Archive for the ‘Furniture’ Category

Clever waiters

April 3, 2012

Black basaltes ware bust of the actor David Garrick, on a dumb waiter in the Book Room at Wimpole Hall. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Courtney Barnes recently mentioned the tiered tables known as ‘dumb waiters’ on her blog Style Court. These tables were originally developed in the eighteenth century as convenient pieces of furniture to keep food and drink available in the evening after the servants had been dismissed. The traditional name presumably refers to the tables’ role as mute servants, rather than mentally challenged ones.

The Book Room at Wimpole. The plasterwork in the forground dates from the James Gibbs phase of the room, while the elliptical arches were designed by John Soane. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

I have found another example of such a tiered table in the Book Room at Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire. I am not sure whether this particular one was originally used to hold food and was later moved to the library, or whether tiered tables were sometimes specifically made to hold books.

The chimneypiece and overmantel mirror in the Book Room designed by Soane. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The two main library rooms at Wimpole have a fascinating history. The original Library was created by James Gibbs in the late 1720s to house part of the the huge collection of books and pamphlets of the manic accumulator Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford.

View from the Book Room into the Library. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Gibbs also created part of what is now the Book Room by annexing half of the orangery and turning it into an anteroom to the Library. This room was extended in 1806 by Sir John Soane for Philip Yorke, 3rd Earl of Hardwicke. Soane designed the characteristic elliptical arches decorated with paterae, executed by the plasterer John Papworth.

The Library at Wimpole, originally created by Gibbs for the 2nd Earl of Oxford. The windows at the far end and on the left were added later. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The history of the books at Hardwicke is even more convoluted: almost all of the 2nd Earl of Oxford’s books left Wimpole after his death, but the 1st Earl of Hardwicke brought in his own collection, as well as one inherited from Lord Chancellor Somers. His sons Philip Yorke, the 2nd Earl, and Charles Yorke also added to the books at Wimpole, including a collection inherited by the latter’s wife from Tittenhanger in Hertfordshire.

View of the Library looking towards the Book Room. The set of library steps began its life as a pulpit. The pair of globes dates from the early nineteenth century. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Philip Yorke, the 3rd Earl, sold some books in 1792 (while simultaneously commissioning Soane to enlarge the Book Room) and Charles ‘Champagne Charlie’ Yorke, the 5th Earl, sold a large part of the library in 1888. In the 20th century Captain and Mrs Bambridge once again added collections of books. These included some rare editions of Rudyard Kipling’s works, Elsie Bambridge being his only surviving child.

Upward thrust at Beningbrough

March 22, 2012

State bed, probably made in the early eighteenth century for James, 3rd Viscount Scudamore, by Francis Lapierre and at Holme Lacy until brought to Beningbrough in about 1918 (inv. no. 1190812). ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Seeing these images of the baroque state beds at Beningbrough Hall, North Yorkshire, reminded me of the upward thrust of much baroque decoration.

The State Bedchamber at Beningbrough. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The beds with their elaborate canopies happily echo the vertically oriented panelling of the rooms crowned by intricately carved friezes. You are encouraged to look up, and be amazed.

Carving over one of the doors and in the frieze of the State Bedchamber. ©NTPL/Horst Kolo

The beds originally came from Holme Lacy in Herefordshire, latterly the seat of the Earls of Chesterfield. The 10th Earl of Chesterfield sold Holme Lacy in 1909 and bought Beningbrough in 1917.

State bed probably made by Francis Lapierre for Holme Lacy in the early eighteenth century. Given to the National Trust by the Art Fund in memory of Graham Baron Ash of Wingfield Castle, Suffolk, 1980 (inv. no. 1190874). ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The red state bed came to Beningbrough at around that time. The blue state bed was sold by the Chesterfields when they left Holme Lacy but rejoined its twin at Beningbrough in 1980.

The Blue Bedroom at Beningbrough. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Both beds were probably made by the émigré French upholsterer Francis Lapierre (active 1683 – d. 1714) and are in the style of Daniel Marot (1661-1752), the court architect and designer who popularised baroque decoration in Britain.

The Hall at Beningbrough. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

So here the story here is not just about art history, social history and family history, but also about the visual and spatial interaction between objects and spaces.

Pagodas please

November 15, 2011

The park at Shugborough, with its pagoda (centre right) erected in the early 1750s. Watercolour by Nicholas Dall, at Shugborough. ©National Trust.

I was fortunate enough to be asked to join a panel discussion at Christie’s Education in London last week on the subject of chinoiserie. As I was assembling some images of chinoiserie decoration for that event I noticed how the motif of the pagoda kept coming back in different guises.

Satinwood writing and dressing table with 'pagoda' decoration, possibly made by the Chippendale workshop and originally at Longford Castle, now at Clandon Park (Gubbay collection). ©NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie

One of the first images of a pagoda to appear in the west must be the one of the so-called Porcelain Pagoda of Nanjing (named after the ceramic materials used to decorate it) included in Johan Nieuhof’s 1665 book about China.

Illustration of a pagoda seen by William Chambers, in his 1757 book Designs of Chinese Buildings. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Pagodas became one of the motifs that exemplified the wondrous exoticism of China in western eyes.

Model of a pagoda made of mother-of-pearl by Betty Ratcliffe, a servant at Erddig, in 1767. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The distinction between Chinese pavilions, mansions and pagodas was generally rather vague in the western mind. European imitation-Chinese or chinoiserie pavilions often sprouted several stacked miniature roofs or turrets, as if they were poised to mutate into mature pagodas.

Doorcase of the Chinese Room at Claydon House, created by the craftsman Luke Lightfoot for the 2nd Earl Verney in the 1760s. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The motif was used right across the decorative arts and appeared in decorative wall surfaces and plasterwork as well as in furniture and as garden pavilions.

Regency cabinet with a 'pagoda' roof at Castle Coole, Co. Fermanagh. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The heyday of pagodas in England was the middle of the eighteenth century, when chinoiserie garden pavilions popped up everywhere and William Chambers, who had actually been to China, built his full-size (and still extant) pagoda at Kew.

The Chinese Temple at Biddulph Grange, Staffordshire, where a 'China' garden was created in the 1840s. ©NTPL/Ian Shaw

The pagoda continued to be used as a decorative motif through the Regency and Victorian periods, and it is still popular in chinoiserie wallpapers and fabrics produced today. A few years ago I advised garden designer Todd-Longstaffe Gowan on the decoration of a splendid pagoda-roofed chicken run, and recently I spotted a similarly sumptuous chinoiserie dog bed. Pagodas seems to be an enduring symbol of China as a fairytale realm, a pleasant dream-world detached from the flow of history.

The Pagoda in the garden at Cliveden, originally made for the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1867, a copy of a pavilion at Romainville, which was in turn based on an illustration in Chambers's book. It was acquired by the Marquess of Hertford for his Paris residence Bagatelle, and then bought by Viscount Astor and brought to Cliveden in 1900. ©National Trust

But now I see that the original Porcelain Pagoda of Nanjing, which was destroyed in 1856 during the Taiping Rebellion, is to be rebuilt as a proud symbol of a newly resurgent China – perhaps opening a new chapter in the semantic history of the pagoda.

Seeing beneath the surface at Knole

June 23, 2011

©National Trust/3DX-Ray

Helen Fawbert and her team at Knole have recently spent a day x-raying some of the magnificent pieces of furniture in the house.

The x-ray equipment being set up. ©National Trust

This was part of the conservation work being done in the Reynolds Room at Knole, which I featured earlier.

©National Trust/3DX-Ray

X-radiography is a non-invasive technique that can reveal the construction, condition and previous repairs of antique furniture.

A torchère being x-rayed. ©National Trust

James Young of 3DX-Ray Ltd was called in to trial the process at Knole.

©National Trust/3DX-Ray

3DX-Ray’s equipment is portable and can be safely used in situations where the objects to be examined are fragile or difficult to access or move – particularly useful in the context of historic houses.

©National Trust/3DX-Ray

The resulting images were unexpectedly clear – and even beautiful in themselves – and revealed not just nails and screws but also layers of upholstery and even woodworm tunnels.

©National Trust/3DX-Ray

These images will be part of the initial assessment of the furniture in the Reynolds Room.

©National Trust/3DX-Ray

This will be followed by a physical examination of the pieces by a conservator, who will then put together a conservation plan.

©National Trust/3DX-Ray

The Reynolds Room project will be used as a model for the conservation work planned to take place all over the house during the next ten years.

The Drydens’ furniture at Canons Ashby

June 1, 2011

Portrait of Edward Dryden and his family by Jonathan Richardson the elder, c. 1716. ©NTPL

It’s nice if you know the names of the people conncected with specific pieces of early-eighteenth-century furniture; it is even better when you have a portrait of them.

View of the west front of Canons Ashby from the Green Court. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

The above portrait of Edward Dryden, his wife Elizabeth Allen and their children was purchased by the National Trust with the help of the Art Fund in 1987. Edward, a wealthy London grocer, was the nephew of the poet John Dryden.

Walnut chair with embroidered cover, part of a set supplied by Thomas Phil. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The picture hangs at Canons Ashby, Northamptonshire, the house that Edward remodeled between 1708 and 1710. The painting also includes a glimpse of the just completed garden.

Sofa with needlework cover, from the set suplied by Thomas Phil. ©NTPL

The set of furniture was originally supplied by Thomas Phill of the Strand, who in 1716 submitted a bill for chairs with ‘frames of ye newest hashion stufft up in Lynnen’ and ‘for makeing ye needle worke covers & fixeing ym in the chaires.’ They were sold in 1938, but bought back and donated to Canons Ashby by an anonymous benefactor in 1983, soon after the National Trust had acquired and restored the house.

A touch of Robert Adam

April 27, 2011

Pair of late-eighteenth-century cutlery urns with a provenance from Chirk Castle and Bowood House. ©Christie’s

We have just managed to buy a pair of urn-shaped cutlery boxes for Chirk Castle, near Wrexham, Wales, that may have been designed by Robert Adam. The urns were originally made for Bowood House, in Wiltshire, the country house of the first Marquess of Lansdowne, which Adam helped to build and decorate.

The boxes came to Chirk Castle in the twentieth century through Lady Margaret Nairne, who had connections with the Lansdowne family and who married Lieutenant-Colonel Ririd Myddelton of Chirk in 1931. They were sold by the Myddelton family in 2004, and we bought them back at auction at Christie’s in New York on 14 April.

The east front of Chirk Castle. ©NTPL/Matthew Antrobus

Chirk Castle still clearly shows it medieval origins. It was built around 1300 as part of a string of castles consolidating the Welsh conquests of the English King Edward I. In 1595 Chirk was purchased by the Elizabethan merchant adventurer Thomas Myddelton, whose descendants inhabited it for the next four hundred years.

The State Dining Room at Chirk. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The State Dining Room at Chirk, where the cutlery boxes will soon be put back, was redecorated in the neo-classical manner for Richard Myddelton, MP, in the late 1770s. This late eighteenth-century layer of taste at Chirk was followed by a Victorian phase of decoration, designed by A.W. Pugin.

The reacquired cutlery urns, in turn, represent the era of Lieutenant-Colonel Ririd Myddelton and his wife Lady Margaret, who cared for the castle after the Second World War. In 1978 they sold Chirk to the government, which conveyed it to the National Trust in 1981.

The locket and the coffer

February 28, 2011

Silver locket with a portrait in gold of Henry Stuart, Duke of Gloucester (1640-1660). ©Holloway's

Last week we managed to purchase two seventeenth-century objects with a connection to Ham House, Surrey. The locket and the strongbox were being sold in an auction at Holloway’s, Banbury, and have a provenance from the Tollemache family, who descended from Elizabeth Murray, Countess of Dysart and Duchess of Lauderdale (1628-1698).

Strong-box dating from the 1670s, with a provenance from the Tollemache family. ©Holloway's

The locket commemorates the death of Henry, Duke of Gloucester, the short-lived youngest son of King Charles I, and may originally have contained a lock of his hair. During the Civil War Henry was captured by the Parliamentarian forces and for a while he was brought up by guardians appointed by Parliament. Partly as a result of this he became a staunch Protestant.

Walnut strong-box mounted in brass, c. 1675, on a c. 1730 stand, in the Duchess's Bedchamber at Ham. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Henry returned to London when his eldest brother Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, but he died of smallpox shortly afterwards. It was later remarked that, had he lived, he would have been an acceptable alternative as king to his brother, the Catholic James II, who was ousted in 1688.

The Duchess's Bedchamber at Ham, showing another strongbox next to the fireplace. ©NTPL/John Hammond

William Murray, the first Earl of Dysart, who remodelled the interiors of Ham in the late 1630s, had grown up with Charles I and was an influential member of his court. His daughter Elizabeth stayed loyal to the Stuarts during the Interregnum, secretly conspiring for the return of Charles II. The locket may have belonged to her, but its precise significance is not yet clear.

The Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale, by Sir Peter Lely. ©NTPL/John Bethell

After Elizabeth married the Duke of Lauderdale in 1672 more enlargements and refurbishments were put in train at Ham. The strongbox purchased last week is very similar to one still at Ham House and recorded as being in the Duchess’s Bedchamber in the 1683 inventory.

©NTPL/John Hammond

These strongboxes fulfilled an important function in keeping money, valuables and important documents secure in seventeenth-century houses where there was very little privacy.  The locket and the coffer are rather potent objects, both for what they contained and for what they symbolised.

Into the closet

January 18, 2011


The entrance to the Green Closet at Ham from the Long Gallery. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Ham House website now has a downloadable guide to the miniatures and cabinet pictures in the Green Closet (see the link under ‘Guidebook’).

The south and west walls of the Green Closet. The electric lights are copies of those the 9th Earl of Dysart installed before 1904. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The Green Closet is a rare survival of an early seventeenth-century private cabinet designed for the display of small pictures and other treasures.

Some of the miniatures on display, including in the centre a portrait of Elizabeth I by Nicholas Hilliard (1547-1619). ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The raised ceiling painted by Franz Cleyn (1582-1658) was inserted in 1637-9.

The east wall. The closet was purposefully designed with one window in the north wall to provide a steady light and reduce light damage. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The present silk damask used for the wall hangings and uphholstery is a recreation of the ‘green damask’ that was known to be there after 1672.

Small cabinet picture by either Ambrosius II Bosschaert (1609-1645) or Abraham Bosschaert (1612/13-1643). ©NTPL/John Hammond

The ebony table of c. 1670 with caryatid supports is inset with the silver monogram of Elizabeth Murray (1626-1698) when she was Countesss of Dysart.

The 'fire pan garnished with silver' and the 'brass fender guilt' recorded in 1683 are still in the fireplace. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The Louis XIV-style design of the table (and of the stools and cabinet stands) is based on engravings by Jean le Pautre (1618-1682). The Japanese lacquer cabinets date from about 1630.

Traces of the Bachelor Duke

October 20, 2010

The Long Gallery at Hardwick ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Hardwick Hall is one of those places that look deceptively unchanged. In a previous post I referred to the building of the house by Bess of Hardwick in the late sixteenth century. In fact, a huge amount of change took place there subsequently, particularly during the time of William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire (1790-1858).

The canopy in the Long Gallery, from a bed made by Francis Lapierre for Chatsworth in 1697. ©NTPL/Nick Guttridge

The ‘Bachelor Duke’, as he was known, inherited the title and the huge Cavendish estates in 1811, at the age of 21. He was spoilt and extravagant, but also lively and loveable, and he greatly enjoyed entertaining, in spite of his increasing deafness.

Early-eighteenth-century bed in the Green Velvet Room. ©NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie

The Bachelor Duke combined an abiding interest in the past with a Regency love of splendour. At Hardwick he restored the fabric and the interiors of the house, but he didn’t hesitate to move things around and add furnishings from some of his other properties.

Bed from about 1740 in the Cut Velvet Bedroom. ©NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie

He greatly increased the number of paintings hung on the tapestries in the Long Gallery, for instance, effectively making it into an art gallery. He also added the tester and head of a 1697 state bed brought from Chatsworth halfway down the Gallery, in a romantic recreation of the state canopies of Bess of Hardwick’s day.

Cupboard in the style of Jean Goujon set against Flemish tapestries in the Withdrawing Chamber.©NTPL/Nick Guttridge

The early eighteenth-century green velvet bed at Hardwick was brought by the Bachelor Duke from Londesborough Hall in Yorkshire, which the Cavendishes had inherited from the Earl of Burlington in 1753. The cut velvet bed in another room, by Thomas Hardy and dating from about 1740, came from Chatsworth.

Conservation work being done on one of the Gideon tapestries from the Long Gallery at Hardwick, part of a long-term programme of conservation being undertaken at the textile conservation workshop at Blickling Hall. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The Bachelor Duke was also responsible for adding more tapestries to the walls of Hardwick, using it almost like wallpaper. It appealed to his romantic eye, as well as providing some protection against the perishingly cold Derbyshire winters.

Easter gifts

April 2, 2010

The south front of Lyme Park, designed by Giacomo Leoni and built between 1729 and 1732. ©NTPL/Arnhel de Serra

A group of objects with a provenance from Lyme Park, Cheshire, has just been accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax from Nicholas Legh and the Hon Mrs Simon Weinstock (formerly Laura Legh) and allocated to the National Trust for display at Lyme. 

The Drawing Room at Lyme, showing some of the furniture accepted in lieu of tax. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

This munificent transfer comes right on time to add to the bounties of Easter. As it happens, this year the invaluable Acceptance in Lieu Scheme has been in existence for 100 years.

One of the chairs with needlework covers imitating cut velvet. Image: National Trust

The allocation includes a set of mid-eighteenth-century mahogany chairs with their original needlework covers. The needlework is deliberately raised above the linen ground in imitation of cut velvet. Needlework was highly valued at this time, and was generally used on the best chairs in the most important rooms. However, savings were made by covering the backs with watered wool.

The Drawing Room, showing the chairs in situ. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The chairs were originally acquired by Peter Legh XIII, who inherited Lyme in 1744. He also introduced the carved giltwood chandeliers and the Rococo girandoles to the Drawing Room. The early seventeenth-century panelling was transferred by him from another Legh property, Bradley in Lancashire – an early example of historicist decoration.