The Country House: Material Culture and Consumption

February 11, 2016

Country House cover FINAL 4

Historic England has recently published a volume of essays entitled The Country House: Material Culture and Consumption, edited by John Stobart and Andrew Hann.

A Chinese white porcelain teapot,  c.1650-70, at Ham House, Surrey

Chinese porcelain teapot in European silver mounts (NT 1139006), on a Javanese lacquer table (NT 1140034), both late seventeenth century, at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/Robert Morris

As Jon notes in his introduction, the book is essentially about looking at the country house as ‘a nexus of complex flows of goods, people and ideas.’ The volume contributes to the burgeoning debate about ‘material culture’, considering art history, social history and economic history not as separate realms but as an interrelated matrix.

The various essays extend this matrix well beyond the shores of Britain, including Finnish, French, Irish, Dutch and Spanish perspectives on the country house.

Cup of cappucinno and a pot of tea on a tray in the Orangery Cafe, Ham House and Garden, Surrey.

Coffee and tea as served in the Orangery Café at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

I contributed an essay on the changing significance of Asian and pseudo-Asian objects and styles in British country house interiors and gardens.

The debate is brought into the present through discussions about how the country house is ‘served up’ and ‘consumed’ today.

Chinese wallpaper conference

February 5, 2016
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Detail from one of the prints used as wallpaper in the Chinese Dressing Room at Saltram. NT 872998 ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Regular readers of this blog may remember me mentioning the possibility of a conference on Chinese wallpapers in historic houses. I am happy to announce that this conference is going ahead and will take place in London on 7 and 8 April, with an optional excursion on 9 April.

The Dressing Room with hand painted wallpaper from China at Nostell Priory, West Yorkshire

Section including a phoenix from the painted bird-and-flower wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Nostell Priory, supplied by Thomas Chippendale in 1771. NT 959651 ©National Trust Images/J. Whitaker

Day one will be hosted by Coutts & Co, who still have an eighteenth-century landscape wallpaper in their boardroom that was owned by the founder of the firm, Thomas Coutts.

Day two will be at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and will include the viewing of sections of Chinese wallpaper from their collection and a visit to their paper conservation studio.

The optional excursion on day three is a visit to the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, to see the role Chinese wallpaper played in the Prince Regent’s decorative vision (and again including the viewing of some archived wallpaper).

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Figure of a labourer in the landscape wallpaper painted on silk in the Chinese Bedroom at Saltram. NT 872999 ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

The conference will look at Chinese wallpaper in the round, including Chinese, European, art-historical, economic, social and conservation perspectives.

We are fortunate in having been able to assemble an authoritative group of speakers from from Europe, America and China, who will be sharing some of their latest research.

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Detail of a bird of prey in the painted bird-and-flower wallpaper at Erddig, probably hung in the 1770s. NT 1153114 ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

More information about the conference papers and the speakers can be found on the conference website, which includes a booking link.

 

Fashion and style

January 22, 2016
Caroline Murat, Queen of Naples (1782-1839), by Louis Ducis (1775-1847), c. 1810. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Caroline Murat, Queen of Naples (1782-1839), by Louis Ducis (1775-1847), c. 1810, NT 608957, at Attingham Park. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

I took part in a panel discussion at the Royal College of Art yesterday, part of their History of Design programme. The theme of the seminar was ‘research in action’, exploring the benefits and challenges of interacting with the public.

This reminded me of my previous linking with Unmaking Things, the lively blog run by second-year students of the History of Design course. I was inspired then by the observation made by Marilyn Zapf that the internet has the effect of making any object into a ‘found object’ – whether it is an ephemeral piece of packaging or a fine art masterpiece.

In a recent post Connie Burks writes about the difference between fashion and style – the former being more about historical trends, whereas the latter is more about individual choice, and is therefore more difficult to reconstruct. Connie mentions how style is often revealed by the way an individual combines different garments, patterns, textures and colours.

That, in turn, reminded me of the above portrait of Caroline Murat, who was something of an early-nineteenth-century style icon. The sister of Napoleon Bonaparte and married to one of his generals who became King of Naples, she channeled both French and Italian elements in her surroundings and her dress.

As Brittany Dahlin mentions in her recent thesis on Caroline Murat, she deliberately wore black velvet because of its associations with traditional Neapolitan female dress. At the same time the dress is tailored and cut in the high-waisted ‘Empire’ style, which of course had associations with French cultural and political dominance.

So perhaps this picture provides a glimpse of the fluid boundary between fashion and style.

 

The plan for Clandon

January 19, 2016
The Marble Hall, 1, photo James Dobson-National Trust Images

The Marble Hall at Clandon, following the removal of the debris and the stabilisation of the remaining wall surfaces. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

An announcement was made yesterday about the plans to bring Clandon Park back to life following the devastating fire last April.

Crates with salavaged items from the Saloon, photo James Dobson-National Trust Images

Crates with salvaged fragments in the Saloon. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

Over the last nine months, the colleagues involved with Clandon have reviewed a number of options, ranging from leaving it as a ruin to a full restoration. They considered the architectural significance of what had survived the fire, the items salvaged from the building and what was technically possible within it.

Cleaning the leg of a marble topped table in the Marble Hall, photo James Dobson-National Trust Images

Conservator cleaning the remains of a side table in the Marble Hall. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

The criteria guiding the decision-making process reflect the National Trust’s core purpose. They include making sure that Clandon remains open to the public, considering Clandon’s historic and cultural significance and generating enough income to maintain its long-term conservation.

We are now confident that a number of principal rooms on the ground floor, including the Marble Hall, the Speakers’ Parlour and the Saloon, can be restored – and should be, given their architectural and historical significance.

Statue of Venus in the Marble Hall, photo James Dobson-National Trust Images

A plaster cast of a statue of Venus, still in situ in the Marble Hall. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

The fact that so many features survived the fire, and that items from the rooms have been recovered from the ashes, makes the case for restoration compelling. We will be able to draw on a wealth of relevant expertise from within the National Trust and from elsewhere.

But we are not looking to recreate the rooms as they were the day before the fire. The enduring significance of architect Giacomo Leoni’s original designs means that we can go back to the original eighteenth-century decorative schemes and layout of the house.

The Marble Hall, 2, photo James Dobson-National Trust Images

View of the Marble Hall, with a protective temporary roof visible above. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

The rooms on the upper floors were less architecturally significant and had been considerably altered over the centuries. So it has been proposed to transform those rooms into flexible spaces which could be used for exhibitions, events and performances.

Recent research has also given us a better understanding of the original eighteenth-century gardens. If resources permit we hope to bring those back to life as well, in the spirit of a project that will both look back to the best of the past and create an exciting future for Clandon.

More information, images and updates can be found on our website.

Remastered at Petworth

January 8, 2016
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Titian, An Unknown Man in a Black Plumed Hat, c. 1515-20, at Petworth, possibly acquired by the 10th Earl of Northumberland, accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust in 1956, NT 486242

The painter John Constable, in awe of the collections assembled at Petworth House, the seat of the Percy, Seymour and Wyndham families in West Sussex,  once called it ‘that house of art’. Following several successful winter exhibitions featuring loans from other museum, Petworth curator Andy Loukes has now drawn on the house’s own collections to put together a show of major old master paintings.

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Paris Bordone, Portrait of a Young Woman, c. 1550, at Petworth, collection of Lord Egremont.

Petworth House was given to the National Trust by the 3rd Lord Leconfield in 1947. To meet the inheritance tax due following his death in 1952, his nephew John Wyndham, later the 1st Lord Egremont, brokered a pioneering agreement with the Treasury to pay part of the tax in the form of works of art, which were then allocated to the National Trust.

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Agnolo Bronzino, Portrait of a Young Man, c. 1550-5, at Petworth, in the collection of the 3rd Earl of Egremont by 1835, collection of Lord Egremont

This kind of arrangement has now become a well-established system called the Acceptance in Lieu Scheme, which is hugely beneficial to UK museums.

The current Lord Egremont still owns part of the Petworth collection, and some of those paintings are also on view in this exhibition.

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Sir Anthony van Dyck, Portrait of Anne Boteler, Countess of Newport, later Countess of Portland, c. 1637, at Petworth, in the collection of the 10th Earl of Northumberland in 1652, accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust in 1956, NT 486238

Petworth is already well known for its British pictures, so for this exhibition Andy has focused more on Continental European paintings. Some of the works have not been on public view before, while others have recently undergone conservation work, revealing new detail and depth.

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Anglo-Netherlandish School, Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, 1530, at Petworth, in the collection of the 3rd Earl of Egremont by 1835, accepted in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust in 1956, NT 486204

The exhibition also celebrates the successive collectors who made Petworth into ‘that house of art’, including Algernon Percy, 10th Earl of Northumberland (1602-68), and Charles Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont (1751-1837).

Sharing a taste for Chinese prints

December 22, 2015
The Chinese Bedroom with wallpaper depicting scenes from daily life, at Saltram, Devon

Various Chinese prints depicting female figures, cut out and combined to form a decorative scheme in the Chinese Dressing Room at Saltram, near Plymouth. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

A few weeks ago I attended a conference at the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna about Chinese-style interior decoration in Europe in the eighteenth century.

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Chinese print depicting a female figure in the Study at Saltram, part of a collage of Chinese prints and paintings. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

This conference was organised by Dr Elfriede Iby, head of research at Schönbrunn, and Professor Gabriele Krist of the Universität für Angewandte Kunst Wien.

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Fragment of a Chinese print depicting a female figure found at Oud Amelisweerd, near Utrecht, almost identical to prints at Saltram. ©MOA

This conference brought together curators, conservators and academics from across Europe. For me it was a great opportunity to learn about the issues that the colleagues in central Europe are grappling with (very similar to the issues we in the National Trust are grappling with, predictably enough).

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Chinese print of a female figure, installed as an overdoor at Kasteel d’Ursel, near Antwerp, between 1761 and 1764. ©Provincie Antwerpen

And I very much enjoyed seeing more examples of Chinese-style interior decoration on the Continent.

5 Schloss Worlitz

Chinese print depicting a female figure hung at Schloss Wörlitz, Anhalt-Dessau, in about 1772. ©Bildarchiv Foto Marburg

I presented a paper about the rapid spread of certain types of Chinese prints and wallpapers, which popped up in palaces and country houses across Europe in the mid eighteenth century.

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Chinese prints combined as a collage, probably hung by 1751 at the Badenburg pavilion, Nymphenburg Palace, Munich.

Occasionally the same or very similar Chinese prints have survived in different European countries. At the Schönbrunn  conference we heard about Chinese prints and wallpapers at the Esterházy Palace in Eisenstadt, the Wilanów Palace in Warsaw and Schloss Wörlitz in Anhalt-Dessau, some of which are clearly connected to examples in Britain.

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Locations of some of the early Chinese print and wallpaper schemes, installed c. 1725-1775.

In addition, scholars like Christer von der Burg and Anita Xiaoming Wang are also investigating aspects of these prints, as is evident from their respective blogs. There is a pleasing symmetry to the fact that the research is as international as the subject.

 

The wonder of the north

November 12, 2015

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The extraordinary landscape garden at Studley Royal is the subject of a major new book by Mark Newman.

The cascade and the fishing tabernacles at Studley Royal, created in the 1720s. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The cascade and the fishing tabernacles at Studley Royal, created in the 1720s. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Based on many years of research, this book charts at the history of Studley Royal from its origins to the present day, while devoting most attention to the development of its pioneering garden in the eighteenth century.

The rustic bridge at Studley Royal, built in the 1720s. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

The rustic bridge at Studley Royal, built in the 1720s. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

John Aislabie (1670-1742) may have been a blatantly venal government minister – he was was convicted of corruption following the collapse of the South Sea Bubble in 1720 – but he had a sophisticated taste in landscape design.

Statue of Bacchus in front of the Temple of Piety, probably built in the early 1730s, at Studley Royal. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Statue of Bacchus in front of the Temple of Piety, probably built in the early 1730s, at Studley Royal. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Following his banishment from politics he poured his energies into Studley Royal. He bent the landscape to his will, but at the same time allowed for a degree of naturalness and irregularity, which was new at the time.

The Octagon Tower at Studley Royal, completed in 1735. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

The Octagon Tower at Studley Royal, completed in 1735. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Studley represents the early phase of the English landscape garden, juxtaposing formality and informality, architecture and foliage, water and greenery, light and shade.

View over the half moon pond and the weir at Studley Royal towards Fountains Abbey. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

View over the half moon pond and the weir at Studley Royal towards Fountains Abbey. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

His son William Aislabie (1700-81) continued to develop the landscape, incorporating the medieval ruins of Fountains Abbey into it and creating the ‘Chinese woods’ further up the valley.

The seven bridges walk at Studley Royal, near the area formerly known as the 'Chinese woods'. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The seven bridges walk at Studley Royal, near the area formerly known as the ‘Chinese woods’. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The book can be purchased via the National Trust online shop.

An Italianate landscape for Belton – and one in the Louvre

November 5, 2015
Attributed to Nicolaes Berchem the elder (1620–1683), Classical landscape with figures and animals, oil on canvas, probably 1670s, at Belton House, NT 2900170. ©Tennant’s

Attributed to Nicolaes Berchem the elder (1620–1683), Classical landscape with figures and animals, oil on canvas, probably 1670s, at Belton House, NT 2900170. ©Tennant’s

We have recently purchased this landscape painting at auction at Tennant’s. It is attributed to the Dutch seventeenth-century painter Nicolaes Berchem the elder and has a provenance from Belton House.

The Berchem in its gilded Régence-style frame. ©Tennant’s

The Berchem in its gilded Régence-style frame. ©Tennant’s

The painting depicts an Italian landscape, with beautifully arranged clouds, mountains and buildings, picturesque human figures and nicely observed animals. Berchem is not thought to have visited Italy himself, adopting this subject matter and style from the ‘Italianate’ Dutch painters of the period. So this is pure ‘art’, the expression of an ideal rather than the copying of reality.

A note on Belton House headed paper, on the back of the Berchem. ©Tennant’s

A note on Belton House headed paper, on the back of the Berchem. ©Tennant’s

This Berchem was owned by the 1st Lord Brownlow and was at Belton in 1809. It descended in the Cust family, but by 1958 it was in the hands of the London dealer Alfred Brod.

Nicolaes Pietersz. Berchem (1620-83), Le paysage du bac, Musée du Louvre, inv. 1040. ©Musée du Louvre

Nicolaes Pietersz. Berchem (1620-83), Le paysage du bac, Musée du Louvre, inv. 1040. ©Musée du Louvre

The Tennant’s catalogue entry mentioned that there is another version of this painting in the Louvre (with inventory no. 1040), which appears to be very close to the Belton Berchem.

The Louvre painting was formerly owned by the house of Orange, but was taken to Paris in 1795, presumably by the Revolutionary French troops who invaded Holland in that year. The pre-1809 history of the Belton painting is as yet unknown.

The Fabric of India

October 9, 2015
Detail of one of the panels of Tipu Sultan's tent, showing its early-eighteenth-century Mughal floral decoration. In the collection at Powis Castle, acquired by the National Trust with support from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund. NT 1180731. ©National Trust Images/Erik Pelham

Detail of one of the panels of Tipu Sultan’s tent, showing its early-eighteenth-century Mughal floral decoration. In the collection at Powis Castle, acquired by the National Trust with support from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund. NT 1180731. ©National Trust Images/Erik Pelham

I have just been to see the inspiring Fabric of India Exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Among the exhibits is the tent once owned by Tipu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore, which has been borrowed from Powis Castle for the exhibition.

A section of Tipu Sultan's chintz tent, c. 1725-50. NT 1180731. ©National Trust Images/Erik Pelham

A section of Tipu Sultan’s chintz tent, c. 1725-50. NT 1180731. ©National Trust Images/Erik Pelham

The 2nd Lord Clive acquired the tent after the defeat of Tipu Sultan by the British in 1799, which is how it ended up at the Clive seat of Powis Castle.

Section of Tipu's tent. NT1180731. ©National Trust Images/Erik Pelham

Section of Tipu’s tent. NT1180731. ©National Trust Images/Erik Pelham

About two-thirds of the tent has been set up in the exhibition, more than is usually on display at Powis. It was amazing to get a inkling of what it was like to enter such a sumptuous royal tent.

Detail of Tipu's tent. NT1180731. ©National Trust Images/Erik Pelham

Detail of Tipu’s tent. NT1180731. ©National Trust Images/Erik Pelham

These tents were effectively portable miniature palaces. When originally set up it would have been surrounded by the tents of court nobles and officials, mirroring a real palace complex.

I learned from the exhibition catalogue that the tent is in the Mughal style and actually predates Tipu’s reign, so it may have been a gift from another ruler or an heirloom. At Powis Castle it was used for many years as a marquee during garden parties.

Two and three dimensions in Chinese porcelain

September 29, 2015
Chinese porcelain vase, at Erddig, NT 1145621.2. ©National Trust Collections/Susanne Gronnow

Chinese porcelain vase, at Erddig, NT 1145621.2. ©National Trust Collections/Susanne Gronnow

I just noticed the delicate landscapes on these early-eighteenth-century Chinese porcelain vases at Erddig (on our database here and here). We can see the wall of a country mansion situated next to a waterway, with a figure leaning against a balustrade gazing out at the waves. Another figure approaches the gate over a wooden zig-zag bridge.

Chinese porcelain vase, at Erddig, NT 1145621.1. ©National Trust Collections/Susanne Gronnow

Chinese porcelain vase, at Erddig, NT 1145621.1. ©National Trust Collections/Susanne Gronnow

Further along we see the waterway widening out, with a little boat coursing over the waves, a pagoda on the opposite bank and mountains above.

This decoration is derived from the tradition of Chinese landscape painting. But along their necks the vases have also been decorated with stylised floral and fungus ornaments which are part of the Chinese decorative art vocabulary. The globes along the necks have been painted with a diaper pattern that is reminiscent of openwork or basketwork. The silhouette of the vases is pear-shaped, but in section they are in fact octagonal.

So we have three-dimensional objects which are both curvaceous and angular. And we have painted decoration suggesting both pictorial distance and surface perforation. Not bad for a pair of small vases.


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