Archive for the ‘Leather screens and hangings’ Category

Chickens and eggs

February 13, 2014
Detail of leather wall-hangings in the Dining Room at Bateman's. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Detail of leather wall-hangings in the Dining Room at Bateman’s. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

I have recently been looking at the similarities between the flowering trees, birds and rocks on Chinese silk and on Chinese wallpaper. There seems to have been a lot of visual cross-fertilisation going on, not only between these different categories of Chinese products, but also involving the ‘tree of life’ motifs on Indian chintz.

©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Another element in this fascinating but confusing mix is the category of European leather wall-hangings, like this set at Bateman’s. Many of these hangings are clearly decorated with the same type of bird and flower imagery.

©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The closest parallels to these seem to the the stylised, serpentine ‘tree of life’ motifs on Indian chintzes. But those, in turn, seems to have been partly influenced by European embroideries and by Chinese garden imagery as seen on textiles, lacquer, porcelain and wallpaper.

©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

It is a classic ‘chicken and egg’ problem: which came first? It may prove to be impossible to identify the Ur-version of this type of decoration, but we can certainly learn more by making further comparisons.

Loving the leather

July 31, 2012

Leather screen decorated with chinoiserie motifs at Greyfriars, Worcestershire. © National Trust Collections

Friend, francophile and and fellow blogger Susan Walter suggested that I post something about the leather screens often to be found in historic houses (she recently did a post about the leather panelling at Cheverny).

Leather screen decorated with scenes derived from Coromandel lacquer, at Blickling Hall, Norfolk. © National Trust Collections

There do indeed appear to be a number of such screens in various National Trust houses. They seem to be something of a Cinderella category, sitting in a corner of the dining room or lurking in a corridor like wallflowers at a party.

Detail of the Blickling leather screen. © National Trust Collections

Their relative obscurity is compounded by the fact that little is known about who made them, and they are difficult to date exactly. What is clear, however, is that they are often decorated to look like east Asian lacquer, and they appeared in the slipstream of the popularity of lacquer screens in European interiors.

Leather screen decorated with chinoiserie motifs at Tintinhull, Somerset. © National Trust Collections

The excellent book by Hans Huth, Lacquer of the West (University of Chicago Press, 1971) does mention a few useful facts about imitation-lacquer leather screens.

Fragment of leather decorated in imitation of Coromandel lacquer set into a firescreen at Lyme Park, Cheshire. © National Trust Collections

Huth writes that the craft of making leather hangings was probably introduced to Britain in the Restoration period. in 1666 a certain Hugh Robinson applied for a permit to settle in London stating that he had learned his leatherworking skills in Amsterdam and could produce leather ‘brighter than gold’.

Leather screen decorated in imitation of black and gold Chinese lacquer, at Dunham Massey, Chesire. © National Trust Collections

In 1716 the London Gazette carried an advertisement from leather gilder Joseph Fletcher proclaiming that he could provide ‘leather hangings in the latest fashion of the Chinese style to cover walls, settees and screene.’ The area around St Paul’s Churchyard seems to have been a centre for the leatherworking trade.

Leather screen decorated in imitation of Chinese wallpaper or Indian chintz, at Batemans, East Sussex. © National Trust Collections

According to Huth most leather screens can be dated to the first half of the eighteenth century. After about 1740 lacquer and leather screens were increasingly being replaced by screens covered with decorative paper or wallpaper.

Leather screen decorated in imitation of Chinese wallpaper or Indian chintz, at Clandon Park, Surrey. © National Trust Collections © National Trust Collections

Leather screens were made from calf- or goat-skin. The leather was smoothed and covered in silver leaf which was then burnished and coated with transparent yellow japanning. The design was painted on top in oil paints and the backgound might be tooled, whereupon the whole panel was varnished.

The Dutch connection

July 2, 2010

The Diogenes Room at Dyrham, taking its name from the subject of the tapestries, and also featuring Delft flower pyramids and other vessels. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Dyrham Park, in Gloucestershire, has a variety of Dutch collections. I previously mentioned the Dutch paintings, but there is also a rare collection of seventeenth-century Delft glazed earthenware.

William Blathwayt (?1649-1717) by Michael Dahl. ©NTPL/Ian Blantern

These Delft vessels and flower stands were acquired by William Blathwayt during his travels on the Continent. As a high-ranking official under William III (if a slightly plodding one – he was known as ‘the elephant’) he frequently accompanied the Dutch king on his visits back to Holland.

One of the Delft flower holders at Dyrham. The painted decoration is derived from Chinese models, but the shapes are a Dutch Baroque invention. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The vogue for Delft blue and white was led by the king’s wife and co-regent, Queen Mary II, who assembled a large collection of it in the Water Gallery at Hampton Court Palace, where even the furniture was painted blue and white.

©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The displays of flowers in the Delft vases at Dyrham are echoed by the Netherlandish flower paintings in the house.

The State Bed seen in a mirror in the Damask Bedchamber, surrounded by yet more Delft. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The state bed is in the style of Daniel Marot, the architect and designer favoured by William III.

Embossed leather panels in the East Hall. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

William Blathwayt also imported stamped leather wallhangings from Holland. All these elements together create a remarkably Dutch ambiance in the middle of hilly Gloucestershire.

The house and the garden were acquired by the Ministry of Works in 1956 and, following extensive repairs, transferred to the National Trust in 1961. Funds for the acquisition came from the National Land Fund (now the National Heritage Memorial Fund), which had been set up to save places of national importance in memory of the sacrifices of the Second World War.

Friendship in miniature

April 7, 2010

George Gordon, 6th Lord Byron, by William Leighton Leitch, 1831, after George Sanders, 1808. ©Christie’s Images Ltd 2010

In June last year we managed to buy this portrait in pencil and watercolour of Lord Byron at Christie’s in London. It is a copy by William Leighton Leitch of a miniature by George Sanders which was formerly owned by William John Bankes (1786-1855), the owner and embellisher of Kingston Lacy in Dorset.

William John Bankes, miniature by George Sanders, 1812. ©NTPL/Derrick E. Witty

Bankes and Byron were friends when they were both students at Cambridge. There is a Sanders miniature of Bankes at Kingston Lacy as well.

Kingston Lacy. ©NTPL/Rupert Truman

Bankes was an aesthete in the Romantic mould who rebuilt his ancestral home and added many splendid works of art and furnishings which he gathered on his travels. The house was originally built in 1663-5 after a design by Roger Pratt, in a style similar to Belton House. After William Bankes inherited Kingston Lacy in 1834 he employed Charles Barry, the architect of the Houses of Parliament, to remodel it in historicist style.

The Spanish Room at Kingston Lacy. ©NTPL/James Mortimer

In 1841 Bankes was caught in compromising circumstances with a soldier of the Foot Guards in London’s Green Park. His influential friends had previously managed to get similar charges dropped, but this time Bankes jumped bail and went to live in Italy. Nevertheles he continued to send his acquisitions back to Kingston Lacy, with careful instructions on how they were to be installed. There is evidence, moreover, that he made brief secret visits to the house.

Bankes’s tour de force at Kingston Lacy is the Spanish Room, which slowly came together over a number of years as the setting for his collection of Spanish paintings (which includes a Velázquez of Cardinal Camillo Massimi). The ceiling is from the Palazzo Contarini degli Scrigni and the leather wall covering came from another Palazzo Contarini, both in Venice.

The Spanish Room, Kingston Lacy, showing details of the chimneypiece and the wallcoverings. ©NTPL/James Mortimer

The sconces and the gilded leather are another example of the use of reflective surfaces to amplify the effect of candles and fires, similar to the previously featured wallcoverings at Ham House. It is also interesting to compare the Queen’s Antechamber at Ham and the Spanish Room at Kingston Lacy in that the original Baroque decoration of the former was sensitively restored in the late nineteenth century, whereas the decoration of the latter is a romantic nineteenth-century creation using original Baroque ‘salvage’.

Textile treasures at Ham

March 1, 2010

Silk damask on an armchair at Ham House. ©NTPL/John Bethell

A little while ago Janet Blyberg lamented the fact that she couldn’t find many images of the textiles at Ham House (in this post on her blog). So I have tried to show some here, but it is true that images of the most dramatic textiles at Ham are difficult to find. Perhaps the colleagues at the National Trust Photo Library will consider adding this subject to their (very long) list of potential shoots?

The entrance front of Ham House. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Ham House, on the banks of the Thames near Richmond in Surrey, was given to the National Trust in 1948 by Sir Lionel Tollemache, 4th Baronet, and his son Cecil. In those days the National Trust had hardly any curatorial staff, so it was decided that the Victoria and Albert Museum should administer the house. The museum’s curators did pioneering research into the seventeenth-century interiors at Ham. The Trust took over the running of the house and its collection in 1990.

Portrait of Elizabeth Murray (1626-1698) by Peter Lely. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The dominant spirit at Ham is that of Elizabeth Murray, described as ‘a woman of beauty … restless in her ambition, profuse in her expense, and of a most ravenous covetousness.’ After marrying the powerful Duke of Lauderdale, minister under King William III, Elizabeth and her husband made the interiors at Ham into a feast of baroque opulence.

French armchair dating to the 1670s, part of a set of twelve in the North Drawing Room. ©NTPL/John Hammond

As Janet noted, the baroque atmosphere at Ham has been preserved to a remarkable degree, although later generations did make some changes.

Wall hanging in the Queen’s Antechamber. ©NTPL/Bill Batten

 The wall hangings in the Queen’s Antechamber were originally put up in around 1680. The blue velvet border is original, but the blue damask central panels were replaced with new pink damask in the 1880s (now faded to brown). The appliqué  corner motifs were transferred from the original material. The walls were originally protected with case curtains of ‘yealow stript Indian Sarsnet’.

The Marble Dining Room. ©NTPL/John Hammond

 Of related interest are the stamped leather wall hangings in the Marble Dining Room which were supplied to Elizabeth’s great-grandson, the 4th Earl of Dysart, in 1756. Leather was used in dining rooms because it was thought not to retain food smells.

Detail of the leather wall hangings in the Marble Dining Room. ©NTPL/John Bethell