Remastered at Petworth

January 8, 2016
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Titian, An Unknown Man in a Black Plumed Hat, c. 1515-20, at Petworth, possibly acquired by the 10th Earl of Northumberland, accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust in 1956, NT 486242

The painter John Constable, in awe of the collections assembled at Petworth House, the seat of the Percy, Seymour and Wyndham families in West Sussex,  once called it ‘that house of art’. Following several successful winter exhibitions featuring loans from other museum, Petworth curator Andy Loukes has now drawn on the house’s own collections to put together a show of major old master paintings.

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Paris Bordone, Portrait of a Young Woman, c. 1550, at Petworth, collection of Lord Egremont.

Petworth House was given to the National Trust by the 3rd Lord Leconfield in 1947. To meet the inheritance tax due following his death in 1952, his nephew John Wyndham, later the 1st Lord Egremont, brokered a pioneering agreement with the Treasury to pay part of the tax in the form of works of art, which were then allocated to the National Trust.

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Agnolo Bronzino, Portrait of a Young Man, c. 1550-5, at Petworth, in the collection of the 3rd Earl of Egremont by 1835, collection of Lord Egremont

This kind of arrangement has now become a well-established system called the Acceptance in Lieu Scheme, which is hugely beneficial to UK museums.

The current Lord Egremont still owns part of the Petworth collection, and some of those paintings are also on view in this exhibition.

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Sir Anthony van Dyck, Portrait of Anne Boteler, Countess of Newport, later Countess of Portland, c. 1637, at Petworth, in the collection of the 10th Earl of Northumberland in 1652, accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust in 1956, NT 486238

Petworth is already well known for its British pictures, so for this exhibition Andy has focused more on Continental European paintings. Some of the works have not been on public view before, while others have recently undergone conservation work, revealing new detail and depth.

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Anglo-Netherlandish School, Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, 1530, at Petworth, in the collection of the 3rd Earl of Egremont by 1835, accepted in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust in 1956, NT 486204

The exhibition also celebrates the successive collectors who made Petworth into ‘that house of art’, including Algernon Percy, 10th Earl of Northumberland (1602-68), and Charles Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont (1751-1837).

Sharing a taste for Chinese prints

December 22, 2015
The Chinese Bedroom with wallpaper depicting scenes from daily life, at Saltram, Devon

Various Chinese prints depicting female figures, cut out and combined to form a decorative scheme in the Chinese Dressing Room at Saltram, near Plymouth. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

A few weeks ago I attended a conference at the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna about Chinese-style interior decoration in Europe in the eighteenth century.

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Chinese print depicting a female figure in the Study at Saltram, part of a collage of Chinese prints and paintings. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

This conference was organised by Dr Elfriede Iby, head of research at Schönbrunn, and Professor Gabriele Krist of the Universität für Angewandte Kunst Wien.

3 Oud Amelisweerd female figure

Fragment of a Chinese print depicting a female figure found at Oud Amelisweerd, near Utrecht, almost identical to prints at Saltram. ©MOA

This conference brought together curators, conservators and academics from across Europe. For me it was a great opportunity to learn about the issues that the colleagues in central Europe are grappling with (very similar to the issues we in the National Trust are grappling with, predictably enough).

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Chinese print of a female figure, installed as an overdoor at Kasteel d’Ursel, near Antwerp, between 1761 and 1764. ©Provincie Antwerpen

And I very much enjoyed seeing more examples of Chinese-style interior decoration on the Continent.

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Chinese print depicting a female figure hung at Schloss Wörlitz, Anhalt-Dessau, in about 1772. ©Bildarchiv Foto Marburg

I presented a paper about the rapid spread of certain types of Chinese prints and wallpapers, which popped up in palaces and country houses across Europe in the mid eighteenth century.

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Chinese prints combined as a collage, probably hung by 1751 at the Badenburg pavilion, Nymphenburg Palace, Munich.

Occasionally the same or very similar Chinese prints have survived in different European countries. At the Schönbrunn  conference we heard about Chinese prints and wallpapers at the Esterházy Palace in Eisenstadt, the Wilanów Palace in Warsaw and Schloss Wörlitz in Anhalt-Dessau, some of which are clearly connected to examples in Britain.

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Locations of some of the early Chinese print and wallpaper schemes, installed c. 1725-1775.

In addition, scholars like Christer von der Burg and Anita Xiaoming Wang are also investigating aspects of these prints, as is evident from their respective blogs. There is a pleasing symmetry to the fact that the research is as international as the subject.

 

The wonder of the north

November 12, 2015

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The extraordinary landscape garden at Studley Royal is the subject of a major new book by Mark Newman.

The cascade and the fishing tabernacles at Studley Royal, created in the 1720s. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The cascade and the fishing tabernacles at Studley Royal, created in the 1720s. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Based on many years of research, this book charts at the history of Studley Royal from its origins to the present day, while devoting most attention to the development of its pioneering garden in the eighteenth century.

The rustic bridge at Studley Royal, built in the 1720s. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

The rustic bridge at Studley Royal, built in the 1720s. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

John Aislabie (1670-1742) may have been a blatantly venal government minister – he was was convicted of corruption following the collapse of the South Sea Bubble in 1720 – but he had a sophisticated taste in landscape design.

Statue of Bacchus in front of the Temple of Piety, probably built in the early 1730s, at Studley Royal. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Statue of Bacchus in front of the Temple of Piety, probably built in the early 1730s, at Studley Royal. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Following his banishment from politics he poured his energies into Studley Royal. He bent the landscape to his will, but at the same time allowed for a degree of naturalness and irregularity, which was new at the time.

The Octagon Tower at Studley Royal, completed in 1735. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

The Octagon Tower at Studley Royal, completed in 1735. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Studley represents the early phase of the English landscape garden, juxtaposing formality and informality, architecture and foliage, water and greenery, light and shade.

View over the half moon pond and the weir at Studley Royal towards Fountains Abbey. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

View over the half moon pond and the weir at Studley Royal towards Fountains Abbey. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

His son William Aislabie (1700-81) continued to develop the landscape, incorporating the medieval ruins of Fountains Abbey into it and creating the ‘Chinese woods’ further up the valley.

The seven bridges walk at Studley Royal, near the area formerly known as the 'Chinese woods'. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The seven bridges walk at Studley Royal, near the area formerly known as the ‘Chinese woods’. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The book can be purchased via the National Trust online shop.

An Italianate landscape for Belton – and one in the Louvre

November 5, 2015
Attributed to Nicolaes Berchem the elder (1620–1683), Classical landscape with figures and animals, oil on canvas, probably 1670s, at Belton House, NT 2900170. ©Tennant’s

Attributed to Nicolaes Berchem the elder (1620–1683), Classical landscape with figures and animals, oil on canvas, probably 1670s, at Belton House, NT 2900170. ©Tennant’s

We have recently purchased this landscape painting at auction at Tennant’s. It is attributed to the Dutch seventeenth-century painter Nicolaes Berchem the elder and has a provenance from Belton House.

The Berchem in its gilded Régence-style frame. ©Tennant’s

The Berchem in its gilded Régence-style frame. ©Tennant’s

The painting depicts an Italian landscape, with beautifully arranged clouds, mountains and buildings, picturesque human figures and nicely observed animals. Berchem is not thought to have visited Italy himself, adopting this subject matter and style from the ‘Italianate’ Dutch painters of the period. So this is pure ‘art’, the expression of an ideal rather than the copying of reality.

A note on Belton House headed paper, on the back of the Berchem. ©Tennant’s

A note on Belton House headed paper, on the back of the Berchem. ©Tennant’s

This Berchem was owned by the 1st Lord Brownlow and was at Belton in 1809. It descended in the Cust family, but by 1958 it was in the hands of the London dealer Alfred Brod.

Nicolaes Pietersz. Berchem (1620-83), Le paysage du bac, Musée du Louvre, inv. 1040. ©Musée du Louvre

Nicolaes Pietersz. Berchem (1620-83), Le paysage du bac, Musée du Louvre, inv. 1040. ©Musée du Louvre

The Tennant’s catalogue entry mentioned that there is another version of this painting in the Louvre (with inventory no. 1040), which appears to be very close to the Belton Berchem.

The Louvre painting was formerly owned by the house of Orange, but was taken to Paris in 1795, presumably by the Revolutionary French troops who invaded Holland in that year. The pre-1809 history of the Belton painting is as yet unknown.

The Fabric of India

October 9, 2015
Detail of one of the panels of Tipu Sultan's tent, showing its early-eighteenth-century Mughal floral decoration. In the collection at Powis Castle, acquired by the National Trust with support from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund. NT 1180731. ©National Trust Images/Erik Pelham

Detail of one of the panels of Tipu Sultan’s tent, showing its early-eighteenth-century Mughal floral decoration. In the collection at Powis Castle, acquired by the National Trust with support from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund. NT 1180731. ©National Trust Images/Erik Pelham

I have just been to see the inspiring Fabric of India Exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Among the exhibits is the tent once owned by Tipu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore, which has been borrowed from Powis Castle for the exhibition.

A section of Tipu Sultan's chintz tent, c. 1725-50. NT 1180731. ©National Trust Images/Erik Pelham

A section of Tipu Sultan’s chintz tent, c. 1725-50. NT 1180731. ©National Trust Images/Erik Pelham

The 2nd Lord Clive acquired the tent after the defeat of Tipu Sultan by the British in 1799, which is how it ended up at the Clive seat of Powis Castle.

Section of Tipu's tent. NT1180731. ©National Trust Images/Erik Pelham

Section of Tipu’s tent. NT1180731. ©National Trust Images/Erik Pelham

About two-thirds of the tent has been set up in the exhibition, more than is usually on display at Powis. It was amazing to get a inkling of what it was like to enter such a sumptuous royal tent.

Detail of Tipu's tent. NT1180731. ©National Trust Images/Erik Pelham

Detail of Tipu’s tent. NT1180731. ©National Trust Images/Erik Pelham

These tents were effectively portable miniature palaces. When originally set up it would have been surrounded by the tents of court nobles and officials, mirroring a real palace complex.

I learned from the exhibition catalogue that the tent is in the Mughal style and actually predates Tipu’s reign, so it may have been a gift from another ruler or an heirloom. At Powis Castle it was used for many years as a marquee during garden parties.

Two and three dimensions in Chinese porcelain

September 29, 2015
Chinese porcelain vase, at Erddig, NT 1145621.2. ©National Trust Collections/Susanne Gronnow

Chinese porcelain vase, at Erddig, NT 1145621.2. ©National Trust Collections/Susanne Gronnow

I just noticed the delicate landscapes on these early-eighteenth-century Chinese porcelain vases at Erddig (on our database here and here). We can see the wall of a country mansion situated next to a waterway, with a figure leaning against a balustrade gazing out at the waves. Another figure approaches the gate over a wooden zig-zag bridge.

Chinese porcelain vase, at Erddig, NT 1145621.1. ©National Trust Collections/Susanne Gronnow

Chinese porcelain vase, at Erddig, NT 1145621.1. ©National Trust Collections/Susanne Gronnow

Further along we see the waterway widening out, with a little boat coursing over the waves, a pagoda on the opposite bank and mountains above.

This decoration is derived from the tradition of Chinese landscape painting. But along their necks the vases have also been decorated with stylised floral and fungus ornaments which are part of the Chinese decorative art vocabulary. The globes along the necks have been painted with a diaper pattern that is reminiscent of openwork or basketwork. The silhouette of the vases is pear-shaped, but in section they are in fact octagonal.

So we have three-dimensional objects which are both curvaceous and angular. And we have painted decoration suggesting both pictorial distance and surface perforation. Not bad for a pair of small vases.

A Japanese sculpture at Dyffryn

August 27, 2015
Detail of a bronze sculpture of a man riding an ox, possibly Sugawara no Michizane (845-903), possibly by Takamura Kōun (1852-1934), at Dyffryn gardens, NT 1682811. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Detail of a bronze sculpture of a man riding an ox, possibly Sugawara no Michizane (845-903), possibly by Takamura Kōun (1852-1934), at Dyffryn gardens, NT 1682811. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

As I was looking at images of Dyffryn Gardens while writing my previous post, I was reminded of the intriguing Japanese bronze sculpture situated in front of the house. It depicts a man dressed in traditional Japanese traveling costume sitting on the back of an ox, reading a book as he is carried along.

Back view of the sculpture of a man riding an ox at Dyffryn Gardens. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Back view of the sculpture of a man riding an ox at Dyffryn Gardens. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

A while ago I asked Menno Fitski, an expert on Japanese art and curator at the Rijksmuseum, who this figure might be. He suggested it could be Sugawara no Michizane (845-903), a Japanese scholar and courtier. When Michizane’s enemies managed to get him expelled from court a faithful ox carried him into exile. He was later worshiped as a patron of scholars and  deity of calligraphy.

Front view of the sculpture of a man riding an ox at Dyffryn Gardens. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Front view of the sculpture of a man riding an ox at Dyffryn Gardens. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Menno suggested the sculptor might be Takamura Kōun (1852-1934) or someone from his circle. Kōun worked to preserve traditional Japanese woodcarving skills during the turbulent Meiji period (1868-1912), when Japan was rapidly modernising and subject to western cultural influences. However, Kōun also made sculptures in bronze. Large-scale bronze figures from this period combined the western conventions of public sculpture with traditional Japanese subject matter.

This sculpture was donated to Dyffryn gardens by Grenville Morgan in 1951. Although its introduction post-dates the ownership of Dyffryn by the Cory family, it suits the Edwardian atmosphere of the garden, with its many Japanese trees and plants.

We would welcome comments either confirming that this sculptural group is by Kōun or suggesting another possible artist.

Dyffryn Gardens voted most special place

August 25, 2015
The Herbaceous Borders at Dyffryn, looking south. ©National Trust/Andrew Butler

The Herbaceous Borders at Dyffryn, looking south. ©National Trust/Andrew Butler

Dyffryn Gardens near Cardiff is the winner of the 2015 Special Places in Wales competition, organised by the National Trust in collaboration with Cadw, Cynnal Cymru, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Visit Wales, the RSPB, Ramblers Cymru and Keep Wales Tidy.

Dyffryn's entrance front, seen from the Rockery. ©National Trust/Andrew Butler

Dyffryn’s entrance front, seen from the Rockery. ©National Trust/Andrew Butler

Public voting began in May to select the most-loved place in Wales. By July 21st the selection had been narrowed down to Dolaucothi Gold Mines, Dyffryn, Gladstone’s Library, Rhossili and Snowdonia.

The view from the house at Dyffryn onto the Great Lawn. ©National Trust/Andrew Butler

The view from the house at Dyffryn onto the Great Lawn. ©National Trust/Andrew Butler

Dyffryn was the winner in the second round, receiving more than a third of the final votes.

The Vine Walk at Dyffryn. ©National Trust

The Vine Walk at Dyffryn. ©National Trust

The current house at Dyffryn was built by coalmine owner and philanthropist John Cory. In the early 1900s he commissioned landscape architect Thomas Mawson to lay out new gardens.

The Herbaceous Borders at Dyffryn, looking north. ©National Trust

The Herbaceous Borders at Dyffryn, looking north. ©National Trust

After John Cory’s death in 1910 his son Reginald Cory collaborated even more closely and enthusiastically with Mawson in building up the garden.

The interior of the Glass House at Dyffryn. ©National Trust

The interior of the Glass House at Dyffryn. ©National Trust

Reginald Cory was a keen plant hunter and dahlia enthusiast. He established the Cory Cup which is still awarded annually by the Royal Horticultural Society for the best new hardy hybrids.

Produce in the Walled Garden at Dyffryn. ©National Trust/John Millar

Produce in the Walled Garden at Dyffryn. ©National Trust/John Millar

After Dyffryn left the ownership of the Cory family in 1936 it was in institutional use for a number of decades. In 1996 the Vale of Glamorgan Council bought the freehold and the Heritage Lottery Fund provided substantial grants to begin the restoration of the gardens.

The garden front of the house at Dyffryn. ©National Trust

The garden front of the house at Dyffryn. ©National Trust

The National Trust has managed Dyffryn since 2013. Staff and volunteers are continuing to improve the gardens and to make this an Edwardian refuge for the twenty-first century.

New look collections website

August 20, 2015

The National Trust collections website has recently had an upgrade. The new look will hopefully make it easier to browse and search the collections and learn more about the individual objects.

When you scroll down the landing page you will see a selection of historic houses with particularly noteworthy collections.

If you choose to explore a particular property, you will be presented with some highlights of that collection. If you want to find out more about a specific object you can click through to find additional information.

Of course it is also possible to search the entire collections database. We continue to improve and refine the collections website, so do let us have your feedback.

The Gothic Tower at Wimpole refurbished

August 18, 2015
The Gothic Tower at Wimpole after the scaffolding came down earlier this year. ©National Trust

The Gothic Tower at Wimpole after the scaffolding came down earlier this year. ©National Trust

At Wimpole Hall a project has been underway to refurbish the Gothic Tower, which has acted as an eyecatcher since the eighteenth century. I will just show a few highlights here – more about this complex and fascinating project can be found on the Wimpole Estate blog and the East of England Conservation blog.

Design for the Gothic Tower at Wimpole by Sanderson Miller, 1751.

Design for the Gothic Tower at Wimpole by Sanderson Miller, 1751.

The Gothic Tower was designed by Gothic Revival pioneer and folly specialist Sanderson Miller in 1751, but was only built twenty years later. Many of the features of the Tower were made of clunch, a soft limestone. As this deteriorated over tine the building was patched up with brick and the tower lost its distinctive crenelation.

Photograph of the Gothic Tower in 1881, showing the crenelations beginning to deteriorate.

Photograph of the Gothic Tower in 1881, showing the crenelations beginning to deteriorate.

Between 1805 and the late 1920s the Gothic Tower was inhabited by the estate gamekeeper and kept in reasonably good condition. But during the twentieth century the building deteriorated, which prompted this conservation project.

The Gothic Tower before the conservation project began. ©National Trust

The Gothic Tower before the conservation project began. ©National Trust

The work was funded by a Higher Level Stewardship grant from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and was undertaken by Cliveden Conservation.

The Gothic Tower encased in a scaffolding tower. ©National Trust

The Gothic Tower encased in a scaffolding tower. ©National Trust

The walls have been repaired and repointed with lime mortar. The crenelations have been replaced using Chilmark stone, which looks similar to clunch but is more durable.

View of the Gothic Tower across the lake. ©National Trust

View of the Gothic Tower across the lake. ©National Trust

The doors and windows have been remade and the scrub has been cleared from around the Tower. It is now once again accessible to the public and ready for a new lease of life.


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