Archive for the ‘Attingham Park’ Category

Questions of value

July 10, 2014
Leather fire bucket at Florence Court, Co Fermanagh, inv. no. 630933. The painted tendrils shaped into an 'E' stand for 'Enniskillen', the earldom of the Cole family which owned Florence Court. ©National Trust

Leather fire bucket, at Florence Court, Co. Fermanagh, inv. no. 630933. The painted tendrils shaped into an ‘E’ stand for ‘Enniskillen’, the earldom of the Cole family which owned Florence Court. ©National Trust

Yesterday I attended a conference organised by the Art Fund about the value of museums. There were a number of stimulating discussions about what kind of value museums have and how that value operates.

There seemed to be a consensus that museums should focus on what they are really good at: collecting, looking after, researching and making accessible interesting and beautiful things. It was commented that museums can have social and economic benefits too, but that those are best delivered through that core purpose.

Painted 'grotesque' decoration with tendrils, leaves and ribbons in the boudoir at Attingham Park, 1780s, possibly by Louis-André Delabrière. ©National Trust Images/James Mortimer

Painted ‘grotesque’ decoration with tendrils, leaves and ribbons in the boudoir at Attingham Park, 1780s, possibly by Louis-André Delabrière. ©National Trust Images/James Mortimer

There were some fascinating and contrasting examples of ‘value’. At one end of the spectrum, Graham W.J. Beal, director of the Detroit Institute of Arts, described the struggle to preserve a collection which is threatened with sale in order to plug the pensions deficit of the city. At the other end, Jack Persekian, director of the Palestinian Museum – as yet without a building and without a collection – showed examples of the objects cherished by individual Palestinians, objectively modest things which nevertheless have enormous subjective power.

This investigation of ‘value’ reminded me of the collections of the National Trust, where the modest can sometimes be just as significant as the fine. The leather bucket shown above was once simply an item of fire prevention at Florence Court. But the way it was made, its aged appearance and its connection to a particular place now give it an distinct aura, speaking to us on a number of different levels.

The charming conceit of painting the house owner’s initial on the bucket in vaguely classical tendrils links it to a long tradition of classicised floral decoration. The boudoir at Attingham, in the second image above, is another, particularly fine example of that tradition. And that boudoir, in turn, demonstrates how objects never exist in a vacuum, but always ‘speak’ to other objects within certain spaces and relationships.

So that leads me to propose that the value of museums, and of heritage more widely, resides in relationships: between objects, between objects and places and between objects and people.

The Boudoir revisited

June 4, 2013
The Boudoir at Attingham, by Ethel Sands, probably 1929, oil on board, oil on board,  61 x 49.9 cm.  ©Christie's

The Boudoir at Attingham, by Ethel Sands, probably 1929,
oil on board, 61 x 49.9 cm. ©Christie’s

We have just purchased this small painting of the Boudoir at Attingham Park at auction at Christie’s South Kensington. It is by Ethel Sands (1873-1962) and was probably painted in 1929.

Recent photograph of the Boudoir. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Recent photograph of the Boudoir. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Between the two World Wars Teresa, Lady Berwick (1890-1972), entertained a cosmopolitan and artistic circle at Attingham.



Lady Berwick’s father, William Stokes Hulton (1852-1921), had been a painter who knew Sickert and Sargent. Her mother, Costanza Mazini (1863-1939) had links with the international literary and artistic community in Florence, including the Brownings and the Berensons. Thomas Noel-Hill, 8th Lord Berwick (1877-1947), met Teresa while serving as a diplomat in Italy during the First World War, when she was working as a nurse, and they were married in 1919.



After the war they gradually restored and updated Attingham, adding furniture and art to the collection. They also acknowledged recent artistic developments by naming cows on the farm after Picasso, Gaugin and Matisse. There are records of Ethel Sands visiting Attingham on several occasions in 1929, when she was joined by writers, intellectuals and aesthetes such as L.P. Hartley, Cesare Visconti, Count of Marcignago, Albert (‘Bertie’) Landsberg and Angela Mond.

Sir Gerald Kelly (1879-1972) painting Lady Berwick in the Boudoir, c. 1923. ©National Trust

Sir Gerald Kelly (1879-1972) painting Lady Berwick in the Boudoir, c. 1923. ©National Trust

The late 18th-century painted decoration of the Boudoir, originally created for Anne Vernon, 1st Lady Berwick (1744-97), was cleaned and restored a few years ago. But this late 1920s painting is a beautiful and useful snapshot of the room in one of its more recent incarnations.

Regency excess at Attingham

September 20, 2011

Costumed interpreters in the Entrance Hall at Attingham. The scagliola columns and pilasters date from 1785, but the marbled paintwork is from the 2nd Lord Berwick's time. ©NTPL/John Millar

Following on from the posts about the regency interiors at Stourhead, Ickworth and Castle Coole, I could not omit the spectacular interiors at Attingham Park, a site of classic Regency extravagance.

The bold Regency colour scheme in the Octagon Room, as decorated for the 2nd Lord Berwick. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Thomas Noel Hill, 2nd Baron Berwick, inherited Attingham at the age of nineteen in 1789. He soon went on a grand tour of Italy, where he acquired a taste for acquiring works of art. On his return to England he went into politics, but ‘entertaining’ the local Shrewsbury electorate turned out to be so ruinously expensive that his brother bribed him not to stand a second time.

The Picture Gallery. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The 2nd Lord Berwick also employed John Nash to create a magnificent Picture Gallery in the centre of the house. An example of the contemporary vogue for top-lit galleries, Nash designed a unique glazed coving for it set in a cast-iron frame. It does a good job in lighting the pictures, but like so many ground-breaking architectural features it almost immediately began to leak, and has proved problematic ever since.

Decorated cardboard visiting card rack, probably once owned by the racy Sophia, Lady Berwick. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

The pattern of extravagance was continued with the 2nd Lord Berwick’s marriage, at age 42, to the seventeen-year-old courtesan Sophia Dubochet. Although Lord Berwick lavished gifts and money on his wife, the marriage was not a happy one. The daintily feminine card racks surviving at Attingham may have been one of Sophia’s impulse buys when on a shopping spree in London.

The dining room table decked out as if for a Regency-period dinner, using the French ormolu table setting brought to Attingham by the 3rd Lord Berwick. ©NTPL/David Levenson

Inevitably, Lord Berwick eventually ran out of money, and two great sales of the contents of Attingham were held in 1827 and 1829. His brother William inherited the title, house and estate in 1832 and refurnished it with the collection of furniture, pictures, ceramics and silver that he had built up during his tenure as a diplomat in Italy. Attingham is still a vivid example of Regency style.

Glimpses of Attingham can also be seen in the second episode of Dr Lucy Worsley’s BBC series on the Regency.

Tune into the Attingham Channel

July 14, 2011

Attingham Park, with cattle grazing. ©NTPL/John Millar

It seems incredible that a Regency country house should have its own TV channel. But then again – why not? The National Trust team at Attingham Park, in shropshire, have uploaded a number of short films onto YouTube.

The Boudoir. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

They show highlights of the house and the estate and provide insights into the ongoing conservation work in the house.

The chandelier and ceiling in the Octagon Room. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

There are three separate videos about the rediscovery and restoration of Regency wallpaper at Attingham: Off the Wall, Off the Wall – The Paper and Off the Wall – The Paint.

Visitors meeting the pigs in the Walled Garden. ©NTPL/John Millar

Other subjects include the walled garden, the deer on the estate, putting up the wiring for the new fruit trees, an archeological excavation and, most recently, the access-all-areas beehive.

Costumed interpreter in the Kitchen. ©NTPL/John Millar

More films will continue to be added, making this a fascinating video archive of what is going on at Attingham.

How were they used?

March 9, 2011

One of a pair of card racks made of decorated cardboard, French, c. 1820, at Attingham. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

Our curators have been puzzled by a group of objects in the collection at Attingham, in Shropshire.

One of a pair of card racks made of decorated cardboard, J. & P. Munn, New Bond Street, London, c. 1820, at Attingham. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

These small, dainty containers, made of cardboard and porcelain, have been described as card racks. They seem to date from around 1820.

One of a pair of card racks made of decorated cardboard, French, c. 1820, at Attingham. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

They were clearly designed to be hung from a wall or another vertical surface, but as they are only about 15 cm tall they could not have held anything larger than calling cards or small items of stationary.

One of a pair of card racks made of decorated cardboard, English or French, c. 1820, at Attingham. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

Their varied and sophisticated designs seem to indicate that they were fashionable objects which played a role in the social life of the house. 

One of a pair of card racks made of decorated cardboard, French, c. 1820, at Attingham. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

Were they used to collect visitors’ calling cards? If so, why were there so many of them in the same house and why did they come in sets of twos and threes?

One of a set of three card racks made of porcelain, this one showing a view of Attingham, Coalport, c. 1820, at Attingham. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

Do leave a comment if you know more about the use of these Regency relics.

A French vision of India

February 4, 2011

Detail of the Dufour wallpaper at Attingham Park. ©NTPL/John Hammond

In response to the previous post, fellow blogger Janet Blyberg told me that The Down East Dilettante had also written about Zuber panoramic wallpapers. Here is his post on the Zuber ‘Décor Chinois’ pattern.

The eighth Lord Berwick. ©National Trust

I am not aware of any other Zuber wallpapers at National Trust houses, but I have found an image of a Dufour wallpaper with Indian views at Attingham Park, Shropshire. The paper dates from about 1815, but was purchased for Attingham by Thomas Noel-Hill, eighth Baron Berwick, who inherited the house and estate in 1897.

Portrait of Caroline Murat (1782-1832) by Louis Ducis (1775-1847), purchased by the eighth Lord Berwick. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Lord Berwick entered the diplomatic service and was posted to Paris in 1903. He became fascinated by French decorative and fine art and bought a number of pieces for Attingham. He probably appreciated the Dufour wallpaper primarily as an example of French design, rather than as a vision of India (see the previous post). 

The Drawing Room at Attingham, with the portrait of Caroline Murat on the back wall. ©NTPL/James Mortimer

Lord Berwick’s wife Theresa (née Hulton) had grown up in cosmopolitan circles in Italy which included Sickert, Sargent, Browning and Berenson.

Another view of the Drawing Room. The figure of Venus by Canova was also acquired by the eighth Lord Berwick. ©NTPL/James Mortimer

Lord and Lady Berwick themselves also entertained artists, writers and musicians at Attingham. The continental artistc influences extended to the Attingham home farm, where calves were named Picasso, Gaugin and Matisse.

Angelica Kauffman: Celebrity designer

May 26, 2010

Bacchus and Ariadne with Cupid, by Angelica Kauffmann, at Attingham Park, Shropshire. ©NTPL/Derrick E. Witty

Angelica Kauffman may have been hesitating between music and painting, as I showed previously, but she felt no need to choose between the fine and the decorative arts.

Kauffman collaborated with printmakers in the production of stipple engravings and mezzotints based on her paintings. She was directly involved in the production and marketing of her prints.

Print depicting Cupid, after Angelica Kauffman, in the Print Room at Blickling Hall, Norfolk. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Kauffman was one of the few contemporary artists whose works were used to make ‘mechanical paintings’ – a process of colour reproduction that was invented in the 1770s and was especially suited for use in decorative schemes.

Detail of the ceiling in the State Bedchamber at Osterley Park, Middlesex. The central roundel depicts Aglaia, one of the Three Graces, after Kauffmann. ©NTPL/Bill Batten

Kauffman may have provided some sketches for architect and designer Robert Adam, but she was not directly responsible for the many decorative works attributed to her.

Painted roundel showing a wedding feast by Antonio Zucchi, Kauffman's husband, set in a stucco panel in the Eating Room at Osterley. ©NTPL/Bill Batten

Although Kauffman’s designs were widely used on walls, ceilings, porcelain and furniture, most of them were actually copied or reproduced by others or simply based on her style.

Roundel depicting Venus guarding a sleeping Cupid after Kauffman on the marble mantelpiece in the Boudoir at Attingham. ©NTPL/James Mortimer

Even so, the usefulness of her neo-classical figures as decorative motifs ensured the continuing popularity of the Kauffman ‘brand’.

Key people: The curator

April 5, 2010

Curator Sarah Kay carrying cutlery to the dining room at Attingham. ©NTPL/David Levenson

Curators are central to any decisions about acquisitions for National Trust historic houses. They provide the art-historical expertise to assess the importance and relevance of the objects being considered. The regional curators of the National Trust each advise on a portfolio of properties in a particular area of the country.

Sarah Kay and Peter Brears putting the finishing touches to the table setting. ©NTPL/David Levenson

Apart from acquisitions, curators also advise on the redisplay of the interiors. Every so often new discoveries are made about how these houses were used or arranged. At Attingham Park, near Shrewsbury, curator Sarah Kay recently organised the redisplay of the dining room. She worked with food historian Peter Brears to accurately recreate the look of a lavish Regency-period dinner. 

©NTPL/David Levenson

Rooms like these came into their own at night, seen by candle- and lamplight. At Attingham the matt Pompeian red walls, the red Turkey carpet and the mahogany doors create an enveloping sense of comfort. This provides the backdrop for the white chimneypiece, doorframes and tablecloth, and the gilded picture frames and ceiling.

©NTPL/David Levenson

But of course it is the table setting that is meant to be the centre of attention. The table was laid in accordance with service à la russe, which meant that the dessert course was in place in the centre of the table during the entire meal. This allowed the diners to admire the display of ornate centrepieces, hothouse fruits and intricate sugarwork.

Peter Brears with one of his recreations. ©NTPL/David Levenson

Peter Brears used a popular handbook of the period, G.A. Jarrin’s The Italian Confectioner, as a source for the various sugarwork shapes and the artifical meats and fruits. He also studied the contemporary French dessert moulds recently acquired by the Bowes Museum. A detailed account of the project was published in the 2008 National Trust Historic Houses and Collections Annual.

Time regained

March 17, 2010


©NTPL/John Hammond

Our head conservator, Katie Lithgow, has just sent me this image of the Queen’s Antechamber at Ham House. It is almost identical to the photograph I previously posted, except for the fact that this one shows what the original 1680 colour scheme of the wall hangings would have looked like.

This image, almost Proustian in its recapturing of a lost moment in time, was produced by conservator Vicki Marsland and photographer John Hammond, who digitally changed the colour of the centre panels from the faded pink of the 1890s restoration back to the original blue.

Imagine this by candle- and firelight: scagliola fireplace and gilded panelling in the Queen's Closet at Ham. ©NTPL/Bill Batten

The faded pink hangings will remain on the walls, as valid evidence of a particular phase in the building’s history, but being able to see the effect of the original blue does add to our understanding of seventeenth-century decoration. The tones of blue in the hangings would have echoed the blues in the porcelain and in the Coromandel lacquer on display.

At night the silk would have shimmered in the candlelight, in unison with the ceramics, the lacquer and the gilding. In the late seventeenth century artificial light was limited mainly to candles and fireplaces, so reflective surfaces were deliberately used to amplify and dramatize it.

Chinese ceramic teapot reputedly used by the Duchess of Lauderdale. ©NTPL/Bill Batten

The effects of pre-electric lighting are vividly demonstrated at the independently-run Dennis Severs’ House in Spitalfields, London, which is shown in semi-darkness. The interiors are theatrical pastiches of various historical periods, complete with sounds and smells, and the experience is intense and memorable.

The dining room at Attingham Park. ©NTPL/David Levenson

The National Trust has recently recreated the night-time ambiance of the Regency-period dining room at Attingham Park, Shropshire, as shown above. The latest in lightbulb technology was used to simulate candlelight, and the table has been laid with the original silver plates and gilded candelabra and centrepieces, which look splendidly festive in the semi-gloom.