Archive for the ‘Surrey’ Category

Clandon Park: the Speakers’ Parlour

May 6, 2015
The Speakers' Parlour at Clandon Park following the fire, showing the carpet being removed. Also visible is a large frame from which a portrait painting was cut, in anticipation of the fire reaching this room, which fortunately didn't happen. ©National Trust

The Speakers’ Parlour at Clandon Park following the fire, showing the carpet being removed. Also visible is a large frame from which a portrait painting was cut, in anticipation of the fire reaching this room, which fortunately didn’t happen. ©National Trust

It has just been confirmed that the Speakers’ Parlour at Clandon was not damaged as severely in the recent fire as many of the other areas of the house.

The ceiling of the Speakers' Parlour propped up, and the chandelier removed. ©National Trust

The ceiling of the Speakers’ Parlour propped up, and the chandelier removed. ©National Trust

This family dining room was named after the portraits hanging there of the three members of the Onslow family who were Speakers of the House of Commons: Richard Onslow (1528-71, ‘the Black Speaker’), Sir Richard Onslow, 3rd Bt and 1st Baron Onslow (1654-1717), and Arthur Onslow (1691-1768, ‘the Great Speaker’).

View of the west front, showing the remains of the ground floor Saloon. The Giacomo Leoni-designed chimneypiece, with its overmantel relief of Mars and Venus, is visible through the second window from the left. ©National Trust

View of the west front, showing the remains of the ground floor Saloon. The Giacomo Leoni-designed chimneypiece, with its overmantel relief of Mars and Venus, is visible through the second window from the left. ©National Trust

The important plaster ceiling in this room remains in place and has now been propped up. The chimneypiece, designed by the house’s architect, Giacomo Leoni, also survives.

One of a pair of giltwood side tables in the manner of John Gumley and James Moore, made in about 1725, both salvaged from the State Bedroom. Inv. nos. 1440548.1&2. ©National Trust

One of a pair of giltwood side tables in the manner of John Gumley and James Moore, made in about 1725, both salvaged from the State Bedroom. Inv. nos. 1440548.1&2. ©National Trust

The Regency ormolu chandelier, the Regency steel grate and the Turkey carpet in this room have been taken into protective storage, as have all the paintings that hung here, including the portraits of the three Speakers.

Rooftop view of Clandon following the fire. ©National Trust

Rooftop view of Clandon following the fire. ©National Trust

Jim Foy, the general manager for Hughenden Manor who is currently leading the salvage operation at Clandon, comments: ‘We are still limited in terms of access while structural engineers assess the building. The weather is also a big factor, as we wait to see how the building responds to the high winds we have had over the last couple of days.’

List of rules to be observed in the Servants' Hall at Clandon, eighteenth century, confirmed salvaged from the fire. Inv. no. 1441224. ©National Trust

List of rules to be observed in the Servants’ Hall at Clandon, eighteenth century, confirmed salvaged from the fire. Inv. no. 1441224. ©National Trust

Jim adds: ‘We are incredibly grateful for the continued support we are receiving from volunteers, external specialists, the fire service and many others.’

Clandon Park: the salvage has begun

May 1, 2015
One of the central doorways of the burned-out Marble Hall at Clandon Park, with a bust of an African still in place. ©National Trust/John Millar

One of the central doorways of the burned-out Marble Hall at Clandon Park, with a bust of an African still in place. ©National Trust/John Millar

The devastating fire at Clandon Park the day before yesterday has left the house a burned-out shell. The fire started in the basement of the house and swept rapidly up to the roof and along and down through the building, fanned by a high wind.

Painting of an ostrich by Francis Barlow (c.1626-1704), saved from the Marble Hall at Clandon. Inv. no. 1441454. ©National Trust/John Hammond

Painting of an ostrich by Francis Barlow (c.1626-1704), saved from the Marble Hall at Clandon. Inv. no. 1441454. ©National Trust/John Hammond

This has shocked and saddened us all. But the team at Clandon, local volunteers and other colleagues have been determined to save as much as possible.

The Marble Hall at Clandon following the fire, showing a marble relief by John Michael Rysbrack still over the chimneypiece. ©National Trust/John Millar

The Marble Hall at Clandon following the fire, showing a marble relief by John Michael Rysbrack still over the chimneypiece. ©National Trust/John Millar

In accordance with the emergency procedures, the fire brigade crews were able to take out a number of objects from parts of the building not yet affected, working with the advice and support of National Trust staff.

Speaker Arthur Onslow (1691–1768) presiding over the House of Commons, by Sir James Thornhill (1675–1734) and William Hogarth (1697–1764), 1730, saved from the Library at Clandon. Inventory no. 1441463. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Speaker Arthur Onslow (1691–1768) presiding over the House of Commons, by Sir James Thornhill (1675–1734) and William Hogarth (1697–1764), 1730, saved from the Library at Clandon. Inventory no. 1441463. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The items shown here are among those saved. But until a full inventory check has been done we cannot confirm which items were not saved.

Cast of a classical statue, damaged and blackened but still in situ in the remains of the Marble Hall. ©National Trust/John Millar

Cast of a classical statue, damaged and blackened but still in situ in the remains of the Marble Hall. ©National Trust/John Millar

Teams have already been organised at Clandon and in the region to deal with the next steps.

Bible printed by John Basket in 1716 and 1717, in two volumes, presented by Arthur Onslow to St. Margaret's, Westminster in 1735, saved from the Library at Clandon. Inventory no. 1441240. ©National Trust/Nadia Mackenzie

Bible printed by John Basket in 1716 and 1717, in two volumes, presented by Arthur Onslow to St. Margaret’s, Westminster in 1735, saved from the Library at Clandon. Inventory no. 1441240. ©National Trust/Nadia Mackenzie

When our specialists are able to enter the building, the rubble will be carefully sifted for things than can be salvaged and fragments that could be used in reconstruction.

Rubble inside the remains of Clandon Park. ©National Trust/John Millar

Rubble inside the remains of Clandon Park. ©National Trust/John Millar

The remaining structure of the building will also need to be assessed.

The Clandon state bed, dating from about 1710. Its hangings had recently returned from conservation treatment and were salvaged still in their transport crates. Inv. no. 1440847. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The Clandon state bed, dating from about 1710. Its hangings had recently returned from conservation treatment and were salvaged still in their transport crates. Inv. no. 1440847. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Only then can decisions be taken about the future of the house.

The south front of Clandon Park following the fire. ©National Trust/John Millar

The south front of Clandon Park following the fire. ©National Trust/John Millar

But we are heartened by the many expressions of sympathy and support.

Folding screen incorporating Victorian and Edwardian Onslow family photographs, saved from the Library at Clandon. Inv. no. 1440816. ©National Trust Images/Anthony Parkinson

Folding screen incorporating Victorian and Edwardian Onslow family photographs, saved from the Library at Clandon. Inv. no. 1440816. ©National Trust Images/Anthony Parkinson

And we want to thank the crews from the Surrey Fire and Rescue Service and neighbouring fire brigades for their professionalism and team-work.

Watts that pattern?

October 14, 2014
Wood block of the 'Oak Leaf' design against samples of the hand-blocked wallpaper. ©Watts of Westminster.

Wood block of the ‘Oak Leaf’ design against samples of the hand-blocked wallpaper. ©Watts of Westminster.

A small exhibition at the Fashion and textile Museum in London features the wallpapers of Watts & Co., a firm supplying ecclesiastical and domestic furnishings which is celebrating its 140th anniversary this year.

Selection of hand-blocked Watts wallpapers. ©Watts of Westminster.

Selection of hand-blocked Watts wallpapers. ©Watts of Westminster.

The firm was founded by the architects G. Gilbert Scott, G.F. Bodley and Thomas Garner. The ‘Watt’s’ name is purely fictional, having apparently been chosen because the founders wanted to keep the decorative work separate from their architectural practices.

The Duchess's Private Closet at Ham House, hung with 'Pear' flock wallpaper by Watts. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The Duchess’s Private Closet at Ham House, hung with ‘Pear’ flock wallpaper by Watts. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Scott, Bodley and Garner were known for their Gothic Revival buildings, but they also designed schools and houses in the eclectic ‘Queen Anne’ style which was popular in the later nineteenth century.

Detail of the 'Ravenna' flock wallpaper by Watts in the White Closet at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Detail of the ‘Ravenna’ flock wallpaper by Watts in the White Closet at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Early Watts wallpaper survives at Ham House, where Bodley and Garner were involved in restoration and refurbishment work for the 9th Earl of Dysart in the late 1880s. Flock wallpaper in the ‘Pear’ pattern can be seen in the Duchess’s Private Closet, and ‘Ravenna’ hangs in the White Closet.

Michael Hall has written an enlightening article on Bodley and Garner’s work at Ham which was included in the book Ham House: 400 years of Collecting and Patronage.

Proposal by G.F. Bodley for the redecoration of the Oak Drawing Room at Powis Castle, painted by Henry Charles Brewer, c.1902, showing the intended use of Watts 'Pear' pattern silk, at Powis Castle, inv. no. 11807882.2. ©National Trust.

Proposal by G.F. Bodley for the redecoration of the Oak Drawing Room at Powis Castle, painted by Henry Charles Brewer, c.1902, showing the intended use of Watts ‘Pear’ pattern silk, at Powis Castle, inv. no. 11807882.2. ©National Trust.

At Powis Castle a cut silk velvet woven in the ‘Pear’ pattern was used for the upholstery and the curtains in the Oak Drawing Room when the room was remodeled by G.F. Bodley for the 4th Earl of Powis between 1902 and 1904.

Detail of the 'Bodley' wallpaper, originally designed by G.F. Bodley in about 1870, in an updated colourway produced for Cecil Beaton in 1952. ©Watts of Westminster

Detail of the ‘Bodley’ wallpaper, originally designed by G.F. Bodley in about 1870, in an updated colourway produced for Cecil Beaton in 1952. ©Watts of Westminster

Because Watts supplied both domestic and ecclesiastical furnishings, it was better able to weather the changes in fashion than, for instance, Morris & Co., which closed in 1940. Watts’s offering was refreshed in the 1950s and 1960s by Elizabeth Hoare, one of Scott’s granddaughters, who brought in new designers and new colourways – including a ‘think pink’ version of the ‘Bodley’ pattern for Cecil Beaton.

Selection of wallpapers in the Watts showroom at the Chelsea Design Centre, London. ©Watts of Westminster

Selection of wallpapers in the Watts showroom at the Chelsea Design Centre, London. ©Watts of Westminster

There will be a study day on the history of Watt’s & Co. at the Victoria and Albert Museum on October 25.

A Taste for China

May 29, 2014

9780199950980

There has recently been a spate of books examining the west’s historical fascination with east Asia through the lens of literature and the history of ideas. I have previously featured Chi-Ming Yang’s Performing China and Yu Liu’s Seeds of a Different Eden.

Pieter van Roestraten (1629–1700), Teapot, Ginger Jar and Slave Candlestick, c. 1695. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Pieter van Roestraten (1629–1700), Teapot, Ginger Jar and Slave Candlestick, c. 1695. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A new book by Eugenia Zuroski Jenkins, entitled A Taste for China: English Subjectivity and the Prehistory of Orientalism, once again approaches the subject by way of literary history. But at the same time it also sheds new light on a question that has long puzzled me: why were China and Chinese things so highly regarded in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe?

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

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

One of Zuroski Jenkins’s answers revolves around the theory of perception formulated by John Locke (1632-1704). According to Locke the mind is an empty receptacle which is gradually filled by external impressions and perceptions. In this view sophistication equals importation: the mind of a person of taste is like a collector’s cabinet, filled with wondrous things from across the globe.

This seems to explain why seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Europeans seemed to be so keen on collecting objects from cultures they barely understood, and to create decorative schemes that combined eastern and western styles without any sense of incongruity.

Pieter van Roestraten (1629–1700), Still Life with Silver Wine Decanter, Tulip, Yixing Teapot and Globe, c. 1690. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Pieter van Roestraten (1629–1700), Still Life with Silver Wine Decanter, Tulip, Yixing Teapot and Globe, c. 1690. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Zuroski Jenkins also argues that in the course of the eighteenth century there occurred a shift from this cosmopolitan idea of taste to a more polarised opposition between the self and the other, which increasingly defined China as something that stood in contrast to the British sense of identity.

These are just a few snippets from Zuroski Jenkins’s complex book, which I now want to reread to savour her analysis more fully. But it confirms my hunch that ‘China’ in 1700 and ‘China’ in 1800 were two radically different things.

Between history and fiction

February 11, 2014

Part of the Drawing Room at Hatchlands. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

Part of the Drawing Room at Hatchlands. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

I have just been reading the fascinating catalogue marking the donation of Alec Cobbe’s career archive to the Victoria and Albert Museum. There is also an accompanying display currently on view at the V&A.

The Drawing Room at Hatchlands. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

The Drawing Room at Hatchlands. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

Alec Cobbe is a polymath who initially worked as a paintings conservator (although he prefers the older description ‘picture restorer’), but later became known for his sensitive rehangings of historic picture collections. He is also an artist, designer, musician and collector.

Part of the Library at Hatchlands. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Part of the Library at Hatchlands. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Alec Cobbe grew up in Newbridge House, County Dublin, which had been rebuilt in the 1740s by his ancestor Charles Cobbe, Archbishop of Dublin. In the 1750s and 1760s the house was filled with pictures by Archbishop Cobbe’s son Robert and his wife Elizabeth.

The Library at Hatchlands. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

The Library at Hatchlands. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Alec Cobbe’s early experience of Newbridge, as well as his training as a conservator, informed his sensitivity to the historic settings of works of art. In the catalogue Julius Bryant puts Cobbe’s career in the context of the re-evaluation of picture hangs in museums and historic houses over the last forty years or so.

Broadwood grand piano, 1847, in the Staircase Hall at Hatchlands Park. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

Broadwood grand piano, 1847, in the Staircase Hall at Hatchlands Park. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

Apart from advising the National Trust, and becoming a Trust tenant at Hatchlands Park, Alec Cobbe has also been involved with picture rehangs in the private apartments at Petworth and at Harewood House, Kenwood and Hatfield House. He has also designed some striking historicist showcases, for instance for Powis Castle, Windsor Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

The Dining Room at Hatchlands. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

The Dining Room at Hatchlands. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

In 1984 Hatchlands was in need of a new purpose, having recently been a school and with little in the way of original contents.  Alec Cobbe was invited by the National Trust to display his collections of painting and historic keyboard instruments there and to make it once more into a living family home.

The Saloon at Hatchlands. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

The Saloon at Hatchlands. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

The catalogue not only provides an overview of Cobbe’s career and of the changing attitudes to historic houses, but it also touches on some fundamental questions about what it is that we value about the past.

As Julius Bryant puts it: ‘Once one accepts that all historic interiors have gone for good (for not only their historic contents, but also our way of perceiving them, have changed) then the latest ‘restoration’ project can be judged against values other than ‘accuracy’. In admiring a restored room as a work of art and design we can also ask how well it shows the collections, what it tells us about the use and display of the space over the centuries, and how well it conveys what Alexander Pope called ‘the genius of the place’.

Save van Dyck’s Self-portrait

December 12, 2013
Sir Anthony van Dyck, self-portrait, 1640-1. ©Philip Mould & Co.

Sir Anthony van Dyck, self-portrait, 1640-1. ©Philip Mould & Co.

The National Portrait Gallery and the Art Fund have launched a fundraising campaign to purchase a rare self-portrait by Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641). The painting has been sold to an overseas buyer, but a temporary export stop is giving the National Portrait Gallery the chance to acquire it.

Sir Anthony van Dyck and studio, King Charles I, 1638-9, at Ham House (acquired by HM Treasury 1948, transferred to the National Trust 2002) ©National Trust, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Sir Anthony van Dyck and studio, King Charles I, 1638-9, at Ham House (acquired by HM Treasury 1948, transferred to the National Trust 2002) ©National Trust, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Van Dyck was born in Antwerp and trained under Rubens. In 1632 he came to Britain where he had a transformative effect on portraiture, capturing a ‘careless romance’ that has epitomised British aristocratic insouciance ever since. He worked as Principal Painter to King Charles I and painted the royal family and those close to the court.

After Sir Anthony van Dyck, self-portrait with sunflower, at Ham House (acquired by HM Treasury 1948, transferred to the National Trust 2002). The original of 1635-6 is in the collection of the Duke of Westminster. ©National Trust, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

After Sir Anthony van Dyck, self-portrait with sunflower, at Ham House (acquired by HM Treasury 1948, transferred to the National Trust 2002). The original of 1635-6 is in the collection of the Duke of Westminster. ©National Trust, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

In this self-portrait Van Dyck shows himself as if in the act of painting, looking at himself in a mirror but at the same time gazing directly at us. The sunflower motif in the frame – associated with Van Dyck – refers to the relationship between art and nature, and between the artist and his patron-sovereign, as a flower who always follows the sun.

This portrait has previously been in private collections (including that of the Earls of Jersey who owned Osterley Park). This campaign is the last opportunity to preserve this picture, so relevant to British art, for public display in Britain.

Master of marquetry

August 8, 2013
Top of a table veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-83 (NT114043), at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Top of a table veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-83 (NT1140043), at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Another fascinating article in the recently published book about Ham House is Reinier Baarsen’s investigation of the seventeenth-century Dutch furniture in the house.

Table veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-83 (NT1140043), at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Table veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-83 (NT1140043), at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The courts of Charles II, James II and William and Mary employed numerous foreign artists and craftsmen, and as a result English late seventeenth-century taste in interior decoration was decidedly international.

Top of a table veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-82 (NT1139568), at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Top of a table veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-82 (NT1139568), at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Baarsen attributes a number of pieces of marquetry furniture at Ham to the cabinetmaker Gerrit Jensen. Not much is known about Jensen, but he seems to have come to England from Holland, possibly in the 1660s, and he appears to have been one of the craftsmen who exported the Dutch taste for floral marquetry across Europe.

Table veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-82 (NT1139568), at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Jensen appears to have wowed the London scene with his floral marquetry, and by the early 1680s he was accredited as a royal cabinetmaker.

Mirror veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-83, at Ham House (NT1139551). ©National Trust Images/John Hammond.

Mirror veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-83 (NT1139551), at Ham House . ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The pieces at Ham attributed to Jensen appear to date from the 1670s or early 1680s.

Crest of a mirror veneered with floral marquetry, featuring a medallion with a Roman emperor, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-83 (NT1139551), at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Crest of a mirror veneered with floral marquetry, featuring a medallion with a Roman emperor, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-83 (NT1139551), at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The tables all have twisted legs, which is an English characteristic of the period and shows how Jensen was adapting his work to English taste.

Table veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-83 (NT1139923), at Ham House . ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Table veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-83 (NT1139923), at Ham House . ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The marquetry also includes French motifs, such as the a chevron-patterned outer border and a central panel showing a vase of flowers with acanthus scrolls on one of the table-tops. Baarsen speculates whether Jensen may have spent some time in Paris before coming to London.

Top of a table veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-83 (NT1139923), at Ham House . ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Top of a table veneered with floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, c. 1672-83 (NT1139923), at Ham House . ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

This inventive mixture of styles represents the international taste of the period, and Ham House is one of the few places where this can still be studied in detail.

Traces of the 9th Earl

July 11, 2013
©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The Great Hall at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Occasionally dipping into the great new book about Ham House, I was just reading Michael Hall’s article about the work done to the house by William Tollemache, 9th Earl of Dysart (1859-1935).

Radiator cover in the Great Hall at Ham, designed by Bodley and Garner. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Radiator cover in the Great Hall at Ham, designed by Bodley and Garner. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

As I mentioned in a previous post about the 4th Earl of Dysart, Ham somehow acquired the reputation of being a ‘sleeping beauty’, whereas in fact several generations of owners made substantial changes. It is just that their modernisations tended to be fairly subtle and soon blended into the historical whole.

The Queen's Antechamber at Ham, with wall hangings repaired and recreated by Watts & Co. in the 1880s. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The Queen’s Antechamber at Ham, with wall hangings repaired and recreated by Watts & Co. in the 1880s. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The 9th Earl appears to have been a somewhat tragic but simultaneously rather determined figure. He was born partially sighted and later in life became increasingly deaf, yet he seems to have had a highly developed visual sense and was a keen opera buff, playing Wagner loudly on his radiogram. His nervous disposition did not prevent him from being an able stock market investor, amassing £4.8 million at the time of his death.

'Ravenna' pattern flock wallpaper by Watts & Co, in the White Closet at Ham. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

‘Ravenna’ pattern flock wallpaper by Watts & Co, in the White Closet at Ham. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

When the 9th Earl inherited Ham in 1878 at the age of 19 it had been neglected for almost half a century. He employed the Gothic revival architects G.F. Bodley (1827-1907) and Thomas Garner (1839-1906) to help restore and refurnish the house.

Bodley and Garner added many elements to the interior which at first sight would seem to date from the seventeenth century, such as the coffering underneath the gallery in the Great Hall and the splendid baroque-style radiator cover nearby.

'Pear' pattern flock wallpaper by Watts & Co in the Duchess's Private Closet at Ham. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

‘Pear’ pattern flock wallpaper by Watts & Co in the Duchess’s Private Closet at Ham. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Bodley and Garner founded a company, Watts & Co, to produce furniture, wallpapers and textiles. Watts & Co supplied a number of wallpapers to Ham, some based on seventeenth-century originals found in the house. In this way the interiors at Ham are not just a record of baroque style, but also of the exquisite antiquarianism of the late nineteenth century.

Conversing with aliens

June 18, 2013
Portrait of Elizabeth Murray by Sir Peter Lely, c. 1645. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Portrait of Elizabeth Murray by Sir Peter Lely, c. 1645. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Columnist Howard Jacobson recently made an interesting point about the relevance of history. He turned the argument upside down by stating (in a paraphrase of John F. Kennedy): ‘It’s not history’s job to be relevant to us; it’s our job to be relevant to history.’

I think there is much to be said for both sides in the relevance debate: we don’t want history to be so remote that we feel alienated from it, but equally we cannot automatically project the issues and preconceptions of the present day onto people and situations in the past.

Portrait of Elizabeth, Lady Tollemache, by Sir Peter Lely, c. 1650. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Portrait of Elizabeth, Lady Tollemache, by Sir Peter Lely, c. 1650. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

But I am inspired by the reasons Jacobson gives for being attracted when he was young to what he could easily have regarded as irrelevant to him in history and literature : ‘… we read … in order imaginatively to enjoy the company of others, in order to understand what those who were not ourselves were like, in order to feel the world expand around us, in order to go places we didn’t routinely go to in our neighbourhoods or in our heads, in order to meet the challenge of difference … Reading felt like a journey out of self, not into it.’

Portrait of the Duke and Duchess oif Lauderdale by Sir Peter Lely, c. 1672. ©National Trust Images/John Bethell

Portrait of the Duke and Duchess oif Lauderdale by Sir Peter Lely, c. 1672. ©National Trust Images/John Bethell

I think the figure of Elizabeth Murray (1626-98), chatelaine of Ham House, is a good illustration of the complexities of relevance. She was clever, cultured, beautiful and feisty. She had 11 children by her first husband and married the second following a scandalous extramarital affair. She lived through the roller-coaster of the Civil War, the Commonwealth and the Restoration (her father had been a courtier of Charles I).

After marrying her second husband she enjoyed great wealth and prestige, expanding and redecorating Ham House on a princely scale (including the astounding purchase of 152 gold and silver thread tassels in October 1573). At the end of her life she was reduced to near penury, but her need to pawn jewels, silver and paintings has provided us with a poignant and wonderfully detailed record of her taste.

Some of these aspects of Elizabeth Murray’s life we can undoubtedly relate to, while others are as alien as life on Mars. But it is one of the benefits of history that it occasionally allows us  to converse with aliens.

The myth of the sleeping beauty

June 11, 2013
Detail of an oval pier-glass in the Queen's Bedchamber at Ham House, one of a pair by supplied by William Bradshaw, c.1743. It reflects a carved and gilded garland by John Bullamore dating from the 1670s. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Detail of an oval pier-glass in the Queen’s Bedchamber at Ham House, one of a pair by supplied by William Bradshaw, c.1743. It reflects a carved and gilded garland by John Bullamore dating from the 1670s. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

I have just been perusing an advance copy of the book Ham House: 400 Years of Collecting and Patronage. The sale copies of this book are apparently somewhere on the high seas en route from the printer, and are due become available within the next a few weeks, but I thought I might provide a little preview here.

Fruitwood armchair, c. 1730, in the Queen's Bedchamber at Ham House, with velvet upholstery in red, green and cream silk velvet woven in either Genoa, Lyons or Spitalfields. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Fruitwood armchair, c. 1730, in the Queen’s Bedchamber at Ham House, with velvet upholstery in red, green and cream silk velvet woven in either Genoa, Lyons or Spitalfields. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

This book is the result of a conference held a couple of years ago about the history and collections of Ham House, one the best preserved 17th-century houses in Europe. It includes 28 essays by internationally recognised scholars accompanied by specially commissioned photography, as well as transcriptions of Ham’s historic inventories.

Detail of the silk velvet upholstery of the fruitwood furniture in the Queen's Bedchamber at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Detail of the silk velvet upholstery of the fruitwood furniture in the Queen’s Bedchamber at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Ham is justly famous for its 17th-century interiors and has acquired the reputation of being a kind of ‘sleeping beauty’, a house where nothing ever changed. However, several essays in this book puncture that myth and focus on restorations and embellishments carried out by its 18th- and 19th-century owners.

Detail of the marble topped pier table in the Queen's Bedchamber at Ham House, by William Bradshaw, c.1743, with a Portoro marble top and carved and gilded legs. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Detail of the marble topped pier table in the Queen’s Bedchamber at Ham House, by William Bradshaw, c.1743, with a Portoro marble top and carved and gilded legs. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Christopher Rowell, the National Trust’s furniture curator, discusses the taste and patronage of Lionel Tollemache, the 4th Earl of Dysart (1708-70), who inherited Ham in 1727. The 4th Earl repaired and remodeled a number of rooms in the house, and introduced new furniture, but Christopher demonstrates that he did so with great sensitivity to what was already there.

Parcel-gilt pier-glass and table possibly by William Bradshaw, c.1740, in the Volury Room at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Parcel-gilt pier-glass and table possibly by William Bradshaw, c.1740, in the Volury Room at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The 4th Earl commissioned cabinetmakers George Nix (1744-51) and William Bradshaw (1700-75), among others, to supply chairs, tables, stands and even tapestries. But the new acquisitions were designed to harmonise with the existing furnishings, or to function as facsimiles of items which had become damaged or worn out.

Gilt X-frame sofa, 1735-40, in the style of William Kent and with velvet upholstery, in the Volury Room at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Gilt X-frame sofa, 1735-40, in the style of William Kent and with velvet upholstery, in the Volury Room at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The subtlety of the 4th Earl’s contributions have almost caused him to be written out of Ham’s history.

Torchere by Peter Hasert, one of a pair, 1741, in the Marble Dining Room at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Torchere by Peter Hasert, one of a pair, 1741, in the Marble Dining Room at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Horace Walpole (171-97), who lived in nearby Twickenham, may have started that process by describing Ham, in his characteristically vivid and sweeping manner, as a house that time forgot: ‘Close to the Thames in the centre of all rich and verdant beauty, it is so blocked up an barricaded with walls, vast trees and gates that you think of yourself an hundred miles off and an hundred years back.’

Pier-glass, pier-table and stands veneered with incised Chinese lacquer, c. 1675, in the Withdrawing Room at Ham House. The table and stands were supplied with new supports by John Hele in 1741. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Pier-glass, pier-table and stands veneered with incised Chinese lacquer, c. 1675, in the Withdrawing Room at Ham House. The table and stands were supplied with new supports by John Hele in 1741. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

I hope to do a few more posts highlighting aspects of this splendid new book in the near future.


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