Archive for the ‘Buckinghamshire’ Category

The Waddesdon Bequest redisplayed

June 11, 2015
One of a pair of maiolica vases with ormolu mounts, circa 1565-1571. Before being acquired by Baron ferdinand, theyy were in the collection of Horace Walpole at Strawberry Hill. The Waddesdon Bequest. ©The Trustees of the British Museum

One of a pair of maiolica vases with ormolu mounts, circa 1565-1571. Before being acquired by Baron ferdinand, theyy were in the collection of Horace Walpole at Strawberry Hill. The Waddesdon Bequest. ©The Trustees of the British Museum

In 1898 Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild left his magnificent collection of medieval and Renaissance treasures to the British Museum, to be displayed together as the Waddesdon Bequest, named after his beloved country house, Waddesdon Manor.

The newly displayed Waddesdon Bequest at British Museum. ©The Trustees of the British Museum

The newly displayed Waddesdon Bequest at British Museum. ©The Trustees of the British Museum

This collection has now been redisplayed in a new gallery at the museum (room 2A, entry free), enabled by a donation from the Rothschild Foundation.

Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in his sitting room at Waddesdon with his favourite poodle Poupon. ©Waddesdon Manor

Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in his sitting room at Waddesdon with his favourite poodle Poupon. ©Waddesdon Manor

Baron Ferdinand inherited some of these objects from his father, Baron Anselm von Rothschild, but he greatly increased the collection himself as well. He was consciously emulating the art collections formed by the princes of Renaissance Europe.

Portrait busts of Margaret of Austria and Philibert of Savoy, boxwood, about 1515. The Waddesdon  Bequest. ©The Trustees of the British Museum

Portrait busts of Margaret of Austria and Philibert of Savoy, boxwood, about 1515. The Waddesdon Bequest. ©The Trustees of the British Museum

The collecting and building activities of various members of the Rothschild family, with its branches in Vienna, Frankfurt, Paris and London, demonstrated that they saw themselves as a new enlightened European aristocracy.

Aerial view of Waddesdon Manor. ©National Trust Images/John Bigelow Taylor

Aerial view of Waddesdon Manor. ©National Trust Images/John Bigelow Taylor

Of the 45 Rothschild mansions across Europe, only Waddesdon remains intact and open to the public. The house and grounds were bequeathed to the National Trust in 1957 and are managed by the Rothschild Foundation.

The Ghisi Shield, hammered iron, silver-plated and damascened with gold, about 1600. The Waddesdon  Bequest. ©The Trustees of the British Museum

The Ghisi Shield, hammered iron, silver-plated and damascened with gold, about 1600. The Waddesdon Bequest. ©The Trustees of the British Museum

Baron Ferdinand’s Renaissance collection was kept in the Smoking Room at Waddesdon. His sister Alice, who inherited the house, replenished the room with further treasures in a similar taste, which can still be seen there today.

The Smoking Room at Waddesdon. ©Waddesdon Manor

The Smoking Room at Waddesdon. ©Waddesdon Manor

The new display at the British Museum was designed by architects Stanton Williams in collaboration with the British Museum’s curators, conservators and other specialists. The large but subtle display cases, made by Goppion, lead the visitor around the objects and allow close viewing of their beautiful surfaces and exquisite craftsmanship.

Miniature tabernacle and case, boxwood, leather, gold fittings, 1510-1525, coming apart and opening like a flower to reveal further areas of minute carving with scenes from Life and Passion of Christ. The Waddesdon  Bequest. ©The Trustees of the British Museum

Miniature tabernacle and case, boxwood, leather, gold fittings, 1510-1525, coming apart and opening like a flower to reveal further areas of minute carving with scenes from Life and Passion of Christ. The Waddesdon Bequest. ©The Trustees of the British Museum

Evocative images of life at Waddesdon in Baron Ferdinand’s time are projected in a slow cycle on the upper level of the gallery. Discrete wall-mounted video screens show magnified details of some of the more intricate objects.

Turquoise glass goblet, Venice, late 1400s. The goblet is enamelled and gilded with pairs of lovers, suggesting that it may have been a betrothal gift. The Waddesdon  Bequest.  ©The Trustees of the British Museum

Turquoise glass goblet, Venice, late 1400s. The goblet is enamelled and gilded with pairs of lovers, suggesting that it may have been a betrothal gift. The Waddesdon Bequest. ©The Trustees of the British Museum

The new display is accompanied by a splendid catalogue by curator Dora Thornton. The British Museum’s website also includes a dedicated Waddesdon Bequest microsite. And there is an exhibition at Waddesdon specifically about Baron Ferdinand’s Renaissance collection, until 25 October.

The Baron’s Room

October 3, 2014
Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild (1839-98) at Waddesdon Manor, from a privately printed album known as the 'Red Book'. ©Waddesdon Manor, the Rothschild Collection (NationalTrust)

Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild (1839-98) at Waddesdon Manor, from a privately printed album known as the ‘Red Book’. ©Waddesdon Manor, the Rothschild Collection (NationalTrust)

After featuring some of Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild’s paintings in the previous post, I thought I might show the man himself.

©WaddesdonManor, The Rothschild Collection (NationalTrust)

©WaddesdonManor, The Rothschild Collection (NationalTrust)

Here he is in his private sitting room at Waddesdon Manor, with his poodle Poupon, in 1897. The photo also shows some of the grand manner English portraits he collected, as well as a pair of wall lights that came from Marie-Antoinette’s apartment in the Château de Compiègne. More about the album containing this photograph can be found on the Waddesdon blog.

The Baron's Room at Waddesdon today. ©Waddesdon Manor, National Trust.

The Baron’s Room at Waddesdon today. ©Waddesdon Manor, National Trust.

The room has been restored to its appearance in Baron Ferdinand’s time, as if he has just got up to take Poupon for stroll in the garden.

The Gilded Age at Waddesdon

September 30, 2014
Joanna Leigh, Mrs Richard Bennett Lloyd, inscribing a tree, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1775-6, at Waddesdon Manor. ©National Trust, image provided by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Joanna Leigh, Mrs Richard Bennett Lloyd, inscribing a tree, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1775-6, at Waddesdon Manor. ©National Trust, image provided by the Public Catalogue Foundation

I attended a fascinating conference at Waddesdon Manor last week about the ‘Gilded Age’,  the period towards the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century when a group of American industrialists and entrepreneurs became incredibly wealthy and started to buy European art.

Lady Anne Luttrell, Duchess of Cumberland, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1772-3, at Waddesdon Manor. ©National Trust, image provided by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Lady Anne Luttrell, Duchess of Cumberland, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1772-3, at Waddesdon Manor. ©National Trust, image provided by the Public Catalogue Foundation

The booming of the Amercian economy during the second half of the nineteenth century, coupled with a light taxation and legislation regime, allowed a select group of ‘robber barons’ to build up unprecedented fortunes. These men included John Jacob Astor (fur, real estate), Henry Clay Frick (steel), Collis Potter Huntington (railways), J.P. Morgan (finance), Andrew Mellon (finance, oil) and John D. Rockefeller (oil).

Emma Hart, Lady Hamilton, as Circe, by George Romney, 1782, at Waddesdon Manor. ©National Trust, image provided by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Emma Hart, Lady Hamilton, as Circe, by George Romney, 1782, at Waddesdon Manor. ©National Trust, image provided by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Some of them used some of their wealth to build palatial ‘cottages’ in Newport and elsewhere and to collect art. This ‘demand’ coincided with the opening up of ‘supply’ in Europe, where aristocratic families were hit by the agricultural depression of the 1870s. In addition, in Britain the Settled Land Acts of the 1880s allowed families to sell land and chattels that had hitherto been designated as heirlooms.

Frances Browne, Mrs John Douglas, by Thomas Gainsborough, 1783-4, at Waddesdon Manor. ©National Trust, image provided by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Frances Browne, Mrs John Douglas, by Thomas Gainsborough, 1783-4, at Waddesdon Manor. ©National Trust, image provided by the Public Catalogue Foundation

A number of art dealers stepped in to service both sides of this particularly frothy market, including Agnew’s, Colnagi’s (whose archive has recently been deposited on loan to Waddesdon), Goupil’s, Knoedler’s and Wertheimer’s.

Lady Jane Tollemache, Lady John Halliday, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1778-9, at Waddesdon Manor. ©National Trust, image provided by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Lady Jane Tollemache, Lady John Halliday, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1778-9, at Waddesdon Manor. ©National Trust, image provided by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Sometimes the dealers formed syndicates to acquire and redistribute large collections, while at other times they competed with climactic tenacity for the opportunities to buy and sell important and fashionable works of art.

Sophia Charlotte Digby, Lady Sheffield, by Thomas Gainsborough, 1785-6, at Waddesdon Manor. ©National Trust, image provided by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Sophia Charlotte Digby, Lady Sheffield, by Thomas Gainsborough, 1785-6, at Waddesdon Manor. ©National Trust, image provided by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Some of the types of paintings that were particularly popular in this period were Dutch seventeenth-century landscapes and interiors and English eighteenth-century portraits.

Mrs Abington as the comic muse, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1764-8 and 1772-3, at Waddesdon Manor. ©National Trust, image provided by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Mrs Abington as the comic muse, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1764-8 and 1772-3, at Waddesdon Manor. ©National Trust, image provided by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Visiting Waddesdon, it struck me that this house and collection, built and assembled by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild (1839-98) has strong Gilded Age overtones. Indeed it could be said that the goût Rothschild and Gilded Age taste were partially overlapping and mutually influential.

Thaïs, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1781, at Waddesdon Manor. ©National Trust, image provided by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Thaïs, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1781, at Waddesdon Manor. ©National Trust, image provided by the Public Catalogue Foundation

The ‘grand manner’ English portraits collected by Baron Ferdinand would have been equally desirable, and occasionally hotly contested, by the robber barons across the pond.

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.

Life in the Chinese country house

August 7, 2012

Chinese gouache showing elegant company making music on a lakeside terrace. Claydon House, Buckinghamshire. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

With apologies to Mark Girouard (who published the well-known social history of the country house, Life in the English Country House, in 1979) I thought it might be interesting to show this small set of Chinese paintings of interiors and gardens.

These pictures in body colour on paper depict elegant company engaged in various leisure activities in a series of interiors and gardens.

Chinese gouache showing elegant company in a garden with a board game being played. Claydon House, Buckinghamshire. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Hollow

We can see people playing musical instruments, playing a board game, arranging flowers and serving drinks (possibly tea).

Miniature trees can be seen growing in pots placed on balustrades and stands. Some people are sitting on chairs, others on seating platforms with bolsters, little tables and objets d’art close at hand.

Chinese gouache showing elegant company in an interior with a view to a lake, one of the women holding a vase with flowers. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Hollow

One of the pictures appears to show a courtyard of a high official’s mansion or a palace. The symmetricality of this view seems reminiscent of western pictorial taste. Indeed, the style of these pictures generally is rather ‘western’, with the use of single-point perspective and shading.

Chinese gouache showing elegant company on a terrace with a view to a mansion or palace courtyard. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Hollow

Paintings such as these were made for export to the west. This particular set is thought to date to about 1800. It would be interesting to learn more about how realistic these images were – whether the painters produced fantasy views of a semi-mythical ‘Cathay’ for foreign consumption, or whether these pictures, in spite of being destined for ignorant foreigners, were nevertheless based on indigenous traditions of realistically depicting upper class life. Do please comment if you know more about this subject.

Chinese gouache showing elegant company in an interior with a woman serving drinks and a view to a circular garden doorway. Claydon House, Buckinghamshire. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Hollow

These paintings were bequeathed to Claydon House in 1995, where they form an interesting counterpoint to the outrageously fantastical chinoiserie decoration by Luke Lightfoot of the 1760s.

Inn side story

March 13, 2012

The Corinthian Arch at Stowe. ©National Trust/John Millar

The eighteenth- century gardens of Stowe in Buckinghamshire were effectively one of the Britain’s first public theme parks. Visitors flocked from near and far (and even from abroad) to see the temples, monuments and scenery created by Baron Cobham and his successor Earl Temple.

A view of the New Inn by Jean-Claude Nattes, 1809, in Buckinghamshire County Museum

Such were the visitor numbers that Lord Cobham built an inn at the main Bell Gate entrance to the park, called the New Inn, to provide accomodation for some of them.

The New Inn following its restoration. ©National Trust/Brian Cleckner

The building later became a farm and had recently fallen into decay. It was bought by the National Trust in 2005 and has now been restored and turned into a visitor centre.

Eighteenth-century graffiti at the New Inn. ©National Trust/John Millar

The 75-strong building team and over 250 volunteers restored as much of the original building as possible, studying  historic documents and images and using materials and construction methods of the period. Appropriate period furniture was introduced whenever possible.

The Parlour, with a draught-excluding settle next to the fireplace. ©National Trust/Brian Cleckner

The National Trust has created additional visitor facilities on the footprint of the farm and stable block, including a cafe, shop and conference centre, using larch wood sourced from the nearby Ashridge estate.

The Tap Room. ©National Trust/Brian Cleckner

The Heritage Lottery Fund provided a £1.5 million grant towards the £9 million cost of the project, which was also supported by other fundraising initiatives and donations.

The courtyard seen from above, showing the layout of a traditional inn. ©National Trust/John Millar

The reinstatement of the New Inn as the entrance to Stowe also means that visitors can now begin their walk around the gardens from the same spot as their eighteenth-century predecessors did, which should help to make the experience more authentic and enjoyable.  

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.

Stowe’s legacy

October 11, 2011

Stowe, with its famous landscape garden, has the longest bibliography of all National Trust properties. It has inspired and challenged visitors, artists and scholars ever since Lord Cobham began transforming it in the 1710s.

View across the Octagon Lake towards the Lake Pavilions and the Corinthian Arch at Stowe. ©NTPL/Rod Edwards

Any new publication about Stowe has to prove itself in that context. But Stowe: The People and the Place, by Michael Bevington and with contributions by George Clarke, Jonathan Marsden and Tim Knox,  is an interesting addition to the literature partly because it descibes Stowe as a phenomenon, as a garden with a national and indeed international reputation.

The Palladian Bridge at Stowe, which inspired the one at Hagley. ©NTPL/Rod Edwards

Although it is notoriously difficult to establish the precise influence of one garden on another, echoes of Stowe can be found in a number of English gardens. At Hagley Hall in Worcestershire, Cobham’s nephew George Lyttleton erected a number of temples, a column and a Palladian bridge inspired by Stowe.

The politically motivated Temple of British Worthies, which includes busts of King Alfred and the Black Prince. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

Frederick, Prince of Wales, added politically symbolic busts of King Alfred and the Black Prince to his garden at Carlton House, London, just as his ally Cobham had done at Stowe. The Prince of Wales also built a House of Confucius in his garden at Kew, which again seems to have been a subtly political emblem similar to Cobham’s Chinese House at Stowe. 

Page of illustrations from Benton Seeley's 1750 Stowe guidebook. ©National Trust

However, Stowe also became well know abroad. There were so many French visitors that in 1748 a French guidebook entitled Les Charmes de Stow was published. Traces of Stowe can be found in gardens in France, Germany, Sweden, Poland, Hungary, Italy, and even as far afield as Monticello, Virginia.

The Cooke and Grenville monuments at Stowe, shown in an 1805 view by J.C. Nattes. The rostral column was copied at Tsarskoye Selo. ©National Trust

Stowe’s most direct and striking influence can be found in the pleasure grounds of Tsarskoye Selo, one of Catherine the Great of Russia’s residences. The famous ‘Frog’ dinner service that the Empress commissioned from Josiah Wedgewood in 1773, and which was decorated with British scenery, featured more views of Stowe than of any other place.

Beth Katleman’s Rococo vision

June 6, 2011

Beth Katleman, Folly. ©Beth Katleman/Alan Wiener

I recently spotted these images of an extraordinary porcelain relief entitled Folly, by New York-based artist Beth Katleman. The work is five meters long and consists of 3,500 individual porcelain pieces. It is inspired by the riotous wall decorations of the Rococo period.

Facsimile of a Regency chinoiserie wallpaper in the Bow Room at Castle Coole, Co. Fermanagh. ©NTPL/Derrick E. Witty

Folly is reminiscent of eighteenth-century Rococo and chinoiserie tapestries, wallpaper and printed cotton, with their floating islands populated with whimsical figures and fantasy structures.

Folly (detail). ©Beth Katleman/Alan Wiener

The work also references the more extreme forms of plaster decoration, and the phenomenon of the porcelain room, with its walls covered with figurines, vases, cups and plates.

Detail of the mantelpiece in the Paper Room at Claydon House, Buckinghamshire. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

But upon closer inspection Katleman infuses these ‘high culture’ sources with a healthy dose of kitsch. The floating islands are populated by porcelain casts that the artist has taken from flea-market finds, including pencil sharpeners in the shape of famous monuments and cast-off plastic dolls.

Folly (detail). ©Beth Katleman/Alan Wiener

Katleman aptly emphasises the surrealist potential of the Rococo style. At the same time she subverts the domestic associations of interior decoration, transforming the elegant into the uncanny. 

Detail of toile de Jouy in the Ante-Room at Plas Newydd, Anglesey. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Folly will be shown by Todd Merrill at Design Miami/Basel from 13 to 18 June. Subsequently it will be part of the exhibition Flora and Fauna, MAD About Nature, at the Museum of Arts and Design, New York, from 28 June until 6 November.

Folly (detail). ©Beth Katleman/Alan Wiener

Another edition of the work will travel to London to be shown, again by Todd Merrill, at the Pavilion of Art and Design, from 12 to 16 October. 

Chinoiserie plasterwork and carved wood decoration in the Chinese Room at Claydon House, Buckinghamshire. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Todd Merrill website features a short video about Folly featuring Beth Katleman.

A new bridge at Stowe

May 30, 2011

The new bridge at Stowe. ©National Trust/Nadja Wendt

A new bridge has recently been completed at Stowe, Buckinghamshire, to reconnect the two-kilometre-long lakeside walk. 

The Nattes view of the original bridge.

The original bridge, which collapsed in 1827, is shown in an early-nineteenth-century view by John Claude Nattes. Seeley’s 1827 guidebook to Stowe records the walk that it was a part of, circling and crossing the Octagon Lake and the Eleven Acre Lake.

The new bridge being constructed. ©National Trust/Nadja Wendt

Surveys revealed the location of the original paths, which were then rebuilt by the gardeners and volunteers at Stowe (and are now suitable for pushchairs and wheelchairs). As part of the process, various views across the lakes have also been opened up and improved.

The bridge being fixed in place. ©National Trust/Nadja Wendt

The National Trust built the bridge in partnership with Moulton College, Northampton. Trees felled by Moulton arboriculture students supplied the timber for the bridge.


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