Archive for the ‘Somerset’ Category

The aesthetic instinct

March 19, 2014
View from Glastonbury Tor, Somerset, looking north-west towards Wedmore. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

View from Glastonbury Tor, Somerset, looking north-west towards Wedmore. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

I just spotted these images of some of the recent flooding in Somerset, taken from Glastonbury Tor.

View from Glastonbury Tor, Somerset, looking south-west towards Street and the surrounding hills. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

View from Glastonbury Tor, Somerset, looking south-west towards Street and the surrounding hills. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

It strikes me how beautiful the images are, contrasting with the devastation these floods caused.

Landscape by Jacob van Ruisdael (1628-1682), known as 'Le coup de soleil', possibly a fanciful view of Alkmaar, at Upton House, inv. no. 446731. ©National Trust Images/Angelo Hornak

Landscape by Jacob van Ruisdael (1628-1682), known as ‘Le coup de soleil’, possibly a fanciful view of Alkmaar, at Upton House, inv. no. 446731. ©National Trust Images/Angelo Hornak

We seem to have an instinct to aestheticise whatever we see, even if it is negative and painful.

View from Glastonbury Tor, Somerset, looking south-west towards Street and the surrounding hills. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

View from Glastonbury Tor, Somerset, looking south-west towards Street and the surrounding hills. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

When confronted with a flooded landscape we intuitively reach back to the vocabulary of old master paintings, to help us define what we are looking at.

Crossing the ford by Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), at Upton House, inv. no. 446672. ©National Trust Images/Angelo Hornak

Crossing the ford by Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), at Upton House, inv. no. 446672. ©National Trust Images/Angelo Hornak

Presumably this is a semi-conscious coping mechanism: we want to discover patterns in the chaos, so that we feel we have a chance of creating some order out of it.

View from Glastonbury Tor, Somerset, looking north-west towards Wedmore with the Mendip Hills in the distance. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

View from Glastonbury Tor, Somerset, looking north-west towards Wedmore with the Mendip Hills in the distance. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

In this sense art can be defined simply as a sophisticated information processing tool, helping us to analyse positive as well as negative experiences.

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.

Looking after King James

April 12, 2012

Conservator examining the portrait of King James I. ©National Trust

I keep finding new blogs being written by National Trust colleagues about the places where they work and the projects they are engaged in. My latest discovery is the Montacute House blog, which has actually been going for some time.

The portrait on display at Montacute following conservation. The painter took great care in rendering the different textures of the leather wallhanging, the fur cape and the silk costume. ©National Trust

One of the subjects that Montacute intern Emma Harnett and volunteer Andrew May have been posting about is the return of the portrait of King James I of England and VI of Scotland by John de Critz the Elder, which we recently purchased at auction. The picture had originally been given to Sir Edward Phelips, the builder of Montacute, as a mark of esteem by the king.

Samples are being taken and stored in phials for later analysis. ©National Trust

The portrait underwent conservation treatment before it was put on display. Here you can see a conservator taking tiny paint samples for analysis.

The back of the picture, showing the relative thinness of the panels. ©National Trust

The wooden panel that the portrait is painted on was found to be quite thin and slightly warped, with small cracks in places.

King James now has his own QR code. ©National Trust

A so-called panel tray has now been fitted to the back of the painting. This is a kind of box that supports the back of the picture but also allows it to move when there are changes in humidity levels, helping to prevent further damage.

I am looking forward to more interesting posts from the Montacute House blog.

Some pistols from the Glorious Revolution

December 1, 2011

Pair of late seventeenth-century English pistols with a provenance from Dunster Castle. ©Brian Godwin

Yesterday we succesfully bid at auction on a pair of of pistols dating from the late seventeenth century and with a provenance from Dunster Castle, Somerset. They were coming up in the Bonhams arms and armour sale at their Knightsbridge auction rooms in London.

Dunster Castle. ©NTPL/Magnus Rew

The sale was well attended, with some strong prices, and we had to bid quite a bit above the top estimate in order to secure the pistols at £24,000 hammer price.

We are very grateful to the V&A Purchase Grant Fund for offering a grant towards this acquisition, and to our firearms adviser Brian Godwin for assessing the importance of the pistols.

The gatehouse at Dunster. ©NTPL/Arnhel de Serra

The pistols had been sold from Dunster in the early 1970s (before the National Trust acquired the castle), but up till that time they had been there continuously since the 1680s.

In 1688 Francis Luttrell, a local squire and owner of Dunster, joined the Glorious Revolution when William of Orange landed at Torbay. Luttrell managed to raise a regiment in a mere three days, partly due to his local connections, but also because there was a well-stocked armoury at Dunster, which this pair of pistols was probably part of.

Francis Luttrell (1659-1690). ©NTPL/John Hammond

Apart from playing a minor role in this momentous event in British history, Francis Luttrell also repaired and refurbished Dunster Castle, which had been damaged and neglected during the Civil War.

Plasterwork on the ceiling of the Dining Room at Dunster, put up in 1681. ©NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie

His heiress wife Mary Tregonwell provided the funds for some very fine plasterwork ceilings and a beautifully carved staircase. The carving on the latter is probably by the sculptor Edward Pearce the younger. Interestingly, the staircase was originally painted grey.

Detail of the carved balustrade of the staircase at Dunster, showing acanthus leaves, a beagling hound and a cornucopia. ©NTPL/Bill Batten

We hope soon to be able to display the pistols at Dunster, to enhance the story of this ancient castle at the time of the Glorious Revolution.

A Victorian library at Dunster Castle

August 18, 2011

The Library at Dunster Castle. ©NTPL/Bill Batten

Mark Purcell, the National Trust’s Libraries Curator, runs a thriving open Facebook group called National Trust Libraries. There he shares fascinating facts, discoveries and images to do with the books and library rooms in the care of the National Trust.

Wallpaper imitating Spanish leather hangings, installed in the Library as part of the Salvin remodeling of Dunster. ©NTPL/Bill Batten

He just posted the above image of the Library at Dunster Castle, Somerset, which he says is not a particularly important with regard to its books, but is definitely an evocative example of a Victorian library sitting room.

George Fownes Luttrell, by Cyrus Johnson. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The room was created in 1870-1 by the architect Anthony Salvin for the owner of Dunster, George Fownes Luttrell and his wife Anne Elizabeth.

Anne Elizabeth Hood, wife of George Fownes Luttrell, by Cyrus Johnson. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Salvin was known for his work remodelling ancient castles such as Alnwick in Northumberland. The Luttrells similarly wanted to bring their own castle into line with Victorian levels of comfort and efficiency, but at the same time to preserve and enhance the medieval and Jacobean elements of the building.

Dunster Castle seen from the Lawns. ©NTPL/Arnhel de Serra

Although the £25,000 budget at Dunster was only about a tenth of that at Alnwick, Salvin made various changes both inside and out which were meant to look as if they had been gradually added over the centuries. At the same time that did not prevent him from installing gas lighting, central heating, running hot water and the latest kitchen equipment.

Dunster Castle in its landscape. ©NTPL/Magnus Rew

Another example of Salvin’s picturesque work can be found at Scotney Castle in Kent. And Mark Purcell, as many of you will know, has recently published a book about historic Irish libraries.

A prodigy portrait for Montacute

July 28, 2011

Portrait of James I by John de Critz the Elder. ©Sotheby’s

In the Sotheby’s auction mentioned in the previous post the National Trust also bought this portrait of King James I.

©Sotheby’s

This splendidly detailed picture is by the court painter John de Critz the Elder (1551/2-1642) and was reputedly presented by the King to Sir Edward Phelips (1560?-1614), the builder of Montacute House, Somerset.

Sir Edward Phelips with his Speaker's mace and bag of office, by an unknown artist, at Montacute. ©NTPL/Derrick E. Witty

Sir Edward was a successful lawyer who entered Parliament and eventually became Speaker of the House of Commons. He was one of the prosecutors at the trial of Guy Fawkes after the Gunpowder Plot in 1605.

©Sotheby’s

The presence of this portrait at Montacute expressed the King’s favour to a useful and reliable public servant.

The west front of Montacute. ©NTPL/Robert Morris

Montacute was presented to the National Trust by Ernest Cook (grandson of Thomas Cook, founder of the travel agency) in 1931, but at the time very few of its original Phelips family contents remained.

Detail of the Dining Room at Montacute, with an inlaid Nonsuch chest and a portrait of Elizabeth Knollys, Lady Layton, attributed to George Gower (Sir Percy Malcolm Stewart bequest). ©NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie

The house has been furnished over the years with collections of furniture, tapestries and works of art that were lent, given and bequeathed to the National Trust. Since 1975 Montacute has also shown changing displays of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century portraits from the National Portrait gallery.

The east front of Montacute. ©NTPL/Stuart Cox

The portrait of James I is a splendid addition to the few remaining Phelips-related objects in the house. It is reminiscent of the heyday of Montacute, when it was a newly-built Jacobean ‘prodigy house’ and an exuberant statement of Sir Edward Phelips’s position and wealth.

©Sotheby’s

The portrait was purchased for £199,250 including buyer’s premium, with funds from a bequest from the late Miss Moira Carmichael (who for many years was a volunteer room guide at Montacute) and from other gifts and bequests to the National Trust.

©Sotheby’s

The picture is currently undergoing conservation work and will return to Montacute in the near future.

So crewel

May 5, 2010

Detail of the late seventeenth-century crewelwork bed cover in the Crimson Bedroom at Montacute House. ©NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie

A recent post about crewelwork by Courtney over at Style Court has inspired me to feature a bed with the same material at Montacute House, in Somerset.

The oak bed in the Crimson Bedroom at Montacute. ©NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie

The oak bed dates from 1612 and incorporates the arms of James I, Henry Prince of Wales and Frederick V. This bed was donated by Mr J.C.K. Gamlen via the Art Fund (then called the National Art Collections Fund) in 1945. It was the first gift that the National Trust received from the Art Fund, and there have been many since, both in the form of works of art and of grants.

In 1931 Montacute was presented to the National Trust through the generosity of Ernest Cook, the grandson of the founder of the Thomas Cook travel agency. The house was largely empty of contents, however, so pieces of furniture like this bed were acquired to furnish it appropriately.

Montacute House. ©NTPL/Rupert Truman

Montacute was built around 1600 by the succesful lawyer and courtier Sir Edward Phelips (?1516-1614). His descendants inhabited the house until 1911.

Rotunda and banqueting house in the garden at Montacute. ©NTPL/Robert Morris

In the late seventeenth century the garden at Montacute will have been formal and geometric, so any crewelwork that may have been in the house then will have looked refreshingly ‘wild’ in comparison. The garden contains several types of shrub rose that were in cultivation when the house was built, including the red rose of Lancaster, Rosa gallica officinalis, and the double white form of the Yorkist rose, Rosa alba ‘Maxima’.

Banqueting houses, set either in the garden or on the roof of the house, were used in Elizabethan and Jacobean times as a place where people could retire after dinner for a final course of cristallised quince paste, ginger bread and other sweet delicacies.


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