Archive for the ‘Surrey’ Category

Multi-national screens

April 20, 2016
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

Six-fold incised lacquer screen decorated with scenes of Europeans hunting, seventeenth century (NT 1140102), one half of what was originally a twelve-fold screen, at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

I have just returned from speaking at a stimulating study day at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. As I mentioned earlier, I was talking about ‘Sino-Dutch’ interiors in late seventeenth-century England.

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

The other half of the twelve-fold incised lacquer screen (NT 1139776), in a different room at Ham. ©National Trust/Christopher Warleigh-Lack

While I was there I also visited the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston. I discovered that among the rich holdings of the MFA is a Chinese incised lacquer screen depicting Europeans out hunting. This reminded me of a screen with a similar subject at Ham House (separated in two parts, documented here and here), which had previously puzzled me.

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Twelve-panel Chinese incised lacquer screen depicting Europeans in a landscape, about 1700, height 244 cm. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1975.333, Keith McLeod Fund. © 2016 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

This kind of depiction of westerners, with big noses, prominent moustaches and wide, pantaloon-style trousers, is known from Japanese screens, where the subject was called ‘namban’ or ‘southern barbarians’ – since the western ships arrived in japan from the south.

The Japanese were clearly fascinated by these exotic foreigners. But here this subject and style of depiction has been transposed to incised or kuan cai lacquer, which as far as we know was only made in China.

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Detail from the Chinese incised lacquer screen depicting Europeans in a landscape. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1975.333, Keith McLeod Fund. © 2016 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

So what was going on here? In their Arts of China handbook the MFA curators suggest that this type of screen was made in China, to be exported to Japan and to be sold there to the Dutch merchants based in Nagasaki.

That certainly sounds plausible, but I wonder whether there could also have been a market in China itself for screens decorated with quaint barbarians – a kind of chinoiserie in reverse? Either way, it is great to discover that the Ham screen is not an odd one-off but seems to have been part of a particular genre.

The Country House: Material Culture and Consumption

February 11, 2016

Country House cover FINAL 4

Historic England has recently published a volume of essays entitled The Country House: Material Culture and Consumption, edited by John Stobart and Andrew Hann.

A Chinese white porcelain teapot,  c.1650-70, at Ham House, Surrey

Chinese porcelain teapot in European silver mounts (NT 1139006), on a Javanese lacquer table (NT 1140034), both late seventeenth century, at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/Robert Morris

As Jon notes in his introduction, the book is essentially about looking at the country house as ‘a nexus of complex flows of goods, people and ideas.’ The volume contributes to the burgeoning debate about ‘material culture’, considering art history, social history and economic history not as separate realms but as an interrelated matrix.

The various essays extend this matrix well beyond the shores of Britain, including Finnish, French, Irish, Dutch and Spanish perspectives on the country house.

Cup of cappucinno and a pot of tea on a tray in the Orangery Cafe, Ham House and Garden, Surrey.

Coffee and tea as served in the Orangery Café at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

I contributed an essay on the changing significance of Asian and pseudo-Asian objects and styles in British country house interiors and gardens.

The debate is brought into the present through discussions about how the country house is ‘served up’ and ‘consumed’ today.

The plan for Clandon

January 19, 2016
The Marble Hall, 1, photo James Dobson-National Trust Images

The Marble Hall at Clandon, following the removal of the debris and the stabilisation of the remaining wall surfaces. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

An announcement was made yesterday about the plans to bring Clandon Park back to life following the devastating fire last April.

Crates with salavaged items from the Saloon, photo James Dobson-National Trust Images

Crates with salvaged fragments in the Saloon. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

Over the last nine months, the colleagues involved with Clandon have reviewed a number of options, ranging from leaving it as a ruin to a full restoration. They considered the architectural significance of what had survived the fire, the items salvaged from the building and what was technically possible within it.

Cleaning the leg of a marble topped table in the Marble Hall, photo James Dobson-National Trust Images

Conservator cleaning the remains of a side table in the Marble Hall. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

The criteria guiding the decision-making process reflect the National Trust’s core purpose. They include making sure that Clandon remains open to the public, considering Clandon’s historic and cultural significance and generating enough income to maintain its long-term conservation.

We are now confident that a number of principal rooms on the ground floor, including the Marble Hall, the Speakers’ Parlour and the Saloon, can be restored – and should be, given their architectural and historical significance.

Statue of Venus in the Marble Hall, photo James Dobson-National Trust Images

A plaster cast of a statue of Venus, still in situ in the Marble Hall. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

The fact that so many features survived the fire, and that items from the rooms have been recovered from the ashes, makes the case for restoration compelling. We will be able to draw on a wealth of relevant expertise from within the National Trust and from elsewhere.

But we are not looking to recreate the rooms as they were the day before the fire. The enduring significance of architect Giacomo Leoni’s original designs means that we can go back to the original eighteenth-century decorative schemes and layout of the house.

The Marble Hall, 2, photo James Dobson-National Trust Images

View of the Marble Hall, with a protective temporary roof visible above. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

The rooms on the upper floors were less architecturally significant and had been considerably altered over the centuries. So it has been proposed to transform those rooms into flexible spaces which could be used for exhibitions, events and performances.

Recent research has also given us a better understanding of the original eighteenth-century gardens. If resources permit we hope to bring those back to life as well, in the spirit of a project that will both look back to the best of the past and create an exciting future for Clandon.

More information, images and updates can be found on our website.

Hope for Clandon

June 25, 2015
The interior of Clandon the day after the fire. ©National Trust Images/John Millar

The interior of Clandon the day after the fire. ©National Trust Images/John Millar

On April 29 Clandon Park suffered a devastating fire which destroyed most of its interior. Thousands of items are feared to have been lost. Following the initial firefighting and salvage operations, structural engineers and insurers have been assessing the site.

A bust from the Marble Hall which was salvaged immediately after the fire. ©National Trust Images/John Millar

A bust from the Marble Hall which was salvaged immediately after the fire. ©National Trust Images/John Millar

Helen Ghosh, our Director General, has now said that ‘We’re hopeful that one day we can rebuild Clandon, but quite how, when and in what form is far from certain at this early stage. Nevertheless we would like to reassure all those people who love Clandon as much as we do that it will continue in some shape or form in the future.’

Firemen recovering the frame of the portrait of the 1st Lord Onslow from the Speakers' Parlour. The portrait itself had been cut from the frame during the initial salvage operation. ©National Trust/John Millar

Firemen recovering the frame of the portrait of the 1st Lord Onslow from the Speakers’ Parlour. The portrait itself had been cut from the frame during the initial salvage operation. ©National Trust/John Millar

The external walls remain largely intact and work will begin shortly to erect scaffolding. Once that is complete and the building has been declared safe, specialist teams will undertake an archaeological salvage operation to recover more of what remains.

State purse of Arthur Onslow, the 'Great Speaker' (1691-1768). ©National Trust

State purse of Arthur Onslow, the ‘Great Speaker’ (1691-1768). ©National Trust

3D laser scanning, geophysical surveys and both ground-level and aerial photography are all being used to assess the site.

Carved and gilded armchair associated with the 'Great Speaker'. ©National Trust

Carved and gilded armchair associated with the ‘Great Speaker’. ©National Trust

Significant objects from the collection were rescued from the fire, including paintings, furniture and silver. However, it will not be possible to confirm the full list of items saved and lost until the the full salvage operation has been completed.

The 4th Countess of Onslow's dinner book, recording menus and guests for dinners given at Clandon between 1875 and 1910. ©National Trust

The 4th Countess of Onslow’s dinner book, recording menus and guests for dinners given at Clandon between 1875 and 1910. ©National Trust

But curator Sophie Chessum, who is leading the conservation team, has said she is pleased that a number of significant objects with connections to the Onslow family, who built Clandon, have been saved.

Prisoner of war badge belonging to the 6th Earl of Onslow, who was imprisoned at Offlag 79 camp near Brunswick during the last months of the Second World War. ©National Trust

Prisoner of war badge belonging to the 6th Earl of Onslow, who was imprisoned at Offlag 79 camp near Brunswick during the last months of the Second World War. ©National Trust

Some of the latest items confirmed as saved include the purse of state of ‘Great Speaker’ Arthur Onslow, an armchair associated with the Great Speaker, the 4th Countess of Onslow’s dinner book and the prisoner of war badge of the 6th Earl of Onslow.

Four pictures return to Ham House

May 29, 2015
Circle of Adriaen van Stalbemt (1580-1662), The woman of Samaria at the well, oil on canvas, NT 2900115. ©Christie’s

Circle of Adriaen van Stalbemt (1580-1662), The woman of Samaria at the well, oil on canvas, NT 2900115. ©Christie’s

In two recent sales at Christie’s South Kensington we have bought four pictures with a provenance from Ham House.

Pieter Neefs II (1620-after 1675) and follower of Frans Francken II (1581-1642), The interior of the cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp, oil on panel, NT 2900121. ©Christie’s

Pieter Neefs II (1620-after 1675) and follower of Frans Francken II (1582-1642), The interior of the cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp, oil on panel, NT 2900121. ©Christie’s

The pictures – three oils and a watercolour – came from the estate of Barbara Judd (1926-2013). They had previously hung at Ham and had been given to Barbara Judd by her grandfather Sir Lyonel Tollemache, 4th Bt., and his son (her uncle) Cecil Tollemache, 5th Bt. The 4th Baronet and his son jointly gave Ham to the National Trust in 1948.

Follower of Pieter van Laer (1599-1642?), Travellers resting, oil on canvas, NT 2900116. ©Christie’s

Follower of Pieter van Laer (1599-1642?), Travellers resting, oil on canvas, NT 2900116. ©Christie’s

The pictures are recorded as hanging in the Green Closet and in other rooms at Ham House. Many of the interiors at Ham are still more or less as they were in the seventeenth century, making the house an extraordinary baroque time capsule.

Richard Cosway, RA (1742-1821), Maria Caroline Duff, pencil and watercolour on paper, NT 2900117. ©Christie’s

Richard Cosway, RA (1742-1821), Maria Caroline Duff, pencil and watercolour on paper, NT 2900117. ©Christie’s

Maria Caroline Duff (1775-1805) was the daughter of Louisa Manners (née Tollemache), who became Countess of Dysart and owner of Ham after the death of her childless brother Wilbraham in 1821. This picture was commissioned by Maria’s husband after her early death, poignantly depicting her ‘in apotheosis’.

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’.


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