A self-conscious room at Knole

©Richard Crowest/Corvidae Ltd

I recently wrote about meeting a person ‘for real’ whom I had previously only known as ‘a blog’. Now I have just heard about a room at Knole, in Kent, which has been ‘dematerialised’ – but which you can still physically step into.

©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Reynolds Room at Knole contains a group of paintings by Sir Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, George Romney and others. The Reynolds paintings include portraits of the artist himself, of Samuel Johnson, of the Chinese pageboy Wang-y-Tong and of the actor and impressario David Garrick.

©Richard Crowest/Corvidae Ltd

As the first stage in a major programme of conservation work, this room was recently stripped of its paintings and furniture. The windows were sealed with new lead, the floor and ceiling were insulated and the walls were rewired and fitted with hidden environmental monitors.

©Richard Crowest/Corvidae Ltd

Then a seamless panoramic photograph, produced at ultra-high resolution by Corvidae, and exhibition and website design company, was installed in front of the walls. This will allow an estimated 90,000 visitors to walk through the room from now until October. The monitors will be collecting environmental data, enabling our conservators to work out what the optimum climatic regime should be in future.

A 360-degree view of the room can be seen here. The images were printed on vinyl by Street Graphics, Bethersden, and were mounted in the room by Colnet Builders of Sevenoaks. 

©Richard Crowest/Corvidae Ltd

Not only is this a fascinating conservation project, it also poses some conceptual paradoxes: Here we have a room which is a real space and simultaneously a virtual one. It is a room containing a life-size copy of itself, questioning Korzybski’s dictum that ‘the map is not the territory.’ And you could even call this a ‘self-conscious’ room, as it sits there monitoring itself and contemplating its own future.

17 Responses to “A self-conscious room at Knole”

  1. ArchitectDesign Says:

    This is the most fabulous way to keep a room alive while under restoration for guests as well. Always such a major disappointment to visit a place and not be able to see a particular room because it’s under restoration, etc. Afterwards these rolls should go on a roving circuit of museums to promote tourism to Knole!

  2. gaye tapp Says:

    Is a Knole in every house just a panoramic photographic vinyl sheet away? can not be far off! fascinating.

  3. Janet Says:

    It is quite a smart idea, really. I assume the original fittings will be returned following conservation. . .

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Such good ideas, to have a Reynolds Room on tour or even in your own home.

    And no we are not planning to virtualise Knole permanently 🙂 The vinyl will be removed and the contents of the room brought back in for next year’s opening season, when the conservators should also have the data to enable optimum climate control.

  5. Barry Leach Says:

    I think this is one of the most fascinating solutions to researching and restoration I’ve ever read about. I also think it brings a new dimension to photo murals, so popular in the 1970s, for which I’ve always had a lingering affection – a lapse in taste, I know. It occurs to me, too, if these room reproductions were for sale, it would bring the late 19th-century trade in architectural salvage bang up to date. I’ve just stripped my library of its panelling in anticipation of the arrival of mine!

  6. The Devoted Classicist Says:

    Fascinating, indeed! My mind spins at the possibilities of this technology.

  7. Catriona Says:

    Once the restoration work has been completed, what will become of the extraordinary photographic reproduction? Will you auction it off, or…? I’d have thought it might have potential as a novel and lucrative fund-raiser.

  8. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes this kind of technology makes all sorts of things possible. As you say, Barry, it reminds one of the moving and resurrecting of whole rooms, but it also makes me think of Regency panoramic wallpapers. And you could imagine art installations that play up the wonder and the kitsch potential of it.

  9. Richard Crowest Says:

    Thank you for all the positive comments – I’m the photographer and interpretation consultant behind the installation. One of our main concerns was to preserve as much as possible of the visitor experience during the conservation experiment. Does anyone know if anything like this has been done with an interior before? I’ve seen hoardings with photographic reproductions of exterior views, but I don’t know if it’s been tried like this previously. It’s the first time we’ve attempted anything on this scale, and we’ve been delighted with the response so far. As far as I know are no firm plans as yet for the prints come the end of the conservation trial, but I’ve already raised the idea of auctioning the individual paintings to raise funds for the ongoing conservation project at Knole, subject of course to permission from those concerned.

  10. gaye tapp Says:

    Emile, Richard, It is a brilliant idea- and amazing that it is something so new. I would love to hear more about the actual process of installation. Though done differently, I could not help but think of this room after seeing the Tim Walker photographs in the W April magazine issue. I do not know if the photos have actually hit the internet yet- they are shot at Glemham Hall. Famous photographs are blown up in the extreme and the paintings are spilling out over the canvas into the room. The effect is magical and while this is the ultimate overload the idea of sparking History for an audience is the same. I talk about the photos and discuss the Ingres painting in my most recent post. I think you would appreciate his efforts and that of the stylist. pgt

  11. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Richard, Gaye, thanks for your contributions – as you both say, this technology opens up a lot of possibilities.

  12. hongbo du Says:

    Does anyone here knows more about the Chinese pageboy in Sir Joshua Reynolds painting? I have tried to goole more information, but could hardly find any. Very little has been mentioned even in the recent Robert Suckville-West’s book “Inheritance”. Who was he? What was the life of him ater he left Knole? Anything would be really appreciated.

  13. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Hongbo, further to our previous offline correspondence, I have just added a new post with more about the Chinese page – who turns out to have been a minor celebrity: http://bit.ly/jkdiAM Your query has led to us learning more about the sitter, thank you 🙂

  14. Morton Paley Says:

    This is a magnificent project! Can anyone tell me whether George Romney’s portrait of Ozias Humphry is at Knole? It was painted when both artists visited Knole together in 1773. And is there a companion portrait of Romney by Humphry there?

  15. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    I don’t think either portrait is at Knole, but I will ask colleagues who know more about the collection.

  16. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Helen Fawbert, the house manager at Knole, tells me that there is a Romney of Samuel Foote at Knole (http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/129928), but not one of Humphry.

  17. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Curator Alison Harpur has now suggested that a portrait of Humphry by Romney could be owned by Lord Sackville – same house, separate collection. Apparently the Dictionary of National Biography mentions such a portrait, dated 1772, as being at Knole.

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