Author Archive

The world and his dog

November 6, 2013
Peter Palmer, huntsman to Sir John William de la Pole, 6th Bt, by Thomas Beach, 1793, at Antony. ©National Trust, image provided by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Peter Palmer, huntsman to Sir John William de la Pole, 6th Bt, by Thomas Beach, 1793, at Antony. ©National Trust, image provided by the Public Catalogue Foundation

I have just been looking at the six volumes on the oil paintings owned by the National Trust which have been published by the Public Catalogue Foundation (PCF).

Fury, a dappled grey, and his groom, by Francis Sartorius I, 1784, at Antony. ©National Trust, image provided by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Fury, a dappled grey, and his groom, by Francis Sartorius I, 1784, at Antony. ©National Trust, image provided by the Public Catalogue Foundation

The Public Catalogue Foundation is an extraordinary venture, in some ways reminiscent of Pevsner’s Buildings of England series, which has succeeded in digitising the UK’s publicly owned oil paintings.

Bruen, a spaniel, and Squirrel, a black horse, by Francis Sartorius I, 1790, at Antony. ©National Trust, image provided by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Bruen, a spaniel, and Squirrel, a black horse, by Francis Sartorius I, 1790, at Antony. ©National Trust, image provided by the Public Catalogue Foundation

The database can be accessed digitally via the Your Paintings site, but the PCF is also publishing a series of hardback catalogues, six of which cover the National Trust’s collections.

A groom, two greys and a currick in a courtyard, by Francis Sartorius I, at Antony. ©National Trust, image provided by the Public Catalogue Foundation

A groom, two greys and a currick in a courtyard, by Francis Sartorius I, at Antony. ©National Trust, image provided by the Public Catalogue Foundation

It is wonderful to see the collections of individual historic houses spread out across the pages, in all their variety, splendour and incongruity. Some are undoubted masterpieces by famous artists while others, though more humble, speak eloquently of social attitudes, changing fashions and family preoccupations.

Atlas, Master Pole's pony, which he rode at four year's old, by Francis Sartorius I, c. 1785-6, at Antony. ©National Trust, image provided by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Atlas, Master Pole’s pony, which he rode at four year’s old, by Francis Sartorius I, c. 1785-6, at Antony. ©National Trust, image provided by the Public Catalogue Foundation

The pictures shown here are from the collection of the Carew and Pole families which have been associated with Antony, in Cornwall, since the early fifteenth century.

Virtue and vice at Hardwick Hall

October 29, 2013
Detail of a painted wall hanging, depicting the conversion of Saul, c. 1600, in the Chapel at Hardwick Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Detail of a painted wall hanging, depicting the conversion of Saul, c. 1600, in the Chapel at Hardwick Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

An exhibition at Hardwick Hall explores the political, religious, and social upheaval of the Reformation. It shows how these new ideas and beliefs were reflected in the historic interiors and collections of the house.

The virtuous Penelope, in an appliqué wall hanging in the Hall at Hardwick Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Hammondbyshire

The virtuous Penelope, in an appliqué wall hanging in the Hall at Hardwick Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Hammondbyshire

The exhibition, called Virtue and Vice, has been curated by the Centre for Renaissance and Early Modern Studies at the University of York. It has also benefited from the Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project European Conversion Narratives, c.1550-1700.

The Eglantine table, inlaid with musical instruments, sheet music, games and arms, crests and mottoes, possibly c. 1567, in the High Great Chamber at Hardwick Hall. ©National Trust Images/Nick Guttridge

The Eglantine table, inlaid with musical instruments, sheet music, games and arms, crests and mottoes, possibly c. 1567, in the High Great Chamber at Hardwick Hall. ©National Trust Images/Nick Guttridge

In this video Dr Helen Smith, reader in Renaissance literature at the University of York, talks about the concept of the exhibition. And in this one a choral group performs the motet ‘Oh Lord in Thee is all my trust’ inlaid in the so-called Eglantine table in the High Great Chamber. At Hardwick, at least, Virtue seems to have found an ally in Beauty.

Du côté de chez Swann

October 24, 2013
Courtesy the Artists and Victoria Miro, London © Elmgreen & Dragset Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Courtesy the Artists and Victoria Miro, London
© Elmgreen & Dragset
Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

It was one of those urban ‘!?!?’ moments. I was leaving the V&A a couple of days ago when I saw this huge hoarding outside, advertising luxury apartments in the museum. For a moment I wondered whether the funding cuts had finally forced the V&A to convert some of its space into high-end accomodation. But I was in a rush and didn’t have time to investigate.

Courtesy the Artists and Victoria Miro, London © Elmgreen & Dragset. Photography: Anders Sune Berg

Courtesy the Artists and Victoria Miro, London
© Elmgreen & Dragset.
Photography: Anders Sune Berg

Today Deana Sidney (of LostPastRemembered) sent me this link to an article in the New York Times which explains everything. The artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset have transformed the V&A’s former Textile Galleries into a site-specific, immersive installation.

Courtesy the Artists and Victoria Miro, London © Elmgreen & Dragset. Photography: Anders Sune Berg

Courtesy the Artists and Victoria Miro, London
© Elmgreen & Dragset.
Photography: Anders Sune Berg

Visitors can wander through the grand but slightly disheveled South Kensington apartment of the fictional Norman Swann, an elderly modernist architect. Presumably there is an intentional echo here of Charles Swann, the elderly dandy in Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu.

Courtesy the Artists and Victoria Miro, London © Elmgreen & Dragset. Photography: Anders Sune Berg

Courtesy the Artists and Victoria Miro, London
© Elmgreen & Dragset.
Photography: Anders Sune Berg

Swann’s apartment contains the remains of what appears to be an inherited family collection, as Chinese porcelain, Louis something furniture, ormolu candelabra and Victorian pictures mix with a 1950s Heal’s-style desk and a minimalist kitchen.

Courtesy the Artists and Victoria Miro, London © Elmgreen & Dragset. Photography: Anders Sune Berg

Courtesy the Artists and Victoria Miro, London © Elmgreen & Dragset. Photography: Anders Sune Berg

Was Swann the last of the family line? If he was a visionary modernist architect (‘Building for the masses’ proclaims a framed poster in his office), why did he hang on to his family memorabilia? There are indications that he is now broke and is selling up (hence the apartment being advertised for sale). Is this the end for him, or will he have a Proustian moment of temps retrouvé?

Courtesy the Artists and Victoria Miro, London © Elmgreen & Dragset. Photography: Anders Sune Berg

Courtesy the Artists and Victoria Miro, London
© Elmgreen & Dragset.
Photography: Anders Sune Berg

I am writing this without as yet having seen the installation, which I could justify by referring to Proust’s insight that what is imagined is so much more enchanting than what is experienced. But in fact I do hope to visit du côté de chez Swann very soon.

Peppered papers

October 22, 2013
Detail of a flower in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall, which was printed and then finished in colour by hand. The paper was hung in 1752. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Detail of a flower in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall, which was printed and then finished in colour by hand. The paper was hung in 1752. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Last Friday Andrew Bush and I gave a lecture at the fourth annual conference organised by China Culture Connect at the National Maritime Museum in London, which this time focused on the history and conservation of traditional Asian painting. We were talking about the Chinese wallpapers in the historic houses of the National Trust and what we have discovered about them so far with the help of a growing international network of experts.

Detail of a pair of ducks in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Detail of a pair of ducks in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

As we are keen to learn more about the art-historical context of the production of this wallpaper, we were delighted be able to attend talks by leading Chinese experts. For instance, we heard from Min-ying Wang of the Yiheyuan Summer Palace in Beijing about the conservation and restoration of wallpapers and other works on paper mounted as wall decoration there.

Detail of a lotus leaf in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Detail of a lotus leaf in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Although the designs of the wallpapers in the Chinese imperial palaces are different from those of the wallpapers made for export to the west, the materials and techniques are more or less the same. Pictures were sometimes pasted on top of patterned or plain wallpapers in Chinese interiors, a practice that probably influenced the development of pictorial wallpapers for export. And the printing seen on some export wallpapers (such as the one at Felbrigg Hall shown here) relates to the long-established pictorial printing tradition in China. This confirmed to us that Chinese export wallpaper was not an isolated phenomenon, but was grounded in the Chinese art-historical tradition.

Detail of a pomegranate in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Detail of a pomegranate in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Ms Wang also told us that treating wallpapers with pepper extract is very effective at deterring paper-munching pests – a wonderful example of a traditional technique that is as effective now as it ever was. Perhaps pepper should be added to the list of conservation materials in the National Trust Manual of Housekeeping.

When is a Velázquez a Velázquez?

October 17, 2013
The Handmaidens of the Infanta Margharita in the Household of Philip IV, known as 'Las meniñas', thought to be by Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo, after Diego Velázquez, at Kingston Lacy, Dorset. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The Handmaidens of the Infanta Margharita in the Household of Philip IV, known as ‘Las meninas’, thought to be by Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo, after Diego Velázquez, at Kingston Lacy, Dorset. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Reattributions of paintings by or in the style of well-known masters tend to cause a stir, as we saw in the case of the self-portrait attributed to Rembrandt at Buckland Abbey. It is no different with the recent claim that the version of Las meninas in the collection at Kingston Lacy is by Diego Velázquez (1599-1660) himself, rather than by his son-in-law Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo (1612/16-67).

The Handmaidens of the Infanta Margharita in the Household of Philip IV, known as 'Las meniñas', by Diego Velázquez, at the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. © Museo Nacional del Prado

The Handmaidens of the Infanta Margharita in the Household of Philip IV, known as ‘Las meninas’, by Diego Velázquez, at the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. © Museo Nacional del Prado

The prime version of this famously enigmatic painting hangs in the Prado in Madrid. The museum has put on an important Velázquez exhibition which includes both the Prado and the Kingston Lacy Las meninas.

Prince Balthasar Carlos as a hunter, by Diego Velázquez, at Ickworth, Suffolk. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Prince Balthasar Carlos as a hunter, by Diego Velázquez, at Ickworth, Suffolk. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

However, as reported in The Guardian newspaper and elsewhere, art historian Dr Matías Díaz Padrón has just given a lecture at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes in Madrid in which he reattributes the Kingston Lacy version to the master himself. He suggests that it is a first draft or sketch for the Prado version, and that the colours in both pictures are typical of the artist.

Cardinal Camillo Massimi, by Diego Velázquez, at Kingston Lacy. ©National Trust Images/Derrick E. Witty

Cardinal Camillo Massimi, by Diego Velázquez, at Kingston Lacy. ©National Trust Images/Derrick E. Witty

The Kingston Lacy meninas was thought to be an original Velázquez in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and its status was only changed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It was in the collection of Gaspar de Haro, 7th Marquess of Carpio and 2nd Duke of Montoro (1629-87, who also owned the picture by Velázquez now known as the Rokeby Venus) and was purchased and brought to Kingston Lacy by William Bankes (1786-1855).

The Spanish Room at Kingston Lacy, where the version of Las meniñas normally hangs. ©National Trust Images/Richard Pink

The Spanish Room at Kingston Lacy, where the version of Las meniñas normally hangs. ©National Trust Images/Richard Pink

However, the curator of the Prado show, Javier Portús, is not convinced, and more research will be needed to support this new claim. But being able seeing the two paintings in close proximity is a good start.

The backstory of wallpaper

October 15, 2013
The Print Room at Blickling Hall, containing 52 European prints in paper frames, originally hung in the late eighteenth century and restored in 1974. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The Print Room at Blickling Hall, containing 52 European prints in paper frames, originally hung in the late eighteenth century and restored in 1974. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

I have been perusing the recently-published book The Backstory of Wallpaper: Paper-Hangings 1650-1750. The book investigates the history of wallpaper from the perspective of its makers, sellers and hangers and is written by Robert M. Kelly, a historic wallpaper consultant and installer based in Lee, Berkshire County, Massachusetts.

Cupid after Angelica Kauffman, one of the pictures in the Print Room at Blickling. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond Downloaded

Cupid after Angelica Kauffman, one of the pictures in the Print Room at Blickling. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond Downloaded

Robert’s biography to date is wonderfully picaresque and includes teaching guitar in south side Chicago in 1968, a stint in a commune in the Rocky Mountains and working as a house-painter and paper-hanger in Munich (Bavaria, not North Dakota) before returning to the USA and becoming increasingly skilled and knowledgeable in the field of historic paint finishes and wallpapers.

The Chinese Room at Erddig, created in the 1770s, with Chinese pictures pasted onto its walls. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Chinese Room at Erddig, created in the 1770s, with Chinese pictures pasted onto its walls. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

One of the subjects discussed in The Backstory of Wallpaper is the development of the ‘print room’, the eighteenth-century practice of decorating walls by pasting prints with decorative borders onto them.

One of the Chinese paintings on paper used in the Chinese Room at Erddig. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

One of the Chinese paintings on paper used in the Chinese Room at Erddig. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

As Robert describes, some of these print rooms were made up with Chinese pictures and prints, as in the case of the 88 ‘Indian pictures’ hung by cabinetmaker Benjamin Goodison for the Countess of Cardigan (later Duchess of Montagu) in 1742.

Another Kauffman Cupid in the Print Room at Blickling. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Another Kauffman Cupid in the Print Room at Blickling. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Horace Walpole seems to have used European prints in a similar way at Strawberry Hill in 1753, and interestingly he describes them as hung in the ‘new manner invented by Lord Cardigan’.

Rectangular Chinese picture on paper showing a stage in the production of silk. in the Chinese Room at Erddig. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Rectangular Chinese picture on paper showing a stage in the production of silk. in the Chinese Room at Erddig. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The research for the forthcoming catalogue of Chinese wallpapers in the houses of the National Trust has suggested that such ‘Pinterest-style’ use of prints may have been the inspiration for the development of ‘proper’ Chinese wallpaper. However, print rooms using Chinese pictures remained popular even after the development of Chinese wallpaper – as usual, history refuses to follow a straighforwardly logical path.

Playing with pebbles

October 10, 2013
The Pebble Alcove at Stowe. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The Pebble Alcove at Stowe. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

I visited Stowe yesterday with Liv Oustrup and Jan Wulff of the Danish heritage agency Slotte og Kulturejendomme (Castles and Cultural Properties). Apart from touring this wonderful landscape garden we also had tea and talked shop with Stowe head gardener Barry Smith.

The seat and pebble mosaics in the Pebble Alcove at Stowe. ©National Trust Images/John MillarChild in the Pebble Alcove at Stowe Landscape Gardens, Buckinghamshire.

The seat and pebble mosaics in the Pebble Alcove at Stowe. ©National Trust Images/John MillarChild in the Pebble Alcove at Stowe Landscape Gardens, Buckinghamshire.

One of the garden buildings at Stowe that I hadn’t really appreciated before is the Pebble Alcove.

Detail of the mosaics on the Pebble Alcove at Stowe, with the punning Temple-Grenville family motto 'Templa quam dilecta' (How Beautiful are thy Temples). ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Detail of the mosaics on the Pebble Alcove at Stowe, with the punning Temple-Grenville family motto ‘Templa quam dilecta’ (How Beautiful are thy Temples). ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

It is thought to have been designed by William Kent at some point before 1739. It certainly exudes Kent’s playful theatricality.

Detail of the mosaics in the Pebble Alcove. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Detail of the mosaics in the Pebble Alcove. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

It was meant to be seen from the lake as vision of rustic Palladianism, almost camp in its self-conscious juxtaposition of ‘refined’ and ‘rough’.

Detail of the mosaics in the Pebble Alcove. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Detail of the mosaics in the Pebble Alcove. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

And when you approach the alcove that refined-rough contrast suddenly flips, as you discover how humble pebbles have been used to create delicate rococo patterns and gnomic symbols.

Interwoven globe

October 8, 2013
The state bed at Calke Abbey. ©National Trust Images/John Millar

The state bed at Calke Abbey. ©National Trust Images/John Millar

The ever-stimulating Style Court blog has recently been featuring the exhibition currently on at the Metropolitan Museum in New York entitled Interwoven Globe, about how the international trade in textiles the early modern period influenced design across the world.

The Chinese embroidered silk inside the state bed at Calke. ©National Trust Images/John Millarthe Chinese silk embroidered hangings on the State Bed at Calke Abbey, Derbyshire.

The Chinese embroidered silk inside the state bed at Calke. ©National Trust Images/John Millarthe Chinese silk embroidered hangings on the State Bed at Calke Abbey, Derbyshire.

I am perusing the catalogue at the moment, and it is fascinating to read how European motifs ended up in Chinese silks, and how Chinese and Japanese motifs were in turn copied in Europe. Some ‘exotic’ textiles, such as Indian painted cotton palampores, actually combined elements from China, Persia, India and England.

Phoenix embroidered onto the white silk covering of the state bed at Calke. ©National Trust Images/John Millar the State Bed at Calke Abbey, Derbyshire.

Phoenix embroidered onto the white silk covering of the state bed at Calke. ©National Trust Images/John Millar the State Bed at Calke Abbey, Derbyshire.

This important exhibition is a suitable excuse for me to show some images of the rather gorgeous state bed at Calke Abbey, which is hung with Chinese embroidered silk. The bed was probably made for King George I in about 1715, and seems to have been given to Lady Caroline Manners by Queen Caroline when she married Sir Henry Harpur, 5th Bt, in 1734. Since the bed was hardly ever put up at Calke (it was too tall for most of the rooms in the family part of the house) the silk has been quite well preserved.

Qilin embroiderd onto the blue silk covers on the state bed at Calke. ©National Trust Images/John Millar

Qilin embroiderd onto the blue silk covers on the state bed at Calke. ©National Trust Images/John Millar

The blue material is like taffeta and is relatively light, while the white silk is heavier and has a satin finish. Tightly rolled peacock feathers were used for the knots in the tree trunks and the markings on the butterfly wings.

Lady Londonderry’s colours

October 3, 2013
The Black and White Hall at Mount Stewart ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The Black and White Hall at Mount Stewart ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

As I was visiting Mount Stewart last week, I was struck by the distinctive colours used throughout the house.

Detail of a japanned cabinet at Mount Stewart. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Detail of a japanned cabinet at Mount Stewart. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

I was told this is the result of redecoration carried out by Edith, Marchioness of Londonderry (1878-1959), during the last ten years of her life following the death of her husband, the 7th Marquess.

The Drawing Room at Mount Stewart. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The Drawing Room at Mount Stewart. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

It seems that, having already revived and embellished the garden, she could now express her own taste inside as well.

Detail of the japanning on a concertina door between the Stone Hall and the Music Room at Mount Stewart. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Detail of the japanning on a concertina door between the Stone Hall and the Music Room at Mount Stewart. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Some may well be shocked by these bold colours, but I find them rather appealing. They help to make the house feel simultaneously grand – in an ‘I don’t care what anyone thinks’ sort of way – and jolly.

The Dining Room at Mount Stewart. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The Dining Room at Mount Stewart. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Lady Londonderry also clearly loved textiles, lacquer and japanning, and other objects with interesting textures and shapes – a taste perhaps also reflected in the variety of plants she introduced to the garden.

The Rome Bedroom at Mount Stewart. ©National Trust Images/Peter Aprahamian

The Rome Bedroom at Mount Stewart. ©National Trust Images/Peter Aprahamian

Some of these colours and textures in the house have inevitably faded somewhat over time, and it is one of the aims of the current conservation project to bring back more of Lady Londonderry’s original sense of style.

A late Edwardian lake at Mount Stewart

October 1, 2013

©Emile de Bruijn

Last week I visited Mount Stewart, in Country Down, where we were shown the inspirational conservation project underway in the house.

©Emile de Bruijn

©Emile de Bruijn

But I also had a chance to see part of the garden, and I was enchanted by the large lake surrounded by specimen trees and exotic plants.

©Emile de Bruijn

©Emile de Bruijn

This part of the garden was originally laid out by Charles Vane, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry (1778-1854), but it was further enlarged and embellished by Edith, the 7th Marchioness (1878-1959).

©Emile de Bruijn

©Emile de Bruijn

It has a wonderfully opulent Edwardian atmosphere, with masses of exotic plants and trees and many Italianate and Japanese touches.

©Emile de Bruijn

©Emile de Bruijn

I was there on an extraordinarily still late afternoon, the garden poised on the brink of autumn, with not even Basho’s proverbial frog jumping into the water to disturb the silence.


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