a room dvider in the Chinese Dressing Room at Saltram. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Pictures of elegant Chinese ladies. mid-eighteenth century, mounted on a room dvider in the Chinese Dressing Room at Saltram. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Among other things, the exhibition explains the distinction in Chinese painting between the professional and scholarly styles. The former was colourful, realistic and decorative, whereas the latter tended to be monochrome, high-minded and individualistic.

Chinese picture showing ladies in a garden, mid-eighteenth century, in the Study at Saltram. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Chinese picture showing ladies in a garden, mid-eighteenth century, in the Study at Saltram. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Because of my current research into Chinese wallpaper (and Chinese pictures used as wallpaper) I am completely biased towards Chinese professional paintings, which influenced the wallpapers made for the west. I was fascinated by some pictures by Ren Renfa of c. 1500, for instance, showing people engaged in elegant pastimes and including a landscape painting mounted on a movable screen, evidence of the early ‘architectural’ use of Chinese painting.

Chinese picture of a lady with a mottled bamboo fishing rod, mid-eighteenth century, in the Study at Saltram. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Bush

Chinese picture of a lady with a mottled bamboo fishing rod, mid-eighteenth century, in the Study at Saltram. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Bush

In the same section of the exhibition, ‘The Pursuit of Happiness: 1400-1600′, there are a number of paintings with elegant ladies. V&A curator Luisa Mengoni explained to me how these figures don’t just represent physical beauty, but also reference cultured accomplishments such as music and dance, and refinement more generally. Beauty is never just beauty.

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.

Enchanting commodities

July 3, 2012

Still from Wallpaper 1 by Ed Pien ©Ed Pien

Courtney Barnes has just done a post on Ed Pien’s beautiful and subtly disturbing video works Wallpaper 1 and Wallpaper 2, part of the Sinopticon programme of exhibitions and events in Plymouth exploring responses to China by contemporary artists.

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper in the State Dressing Room at Nostell Priory, West Yorkshire. ©National Trust Images/J. Whitaker

Looking at Wallpaper 1 and 2 (which I hadn’t seen yet), it occurred to me that Pien seems to be revisiting the sense of enchantment that eighteenth-century viewers must have experienced when confronted by Chinese wallpapers in their original fresh state, with vivid colours and beautifully detailed foliage and figures.

WESSIELING, National-Dress (installation view at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London). ©WESSIELING

At a talk at Saltram last week, one of the other artists participating in Sinopticon, WESSIELING, described the surprisingly recent origin and continuing transformation of the cheongsam dress. Based on a male style of dress from the Qing period (1644-1911), the cheongsam was adopted by Chinese women in the 1920s and 1930s as a modern, no-nonsense, almost feminist type of apparel.

Stock figures showing different types of Chinese costume, in Sir William Chamber’s book Designs of Chinese Buildings, Furniture, Dresses, Machines and Utensils (1757). ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

During the subsequent decades of the twentieth century, however, the cheongsam acquired connotations of exoticism and eroticism, especially in the west – think The World of Suzy Wong. It is still a powerful fashion motif today, occasionally revisited by international couturiers. After being banned by the Comunist Party it has now been adopted as a kind of national dress by the new, post-Maoist China.

Detail from High Priestess Cape, by Grayson Perry, rayon embroidered on satin, 2007. ©Grayson Perry

In her talk WESSIELING discussed the process of commodification whereby cultural motifs such as the cheongsam are marketed to western audiences, are changed and rebranded, and are then sometimes re-adopted by the Chinese with a whole new set of signifiers attached.

Detail from Chinese embroidered silk hangings, early eighteenth century, on the state bed at Calke Abbey, Derbyshire. ©National Trust Images/John Millar

It seems to me that many of the works being shown as part of Sinopticon embody the apparently conflicting processes of enchantment and commodification. Grayson Perry, for instance, highlights the connections between elegance and desire, materialism and sexuality. His works are shown in direct juxtaposition with objects from the core collections of both Saltram and the Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery.

Still from Sensing Obscurity I by Erika Tan. ©Erika Tan

Erika Tan’s evocative film Sensing Obscurity I, set at Saltram (but shown at the Plymouth College of Art), includes scenes where a group of male Chinese performers carries out various conservation cleaning tasks, as if the house is a Chinese museum explaining that exotic western phenomenon, the British country house. In other scenes the Chinese wallpaper seems to come alive as female performers in traditional Chinese dress are glimpsed in the darkened rooms of the house.

Conservator handling one of the drawers of the Chippendale-attributed secretaire veneered with Chinese lacquer at Osterley Park, west London. ©National Trust Images/Ian Shaw

Hugh Grant makes a cameo appearance in Sensing Obscurity I, in the form of a ghostly image of him playing Edward Ferrars in Ang Lee’s 1995 production of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.  Fiction and reality, past and present, east and west, drama and stillness all seem to interact and coalesce.

The last opportunity to see these exhibitions in Plymouth is 7 July.

A retro-gendered room at Saltram

June 29, 2012

The Study at Saltram. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

When I was at Saltram to give the tour I mentioned in the previous post, I was struck by the delicious contradictions inherent in the Chinese wallpaper in the room called the Study. This room had been decorated in the mid eighteenth century as a bedroom or sitting room for one of the ladies of the house. Chinese wallaper and other ‘chinoiserie’ decorations were at this time increasingly associated with the private, ‘feminine’ spaces.

Portrait of Albert Parker, 3rd Earl of Morley, by Ellis Roberts. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

During the later nineteenth century, however, the 3rd Earl of Morley used the room as his study. Presumably the deccration was by then old fashioned and antiquarian enough to be congenial to a high-minded Victorian patriarch.

Old reference image of the fireplace wall in the Study. ©National Trust Collections

This is a great example of how the associations of certain styles and motifs are never fixed for long, and can turn into their opposites after a generation or two.

Even the original installation of the wallpaper represented a shift in meaning, of course, as entirely unrelated Chinese pictures and sections of wallpaper were slotted together into a kaleidoscopic collage, a realistic and yet surreal mosaic of elegant figures and evocative vistas, an eighteenth-century Pinterest board.

Reflections of China

June 25, 2012

The Chinese Chippendale Bedroom at Saltram, with its Chinese wallpaper, mirror paintings and ceramics. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

On Tuesday 26 June I will be taking a group on a tour of Saltram, near Plymouth, looking at the Chinese and Chinese-inspired collections in the house. The tour begins at 6.30 pm, and to book a (free) place you can call 01752 333500. It is part of Sinopticon, a programme of exhibitions and events exploring what chinoiserie means in a contemporary context.

While preparing the tour I noticed the similarities and differences between Saltram, Osterley Park, in west London, and Nostell Priory, in West Yorkshire, all houses with important eighteenth-century chinoiserie decoration.

One of the Chinese mirror paintings, in English Rococo frames and with Chinese porcelain leaping carp figurines on the mantelpiece below, in the Mirror Room at Saltram. ©National Trust Images/Rob Matheson

Saltram has a great collection of Chinese wallpapers complemented by Chinese mirror paintings, east Asian ceramics and sets of chinoiserie chairs. The Parkers of Saltram were wealthy and fashion-conscious, but they rebuilt and redecorated the house in a piecemeal manner.

Chinese mirror painting inserted into a neo-classical frame designed by Robert Adam, c. 1760, in the Yellow Taffeta Bedchamber at Osterley Park. ©National Trust Collections

The Childs of Osterley, by contrast, were among the super-rich and could really splurge on chinoiserie decoration. The decoration of Osterley included lacquer furniture, Chinese wallpaper, mirror paintings, Indian fabrics, east Asian ceramics, carved ivory objects, live exotic birds in the menagerie, a multi-room and fully furnished chinoiserie pavilion in the garden and a Chinese-style boat on the lake.

Chinoiserie pier glass by Chippendale, with matching japanned commode below, in the State Bedroom at Nostell Priory. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The chinoiserie taste of Sir Rowland Winn, 5th Baronet, of Nostell was slightly different again, as he concentrated on commissioning several sets of beautiful chinoiserie furniture from Thomas Chippendale, set against the backdrop of Chinese wallpaper. There was a chinoiserie garden pavilion at Nostell too, but it was a relatively small, portable affair.

I find it fascinating how the different ‘ingredients’ of the chinoiserie style were combined in different quantities and configurations at these three houses in the middle of the eighteenth century. In the tour tomorrow I hope to be able to bring out the uniqueness of Saltram by contrasting it with what the other ‘Joneses’ were doing at about the same time.

China returns to Saltram

April 26, 2012

Isaac Julien, 'Hotel (Ten Thousand Waves)', 2010, Endura Ultra pohotograph, courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro Gallery, London

Between 28 April and 7 July 2012 Saltram is co-hosting an exhibition of contemporary art exploring the cultural influence of China on the west. Saltram is of course already home to a significant historic collection of Chinese wallpaper, which I have featured before.

Image of a temple in a mountainous landscape on a Japanese lacquer cabinet, c. 1630-1650, at Ham House, Surrey. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The exhibition has been curated by Eliza Gluckman and is part of the National Trust-sponsored Sinopticon project which explores the interface between chinoiserie – the western use and imitation of Chinese art and design – and contemporary art.

Meekyoung Shin, 'Translation', 2010, facsimiles of Chinese porcelain vessels produced in soap, copyright the artist, courtesy of Haunch of Venison, London (installation view at Haunch of Venison)

Other venues hosting this event are Plymouth Arts Centre, Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery and Plymouth College of Art.

Baroque-style display of East Asian porcelain at Beningbrough Hall, North Yorkshire. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Artists include Suki Chan (UK), Gayle Chong Kwan (UK), Stephanie Douet (UK), Christian Jankowski (Germany), Isaac Julien (UK), WESSIELING (UK), Grayson Perry (UK), Ed Pien (Canada), Meekyoung Shin (South Korea), Karen Tam (Canada), Erika Tan (UK), Tsang Kin-wah (HK/China) and Laura White (UK).

WESSIELING, 'Fashion Chess', 2011, photo by Nigel Trebbeck, copyright the artist

The exhibition demonstrates how chinoiserie is still a relevant concept in view of the persisten cultural barriers between ‘the west’ and China, which can lead alternately to fascination and mistrust, inspiration and misinterpretation.

Model of a Chinese pagoda created by Betty Radcliffe, 1767, at Erddig, Wrexham. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The works on show engage with these barriers in different ways and explore the nature of cultural identity.

Karen Tam, 'Terra dos Chînos', 2011-2012, mixed media, soap, papier-mâché, aluminium foil, courtesy the artist.

Seeing this exhibition in the context of the National Trust’s historic collections, I find it fascinating to realise how globalised the world already was in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with international trade carrying East Asian objects into the most personal and private areas of European homes.

Corner cupboard with a mixture of East Asian and English ceramics, at Hill Top, Cumbria. ©National Trust Images/Geoffrey Frosh

Equally, that sense of wonder in the face of a different culture and that longing for what is distant is still very much with us today.

The Chinese wallpapers at Saltram

November 29, 2011

Chinese picture used as wallpaper in the Study at Saltram. ©NTPL/John Hammond

After the recent flurry of posts about Chinese wallpapers and related subjects, both on this blog and on Style Court and Little Augury, I wanted to show a few of the intriguing eighteenth-century papers that have inspired the ones being created today by Fromental and De Gournay.

The Study, showing the astonishingly varied arrangement of papers used to decorate the walls. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Saltram, in Devon, was rebuilt and redecorated in the 1740s for John Parker and his heiress wife, Lady Catherine, daughter of the 1st Earl Poulett. They introduced high-quality plasterwork and also a variety of Chinese wallpapers.

A garden scene, in the Study. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The walls of the Study have a collection of sections of wallpaper and decorative pictures on paper of widely differing sizes and subjects divided and framed by (European) key-fret strips. It has the phantasmagoric feeling of a room-size picture book.

The Chinese Chippendale Bedroom. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Chinese Chippendale bedroom has a panoramic ‘wallpaper’, which in fact is a painted silk hanging showing people engaged in various occupations and industries. Mid-eighteenth-century Chinese paintings on glass hang on top of the wallpaper, and the chairs and hanging shelves with chinoiserie fretwork further enhance the exotic feeling of the room.

The Chinese Dressing Room. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The wallpaper in the Chinese Dressing Room, painted on mulberry paper, is probably the oldest at Saltram, dating from the early eighteenth century, and depicts elegant people in a garden setting.

A number of the panels are repeated, and various birds and other elements have been cut out from other papers and pasted in, showing how the decorative value of the pattern was valued more than its realistic content.

One of the mirror paintings in the Mirror Room, with the panoramic paper behind. NTPL/Rob Matheson

The paper in the so-called Mirror Room was moved here in recent times from a room not on view to the public. It is made up of sections of a panoramic wallpaper, again augmented by glass paintings, fretwork furniture, lacquer and porcelain.

Many grand houses would have had more than one Chinese wallpaper in the past, but Saltram is one of the few where so many of them survive.

Panned out well

June 4, 2010

©National Trust/Robert Thrift

The other day I featured the Chinese porcelain bowl at Nostell Priory, West Yorkshire, that was used to serve punch. The vessels employed in the kitchen at Nostell are also rather impressive, although in a more robust, down to earth way.

©National Trust/Robert Thrift

In 2007 a group of copper pots and pans from the kitchen at Nostell was accepted by the Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust. This so-called batterie de cuisine can tell us all sorts of things about country house cooking practices in the nineteenth century.

©National Trust/Robert Thrift

The pans are engraved with the monogram of the Winn family, Barons St Oswald. Nostell was transferred to the National Trust in 1953, but it is still the home of the present Lord and Lady St Oswald.

©NTPL/John Hammond

Other historic houses have similar sets of implements, although each kitchen is different. The Great Kitchen at Saltram, in Devon, was built in the 1770s, but the range was added in 1885.

©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The kitchen at Petworth House, West Sussex, includes a warming cupboard with nifty sliding doors. 

©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

There is also a high-tech steam bain-marie at Petworth, made by Jeakes & Co. in about 1870. I could easily picture this in a Japanese steampunk anime film.

Regilding the lily

May 19, 2010

One of a set of torcheres bearing candelabra in the Great Room at Saltram. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The current issue of ABC Bulletin features an article by Sue Baumbach about the conservation of a group of four torcheres at Saltram, in Devon. I have just discovered that we have some images of them being worked on, so I thought I would show those here.

The torcheres being treated at Tankerdale. ©NTPL/John Hammond

As Sue relates, the candelabra were ordered by Theresa Parker from Boulton & Fothergill in 1771 for the Great Room at Saltram. They have central urns made of the rare mineral Blue John, or Derbyshire fluorspar.

Working on one of the ram's heads. ©NTPL/John Hammond

There is no record of the purchase of the tocheres. They may have been designed by Robert Adam together with the rest of the decoration of the room.

However, it is also possible that they were the quartet of similar-sounding torcheres that were sold in the house sale of a property in Portman Square in London in 1778. These were bought by a Mr Sturt, whose name also appears in the Saltram accounts at around that time, but the evidence is not conclusive.

Injecting the woodworm holes. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The torcheres had become unstable due to previous pest infestations, and they have recently been treated at the workshop of Tankerdale Ltd.

Re-gilding the base of one of the torcheres. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Analysis of the gilding undertaken by Catherine Hassall showed that the torcheres had only been re-gilded once before, in the late nineteenth century.

The 1897 inscription on the inside of one of the torcheres, with the contemporary business directory that lists the Harris firm. ©NTPL/John Hammond

This probably relates to the inscription found within one of the torcheres, which reads ‘Bellamy, Apprentice, H & Sons, April 1897. Repard [sic] by James Street, April 1897. From Harris & Sons, George Street.’

A contemporary business directory records that Harris & Sons was a Plymouth company of ‘art decorators, house painters, gilders, picture dealers, artists’ colourmen and stationers’.

One of the torcheres with its candelabra, in a corner of the Great Room. Since this photograph was taken, the torcheres have been moved to more prominent positions in the room, in line with Robert Adam's original arrangement. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The 1897 re-gilding was probably part of the redecorations carried out by Albert Edmond Parker, 3rd Earl of Morley, who had married an heiress and moved back to Saltram after the house had been let to tenants for a number of years.

Angelica Kauffman: Celebrity artist

April 19, 2010

Self-portrait by Angelica Kauffman at Saltram, Devon. Accepted in lieu of tax by H.M. Government and transferred to the National Trust in 1957. ©NTPL/John Hammond

I previously featured the Kauffman portrait that we manage to re-acquire for Oxburgh Hall, but in other National Trust properties we also have a few works by this artist, which illustrate her remarkable career.

Angelica Kauffman, The Artist Hesitating Between the Arts of Music and Painting, 1791 or 1794, at Nostell Priory, West Yorkshire. Acquired with the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2002. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Angelica Kauffman was born in Switzerland in 1741, and as she grew up she showed talent for both music and art. A priest advised her that art would be more rewarding in the long term. Kauffman later dramatised this ‘judgement of Hercules’ decision in an image of herself hesitating between the blandishments of Music and the rocky road of Painting.

Portrait of Sir Joshua Reynolds by Kauffman, 1767, at Saltram, Devon. Accepted in lieu of tax by H.M. Government and transferred to the National Trust in 1957. ©NTPL/Rob Matheson

Kauffman’s father took her to Italy where she studied drawing and painting and visited important collections. She was fluent in several languages and was fêted as a female prodigy. In 1766 Lady Wentworth, the wife of the British ambassador to Venice, took her to London, where she befriended Joshua Reynolds who enthusiastically promoted her career.

Venus Directing Aeneas and Achates to Carthage, by Angelica Kauffman. Exhbited at the Royal Academy in 1769. Accepted in lieu of tax by H.M. Government and transferred to the National Trust in 1957. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Kauffman was one of the founding members of the Royal Academy. She was keen to paint historical, literary and mythological subjects, which were seen as more prestigious than portraits. 

Portrait of Lady Elizabeth Foster by Angelica Kauffman, 1785, at Ickworth, Suffolk. ©NTPL/Angelo Hornak

Portraits were an important source of income for Kauffman, however. After a brief and disastrous marriage to a conman she married the Venetian painter Antonio Pietro Zucchi in 1781. She ended her life in Rome, where people like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Antonio Canova sought her out.

These paintings can be seen at:


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