Archive for the ‘Ham House’ Category

Keeping up with the Jansens

May 7, 2013
Dutch family taking tea, c. 1680, attributed to Roelof Koets II (c. 1650-1725). ©Sotheby's

Dutch family taking tea, c. 1680, attributed to Roelof Koets II (c. 1650-1725). ©Sotheby’s

The 17th-century Dutch family shown in the painting above are clearly very proud of their tea things. The wife and the child are dressed to the nines and the splendid Javanese lacquer table is filled expensive-looking tea utensils.

Javanese lacquer table in the Duchess's Private Closet at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Javanese lacquer table in the Duchess’s Private Closet at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

At this time the drinking of tea was still a relatively exotic and glamorous activity in Europe – perhaps reflected in the fact that it is the husband in the painting, the head of the household, who demonstratively holds the teapot. And it was obviously deemed appropriate to have a trendy oriental lacquer table to go with this trendy oriental drink.

Javanese lacquer table in the Balcony Room at Dyrham Park. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Javanese lacquer table in the Balcony Room at Dyrham Park. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Javanese lacquer tables from that period haven’t survived in large numbers, but they can still be found in a few English and German public collections.  I have just published a little article about them in the May 2013 issue of the National Trust’s Arts, Buildings and Collections Bulletin.

Globalised lacquer

January 3, 2013
The Balcony Room at Dyrham Park, with the so-called Javanese lacquer table in the foreground. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Balcony Room at Dyrham Park, with the so-called Javanese lacquer table in the foreground. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

In mid-December I attended the Global Commodities conference at the University of Warwick, which examined the role of material culture in shaping world-wide connections in the early modern period. It was an extremely stimulating event that brought together social historians, economic historians and art historians.

Close-up of the table at Dyrham (inv. no. NT452980). ©National Trust Collections

Close-up of the table at Dyrham (inv. no. NT452980). ©National Trust Collections

Ulrike Körber, who is connected to the José de Figueiredo Laboratory at the University of Évora, gave a fascinating lecture about the complex manufacturing and trade patterns of east Asian lacquer in the 16th and 17th century. She described how objects could be designed in one place, made in another, lacquered or relacquered in a third and used in a fourth. Globalisation is clearly not just a recent phenomenon.

The Duchess's Private Closet at Ham House, with the so-called Javanese table raised on a European base. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The Duchess’s Private Closet at Ham House, with the so-called Javanese table raised on a European base. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

This reminded me of the unusual lacquer tables at Dyrham Park, Gloucestershire, and  Ham House, Surrey, which have traditionally been called ‘Javanese’. They both date from the late 17th century and somehow reached England through the East India trade. The one at Ham was adapted to the needs of chair-sitting Europeans by being mounted on a barley-twist base, a telling example of the appropriation – at once practical and symbolic – of an Asian object into a European setting.

Close-up of the table at Ham (inv. no. NT1140034). ©National Trust Collections

Close-up of the table at Ham (inv. no. NT1140034). ©National Trust Collections

But we are not even sure whether these tables did indeed come from Java. There are some related tables in a few German collections, dating from around the same time and with similar distinctive pie-crust rims, but drum-shaped instead of rectangular.

Drum-shaped, reputedly Javanese lacquer tea table (Teetrommel), formerly in the state apartments of the Residenz, Rastatt, Baden. ©Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe

Drum-shaped, reputedly Javanese lacquer tea table (Teetrommel), formerly in the state apartments of the Residenz, Rastatt, Baden. ©Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe

I am hoping to correspond further with Ulrike and with some of the other conference participants to try to find out more about this rare category of lacquer objects – and of course I would very much welcome any suggestions here too.

Scottish orientalism

December 11, 2012
Japanned chair, c. 1680, possibly by John Ridge, at Ham House, Surrey. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Japanned chair, c. 1680, possibly by John Ridge, at Ham House, Surrey. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

I gave a talk at Ham House yesterday to some of the volunteers who help to open the house to the public. The volunteers all know Ham inside out, so I tried not to talk about the house itself but about the wider context of orientalism and baroque decoration.

Japanned chair, c. 1680, possibly by John Ridge, formerly at Ham House. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Japanned chair, c. 1680, possibly by John Ridge, formerly at Ham House. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Nevertheless the discussion did occasionally circle back to Ham, which in many ways is such a wonderful baroque time capsule. One of the interesting questions from the audience was whether it was known who had made the rare sets of japanned chairs at Ham, with their hybrid sino-European outlines.

Japanned armchair attributed to John Ridge, 1682, at Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh. Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Japanned armchair attributed to John Ridge, 1682, at Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh. Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

One of those chairs resides in the V&A, and I had recently noticed that the excellent online catalogue entry for it mentions the furniture maker John Ridge. The link is explained by the fact that a set of japanned chairs at the palace of Holyroodhouse is similar to the sets at Ham in having front stretchers with elaborately shaped outlines. The Holyrood chairs, in turn, have been associated with John Ridge’s 1682 account for a japanned suite supplied to the Duchess of Hamilton.

Coromandel lacquer cabinet on a japanned stand attributed to John Ridge, c. 1690, formerly in the collection of the Dukes of Buccleuch. © Christie's

Coromandel lacquer cabinet on a japanned stand attributed to John Ridge, c. 1690, formerly in the collection of the Dukes of Buccleuch. © Christie’s

While doing an online search for John Ridge I also spotted a Coromandel lacquer cabinet dating to about 1690 with a japanned stand which has been attributed to him. It came up at auction at Christie’s a few years ago and has a provenance from the Dukes of Buccleuch. These attributions are all relatively tentative, but it is interesting that they seem to be associated with Scottish patrons, perhaps indicating the existence of a Scottish version of baroque orientalism.

Cutting up the Coromandel

May 14, 2012

Six-fold incised lacquer screen decorated with scenes of Europeans hunting, one half of what was originally a twelve-fold screen, at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to be at Ham House, Surrey, looking at the lacquer objects there in the company of house manager Victoria Bradley and Kate Hay, a curator at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Kate is doing research into the use of East Asian lacquer in Britain in the seventeenth century. Her work will inform some of the displays in the new Furniture Materials and Techniques gallery at the V&A, which is due to open in December 2012.

The other half of the twelve-fold incised lacquer screen, in a different room at Ham. ©National Trust/Christopher Warleigh-Lack

Ham is a treasure trove of late seventeenth-century decoration, including a number of pieces of East Asian incised lacquer (sometimes called Coromandel lacquer), which was fashionable in Europe at that time.

Sometimes East Asian pieces of lacquer were used in a fairly straightforward way, as in the case of the screen shown above, which was simply divided in half to be used as two separate screens. In another way this is a rather puzzling piece, however, since it is decorated with the unusual subject of exotic-looking Europeans out hunting – a kind of chinoiserie in reverse.

Cabinet made up with sections of incised lacquer, in the Queen’s Antechamber at Ham. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Sometimes incised lacquer panels were cut up in order to be wrapped around European-made cabinets, as was done with a cabinet in the Queen’s Antechamber at Ham. When Kate, Victoria and I looked at this cabinet more closely, we found that there were five separate sections of lacquer.

The two end sections, including the corners of the decorative border, had been used to make a reasonably balanced composition on the front, and the other pieces were fitted to the sides. The break between the sections on the front is not in the middle, where the two doors meet, but further to the right, presumably because the European cabinetmaker felt that made better visual sense.

Mirror veneered with small sections of incised lacquer, c. 1680, in the Withdrawing Room at Ham. ©National Trust/Christopher Warleigh-Lack

Even more liberties were taken with the incised lacquer on the mirror hanging in the Withdrawing Room. The various surfaces of the frame were veneered with a large number of small pieces of lacquer, which all seemed to have come from one original panel or object. Any pretense at continuous decoration had been abandoned, as some pieces were inserted sideways, and others even upside down.

Kate Hay’s reconstruction of how the fragments of lacquer on the Ham mirror relate to one another. ©Victoria & Albert Museum/Kate Hay

Kate took a number of photographs and used those images subsequently to try to get a better idea of the origial lacquer object. She thinks that it could have supplied the lacquer for two mirrors – a commercially sensible use of such an expensive ‘raw material’. A similar English mirror veneered with incised lacquer will be on display in the V&A’s Furniture Materials and Techniques gallery.

Side table of about 1675 decorated with – or in the style of – incised lacquer, in the Withdrawing Room at Ham. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

A lacquered table in the same room presented us with yet another puzzle: it appears to be made of Chinese incised lacquer, but its silhouette is very much in the European baroque style. Was it made to order in China and then sent back, possibly as a kind of ‘flat-pack’? Was the top made in China and the legs in Europe? Was the whole thing made in Europe as a high-grade imitation of Chinese incised lacquer?

So Ham is still confounding us, but we hope to keep finding out more with the help of Kate’s ongoing research.

A garden of reason at Ham House

April 24, 2012

One of the figures in 'eight ſculptures' by Alan Kane and Simon Periton in the Wilderness at Ham. Courtesy the artists and Sadie Coles HQ and Ancient and Modern/Jamie Woodley

Ham House will be hosting a contemporary art exhibition called Garden of Reason between 28 April and 23 September 2012. Nine artists have been invited to create work inspired by the seventeenth-century garden of Ham House.

The south front of Ham House seen from the Wilderness, c. 1675-1679, by Henry Danckerts. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The title of the exhibition refers to the ‘age of reason’, the development of new philosophical systems in Europe in the seventeenth century based on strictly rational analysis and scientific research. The artists have been given access to the seventeenth-century archives relating to Ham and its owner, the feisty Elizabeth Murray, Countess of Dysart and Duchess of Lauderdale.

Portrait of Elizabeth Murray, later Countess of Dysart and Duchess of Lauderdale, by Sir Peter Lely. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

‘Eight ſculptures’ by Alan Kane and Simon Periton is an imaginative recreation of the sculptures (or ‘ſculptures’, as it was written at the time – with thanks to the helpful commenter below) that used to grace the Wilderness garden at Ham. Those sculptures were copies of famous Renaissance and antique works, and Kane and Periton are investigating issues of cultural plunder, copying and disappearance.

Part of 'Weight of air' by Ruth Proctor in the front colonnade of Ham House. ©National Trust

Ruth Proctor has inserted large helium balloons into the Wilderness and also into the front collonade of the house, as part of her work ‘Weight of air’. Proctor was inspired by Galileo’s investigations into the weight and speed of falling objects and the developing knowledge about atmospheric pressure.

Part of 'Weight of air' by Ruth Proctor, in the Wilderness at Ham. ©National Trust

The Garden of Reason project has its own blog where team members are posting updates, background information and images.

Cataloguing the Duchess’s teapot

January 17, 2012

Chinese porcelain teapot, Zhangzhou white ware, c. 1650-1670 with European silver-gilt mounts, c. 1660-1680, at Ham House (inv. no. 1139006). ©NTPL/Bill Batten

At Ham House, Surrey, there is an old and rather iconic Chinese teapot, which normally lives on a tea table in the so-called Duchess’s Private Closet. It has traditionally been called the Duchess of Lauderdale’s teapot, as it is thought to have been owned by Elizabeth Murray, Countess of Dysart and later Countess and Duchess of Lauderdale (1626-1698).

Portrait of the Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale, by Sir Peter Lely, at Ham House (inv. no. 1139789). ©NTPL/John Bethell

The Duchess of Lauderdale played an important role in creating the appearance of Ham House as we can still see it today. Her husband John Maitland, 1st Duke of Lauderdale, was an intimate of Charles II and was given the powerful post of Secretary of State for Scotland. At Ham the Lauderdales created grand suites of apartments with sumptuous furnishings sourced from across Europe and even from the Far East.

Chinese porcelain vase, Zhangzhou white ware, Kangxi period (1662-1722), height 334 mm, in the British Museum, on loan from the Sir Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art (inv. no. AN569782001). ©Trustees of the British Museum

We don’t have absolute proof that the Duchess owned the teapot, but it is thought to date from about 1650-1670, so the period fits. In the past it has been variously described as ‘celadon’ or as Ge, Tongqi or Dehua ware. However, the National Trust’s ceramics adviser Patricia Ferguson recently noticed that a vase with a similar glaze in the British Museum had been recatalogued as white Zhangzhou ware.

The Duchess's Private Closet at Ham House, with the Chinese teapot on the Javanese tea table. ©NTPL/John Hammond

This is a rare type of underfired porcelain produced at the Zhangzhou kilns in Fujian province during the seventeenth century in imitation of the famous white-glazed Ding ware. Zhangzhou white wares were not generally made for export and this particular teapot must have come to Europe in the private cargo of a European merchant. At Ham House it sits on another late-seventeenth-century exotic rarity, a low Javanese table raised on a European base to serve as a tea table.

Lord Huntingtower’s pistol

September 22, 2011

Pistol by James Barbar at Ham House. ©NTPL/John Hammond

In the spring of 2007 National Trust curator Christopher Rowell was told that an eighteenth-century cannon-barrelled pistol with a connection to Ham House was going to come up at auction at Lyon & Turnbull in Edinburgh.

The pistol was dated to about 1750 and its silver Rococo escutcheon was engraved with the Tollemache crest surmounted with a Viscount’s coronet. This indicated that it had belonged to Lionel Tollemache, Viscount Huntingtower (1734-1799), who succeeded as the 5th Earl of Dysart, and inhertited Ham, in 1770.

Portrait of Viscount Huntingtower, later the 5th Earl of Dysart, c. 1750. ©National Trust /Christopher Warleigh-Lack

The National Trust’s firearms adviser, Brian Godwin, argued in favour of bidding for it, as he judged it to be a superb example of eighteenth-century English gunmaking. Its maker, James Barbar, was the son and apprentice of the celebrated Huguenot craftsman Louis Barbar, whom he succeeded as Gentleman Armourer to the King.

©NTPL/John Hammond

The pistol’s silver mounts incorporate Rococo decorative elements such as shells and flowers and a trophy of arms. As it is numbered ‘2’ it must originally have been one of a pair. At the auction in June 2007 we managed to buy the pistol for £4,693, funded from gifts and bequests.

Enfilade at Ham House. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The pistol is also interesting in having belonged to the 5th Earl of Dysart, who is somewhat under-represented in the collection at Ham. In 1760 he secretly married Charlotte Walpole, the niece of Horace Walpole who lived across the Thames in his celebrated villa Strawberry Hill. The 4th Earl disapproved of the match and refused to make any settlement on the couple, providing them with an allowance of only £400 a year.

The Long Gallery, described by Horace Walpole as: "... an old brown gallery full of Vandycks and Lelys..." ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

When the 5th Earl and his wife came into their inheritance Horace Walpole immediately popped over to have a look at Ham, but the atmosphere of time suspended was evidently a bit overwhelming, even for someone of his avid historical curiosity:

Close to the Thames in the centre of all rich and verdant beauty, it is so blocked up and barricaded with walls, vast trees, and gates, that you think of yourself an hundred miles off and an hundred years back. The old furniture is so magnificently ancient, dreary and decayed, that at every step one’s spirits sink, and all my passion for antiquity could not keep them up.

Some of the "Lelys, ... china, japan" glimpsed by Walpole ©NTPL/John Hammond

He continued:

There is an old brown gallery full of Vandycks and Lelys, charming miniatures, delightful Wouvermans, and Polenburghs, china, Japan, bronzes, ivory cabinets, and silver dogs, pokers, bellows etc., without end. (…) In this state of pomp and tatters my nephew intends it shall remain (…).

"... ivory cabinets, and silver dogs, pokers, bellows etc, without end." ©NTPL/John Hammond

The 5th Earl became increasingly miserly and reclusive as he grew older, even refusing entry to King George III. But it was partly due to this period of stasis and isolation (coupled with later campaigns of conscientious restoration) that the remarkable Baroque ambiance at Ham was preserved.  

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.

Dairy Queens

February 18, 2011

Interior of the Dairy at Ham House. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

When Janet Blyberg and I recently visited Ham House, we had a peek at the small Dairy there, with its charming benches with painted cast iron supports in the shape of cow’s legs.

Victorian implements for making ice cream in the Dairy. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Janet mentioned a recently published book by Meredith Martin called Dairy Queens: The Politics of Pastoral Architecture from Catherine de’ Medici to Marie-Antoinette (Harvard University Press, 2011).

In analysing the pleasure dairies of early modern France, Martin contends that they were not frivolous playthings, as traditionally thought, but that they were in fact statements of feminine identity and purpose. A more detailed review of the book can be found here on Enfilade. I haven’t read the book yet, but I intend to order it, so you may read more about it here in a little while.

From virtual to real, and back again

February 14, 2011

Janet Blyberg at Ham House. ©Emile de Bruijn

In this digitized world of ours it is easy to forget the benfits of real, face-to-face communication. So when fellow-blogger Janet Blyberg told me she would travelling from Washington to London on business it was a great opportunity to meet the person behind the blog.

Marble Hill House, between Richmond and Ham. ©Emile de Bruijn

I met her in Richmond, and we walked along the Thames to Ham House, exchanging news and gossip from our respective organisations  – Janet works in the museums and heritage sector too, as you will have noticed from her blog.

Petersham Meadows, on the outskirts of Richmond, with encouraging evidence of recent hedgelaying activity. ©Emile de Bruijn

We walked past Petersham Meadows, which was once part of the Ham estate and is now owned by Richmond Council. In October 2010 the National Trust took on the management of it, a kind of joint venture that we will probably see more of in the future.

Lead bust of a Roman emperor who looks as if he is about to nod off, adding to the sleeping-beauty atmosphere at Ham. ©Emile de Bruijn

Although both Janet and I had visited Ham before, we joined one of the short guided tours which allow visitors to see some parts of the House before the proper open season has started.

Portrait of Lady Henrietta Cavendish, Lady Huntingtower, in riding habit, by Kneller, 1715, at Ham. ©National Trust

In the garden I tried to capture the first forsythia blossoms in a Janet Blyberg-style close-up photograph, but of course I failed utterly – you will have to keep an eye on her blog to see if she is going to feature her own, true ‘Blyberg’ images of this jaunt.

Bovine motif in the Dairy at Ham which, Janet tells me, originally came from the frieze of the Temple of Jupiter Tonans in Rome, via Desgodetz's book Les édifices Antiques de Rome (1682). ©Emile de Bruijn

It was great to meet Janet, to match the blog persona with the real person.

One of the Baroque-style planters that were recently recreated for Ham. ©Emile de Bruijn

But thinking about the often flimsy boundary between what is real and what is virtual, it occurs to me that if I was a really clever Borges-style narrator with access to the latest imaging technology, I could in theory have completely made up this post.

Weathered armrest of one of the garden benches at Ham. ©Emile de Bruijn

Indeed, I might even have fabricated the existence of ‘Janet Blyberg’, ‘Petersham Meadows’ and ‘Ham House’. Perhaps this whole blog is just a reflection of my endlessly inventive imagination? You will have to visit Ham to find out for yourself.