Archive for the ‘Middlesex’ Category

Osterley’s cinematic double life

September 13, 2011

The east front of Osterley Park House. The 1960 film 'The Grass Is Greener' shows the house with a drive going straight to the front steps, rather than the current curved one. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

Prolific blogger Little Augury recently posted about the 1960 Stanley Donen film The Grass Is Greener, starring Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, Robert Mitchum and Jean Simmons. Osterley Park, on the western outskirts of London, was used for some of the exterior shots.

Some of the interiors at Osterley, designed by Robert Adam in the 1760s and 1770s, were also used as inspiration for the sets (as was, apparently, the Long Gallery at nearby Syon House, also by Adam).

The Entrance Hall at Osterley, copied in detail by Harbord in 'The Grass is Greener', although his blue is perhaps more 'Technicolor'. ©NTPL/Dennis Gilbert

The story revolves around the Earl and Countess of Rhyall (Grant and Kerr), who have been forced by straightened circumstances to open their stately home to the public. The Countess is flattered by the attentions of an American oil tycoon (Mitchum), and in revenge the Earl invites his former girlfriend, an American heiress (Simmons). Cue a romantic comedy that has over time become a minor classic.

The Great Stair, another model for Harbord, although in the film the walls were painted John Fowler-style pink. NTPL/Dennis Gilbert

The sets were designed by decorator Felix Harbord. As Little Augury’s post shows, they were sometimes amazingly accurate copies of the original spaces at Osterley, while on other occasions he clearly remoulded the rooms to suit the film.

The State Bedchamber. A very similar bedroom appears in the film, although there the bed is a Technicolor dark pink and the pleated wall hangings a ditto purple. ©NTPL/Bill Batten

Harbord must have had great fun adding characteristic country house touches, such as groups of miniatures hung next to the fireplace, the ‘correct’ picture hang with the smaller paintings hung below the larger ones, and a rush firewood basket of a type still (or again) fashionable today.

The cushions on the drawing room sofa seem very ‘c. 1960′ to me, but I wonder if, even in that era, the Victoria & Albert Museum (who ran Osterley then) had quite so many barrier-ropes about the place?

Look at the birdie

August 11, 2010

A blue jay, in William Hayes's 1794 book Portraits of Rare and Curious Birds. ©NTPL/John Hammond

We recently purchased an illustrated book on birds, published by William Hayes in 1794. The book shows the rare and exotic birds that were kept in the menagerie at Osterley Park in the late eighteenth century. The acquisition was generously supported by the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Friends of the National Libraries.

A Child armorial eagle perches on a balustrade on the east front of Osterley. The menagerie was situated over to the left beyond the pond. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

At this time Robert Child, who had inherited Osterley Park in 1763 from his brother Francis, together with the Child banking fortune, was actively developing the garden. Its principal attraction was the menagerie, a wooded and walled area on the north-eastern side of the park.

A bald eagle, from the Hayes book. ©NTPL/John Hammond

A contemporary visitor described the menagerie as the ‘prettiest place [she] ever saw, ‘tis an absolute retreat, & filld with all sorts of curious and scarce Birds and Fowles, among the rest 2 numidian cranes that follow like Dogs, and a pair of Chinese teale that have only been in England before upon the India paper…’.

A Chinese duck, from the Hayes book. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

William Hayes, an ingenious local artist, made drawings of the most unusual specimens. These were hung in the library at Upton House, Warwickshire, another Child property, where there was also a collection of stuffed birds.

A duck shown in a section of 'India paper' (Chinese wallpaper) at Belton House, Lincolnshire. ©NTPL/Martin Trelawny

Hayes, having fallen on hard times, employed some of his 21 children to help him engrave and colour the plates for Portraits of Rare and Curious Birds, which he published in 1794. Special coloured proofs were made for Robert Child’s widow Sarah, then Lady Ducie, which she hung in one of the rooms of the Menagerie House at Osterley.

The Garden House at Osterley, built by Robert Adam in 1780. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

After Lady Ducie’s death the menagerie was not kept up on the same scale, but in 1802 it was still noteworthy and attractive enough for members of the Academy Club, including John Soane, Joseph Nollekens, Johann Zoffany, Benjamin West and other artists and architects to go there for a summer outing.

The Library at Osterley, designed by Robert Adam in 1766.

Eventually, however, the menagerie disappeared. The spectacular contents of the library at Osterley were sold in 1885, raising £13,000 which enabled the family to repair and modernise the house. Osterley was given to the National Trust in 1949 (other posts about it can be found here).

A hoopoe, from the Hayes book. ©NTPL/John Hammond

During the last few years National Trust curators have made a number of purchases of individual books from the lost library, which will help to explain what it contained and how it was used.

A nineteenth-century Meissen vase with various birds attached, including a hoopoe, at Sudbury Hall, Derbyshire, illustrating the cachet of such decorative birds. ©NTPL/J. Whitaker

The presence of the Hayes book at Osterley demonstrates the integrated nature of country house collections. Libraries often related to the other collections in the house, to its architecture and to the garden and the wider estate – something also seen in a recent post about the library at Penrhyn Castle.

Angelica Kauffman: Celebrity designer

May 26, 2010

Bacchus and Ariadne with Cupid, by Angelica Kauffmann, at Attingham Park, Shropshire. ©NTPL/Derrick E. Witty

Angelica Kauffman may have been hesitating between music and painting, as I showed previously, but she felt no need to choose between the fine and the decorative arts.

Kauffman collaborated with printmakers in the production of stipple engravings and mezzotints based on her paintings. She was directly involved in the production and marketing of her prints.

Print depicting Cupid, after Angelica Kauffman, in the Print Room at Blickling Hall, Norfolk. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Kauffman was one of the few contemporary artists whose works were used to make ‘mechanical paintings’ – a process of colour reproduction that was invented in the 1770s and was especially suited for use in decorative schemes.

Detail of the ceiling in the State Bedchamber at Osterley Park, Middlesex. The central roundel depicts Aglaia, one of the Three Graces, after Kauffmann. ©NTPL/Bill Batten

Kauffman may have provided some sketches for architect and designer Robert Adam, but she was not directly responsible for the many decorative works attributed to her.

Painted roundel showing a wedding feast by Antonio Zucchi, Kauffman's husband, set in a stucco panel in the Eating Room at Osterley. ©NTPL/Bill Batten

Although Kauffman’s designs were widely used on walls, ceilings, porcelain and furniture, most of them were actually copied or reproduced by others or simply based on her style.

Roundel depicting Venus guarding a sleeping Cupid after Kauffman on the marble mantelpiece in the Boudoir at Attingham. ©NTPL/James Mortimer

Even so, the usefulness of her neo-classical figures as decorative motifs ensured the continuing popularity of the Kauffman ‘brand’.

Lacquer lost and found

May 15, 2010

Secretaire attributed to Thomas Chippendale, c. 1773, with Chinese lacquer panels and English japanning. ©National Trust/Christopher Warleigh-Lack

In a previous post on the East Asian textiles at Osterley Park, I also mentioned the lacquer furniture there. The above secretaire, attributed to Thomas Chippendale, incorporates panels of Chinese lacquer as well as English japanning. It seems to have left Osterley at some point between 1922 and 1949.

The Etruscan Dressing Room at Osterley, designed by Robert Adam, where the secretaire may have stood originally. ©NTPL/Bill Batten

After turning up at auction in Gateshead in 1993 its Osterley provenance was re-identified. An export licence application for it was deferred, which allowed the National Trust to purchase it in 1996 with the help of a private benefactor, the Art Fund and the National Heritage Memorial Fund.

Commode with Chinese lacquer panels and English japanning, attributed to Chippendale, in the State Bed Chamber at Osterley. ©National Trust/Christopher Warleigh-Lack

As Simon Jervis writes in his article on the secretaire in the June 2006 issue of Apollo, the secretaire relates to two commodes attributed to Chippendale which had remained at Osterley.

The commodes also incorporate lacquer panels, the decoration of which is so similar to those on the secretaire that they may all have been taken from the same Chinese lacquer screen by the Chippendale workshop.

The straight lacquer panels were gently heated and painstakingly bent by Chippendale’s craftsmen to fit the curves of the commodes. English imitation lacquer, called ‘japan’ at he time, would then have been produced to fit the other surfaces.

Commode attributed to Chippendale in the Etruscan Dressing Room at Osterley. ©National Trust/Christopher Warleigh-Lack

The style of the commodes and the secretaire is French, which was considered to be advanced taste in Britain at that time. As simon Jervis notes, it was also French practice to combine a commode with a secretaire en suite, i.e. with the same decoration.

Moreover, the paterae and guilloche motifs on the secretaire are echoed by similar painted decoration in the Etruscan Dressing Room at Osterley.

©NTPL/Ian Shaw

Robert Child, who inherited a banking fortune on the unexpected death of his elder brother, employed Robert Adam to substantially rebuild and refurbish Osterley in the 1760s and 1770s. Adam often used Chippendale as a supplier of furniture and furnishings.

With thanks to Carl Deacon who located some of the images.

From the Deccan

April 23, 2010

Embroidered Indian silk, or 'Decca work', on the bed in Mr Child's Bedroom at Osterley Park. ©NTPL/Dennis Gilbert

The perenially interesting Style Court blog has just done another post on Indian textiles, and that has inspired me to feature the East Asian textiles at Osterley Park

Osterley Park, in Middlesex, was the country house of the Child banking family. The ninth Earl of Jersey gave the house to the National Trust in 1949. The contents were purchased by the Government and allocated to the Victoria and Albert Museum, which administered Osterley until 1991 when the National Trust took full control of it.

The Childs had connections with the East India Company, and there are collections of East Asian porcelain and lacquer in the house.

Some of the surviving Indian embroidered silk. ©National Trust

In the eighteenth century it was fashionable to use ‘Decca work’, embroidered silk made in the Deccan in Southern India, as furnishing material. By the early 1780s the mahogany four-poster bed in Mr Child’s Bedroom at Osterley was entirely made up with Decca work, and some of it still remains, albeit now slightly darkened by age.

Satinwood bed designed by Robert Adam with painted taffeta hangings. ©NTPL/Dennis Gilbert

In the same period the bed in the Yellow Taffeta Bedchamber had Chinese taffeta hangings painted with a floral design.

Detail of the painted taffeta. ©National Trust

 The current hangings were remade in the 1920s from the original design.

Window pelmet and curtains in the same room. ©National Trust

In the late eighteenth century these bedrooms would also have been furnished with Chinese wallpaper, lacquer furniture and Chinese paintings on silvered glass, so the exotic atmosphere would have been quite strong. Chinese wallpaper was generally used in bedrooms as it was felt to create a more informal effect.

Key people: The property manager

March 5, 2010


Michael Smith, Property Manager at Croome Court. ©NTPL/Layton Thompson

In this post, the first in an occasional series about the people involved in the acquisition process, I want to feature the property manager. At the historic houses and estates of the National Trust the property manager more or less takes on the role that the owner would have had in the past – although, for better or for worse, he or she has to do without the deference and the priviledged lifestyle. 

Croome Court, Worcestershire, in its park designed by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

The content of the job varies enormously from property to property. A manager might run a group of small properties, or a large single property that includes an agricultural estate and perhaps even a village. At some properties the focus is on the architecture of the main house and its contents, while at others the garden or park might be the most important element. Different properties attract different types of visitors. 

Sian Harrington, Property Manager at Osterley Park. ©NTPL/Matthew Antrobus

But in all cases the property manager has overall responsibility for the running of the place: from car parks, ticket sales and building maintenance to tea rooms, volunteers and concerts. Because of their key role, people like Michael Smith at Croome Court and Sian Harrington at Osterley Park are always involved in the discussion about a potential acquisition. 

Osterley Park, Middlesex, with its portico inserted by Robert Adam into the earlier, Elizabethan house. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

Each acquisition is decided on its merits. The criteria to be considered include the intrinsic importance of the object, its relevance to the house and estate, whether it can be suitably and safely displayed, what its condition is and whether funds can be found to meet the costs involved.