Archive for the ‘ABC Bulletin’ Category

The unread pavilion

February 7, 2012

The Chinese House at Stowe, Buckinghamshire (inv. no. 91820). ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

The February 2012 issue of ABC Bulletin has just come out, with news about the historic houses and gardens of the National Trust. I wrote a short article for this issue on the hitherto hidden meaning of the garden pavilion at Stowe known as the Chinese House.

One of the trompe l'oeil panels with characters painted onto the Chinese House - this particular one was repainted in the mid-1990s on the basis of old photographs. A sequence of three characters derived from Chambers has been highlighted. ©Emile de Bruijn

The painted decoration on the Chinese house dates from the 1820s and includes a series of vertical trompe l’oeil  plaques with Chinese characters. Because these were difficult to read it had always been assumed that they were ‘faux‘ characters, made up by the Regency designer or painter as a playful, purely decorative imitation of Chinese writing.

Another plaque with characters, this one with more of the original, worn paint still remaining. A second sequence of four characters from Chambers has been highlighted. ©Emile de Bruijn

A little while ago I discovered that the characters were derived from an illustration in William Chambers’s book Designs of Chinese Buildings, published in 1757.

Plate XVIII from Chambers's 1757 book Designs of Chinese Buildings, with the sequences of characters that can be recognised on the Chinese House highlighted.

More recently one of my former tutors at university, Dr B.J. Mansvelt Beck, who is an expert in classical Chinese, spotted that the Chambers illustration incuded two quotes from the Zhuangzi, a collection of ancient philosophical writings that would become one of the classics of Daoism.

Canton enamel dish with a depiction of Xi Wang Mu, the the Daoist goddess of immortality, at Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire (inv. no. 107343). ©National Trust/Mike Kennedy

The chapter of the Zhuangzi to which these fragments refer is about man’s insignificance when compared to the hugeness of the universe and the limitlessness of time. So this frivolous-seeming little garden pavilion has a rather weighty subtext, albeit one that the original designer didn’t foresee – and that fact gives the whole thing a suitably paradoxical,  Daoist twist.

On the paper trail

November 9, 2011

Fragment of a pomegranate wallpaper found under a tapestry in the Tapestry Room at Erddig. ©NTPL/Barry Hamilton

The National Trust’s wallpaper detective, Andrew Bush (his actual, but far too sensible title is Paper Conservation Adviser), has recently discovered a fragment of an early wallpaper at Stowe, Buckinghamshire that is identical to a rather bold pomegranate or proto-Paisley wallpaper found at Erddig in Wrexham.

View of the New Inn at Stowe in 1809 by J.C. Nattes. ©National Trust

The New Inn at Stowe was built in about 1717 to cater for the increasing numbers of people that were coming to visits its famous gardens. It stayed in use as an inn until about 1850, and after years of dereliction it has now been restored to serve as the National Trust’s visitor centre for Stowe.

Some of the wallpapers discovered at the New Inn. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Andrew was called in for a one-off visit to check if there were any significant wallpapers, but this turned into a more substantial project as more than sixty wallpapers gradually came to light, dating from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries.

The wallpaper fragment discovered at the New Inn, with the same pattern as the section found at Erddig. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

A tiny scrap of wallpaper found beneath one of the floorboards turned out to be of the same pattern as the Erddig paper, which could be dated through tax stamps to about 1715-20. The wallpaper would seem to be too grand for an inn, so it remains a puzzle as to how it ended up in an estate building at Stowe.

More about this story can be found in the latest edition of Arts, Buildings and Collections Bulletin. In this issue Sarah Kay also summarises the findings about the Regency card racks at Attingham which keen readers of this blog so generously helped us to unearth.

Books, Brueghels and blogs

August 4, 2011

Marble statuary group of Flora and Zephyr by Richard Wyatt, 1834, in the Tapestry Room at Nostell Priory. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The July 2011 issue of the ABC Bulletin is out, with a fresh batch of background stories about the National Trust’s houses, gardens, and collections.

The Top Hall at Nostell, designed by Robert Adam and with hall chairs by Thomas Chippendale. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Articles include:

  • The books as well as the Brueghel: acquiring Nostell Priory’s contents
  • The beetle-wing costume of a Victorian queen of the stage
  • William Morris’s legacy celebrated
  • Scotney Castle’s shabby chic
  • A revolution in the crafts
  • Recreating Lawrence of Arabia’s reading chair
  • Theresa Nguyen: silversmith in residence at Kedleston
  • An ornamental adventurer at Knole
  • Subversion in eighteenth-century France
  • Recent acquisitions

    The Billiard Room at Nostell. Bookcases were installed here in the 1820s, and doubled in height in the 1870s. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

My article about the ‘ornamental adventurer’ at Knole – the Chinese page who was portrayed by Reynolds in 1776 – was the fruit of discussions on this blog with keen readers Hongbo Du and Andrew Loan. We also found some hitherto undiscovered sources through Google Books, all illustrating how the internet is becoming a really useful tool for ‘traditional’ art history.

Discoveries and restorations

January 21, 2011

The West Hall at The Argory, Co. Armagh. The early nineteenth-century oil hanging lamp was modified for acetylene gas. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The latest National Trust Arts, Building’s and Collections Bulletin has just been published, featuring:

  • A rare silver-mounted sporting gun at Dudmaston
  • Dunster Castle’s gun room explained
  • The cleaning and conservation of the Belton lapis lazuli cabinet
  • A new guide to the historic lighting at The Argory
  • Sir George Scharf’s country house visits
  • Restoring the valley vistas at Fountains Abbey
  • The craze for chinoiserie garden buildings
  • New insights into the lost garden of Lyveden New Bield
  • A German princess visits Osterley

Gathering the flock

October 26, 2010

The library at Lyme Park before its recent transformation. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

After the acquisition of the fifteenth-century Caxton Missal for Lyme Park in 2008, the opportunity was taken to refurbish the library at the house. It was decided to take the room back to about 1873, the date that the Missal was rediscovered there.

The Lyme library as illustrated in The Ladies' Field, 1901

James Rothwell, the curator for Lyme, worked with the National Trust’s adviser on interior decoration, James Finlay, to research how the library would have been furnished at the time.

Evidence for the wallpaper was found in a 1901 issue of the magazine The Ladies’ Field that showed a photograph of the Lyme library. A few precious scraps of this paper were found underneath a later wallpaper. It had also left faint shadows of its pattern on the underlying wall, but frustratingly no other surviving examples could be traced.  

The Turin Shroud-like shadows that the wallpaper had left on the wall. ©James Finlay

James Rothwell searched through the early Victorian wallpaper patterns in the registers of designs at the National Archives at Kew, photographing similar examples. It became clear from the stylistic evidence that Lyme’s paper must have been produced in the 1840s, possibly at the time of Thomas Legh’s second marriage in 1843.

The distemper being applied at Atelier d'Offard. ©James Finlay

All this evidence – the scraps, the shadows, the photograph, the similar examples – then allowed James Finlay to redraw the design. The fragments showed that the colourway had been a warm stone-coloured distemper ground with a damask design made up of bright metallic gold and deep red flock.

The flock being dyed. ©James Finlay

After a close-run selection process the commission to produce the wallpaper was given to Atelier d’Offard in Tours, a company that combines modern technology with traditional techniques and materials. Under James F.’s supervision blocks were cut, colours prepared and wool flock dyed.

David Wynne in action. ©James Finlay

The wallpaper was delivered in June 2010. Experienced local decorator David Wynne of Albert W. Wynne and Sons was called in to hang the paper, a sight that the visitors to Lyme enjoyed witnessing.

©James Finlay

Both Jameses were relieved to find that the wallpaper is not at all overpowering. In fact, it blends in very well with the regrained oak ceiling, the red velvet upholstery (from Lelièvre of Paris) and the cleaned oak bookcases. The Lyme Caxton – and the visitors who come to see it – have been made to feel very welcome.

A more detailed article about this project by James F. can be found in the latest issue of the National Trust’s ABC Bulletin. And you can see and hear James R. waxing lyrical about the project here.

Later generations

July 19, 2010

William IV Blathwayt and his wife Frances with Dyrham Park in the background, by Thomas Phillips, 1806. ©NTPL

In the new edition of ABC Bulletin, assistant curator Alison Harpur writes about the family portraits at Dyrham Park ascribed to Thomas Phillips (1770-1845).

Alison was able to check the artist’s sitters book, which is now kept in the National Portrait Gallery in London. She duly found a mention of the double portrait shown above listed under October 1807. It was probably begun in 1806, before William IV Blathwayt’s death.

William Crane Blathwayt, by Thomas Phillips, 1832. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The portraits of the next generation to own Dyrham, William Crane Blathwayt (1795-1839) and his wife  Frances Margaret, were also painted by Phillips, and were listed in the sitters book under July 1832. It is interesting that even after more than twenty-five years the family still went back to Phillips for their portraits.

Frances Margaret Blathway, née Taylor, wife of William Crane Blathwayt, by Thomas Phillips, 1832. ©National Trust

William Crane Blathwayt was the son of William IV’s sister Penelope. She had eloped with a Jeremiah Pierce Crane and married him in Gretna Green. The childless William IV and Frances raised William Crane as their son and heir, and he took the name Blathwayt in 1817.

Dyrham Park. ©NTPL/Rupert Truman

These paintings record how, after the explosion of Baroque exuberance at Dyrham under the first William Blathwayt (as shown in previous posts) the later generations of Blathwayts settled down to mostly quiet – and occasionally scandalous – lives as members of the country gentry.

Regilding the lily

May 19, 2010

One of a set of torcheres bearing candelabra in the Great Room at Saltram. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The current issue of ABC Bulletin features an article by Sue Baumbach about the conservation of a group of four torcheres at Saltram, in Devon. I have just discovered that we have some images of them being worked on, so I thought I would show those here.

The torcheres being treated at Tankerdale. ©NTPL/John Hammond

As Sue relates, the candelabra were ordered by Theresa Parker from Boulton & Fothergill in 1771 for the Great Room at Saltram. They have central urns made of the rare mineral Blue John, or Derbyshire fluorspar.

Working on one of the ram's heads. ©NTPL/John Hammond

There is no record of the purchase of the tocheres. They may have been designed by Robert Adam together with the rest of the decoration of the room.

However, it is also possible that they were the quartet of similar-sounding torcheres that were sold in the house sale of a property in Portman Square in London in 1778. These were bought by a Mr Sturt, whose name also appears in the Saltram accounts at around that time, but the evidence is not conclusive.

Injecting the woodworm holes. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The torcheres had become unstable due to previous pest infestations, and they have recently been treated at the workshop of Tankerdale Ltd.

Re-gilding the base of one of the torcheres. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Analysis of the gilding undertaken by Catherine Hassall showed that the torcheres had only been re-gilded once before, in the late nineteenth century.

The 1897 inscription on the inside of one of the torcheres, with the contemporary business directory that lists the Harris firm. ©NTPL/John Hammond

This probably relates to the inscription found within one of the torcheres, which reads ‘Bellamy, Apprentice, H & Sons, April 1897. Repard [sic] by James Street, April 1897. From Harris & Sons, George Street.’

A contemporary business directory records that Harris & Sons was a Plymouth company of ‘art decorators, house painters, gilders, picture dealers, artists’ colourmen and stationers’.

One of the torcheres with its candelabra, in a corner of the Great Room. Since this photograph was taken, the torcheres have been moved to more prominent positions in the room, in line with Robert Adam's original arrangement. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The 1897 re-gilding was probably part of the redecorations carried out by Albert Edmond Parker, 3rd Earl of Morley, who had married an heiress and moved back to Saltram after the house had been let to tenants for a number of years.

As simple as ABC

April 26, 2010

The Library at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire. Note the use of large sheets of mirrored glass. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Four times a year the National Trust publishes the ABC Bulletin. This is a free e-newsletter discussing the latest projects in the areas of curatorship and conservation. The Spring 2010 issue has just come out, featuring:

  • The loan and restoration of the Londonderry state chariot
  • The stories behind a Reynolds group portrait
  • The restoration of a Dutch genre scene at Grantham House
  • Anglesey Abbey’s bling books
  • National Trust libraries online
  • The wooden water mains of London
  • King Charles I celebrated at Lyme Park
  • Torcheres at Saltram restored
  • Enhancing the visiting experience for blind and partially sighted people
  • Speke Hall’s sensory trail
  • Recent acquisitions

The article about the books at Anglesey Abbey, written by our libraries curator Mark Purcell, describes some of the treasures to be found there.

Lord Fairhaven with his mother, Cara Rogers, on board her yacht Sapphire. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Huttleston Broughton, 1st Baron Fairhaven (1896-1966), who was to inherit American-made fortunes from both his father and his mother, bought Anglesey Abbey in 1926. He created an important garden there and furnished the house in plutocratic style. He generously left the estate to the National Trust, together with an endowment for its upkeep.

Fairhaven’s collections are shown in settings of Holywood-style glamour. When James Lees-Milne stayed at the house in 1946 he was perturbed by the central heating in his bedroom, a rare and almost decadent luxury at the time.

One of the splendid bindings in the library at Anglesey Abbey. This is a copy of Thomas Gray's 'Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard'. ©NTPL/John Hammond

One of Lord Fairhaven’s hobbies was collecting rare books. Not only are there many books with beautiful bindings in the library, but there is also a very large collection of colour plate books from the Regency period, the heyday of such publications.

The opulent setting: some of the East Asian objets d'art collected by Lord Fairhaven's mother, in the Lower Gallery at Anglesey Abbey. ©NTPL/Dennis Gilbert

Mark is planning to publish an illustrated catalogue of the Anglesey Abbey library, written together with William Hale and David Pearson.