Author Archive

A Dutch house in Gloucestershire

August 6, 2013
View of Dyrham Park from the entrance drive, with Claude David's statue of Neptune, acquired by William Blathwayt for his baroque garden. ©National Trust Images/Rupert Truman

View of Dyrham Park from the entrance drive, with Claude David’s statue of Neptune, acquired by William Blathwayt for his baroque garden. ©National Trust Images/Rupert Truman

In an article in the recently published 2013 National Trust Historic Houses and Collections Annual, Rupert Goulding reconstructs the personality and taste of William Blathwayt (?1649-1717), the builder of Dyrham Park.

The Great Hall at Dyrham, showing William Blathwayt's bookcases. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Great Hall at Dyrham, showing William Blathwayt’s bookcases. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

By analysing an inventory of Blathwayt’s lost print collection, Rupert has found telling details of Blathwayt’s intellectual interests and love of art and gardening.

Portrait of William Blathwayt by Michael Dahl. ©National Trust Images/Ian Blantern

Portrait of William Blathwayt by Michael Dahl. ©National Trust Images/Ian Blantern

Blathwayt was a government minister under King William III, ‘a master at managing information’ as Rupert characterises him.

Vanitas still life by Edwaert Colliers at Dyrham, 1675, reflecting Blathwayt's love of books, the visual arts and music. ©National Trust, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Vanitas still life by Edwaert Colliers at Dyrham, 1675, reflecting Blathwayt’s love of books, the visual arts and music. ©National Trust, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

This not only made Blathwayt an able Secretary of State and Secretary at War, but it was also reflected in the architecture and gardens of Dyrham Park and the collections he assembled there.

A view through a house by Samuel van Hoogstraten, 1662, at Dyrham Park. William Blathwayt liked to keep exotic and song birds, like the one shown in this painting. ©National Trust, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

A view through a house by Samuel van Hoogstraten, 1662, at Dyrham Park. William Blathwayt liked to keep exotic and song birds, like the one shown in this painting. ©National Trust, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Blathwayt might be dubbed a ‘Hollandophile': he not only spoke Dutch (which was useful when serving under a Dutch king), but he also owned many Dutch paintings and prints.

Engraving of Dyrham Park by Johannes Kip, 1712. ©National Trust Images

Engraving of Dyrham Park by Johannes Kip, 1712. ©National Trust Images

Blathwayt shared an appreciation of gardens with William III, and his print collection included a number of views of contemporary gardens. The garden at Dyrham was laid out in Dutch baroque style, like those at William’s palaces at Hampton Court and Het Loo. Rupert defines Dyrham as ‘essentially a Dutch house in Gloucestershire.’

Portrait of King William III after Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1690s, at Dyrham. ©National Trust, image supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Portrait of King William III after Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1690s, at Dyrham. ©National Trust, image supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Rupert’s article clearly demonstrates how an inventory can be the key to revealing the rich personal meanings contained within a house, a garden and a collection.

Good news for Knole

August 1, 2013
Conservator removing dust from the headcloth of the state bed in the Venetian Amabassador's Room at Knole. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

Conservator removing dust from the headcloth of the state bed in the Venetian Amabassador’s Room at Knole. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has just announced a £7.75 million grant to help secure the multi-year conservation project currently underway at Knole.

The state bed with its related suite of furniture in the Venetian Ambassador's Room. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The state bed with its related suite of furniture in the Venetian Ambassador’s Room. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The first phase or repairs to the fabric of the building is complete and, with the HLF’s support, the focus can now move to the interiors and contents of this Tudor palace.

Detail of headboard and headcloth of the state bed in the Venetian Ambassador's Room, with a Netherlandish tapestry behind it. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

Detail of headboard and headcloth of the state bed in the Venetian Ambassador’s Room, with a Netherlandish tapestry behind it. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

As part of the project a bespoke and state of the art conservation studio will be created at Knole. Visitors will be able to watch the conservators at work and the studio will offer conservation and heritage-related training courses.

Conservator taking apart the bed in the Venetian Ambassador's Room. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

Conservator taking apart the bed in the Venetian Ambassador’s Room. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

Alongside the conservation work, the funding will also allow us to create stable environmental conditions in the rooms on show to the public. In addition we will open up previously unseen rooms and create improved visitor facilities.

Detail of the headboard, with James II's monogram, on the state bed in the Venetian Ambassador's Room.  ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

Detail of the headboard, with James II’s monogram, on the state bed in the Venetian Ambassador’s Room. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

Among the objects at Knole to be safeguarded and shown to better advantage are the extraordinary sixteenth- and seventeenth-century state beds. The bed shown here, in the Venetian Ambassador’s Room, was originally made for King James II in 1688.

The carved and gilded feet of the bed in the Venetian Ambassador's Room. The 'JR monogram stands for 'James Rex'. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

The carved and gilded feet of the bed in the Venetian Ambassador’s Room. The ‘JR monogram stands for ‘James Rex’. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

The bed was given to Charles Sackville, 6th Earl of Dorset (1638-1706), who was Chamberlain to the household of King William III and Queen Mary II. As a perquisite of his office the 6th Earl was allowed to dispose of furniture from the royal palaces when they were deemed to be out of date, and this is how the collection of magnificent Stuart furniture came to Knole.

In memoriam: the 7th Marquess of Anglesey

July 18, 2013
Henry Paget, 7th Marquess of Anglesey. ©National Portrait Gallery

Henry Paget, 7th Marquess of Anglesey. ©National Portrait Gallery

George Charles Henry Victor Paget, 7th Marquess of Anglesey, who has died aged 90, was a soldier, historian and conservationist.

Plas Newydd, Isle of Anglesey. ©National Trust Images/Nick Meers

Plas Newydd, Isle of Anglesey. ©National Trust Images/Nick Meers

After serving with the Royal Horse Guards during the Second World War he succeeded to the marquessate of Anglesey in 1947. Substantial inheritance tax liabilities soon forced the reduction of the family landholdings from 650,000 acres to 40,000 acres.

The Staircase Hall at Plas Newydd. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Staircase Hall at Plas Newydd. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Lord Anglesey became a military historian, writing a biography of his famous ancestor William Paget, Lord Uxbridge and later 1st Marquess of Anglesey, a dashing Napoleonic-era cavalry commander.

William Paget, later 1st Marquess of Anglesey, as Lieutenant Colonel of the 7th Light Dragoons, by John Hoppner and Sawrey Gilpin. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

William Paget, later 1st Marquess of Anglesey, as Lieutenant Colonel of the 7th Light Dragoons, by John Hoppner and Sawrey Gilpin. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Lord Uxbridge played a crucial part in the battle of Waterloo. As he was riding off the field with the Duke of Wellington his leg was smashed by grapeshot, causing him to remark with characteristic understatement: ‘By God, sir, I’ve lost my leg!’ – to which Wellington responded, with equal sang froid: ‘By God, sir, so you have!’ Uxbridge’s pioneering wooden leg is still at the family’s ancestral seat, Plas Newydd.

The 1st Marquess of Anglesey's wooden leg and shako. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The 1st Marquess of Anglesey’s wooden leg and shako. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The 7th Marquess’s magnum opus was an eight-volume History of the British Cavalry, 1816-1919, which received increasingly laudatory reviews as the individual volumes were published.

Lord Anglesey in his study at Plas Newydd. ©National Trust Images

Lord Anglesey in his study at Plas Newydd. ©National Trust Images

Lord Anglesey was also active in conservation, serving variously as founding president of the Friends of Friendless Churches, president of the National Museums of Wales, chairman of the Historic Buildings Council for Wales, vice-chairman of the Welsh Committee of the National Trust, member of the Royal Fine Arts Commission, trustee of the National Portrait Gallery and trustee of the National Heritage Memorial Fund. In 1976 he donated Plas Newyd and 169 acres of surrounding land along the Menai Strait to the National Trust, although he continued to maintain an apartment in the house.

A Proustian moment at Mount Stewart

July 16, 2013
Charles Vane-Tempest-Stewart, 7th Marquess of Londonderry, by Philip de Laszlo, 1914. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Charles Vane-Tempest-Stewart, 7th Marquess of Londonderry, by Philip de Laszlo, 1914. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

As I came upon these portraits of Charles Vane-Tempest-Stewart, 7th Marquess of Londonderry (1878-1949), and his wife Edith, née Chaplin (1879-1959), it struck me how redolent they are of the generation that bridged the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries.

Edith, Marchioness of Londonderry, in the uniform of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, by Philip de Laszlo, 1918. ©Imperial War Museum, on loan to Mount Stewart

Edith, Marchioness of Londonderry, in the uniform of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, by Philip de Laszlo, 1918. ©Imperial War Museum, on loan to Mount Stewart

The society portraitist Philip de Laszlo (1869-1937), who was very good at depicting people as they wished to be seen (and who was of the same generation), has imbued the Marquess and Marchioness with a Proustian mixture of aristocratic grandeur, earnest patriotism and modern self-awareness.

The 7th Marquess of Londonderry, with a portrait of Lord Castlereagh behind him, by Philip de Laszlo, 1924. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The 7th Marquess of Londonderry, with a portrait of Lord Castlereagh behind him, by Philip de Laszlo, 1924. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Lord Londonderry was descended from the one of the great politicians of the Napoleonic era, Lord Castlereagh, and he continued that tradition by participating in Irish and British politics. Lady Londonderry was one of the last great political hostesses, holding magnificent receptions at Londonderry House on Park Lane in London.

Edith, Marchioness of Londonderry, by Philip de Laszlo, 1927. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Edith, Marchioness of Londonderry, by Philip de Laszlo, 1927. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The portraits hang at Mount Stewart, which was one of their secondary homes and where Lady Londonderry created a notable garden. The house is currently undergoing a restoration project which should eventually make this Proustian moment even more palpable to visitors.

Traces of the 9th Earl

July 11, 2013
©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The Great Hall at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Occasionally dipping into the great new book about Ham House, I was just reading Michael Hall’s article about the work done to the house by William Tollemache, 9th Earl of Dysart (1859-1935).

Radiator cover in the Great Hall at Ham, designed by Bodley and Garner. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Radiator cover in the Great Hall at Ham, designed by Bodley and Garner. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

As I mentioned in a previous post about the 4th Earl of Dysart, Ham somehow acquired the reputation of being a ‘sleeping beauty’, whereas in fact several generations of owners made substantial changes. It is just that their modernisations tended to be fairly subtle and soon blended into the historical whole.

The Queen's Antechamber at Ham, with wall hangings repaired and recreated by Watts & Co. in the 1880s. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The Queen’s Antechamber at Ham, with wall hangings repaired and recreated by Watts & Co. in the 1880s. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The 9th Earl appears to have been a somewhat tragic but simultaneously rather determined figure. He was born partially sighted and later in life became increasingly deaf, yet he seems to have had a highly developed visual sense and was a keen opera buff, playing Wagner loudly on his radiogram. His nervous disposition did not prevent him from being an able stock market investor, amassing £4.8 million at the time of his death.

'Ravenna' pattern flock wallpaper by Watts & Co, in the White Closet at Ham. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

‘Ravenna’ pattern flock wallpaper by Watts & Co, in the White Closet at Ham. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

When the 9th Earl inherited Ham in 1878 at the age of 19 it had been neglected for almost half a century. He employed the Gothic revival architects G.F. Bodley (1827-1907) and Thomas Garner (1839-1906) to help restore and refurnish the house.

Bodley and Garner added many elements to the interior which at first sight would seem to date from the seventeenth century, such as the coffering underneath the gallery in the Great Hall and the splendid baroque-style radiator cover nearby.

'Pear' pattern flock wallpaper by Watts & Co in the Duchess's Private Closet at Ham. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

‘Pear’ pattern flock wallpaper by Watts & Co in the Duchess’s Private Closet at Ham. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Bodley and Garner founded a company, Watts & Co, to produce furniture, wallpapers and textiles. Watts & Co supplied a number of wallpapers to Ham, some based on seventeenth-century originals found in the house. In this way the interiors at Ham are not just a record of baroque style, but also of the exquisite antiquarianism of the late nineteenth century.

The shock of the old

July 9, 2013
Dress worn by Rosamund Anstruther, Mrs Edward Windsor Hussey (1877-1958). ©National Trust

Dress worn by Rosamund Anstruther, Mrs Edward Windsor Hussey (1877-1958). ©National Trust

Dame Helen Ghosh, the director-general of the National Trust, writes an internal blog about her experiences and thoughts while traveling around National Trust places and meeting colleagues. Recently she mentioned coming upon this Edwardian dress at Scotney Castle and suddenly being transported back in time.

Portrait of Rosamund Hussey by James Jebusa Shannon, painted shortly after 1900. ©National Trust Images/John HammondMRS EDWARD WINDSOR HUSSEY ON THE TERRACE by James Jebusa Shannon, (1862-1923), an American artist, on the Staircase in the new house at Scotney Castle, Kent

Portrait of Rosamund Hussey by James Jebusa Shannon, painted shortly after 1900. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The dress belonged to Rosamund Hussey who lived at Scotney during the first half of the twentieth century. She was painted wearing it by the society portraitist J.J. Shannon shortly after her marriage to Edward Windsor Hussey in 1900.

Mrs Hussey being painted by Shannon. National Trust Images

Mrs Hussey being painted by Shannon. National Trust Images

I have previously touched on the poignant juxtaposition between historic items of clothing and portraits showing them being worn, as also seen at Antony and in the Victoria & Albert Museum.

The Scotney pairing is even more layered in that there exists a contemporary photograph showing the portrait being painted – an interestingly self-conscious celebration of the event of having one’s portrait painted, and an equally fascinating contrast between the new medium of photography and the old medium of oil on canvas.

View from the new house at Scotney down to the castle. ©National Trust Images/John Miller

View from the new house at Scotney down to the castle. ©National Trust Images/John Miller

And I suppose the garden at Scotney, shown in the background of the picture (and of the photograph), adds yet another visual layer which – like the dress – is still there.

Slow conservation

July 3, 2013
Conservation assistant at Osterley Park cleaning one of the Robert Adam-designed pier glasses. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Antrobus

Conservation assistant at Osterley Park cleaning one of the Robert Adam-designed pier glasses. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Antrobus

Since the 1980s the Slow Food movement has championed regional cuisine, traditional food and locally sourced products. Sarah Staniforth, museums and collections director for the National Trust, has argued for some time that the same principles should be applied to the conservation of historic buildings and collections.

A young visitor at Little Moreton Hall trying out the cleaning of the transomed windows under the guidance of a conservator. ©National Trust Images/Paul Harris

A young visitor at Little Moreton Hall trying out the cleaning of the transomed windows under the guidance of a conservator. ©National Trust Images/Paul Harris

In a recently republished article entitled ‘Slow Conservation’, Sarah makes the case for ‘a holistic approach to the care of collections that reduce the rate at which damaging change occurs, whilst recognising that some change is inevitable.’

Tools used by dress conservators at Smallhythe Place. ©National Trust Images/Paul Harris

Tools used by dress conservators at Smallhythe Place. ©National Trust Images/Paul Harris

In practice this means focusing on preventive conservation, conserving what is there rather than spending a lot of energy on restoring something back to its idealised ‘original’ condition. Like gardening, preventive conservation is best done little but often. It also involves maintaining and building the right skills and sharing these with a wider public.

A conservator dusting the Elizabethan canopy in the Long Gallery at Hardwick Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Millar

A conservator dusting the Elizabethan canopy in the Long Gallery at Hardwick Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Millar

Sarah’s article can be found in the recently published book Historical Perspectives on Preventive Conservation, which she edited. This book also contains essays and excerpts on subjects as diverse as intangible heritage, Japanese kura storehouses, Mrs Beeton on housekeeping, cabinets of curiosities, the rebirth of the Louvre, the ‘Aer and Smoak’ of London and the impact of climate change.

An eighteenth-century Pinterest board at Uppark

June 20, 2013
The Print Room at Uppark. ©National Trust Images/Geoffrey Frosh

The Print Room at Uppark. ©National Trust Images/Geoffrey Frosh

The eighteenth-century Print Room at Uppark was completely destroyed in the 1989 fire. By a very lucky coincidence, however, the prints and their straw-coloured backing paper had been removed for conservation, so it was possible to put them back when the room was restored.

©National Trust Images/John Hammond

©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The prints seem to have been originally hung in the late eighteenth century, and there is a record of Sir Matthew Fetherstonhaugh, the owner of Uppark, paying £51 5s to ‘Mrs Vivaro for Prints’ in 1774. The prints are mostly after Italian, Flemish and Spanish old master paintings, although there is also one of a ‘contemporary’ Reynolds painting showing the actor David Garrick.

The cut-out watercolours of flowers in terracotta pots seem to have been added in the early nineteenth century, during the time of Sir Matthew’s widow (and erstwhile dairy maid) Mary Ann, Lady Fetherstonhaugh.

©National Trust Images/John Hammond

©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The practice of sticking prints directly to the walls surrounded by decorative paper borders and other trompe l’oeil decorations seems to have originated around 1750. It may be related to the contemporary taste for decorating rooms with arrangements of Chinese prints and paintings on paper.

It also reminds me of the recent emergence of Pinterest and other personalised online image collections, which clearly are part of a venerable tradition (and which I have previously posted about).

Conversing with aliens

June 18, 2013
Portrait of Elizabeth Murray by Sir Peter Lely, c. 1645. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Portrait of Elizabeth Murray by Sir Peter Lely, c. 1645. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Columnist Howard Jacobson recently made an interesting point about the relevance of history. He turned the argument upside down by stating (in a paraphrase of John F. Kennedy): ‘It’s not history’s job to be relevant to us; it’s our job to be relevant to history.’

I think there is much to be said for both sides in the relevance debate: we don’t want history to be so remote that we feel alienated from it, but equally we cannot automatically project the issues and preconceptions of the present day onto people and situations in the past.

Portrait of Elizabeth, Lady Tollemache, by Sir Peter Lely, c. 1650. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Portrait of Elizabeth, Lady Tollemache, by Sir Peter Lely, c. 1650. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

But I am inspired by the reasons Jacobson gives for being attracted when he was young to what he could easily have regarded as irrelevant to him in history and literature : ‘… we read … in order imaginatively to enjoy the company of others, in order to understand what those who were not ourselves were like, in order to feel the world expand around us, in order to go places we didn’t routinely go to in our neighbourhoods or in our heads, in order to meet the challenge of difference … Reading felt like a journey out of self, not into it.’

Portrait of the Duke and Duchess oif Lauderdale by Sir Peter Lely, c. 1672. ©National Trust Images/John Bethell

Portrait of the Duke and Duchess oif Lauderdale by Sir Peter Lely, c. 1672. ©National Trust Images/John Bethell

I think the figure of Elizabeth Murray (1626-98), chatelaine of Ham House, is a good illustration of the complexities of relevance. She was clever, cultured, beautiful and feisty. She had 11 children by her first husband and married the second following a scandalous extramarital affair. She lived through the roller-coaster of the Civil War, the Commonwealth and the Restoration (her father had been a courtier of Charles I).

After marrying her second husband she enjoyed great wealth and prestige, expanding and redecorating Ham House on a princely scale (including the astounding purchase of 152 gold and silver thread tassels in October 1573). At the end of her life she was reduced to near penury, but her need to pawn jewels, silver and paintings has provided us with a poignant and wonderfully detailed record of her taste.

Some of these aspects of Elizabeth Murray’s life we can undoubtedly relate to, while others are as alien as life on Mars. But it is one of the benefits of history that it occasionally allows us  to converse with aliens.

Rooms present and rooms past

June 13, 2013
The Dining Room at Hanbury Hall. ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

The Dining Room at Hanbury Hall. ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

The colleagues at Hanbury Hall are gearing up for the final phase of the restoration of the mural paintings created by Sir James Thornhill (1675-1734). I have previously mentioned the complex work on the murals in the Painted Staircase.

Portrait of Thomas Vernon, MP, (1654-1721), the builder of Hanbury, by John Vanderbank. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Portrait of Thomas Vernon, MP, (1654-1721), the builder of Hanbury, by John Vanderbank. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The Dining Room has two ceiling paintings by Thornhill. When Thomas Vernon (1654-721) built the house in the early 18th century there were two rooms here, a Lobby and a Withdrawing Room. These rooms were amalgamated into the present Dining Room after 1830.

Ceiling painting by Sir James Thornhill depicting Boreas abducting Oreithyia, in the Dining Room at Hanbury Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Ceiling painting by Sir James Thornhill depicting Boreas abducting Oreithyia, in the Dining Room at Hanbury Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The smaller painting, with Boreas, the north wind, abducting the nymph Oreithyia, was originally the ceiling of the Lobby, hinting at the draughts coming in through the door into the north-east courtyard.

Ceiling painting by Sir James Thornhill depicting Apollo abducting a nymph, possibly Cyrene, in the Dining Room at Hanbury Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Ceiling painting by Sir James Thornhill depicting Apollo abducting a nymph, possibly Cyrene, in the Dining Room at Hanbury Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The larger painting, depicting Apollo abducting a nymph, possibly Cyrene (although from some angles it appears as if she is abducting him), was originally the ceiling of the Withdrawing Room.

Composite image taken with ultra-violet light identifying the structural problems in one of the ceiling paintings in the Dining Room at Hanbury Hall. ©National Trust

Composite image taken with ultra-violet light to identify the structural problems in one of the ceiling paintings in the Dining Room at Hanbury Hall. ©National Trust

Over time the ceiling has bowed and cracked, which in turn has affected the paintings. The planned work will include strengthening the ceiling and the floors above, restoring the plasterwork and cleaning, repairing and retouching the paintings.

The south-east end of the Dining Room at Hanbury Hall. The carved wood chimneypiece and overmantel date from about 1760. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The south-east end of the Dining Room at Hanbury Hall. The carved wood chimneypiece and overmantel date from about 1760. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The total project will cost £74,500, and we have already found funds amounting to £44,500. Donations towards raising the remaining £30,000 can be made through the Hanbury Hall JustGiving site.


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