Archive for the ‘Lighting’ Category

Victorian high-tech

January 26, 2011

The Staircase hall at The Argory, with its Regency Argand oil chandelier later converted to gas. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The National Trust guidebooks editors have just published a downloadable guide to the historic lighting at The Argory, Co Armagh. It was written by Maureen Dillon, the NT’s adviser on historic lighting, and curator Frances Bailey.

The Drawing Room, with an early-twentieth-century neo-Regency gas chandelier. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Argory has a rare collection of Victorian and Edwardian light fittings. They date from when the house was built by Walter McGeough Bond in the 1820s and from a modernisation in about 1900.

The acetylene gas plant at The Argory. ©NTPL/W.Anderson-Porter

In 1906 a small acetylene gas plant was installed in a special building near the house in order to provide up-to-date lighting. Acetylene gas is released by exposing calcium carbide to water. 

The Dining Room, with a gasolier in the Arts and Crafts style. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

This kind of gas provision was considered ideal for country houses, as it was cheap and needed little maintenace. Gas lighting was in use at The Argory until 1983.

Table lamp plugged into the acetylene gas supply. ©NTPL/W.Anderson-Porter

The acetylene-powered light fittings included table lamps, with a tube supplying the gas from a pipe in the wall, reminiscent of a modern-day electric socket.

Captain Shelton's Bedroom, showing at left a 'Surprise' pendant gas light, which was invented in 1893 and could be rotated both horizontally and vertically. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

When the house was first built in the 1820s lighting was provided by Argand oil lamps. Many of the original light fittings were later converted to gas.

Enamoured of enamel

December 10, 2010

Chinese cloisonné vase used as an electric lamp at Cragside, Northumberland. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Courtney Barnes at Style Court has recently posted on Chinese cloisonné enamel, showing some beautiful examples from Brooklyn Museum.

Chinese cloisonné vase at Kingston Lacy, Dorset. ©National Trust

Inspired by this I thought I would feature a few items of cloisonné from National Trust collections.

Cloisonné cachepot at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire. ©National Trust

Cloisonné seems to have been particularly popular in the west towards the end on the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century.

Top surface of a Chinese cloisonné chest at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Originally cloisonné objects would have added to the rich tapestry of colours in late Victorian and Edwardian rooms. Interestingly, Courtney quotes contemporary interior designer Capella Kincheloe who uses cloisonné in almost the opposite way, by adding it to rooms with little colour, for contrast.

Regilding the lily

May 19, 2010

One of a set of torcheres bearing candelabra in the Great Room at Saltram. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The current issue of ABC Bulletin features an article by Sue Baumbach about the conservation of a group of four torcheres at Saltram, in Devon. I have just discovered that we have some images of them being worked on, so I thought I would show those here.

The torcheres being treated at Tankerdale. ©NTPL/John Hammond

As Sue relates, the candelabra were ordered by Theresa Parker from Boulton & Fothergill in 1771 for the Great Room at Saltram. They have central urns made of the rare mineral Blue John, or Derbyshire fluorspar.

Working on one of the ram's heads. ©NTPL/John Hammond

There is no record of the purchase of the tocheres. They may have been designed by Robert Adam together with the rest of the decoration of the room.

However, it is also possible that they were the quartet of similar-sounding torcheres that were sold in the house sale of a property in Portman Square in London in 1778. These were bought by a Mr Sturt, whose name also appears in the Saltram accounts at around that time, but the evidence is not conclusive.

Injecting the woodworm holes. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The torcheres had become unstable due to previous pest infestations, and they have recently been treated at the workshop of Tankerdale Ltd.

Re-gilding the base of one of the torcheres. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Analysis of the gilding undertaken by Catherine Hassall showed that the torcheres had only been re-gilded once before, in the late nineteenth century.

The 1897 inscription on the inside of one of the torcheres, with the contemporary business directory that lists the Harris firm. ©NTPL/John Hammond

This probably relates to the inscription found within one of the torcheres, which reads ‘Bellamy, Apprentice, H & Sons, April 1897. Repard [sic] by James Street, April 1897. From Harris & Sons, George Street.’

A contemporary business directory records that Harris & Sons was a Plymouth company of ‘art decorators, house painters, gilders, picture dealers, artists’ colourmen and stationers’.

One of the torcheres with its candelabra, in a corner of the Great Room. Since this photograph was taken, the torcheres have been moved to more prominent positions in the room, in line with Robert Adam's original arrangement. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The 1897 re-gilding was probably part of the redecorations carried out by Albert Edmond Parker, 3rd Earl of Morley, who had married an heiress and moved back to Saltram after the house had been let to tenants for a number of years.

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’.

Key people: The curator

April 5, 2010

Curator Sarah Kay carrying cutlery to the dining room at Attingham. ©NTPL/David Levenson

Curators are central to any decisions about acquisitions for National Trust historic houses. They provide the art-historical expertise to assess the importance and relevance of the objects being considered. The regional curators of the National Trust each advise on a portfolio of properties in a particular area of the country.

Sarah Kay and Peter Brears putting the finishing touches to the table setting. ©NTPL/David Levenson

Apart from acquisitions, curators also advise on the redisplay of the interiors. Every so often new discoveries are made about how these houses were used or arranged. At Attingham Park, near Shrewsbury, curator Sarah Kay recently organised the redisplay of the dining room. She worked with food historian Peter Brears to accurately recreate the look of a lavish Regency-period dinner. 

©NTPL/David Levenson

Rooms like these came into their own at night, seen by candle- and lamplight. At Attingham the matt Pompeian red walls, the red Turkey carpet and the mahogany doors create an enveloping sense of comfort. This provides the backdrop for the white chimneypiece, doorframes and tablecloth, and the gilded picture frames and ceiling.

©NTPL/David Levenson

But of course it is the table setting that is meant to be the centre of attention. The table was laid in accordance with service à la russe, which meant that the dessert course was in place in the centre of the table during the entire meal. This allowed the diners to admire the display of ornate centrepieces, hothouse fruits and intricate sugarwork.

Peter Brears with one of his recreations. ©NTPL/David Levenson

Peter Brears used a popular handbook of the period, G.A. Jarrin’s The Italian Confectioner, as a source for the various sugarwork shapes and the artifical meats and fruits. He also studied the contemporary French dessert moulds recently acquired by the Bowes Museum. A detailed account of the project was published in the 2008 National Trust Historic Houses and Collections Annual.

Time regained

March 17, 2010


©NTPL/John Hammond

Our head conservator, Katie Lithgow, has just sent me this image of the Queen’s Antechamber at Ham House. It is almost identical to the photograph I previously posted, except for the fact that this one shows what the original 1680 colour scheme of the wall hangings would have looked like.

This image, almost Proustian in its recapturing of a lost moment in time, was produced by conservator Vicki Marsland and photographer John Hammond, who digitally changed the colour of the centre panels from the faded pink of the 1890s restoration back to the original blue.

Imagine this by candle- and firelight: scagliola fireplace and gilded panelling in the Queen's Closet at Ham. ©NTPL/Bill Batten

The faded pink hangings will remain on the walls, as valid evidence of a particular phase in the building’s history, but being able to see the effect of the original blue does add to our understanding of seventeenth-century decoration. The tones of blue in the hangings would have echoed the blues in the porcelain and in the Coromandel lacquer on display.

At night the silk would have shimmered in the candlelight, in unison with the ceramics, the lacquer and the gilding. In the late seventeenth century artificial light was limited mainly to candles and fireplaces, so reflective surfaces were deliberately used to amplify and dramatize it.

Chinese ceramic teapot reputedly used by the Duchess of Lauderdale. ©NTPL/Bill Batten

The effects of pre-electric lighting are vividly demonstrated at the independently-run Dennis Severs’ House in Spitalfields, London, which is shown in semi-darkness. The interiors are theatrical pastiches of various historical periods, complete with sounds and smells, and the experience is intense and memorable.

The dining room at Attingham Park. ©NTPL/David Levenson

The National Trust has recently recreated the night-time ambiance of the Regency-period dining room at Attingham Park, Shropshire, as shown above. The latest in lightbulb technology was used to simulate candlelight, and the table has been laid with the original silver plates and gilded candelabra and centrepieces, which look splendidly festive in the semi-gloom.

Curzon Street baroque

March 8, 2010


The upstairs corridor at Coleton Fishacre. ©NTPL/Dennis Gilbert

Design writer Emily Evans Eerdmans recently gave a talk at the Royal Oak Foundation, the American friends of the National Trust, on the subject of English Art Deco. That prompts me to show a few images of Coleton Fishacre, in Devon, which is a fascinating Art Deco showcase.

Adding a few tassels, for that baroque touch. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Coleton Fishacre was built for Rupert D’Oyly Carte by Oswald Milne in 1923-6. Richard D’Oyly Carte had been the impresario behind the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan, and his son Rupert went on to to develop the family business empire, which also included the Savoy Hotel and Claridge’s in London.

The Library. ©NTPL/Dennis Gilbert

Coleton Fishacre was acquired by the National Trust in 1982 as part of the Neptune Coastline Campaign, in order to safeguard this beautiful stretch of Devon coastline. The lush garden was immediately shown to the public, and more recently the house has also been opened up. 

Detail from a rug by Marion Dorn in the Saloon. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Much of the original furnishings had gone, however. When the contents of a historical house (even one as recent as Coleton) are missing, the National Trust has to take the decision as to whether to leave it as is, and just show it for the architecture and perhaps let the house, or to attempt a recreation. 

'Les Arums', a printed linen designed by Raoul Dufy in 1919 and used in Lady Dorothy's bedroom. ©NTPL/Dennis Gilbert

In this case there were old photographs available to show what the rooms looked like in the twenties and thirties. National Trust curators have been acquiring similar pieces in order to restore the original look. 

The dining room. ©NTPL/Dennis Gilbert

This particular type of between-the-wars interior, in which antiques are mixed with modern pieces, is sometimes known as ‘Curzon Street baroque’, after the exclusive London street where such interiors were often seen.