Archive for the ‘Upton House’ Category

Two views of a massacre

April 3, 2014
Probably Pieter Breughel the Younger, The Massacre of the Innocents, at Upton House. ©National Trust/Angelo Hornak, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Probably Pieter Breughel the Younger, The Massacre of the Innocents, at Upton House. ©National Trust/Angelo Hornak, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

The team at Upton House are raising funds to conserve the painting Massacre of the Innocents, possibly painted by Pieter Breughel the Younger (1564-1638).

The Upton Breughel awaiting conservation. ©National Trust

The Upton Breughel awaiting conservation. ©National Trust

It has been in need of attention for a while, and is now looking a bit sorry for itself, covered in stabilising tissue ‘plasters’. A JustGiving page has been opened to help raise the £15,000 required for the extensive investigation and treatment.

The picture shows the massacre of children ordered by Herod following the birth of Christ. But there is also a political undertone to the imagery: it is set in a Flemish village, with the figures clad as in Breughel’s own time. It is thought to be a semi-veiled reference to the atrocities committed by the troops of the Spanish Habsburgs who then ruled the Netherlands.

Pieter Breughel the Elder (c.1525-69), Massacre of the Innocents, in the Royal Collection. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

Pieter Breughel the Elder (c.1525-69), Massacre of the Innocents, in the Royal Collection. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

There is a version of this painting by Pieter Breughel the Elder in the Royal Collection, in which the image of massacre has been partially repainted to make it look less gruesome. Interestingly, this was done when that picture was owned by the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolf II, also a Habsburg – an example of sixteenth-century ‘image management’.

 

Dancing on the Edge

February 12, 2013
The Long Gallery at Upton House, Warwickshire. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The Long Gallery at Upton House, Warwickshire. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

As I was watching the first episode of Stephen Poliakoff’s new television series Dancing on the Edge the other day, I noticed that one of the scenes was shot at Upton House. The Long Gallery at Upton, with its celadon green paneling, features as part of the 1930s mansion of Mr Masterson, a mysterious and slightly sinister plutocrat.

The entrance front of Upton House, as remodeled by Percy Morley Horder in 1927. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Antrobus

The entrance front of Upton House, as remodeled by Percy Morley Horder in 1927. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Antrobus

The debate is already raging about the pros and cons of Poliakoff’s casting, dialogue and plot. But what is without doubt is that this auteur director has a great eye for evocative locations.

The Hall at Upton. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The Hall at Upton. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

And the atmosphere at Upton is in fact very ‘interwar’. The house was remodeled in 1927-9 by Percy Morley Horder for Walter Samuel, 2nd Viscount Bearsted.

The Picture Room at Upton, looking into the Library and the Billiard Room. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The Picture Room at Upton, looking into the Library and the Billiard Room. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The 2nd Lord Bearsted was chairman of Shell and owner of the bank M. Samuel (now part of Lloyds TSB). He was a great philanthropist, particularly in the areas of hospitals and schools, and a fervent collector of paintings, tapestries, furniture, French gold boxes, English silver, English miniatures, illuminated initials, oriental works of art and English porcelain.

The Billiard Room at Upton. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The Billiard Room at Upton. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The Long Gallery contains some of these collections, but there is also a dedicated Picture Gallery in the house (which I have shown before). In fact, Lord Bearsted’s passion for collecting is evident in almost every room.

Lady Bearsted's Bathroom at Upton, with its walls covered with aluminium leaf. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Lady Bearsted’s Bathroom at Upton, with its walls covered with aluminium leaf. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Although Upton was decorated by Horder in a restrained neo-Georgian style, there are certain spaces, such as the two-storey Picture Room with a view down from the Library, which have a theatrical, distinctly interwar atmosphere. There are wonderful ‘Curzon Street baroque’ touches like the velvet-covered uplighters in the Billiard Room. And Lady Bearsted’s silver bathroom is pure Hollywood.

Interrogating the old masters

November 13, 2012

Glenn Brown, The Death of the Virgin, 2012. ©Glenn Brown

Upton House is hosting an exhibition of works by contemporary artist Glenn Brown, curated by Meadow Arts. Brown’s works are both uncompromisingly modern and extremely traditional. But then Brown’s conception of ‘tradition’ includes science fiction as well as old master paintings, kitsch as well as high modernism.

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, The Death of the Virgin, c 1564. ©National Trust Images/Angelo Hornak

This makes for a fascinating juxtaposition with the permanent collection at Upton. Walter Samuel, 2nd Viscount Bearsted and chairman of Shell, assembled important collections of paintings and porcelain during the first half of the 20th century, which were given to the National Trust together with the house in the late 1940s.

Glenn Brown, Cactus Land, 2012. ©Glenn Brown

The paintings Lord Bearsted collected range in date from the 14th to the 19th century and include major works by Hieronymus Bosch, Hans Memling, Pieter Brueghel the Elder, El Greco, Gabriel Metsu, Jacob van Ruisdael, Pieter Saenredam, Francesco Guardi, William Hogarth, George Romney, George Stubbs, Thomas Gainsborough and Sir Henry Raeburn.

Domenikos Theotocopoulos, known as El Greco, El Espolio (the Disrobing of Christ), 1570s. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Glenn Brown has explicitly engaged with one of these paintings, Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s Death of the Virgin, by painting his own version. But he has infused the religious scene with a strong dose of surrealist distortion and post-modern alienation.

Glenn Brown, Searched Hard for You and Your Special Ways, 1995. ©Glenn Brown

Brown approaches old master paintings without the reverence sometimes accorded to them. He analyses and interrogates them as a painter – peer to peer – noticing techniques and stylistic strategies, weaknesses and strengths. He interrogates high and low imagery, old and new art on an equal basis and feeds it all into his own work.

Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Head of a Girl, c 1790. ©National Trust Images

Another way in which Brown turns art history on its head is by by the way he applies the paint thinly and smoothly – referencing perhaps the slick detachment of the photographic surface – while creating the impression of thick and tempestuous ‘old master’ impasto.

Works by Glenn Brown in the exhibition gallery at Upton House, formerly a squash court. ©Meadow Arts

In other cases his no-nonsense approach rehabilitates art that is currently out of fashion, such as the sentimental and eroticised work of Jean-Baptiste Greuze. In the booklet that accompanies the exhibition Brown states his conviction that Greuze’s virtuoso technique and obvious enjoyment of the act of painting are so strong that they make his choice of subject matter of secondary importance.

15th- and 16th-century paintings in the Picture Gallery at Upton House. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Not only has Brown been inspired by the Bearsted collection, but the old masters at Upton are equally benefiting from this exposure to contemporary art. I hope we will have many more such intelligent and searching encounters between old and new, high and low in the historic houses of the National Trust.

The exhibition is on until 6 January 2013.

Gabriel Metsu reassessed

June 8, 2011

A man writing a letter, by Gabriel Metsu (National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin), on the cover of the exhibition catalogue. ©Yale University Press

A review in the June issue of Apollo reminded me of the important exhibition about the work of seventeenth-century Dutch painter Gabriel Metsu at the National Gallery of Ireland (and currently at the National Gallery of Art, Washington), curated by Adriaan Waiboer. The catalogue can be obtained through Amazon.

Gabriel Metsu, A black woman in a window, at Polesden Lacey, Surrey. ©NTPL/Derrick E. Witty

The exhibition and catalogue explain how Metsu succesfully worked in a variety of different genres. He created little vignettes in the style of fijnschilder Gerrit Dou, but also produced conversation pieces similar to the work of Pieter de Hooch. He even occasionally emulated the balance and stillness of Johannes Vermeer’s compositions.

Gabriel Metsu, A couple making music in an interior, at Upton House, Warwickshire. ©NTPL/Christopher Hurst

I found it enlightening to learn that the narrative and sometimes sentimental aspects of Metsu’s work were particularly appreciated by eighteenth-century French artists like Chardin and Greuze. It is always fascinating to get a glimpse of how the past appreciated its past.

I met Adriaan a couple of years ago when we were both acting as courier, accompanying old master paintings to an exhibition in Tokyo. After our duties were done we ended up in an Irish bar in downtown Tokyo, discussing Dutch painting among the Guinness-quaffing hip young Japanese – one of those post-modern, post-surreal Japanese experiences.

Almost Easter

April 22, 2011

‘El Espolio’ or the disrobing of Christ by El Greco (1541-1614), at Upton House, Warwickshire. ©NTPL/John Hammond


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