Archive for the ‘Furniture’ Category

The English taste for pietre dure

February 11, 2015
Section of the pietre dure table in the Library at Charlecote Park, purchased by George Lucy from dealer Thomas Emmerson in 1824. Inv. no. 532986. ©National Trust Images/Derrick E. Witty

Section of the pietre dure table in the Library at Charlecote Park, purchased by George Lucy from dealer Thomas Emmerson in 1824. Inv. no. 532986. ©National Trust Images/Derrick E. Witty

The English taste for Italian pietre dure, or hard stone mosaic work, goes way back – that much is clear from a quick perusal of the new book  Roman Splendour, English Arcadia, about the Sixtus cabinet at Stourhead.

Section of a pietre dure table-top made in Rome in about 1580, at Powis Castle, probably acquired by George Herbert, 2nd Earl of Powis, in the 1770s or 1780s. Inv. no. 1181054. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Section of a pietre dure table-top made in Rome in about 1580, at Powis Castle, probably acquired by George Herbert, 2nd Earl of Powis, in the 1770s or 1780s. Inv. no. 1181054. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

One of the earliest examples is the so-called Great Pavement in Westminster Abbey, which was created in 1269 by the Roman craftsman Petrus Oderisius or Odericus. But many English palaces and country houses subsequently also acquired tables, cabinets and caskets incorporating pietre dure.

Cabinet mounted with pietre dure panels, made in Florence in about 1650, at Chirk Castle. Inv. no. 1170817. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Cabinet mounted with pietre dure panels, made in Florence in about 1650, at Chirk Castle. Inv. no. 1170817. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

At Chirk Castle there is an ebony cabinet mounted with Florentine pietre dure plaques dating to about 1650, probably picked up by Sir Thomas Myddelton during his Grand Tour in the early 1670s. The central panel shows the mythical Orpheus, and the other panels show various animals, whom Orpheus famously charmed with his music.

The scagliola chimneypiece in the Queen's Closet at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The scagliola chimneypiece in the Queen’s Closet at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

At Ham House there is a chimneypiece made of scagliola or imitation marble which appears to be an expression of the same taste for Italian marble. It was made by the Roman craftsman Baldessare Artima for the Duke of Lauderdale in about 1673.

Detail from one of a pair of scagliola table-tops with landscapes and flowers, made by Don Petro Belloni in 1754, at Uppark. Inv. no. 137667 ©National Trust Images/Angelo Hornak

Detail from one of a pair of scagliola table-tops with landscapes and flowers, made by Don Petro Belloni in 1754, at Uppark. Inv. no. 137667 ©National Trust Images/Angelo Hornak

A scagliola table top at Uppark closely follows the style of many pietre dure panels in having floral motifs and a landscape cartouche against a black background. It was made by Don Petro Belloni near Florence for Sir Matthew Fetherstonhaugh in 1754.

English chinoiserie cabinet incorporating oriental lacquer, Florentine pietre dure and ivory medallions, made in about 1754, in the Little Parlour at Uppark. Inv. no. 137638. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

English chinoiserie cabinet incorporating oriental lacquer, Florentine pietre dure and ivory medallions, made in about 1754, in the Little Parlour at Uppark. Inv. no. 137638. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The same Sir Matthew Fetherstonhaugh also purchased several Florentine pietre dure plaques which he then had inserted, together with ivory medallions and oriental lacquer panels, into a chinoiserie cabinet possibly made by William Hallett in about 1754. It was common for the Chinese style to be combined with the Gothic, but a mixture of chinoiserie and Grand Tour taste in one piece of furniture is much rarer.

Ebony cabinet mounted with lapis lazuli, made in Rome in about 1640, at Belton House. Inv. no. 435082. ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

Ebony cabinet mounted with lapis lazuli, made in Rome in about 1640, at Belton House. Inv. no. 435082. ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

An architecturally-shaped cabinet inlaid with lapis lazuli, made in Rome in about 1640, survives at Belton House. It may have been acquired Sir John Brownlow, later Lord Tyrconnell, during his Grand Tour in 1711.

Ebony cabinet mounted in gilt bronze and pietre dure, made in Rome in about 1610, at West Wycombe Park. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Ebony cabinet mounted in gilt bronze and pietre dure, made in Rome in about 1610, at West Wycombe Park. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The Roman cabinet at West Wycombe Park, made in about 1610 and again with architectural features, was probably purchased by Sir Francis Dashwood, later Lord le Despencer, when he visited Rome in 1740.

Ebony casket with gilt bronze mounts incorporating hard stone fruits and with panels of pietre dure, made in Florence, at The Vyne. Inv. no. 718777. ©National Trust Images/James Mortimer

Ebony casket with gilt bronze mounts incorporating hard stone fruits and with panels of pietre dure, made in Florence, at The Vyne. Inv. no. 718777. ©National Trust Images/James Mortimer

Pietre dure were also used for the decoration of smaller casket-like cabinets, such as the one at The Vyne acquired by John Chute in Florence in the 1740s.

Section of a pietre dure table top, made in Rome in about 1580, said to have been owned by the Borghese family and purchased by George Lucy at the Beckford sale in 1823, in the Great Hall at Charlecote Park. Inv. no. 532954. ©National Trust Images/Derrick E. Witty

Section of a pietre dure table top, made in Rome in about 1580, said to have been owned by the Borghese family and purchased by George Lucy at the Beckford sale in 1823, in the Great Hall at Charlecote Park. Inv. no. 532954. ©National Trust Images/Derrick E. Witty

The English interest in pietre dure persisted in the nineteenth century, the wealthy aesthete William Beckford being a notable collector. A number of pieces now at Charlecote Park were purchased by George Lucy at the sale of Beckford’s collection in 1823.

And these are just some of the pietre dure objects in the care of the National Trust. The book mentions many more examples of this English taste – including the splendid so-called Badminton cabinet, now in Liechtenstein.

Opening up the Sixtus cabinet

February 4, 2015
The Sixtus cabinet at Stourhead. ©National Trust/John Hammond

The Sixtus cabinet at Stourhead. ©National Trust/John Hammond

It is not often that a whole book is devoted to one piece of furniture, but the Sixtus cabinet at Stourhead amply rewards such treatment.

The attic storey of the Sixtus cabinet at Stourhead. ©National Trust/John Hammond

The attic storey of the Sixtus cabinet at Stourhead. ©National Trust/John Hammond

The newly published book Roman Splendour, English Arcadia, by Simon Swynfen Jervis and Dudley Dodd, celebrates the visual impact of this extraordinary cabinet, its architectural complexity, lavish gilt-bronze mounts and dazzling semi-previous stones.

The Composite third storey of the Sixtus cabinet at Stourhead. ©National Trust/John Hammond

The Composite third storey of the Sixtus cabinet at Stourhead. ©National Trust/John Hammond

The book also explores how the cabinet was made in about 1585 for Pope Sixtus V, who rose from humble origins to become the rebuilder of Rome, and how it was handed down in the dynasty of his relatives, the Peretti family, who joined the ranks of the Roman princely elite.

The Corinthian second storey of the Sixtus cabinet at Stourhead. ©National Trust/John Hammond

The Corinthian second storey of the Sixtus cabinet at Stourhead. ©National Trust/John Hammond

The cabinet came to Stourhead in the 1740s, after it had been bought by the banker Henry Hoare, ‘the Magnificent’. It was a key element in Hoare’s project to transform both the house and the garden at Stourhead into an arcadian realm inspired by Italian art and the classical world.

The podium and Ionic first storey of the Sixtus cabinet at Stourhead. ©2010 John Hammond

The podium and Ionic first storey of the Sixtus cabinet at Stourhead. ©2010 John Hammond

Although it is strictly speaking a piece of furniture, the Sixtus cabinet has the impact of a luxurious model building and the aura of a tabernacle or a reliquary.

The pedestal for the Sixtus cabinet, made for Henry Hoare in the shape of a triumphal arch. ©National Trust/John Hammond

The pedestal for the Sixtus cabinet, made for Henry Hoare in the shape of a triumphal arch. ©National Trust/John Hammond

The book can be obtained from the National Trust online shop.

Pictorial furniture for Montacute

November 28, 2013
Figured walnut and gilt sofa with embroidered upholstery depicting a scene from the History of Troy, 1720s, formerly at Chicheley Hall. Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Montacute. ©National Trust Images/Paul Highnam

Figured walnut and gilt sofa with embroidered upholstery depicting a scene from the History of Troy, 1720s, formerly at Chicheley Hall. Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Montacute. ©National Trust Images/Paul Highnam

As I mentioned in my previous post, the Acceptance in Lieu panel has recently published its review for 2012-13. This also included a number of pieces of early Georgian furniture which has been allocated to Montacute.

Beechwood chair veneered with walnut and decorated with gesso and gilding and upholstered with embroidery depicting Boreas and Oreithyia, 1720s, formerly at Chicheley Hall. Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Montacute. ,©National Trust Images/Paul Highnam

Beechwood chair veneered with walnut and decorated with gesso and gilding and upholstered with embroidery depicting Boreas and Oreithyia, 1720s, formerly at Chicheley Hall. Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Montacute. ,©National Trust Images/Paul Highnam

The furniture was originally commissioned for Chicheley Hall, mostly by Sir John Chester, 4th Baronet (1666-1724). It remained in the house until it was given on loan to Montacute by Major Greville Chester in the late 1940s. Chicheley Hall was sold to the 2nd Earl Beatty in 1954 and to the Royal Society in 2009 (and there is an excellent history of the house by Peter Collins and Stefanie Fischer on the Royal Society website).

Detail of one of the embroidered chairbacks, this one depicting Diana and her nymphs, formerly at Chicheley Hall. Accepted in lieu of inheritance tax by HM Government and allocated to the National Trust for display at Montacute. ©National Trust Images/Paul Highnam

Detail of one of the embroidered chairbacks, this one depicting Diana and her nymphs, formerly at Chicheley Hall. Accepted in lieu of inheritance tax by HM Government and allocated to the National Trust for display at Montacute. ©National Trust Images/Paul Highnam

The National Trust acquired Montacute in 1931 through the generosity of Ernest Cook, but without any contents. During the Second World War the house was used as one of the stores for the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, which was under threat from bombing. Towards the end of the war a project was initiated to gather suitable furniture and furnishings to bring Montacute to life. The loan from Major Chester was one of the groups of items that came to the house then.

Folding screen decorated with embroidered mythological scenes and floral motifs, 1720s, formerly at Chicheley Hall. Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Montacute. ©National Trust Images/Paul Highnam

Folding screen decorated with embroidered mythological scenes and floral motifs, 1720s, formerly at Chicheley Hall. Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Montacute. ©National Trust Images/Paul Highnam

The single most important item in the group is a swaggering giltwood and gilt-gesso side table probably made for Sir John Chester, 6th Baronet (1693-1748) incorporating his coat of arms and those of his wife, Frances Bagot.

Giltwood and gilt gesso side table with the arms of Sir John Chester, 6th Baronet, and his wife Frances Bagot, 1720s, formerly at Chicheley Hall. Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Montacute. ©National Trust Images/Paul Highnam

Giltwood and gilt gesso side table with the arms of Sir John Chester, 6th Baronet, and his wife Frances Bagot, 1720s, formerly at Chicheley Hall. Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Montacute. ©National Trust Images/Paul Highnam

The group also includes a sofa, ten chairs and a screen upholstered with embroidery. Although the furniture is English, the embroidery may be French, depicting various scenes from Ovid based on engravings. Dudley Dodd identified the embroidered scenes in an article in the 2011 National Trust Historic Houses and Collections Annual, but the identity of the makers remains unclear.

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.

Master of marquetry

August 8, 2013
Top of a table veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-83 (NT114043), at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Top of a table veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-83 (NT1140043), at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Another fascinating article in the recently published book about Ham House is Reinier Baarsen’s investigation of the seventeenth-century Dutch furniture in the house.

Table veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-83 (NT1140043), at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Table veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-83 (NT1140043), at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The courts of Charles II, James II and William and Mary employed numerous foreign artists and craftsmen, and as a result English late seventeenth-century taste in interior decoration was decidedly international.

Top of a table veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-82 (NT1139568), at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Top of a table veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-82 (NT1139568), at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Baarsen attributes a number of pieces of marquetry furniture at Ham to the cabinetmaker Gerrit Jensen. Not much is known about Jensen, but he seems to have come to England from Holland, possibly in the 1660s, and he appears to have been one of the craftsmen who exported the Dutch taste for floral marquetry across Europe.

Table veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-82 (NT1139568), at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Jensen appears to have wowed the London scene with his floral marquetry, and by the early 1680s he was accredited as a royal cabinetmaker.

Mirror veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-83, at Ham House (NT1139551). ©National Trust Images/John Hammond.

Mirror veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-83 (NT1139551), at Ham House . ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The pieces at Ham attributed to Jensen appear to date from the 1670s or early 1680s.

Crest of a mirror veneered with floral marquetry, featuring a medallion with a Roman emperor, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-83 (NT1139551), at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Crest of a mirror veneered with floral marquetry, featuring a medallion with a Roman emperor, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-83 (NT1139551), at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The tables all have twisted legs, which is an English characteristic of the period and shows how Jensen was adapting his work to English taste.

Table veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-83 (NT1139923), at Ham House . ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Table veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-83 (NT1139923), at Ham House . ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The marquetry also includes French motifs, such as the a chevron-patterned outer border and a central panel showing a vase of flowers with acanthus scrolls on one of the table-tops. Baarsen speculates whether Jensen may have spent some time in Paris before coming to London.

Top of a table veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-83 (NT1139923), at Ham House . ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Top of a table veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-83 (NT1139923), at Ham House . ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

This inventive mixture of styles represents the international taste of the period, and Ham House is one of the few places where this can still be studied in detail.

The myth of the sleeping beauty

June 11, 2013
Detail of an oval pier-glass in the Queen's Bedchamber at Ham House, one of a pair by supplied by William Bradshaw, c.1743. It reflects a carved and gilded garland by John Bullamore dating from the 1670s. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Detail of an oval pier-glass in the Queen’s Bedchamber at Ham House, one of a pair by supplied by William Bradshaw, c.1743. It reflects a carved and gilded garland by John Bullamore dating from the 1670s. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

I have just been perusing an advance copy of the book Ham House: 400 Years of Collecting and Patronage. The sale copies of this book are apparently somewhere on the high seas en route from the printer, and are due become available within the next a few weeks, but I thought I might provide a little preview here.

Fruitwood armchair, c. 1730, in the Queen's Bedchamber at Ham House, with velvet upholstery in red, green and cream silk velvet woven in either Genoa, Lyons or Spitalfields. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Fruitwood armchair, c. 1730, in the Queen’s Bedchamber at Ham House, with velvet upholstery in red, green and cream silk velvet woven in either Genoa, Lyons or Spitalfields. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

This book is the result of a conference held a couple of years ago about the history and collections of Ham House, one the best preserved 17th-century houses in Europe. It includes 28 essays by internationally recognised scholars accompanied by specially commissioned photography, as well as transcriptions of Ham’s historic inventories.

Detail of the silk velvet upholstery of the fruitwood furniture in the Queen's Bedchamber at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Detail of the silk velvet upholstery of the fruitwood furniture in the Queen’s Bedchamber at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Ham is justly famous for its 17th-century interiors and has acquired the reputation of being a kind of ‘sleeping beauty’, a house where nothing ever changed. However, several essays in this book puncture that myth and focus on restorations and embellishments carried out by its 18th- and 19th-century owners.

Detail of the marble topped pier table in the Queen's Bedchamber at Ham House, by William Bradshaw, c.1743, with a Portoro marble top and carved and gilded legs. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Detail of the marble topped pier table in the Queen’s Bedchamber at Ham House, by William Bradshaw, c.1743, with a Portoro marble top and carved and gilded legs. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Christopher Rowell, the National Trust’s furniture curator, discusses the taste and patronage of Lionel Tollemache, the 4th Earl of Dysart (1708-70), who inherited Ham in 1727. The 4th Earl repaired and remodeled a number of rooms in the house, and introduced new furniture, but Christopher demonstrates that he did so with great sensitivity to what was already there.

Parcel-gilt pier-glass and table possibly by William Bradshaw, c.1740, in the Volury Room at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Parcel-gilt pier-glass and table possibly by William Bradshaw, c.1740, in the Volury Room at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The 4th Earl commissioned cabinetmakers George Nix (1744-51) and William Bradshaw (1700-75), among others, to supply chairs, tables, stands and even tapestries. But the new acquisitions were designed to harmonise with the existing furnishings, or to function as facsimiles of items which had become damaged or worn out.

Gilt X-frame sofa, 1735-40, in the style of William Kent and with velvet upholstery, in the Volury Room at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Gilt X-frame sofa, 1735-40, in the style of William Kent and with velvet upholstery, in the Volury Room at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The subtlety of the 4th Earl’s contributions have almost caused him to be written out of Ham’s history.

Torchere by Peter Hasert, one of a pair, 1741, in the Marble Dining Room at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Torchere by Peter Hasert, one of a pair, 1741, in the Marble Dining Room at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Horace Walpole (171-97), who lived in nearby Twickenham, may have started that process by describing Ham, in his characteristically vivid and sweeping manner, as a house that time forgot: ‘Close to the Thames in the centre of all rich and verdant beauty, it is so blocked up an barricaded with walls, vast trees and gates that you think of yourself an hundred miles off and an hundred years back.’

Pier-glass, pier-table and stands veneered with incised Chinese lacquer, c. 1675, in the Withdrawing Room at Ham House. The table and stands were supplied with new supports by John Hele in 1741. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Pier-glass, pier-table and stands veneered with incised Chinese lacquer, c. 1675, in the Withdrawing Room at Ham House. The table and stands were supplied with new supports by John Hele in 1741. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

I hope to do a few more posts highlighting aspects of this splendid new book in the near future.

The meaning of furniture

May 21, 2013
Jewel coffer and secrétaire by Jean-Henri Riesener (1734-1806), veneered in grey-stained sycamore with marquetry of other woods on a carcase of oak, late 1770s. Victoria and Albert Museum, inv. no. 1106-1882, bequeathed by John Jones. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Jewel coffer and secrétaire by Jean-Henri Riesener (1734-1806), veneered in grey-stained sycamore with marquetry of other woods on a carcase of oak, late 1770s. Victoria and Albert Museum, inv. no. 1106-1882, bequeathed by John Jones. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Last Friday I attended an excellent seminar at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London entitled Furniture: Making and Meaning. This seminar was celebrating the new Dr Susan Weber Gallery of Furniture (which I posted about earlier) and to investigate issues around materials, making and design.

Japanese tiered box decorated with clam shells used in the shell matching game (kai awase) in high-relief lacquer (takamaki-e), 19th century. Victoria and Albert Museum, inv. no. 822:1-1869. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

One of the exciting features of this seminar was a set of talks about the construction and the tactile and visual effects of a French 18th-century jewel cabinet and a Japanese 19th-century lacquer box. The objects had been brought to the auditorium to star as ‘live’ performers, with a camera on hand to project close-ups  on the screen for all to see.

Bone armchair by Joris Laarman (b. 1979), Carrara marble dust mixed with resin, designed with algorithms based on bone and tree growth, 2008. ©Joris Laarman Lab

Bone armchair by Joris Laarman (b. 1979), Carrara marble dust mixed with resin, designed with algorithms based on bone and tree growth, 2008. ©Joris Laarman Lab

The day also included talks on the ‘reception history’ of carving, plywood and shagreen, and a stimulating discussion with three contemporary designer-makers.

What I particularly took away from this event was a vivid awareness that furniture is never just furniture: it is simultaneously social attitude, consumption pattern, political ideology, technical development, personal taste and manufacturing process. And I was inspired by the fact that all those ways of looking at furniture are just as relevant to historical collections as they are to the latest creations.

In a mottled mood

April 9, 2013
Detail of the Chinese wallpaper with its imitation bamboo trellis border in the Chinese Bedroom at Blickling Hall, inv. no. NT354141. ©National Trust Collections

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper with its imitation bamboo trellis border in the Chinese Bedroom at Blickling Hall, inv. no. NT354141. ©National Trust Collections

Our little Chinese wallpaper study group was recently discussing the use of printed and painted paper borders which give a trompe l’oeil impression of mottled bamboo trelliswork. They were probably made by the same Guangzhou workshops which produced the actual wallpapers and they seem to have been particularly popular during the second half of the 18th century.

Fragment of a painted imitation bamboo trelliswork border, formerly at Hampden House, Buckinghamshire. Victoria & Albert Museum, inv. no. E.948A-C-1978. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Fragment of a painted imitation bamboo trelliswork border, formerly at Hampden House, Buckinghamshire. Victoria & Albert Museum, inv. no. E.948A-C-1978. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The discussion was sparked off by the border in the Chinese Bedroom at Blickling Hall. We also discussed a very similar border in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum, originally from Hampden House, Buckinghamshire. There may be a direct link between the Blickling and the Hampden borders, as both houses were owned by the Earls of Buckinghamshire, albeit at different times.

Sections of Chinese wallpaper framed with a faux bamboo trelliswork paper border, second half 18th century, from a house at no. 10 Ginnekenstraat, Breda, which was demolished in 1961. Breda's Museum, inv. no. S06489.  ©Breda's Museum

Sections of Chinese wallpaper framed with a faux bamboo trelliswork paper border, second half 18th century, from a house at no. 10 Ginnekenstraat, Breda, which was demolished in 1961. Breda’s Museum, inv. no. S06489. ©Breda’s Museum

Anna Wu and Sander Karst told us about another similar border which frames two ‘pictures’ made up of sections of wallpaper that had formerly hung in a town house in Breda, in the Netherlands.

Imitation bamboo chair made of turned, carved and painted beech, c. 1790, owned by David Garrick's widow. Victoria & Albert Museum, inv. no. W.27-1917 ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Imitation bamboo chair made of turned, carved and painted beech, c. 1790, owned by David Garrick’s widow. Victoria & Albert Museum, inv. no. W.27-1917 ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The taste for mottled bamboo caught on in England to the extent that the actor David Garrick and his wife had a number of faux mottled bamboo chairs in their villa on the Thames at Hampton between the 1770s and the 1790s.

Corner of the wallpaper in the Chinese Bedroom at Belton House (nv. no. NT433859), showing the faux bamboo European paper border and the imitation bamboo trim on the doorframe. ©National Trust Images/Martin Trelawny

Corner of the wallpaper in the Chinese Bedroom at Belton House (inv. no. NT433859), showing the faux bamboo European paper border and the imitation bamboo trim on the doorframe. ©National Trust Images/Martin Trelawny

Even as late as 1840 imitation mottled bamboo woodwork and paper borders were still fashionable, as can be seen in the Chinese bedroom at Belton House.

Detail of a Chinese watercolour picture pasted on the wall as part of the 'wallpaper' in the Study at Saltram, inv. no. 871979. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Detail of a Chinese watercolour picture pasted on the wall as part of the ‘wallpaper’ in the Study at Saltram, inv. no. 871979. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

A representation of a decorative mottled bamboo fence in an elegant Chinese garden is visible in one of the pictures used as ‘wallpaper’ on the walls of the Study at Saltram, probably in the late 1760s.

Detail of a mottled bamboo armchair, in scroll 4 of a set of hanging scroll paintings entitled 'The Eighteen Scholars', by an anonymous Ming-dynasty artist. ©National Palace Museum, Taipei

Detail of a mottled bamboo armchair, in scroll 4 of a set of hanging scroll paintings entitled ‘The Eighteen Scholars’, by an anonymous Ming-dynasty artist. ©National Palace Museum, Taipei

In China mottled bamboo was  considered a rare and refined material suitable for scholars and other members of the elite, as is explained in an online exhibition of the National Palace Museum, Taipei. The patterning was thought to add a sophisticated touch of natural boldness to fencing, fretwork, furniture and other objects.

Mottled bamboo and goat's hair writing brush by Li Dinghe, mid-19th-century. ©The Palace Museum, Beijing

Mottled bamboo and goat’s hair writing brush by Li Dinghe, mid-19th-century. ©The Palace Museum, Beijing

Jonathan Hay has recently written a fascinating study, entitled Sensuous Surfaces, about how materials like mottled bamboo interacted with other patterns, textures and shapes in Chinese interiors during the late Ming and early Qing periods, creating subtle interweavings of visual delight and cultural meaning.

Lyme Park’s rococo moment

January 22, 2013
Detail of one of the pair of carved giltwood side tables with Portoro marble tops, accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Lyme Park. ©National Trust Collections

Detail of one of the pair of carved giltwood side tables with Portoro marble tops, accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Lyme Park. ©National Trust Collections

Among the items recently accepted by the Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to Lyme Park are some pieces of wonderfully sculptural rococo furniture.

One of a pair of carved giltwood side tables with Portoro marble tops, accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Lyme Park. ©National Trust Collections

One of a pair of carved giltwood side tables with Portoro marble tops, accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Lyme Park. ©National Trust Collections

This allocation includes a pair of carved giltwood side tables with Portoro marble tops and two pairs of carved giltwood wall brackets. One of the pairs supports two Chinese Dehua porcelain female figures.

Pair of carved giltwood brackets, mid 18th century, accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Lyme Park. ©National Trust Collections

Pair of carved giltwood brackets, mid 18th century, accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Lyme Park. ©National Trust Collections

The rococo furniture at Lyme was originally acquired by Peter Legh XIII, who inherited the house in 1744. He finished the decoration of a number of rooms remodeled by his uncle Peter Legh XII in the 1730s and early 1740s.

Female figure in Chinese Dehua porcelain, Kangxi period (1662-1722), on English carved giltwood bracket, mid 18th century, accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Lyme Park. ©National Trust Collections

Female figure in Chinese Dehua porcelain, Kangxi period (1662-1722), on English carved giltwood bracket, mid 18th century, accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Lyme Park. ©National Trust Collections

Pseudo-Chinese birds, perhaps echoing the decoration of the Chinese porcelain in the house, appear on some of the rococo girandoles introduced by Peter XIII. At the same time he also seems to have added the 17th century oak paneling that came from another family house, Bradley in Lancashire, demonstrating the eclecticism of the middle of the 18th century.

View of the Drawing Room at Lyme, showing one of the rococo carved giltwood girandoles. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

View of the Drawing Room at Lyme, showing one of the rococo carved giltwood girandoles. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The giltwood chandeliers and the harpsichord by Hitchcock also date from this period.

View of the Saloon at Lyme, with one of the carved giltwood rococo chandeliers and the contemporary harpsichord. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

View of the Saloon at Lyme, with one of the carved giltwood rococo chandeliers and the contemporary harpsichord. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

But it wasn’t all sweetness and light: Peter XIII ended up separated from his wife, led astray by his mistress and his manipulative sister, being wheeled up and down the galleries at Lyme in a bath chair. Following Peter XIII’s death in 1792 the house entered a period of neglect which wouldn’t be reversed until his great-nephew Thomas Legh came of age in 1813.

Boulle’s eye

September 4, 2012

Portrait of the 3rd Duke of Dorset by Sir Joshua Reynolds. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The taste of John Frederick Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset, was nothing if not flamboyant. He had an Italian ballerina mistress and a Chinese page; he collected old master paintings and patronised Sir Joshua Reynolds, both on a lavish scale; he was a patron of the Paris opera while he was there as ambassador in the 1770s; and he built hothouses for pineapples and other exotic plants at Knole.

Plaster sculpture of La Baccelli, a dancer and the 3rd Duke of Dorset’s mistress. ©National Trust/Jane Mucklow

The Boulle furniture at Knole is yet more evidence of the 3rd Duke’s taste. He seems to have acquired it during his ambassadorial tenure in Paris, during which he reputedly spent around £11,000 a year.

Boulle clock by Etienne Baillon. ©National Trust/Jane Mucklow

‘Boulle’ is a kind of marquetry using tortoiseshell, gilt brass, copper and tin perfected by André Charles Boulle (1642-1732).

Boulle table in the style of Etienne Levaseur. ©National Trust/Jane Mucklow

The extraordinary Boulle clock in the Ballroom at Knole is by the late 17th century clockmaker Etienne Baillon. There is also a table in the style of cabinetmaker Etienne Levasseur (1721-1798), and an early 18th century desk.

Early 18th century Boulle desk. ©National Trust/Jane Mucklow

It is interesting that the 3rd Duke acquired both new and ‘antique’ pieces of Boulle furniture. By placing them in the Jacobean Ballroom (originally a dining room) at Knole he created an almost surreally anachronistic but supremely rich ensemble.

The Ballroom at Knole. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Knole Conservation Blog has recently highlighted these items. They have suffered over the years due to the fluctuating humidity in the house, which is one of the problems that the current major conservation project is designed to tackle.


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