Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection is located in Manchester Square, London. Entry is Free. Its location is a house that once belonged to the 4th Marquess of Hertford, Richard Seymour-Conway. Seymour-Conway died in 1870 and left the house and everything in it to his son, Richard Wallace. Hence, the Wallace Collection. The collection was originally privately displayed until the wife of Wallace left it to the nation upon her death.

We know that the collection is completely intact because one of the conditions of the handover to the nation was that it shall not be dispersed. Not by loan or sale.

I think that the most enjoyable aspect of the collection are the decorative arts. Of course, with paintings such as the Laughing Cavalier, I cannot say that the collection of fine art is of a bad standard - because it is not. However, the quality and beauty of the furniture and ceramics is (for me at least) more impressive. Whilst we have museums like the V&A and the Ashmolean in our vicinity which house amazing collections of this kind, I still enjoyed the Wallace Collection because it is so (relatively) small and (relatively) out the way.

During my degree I have been dragged around an awful lot of places and I find that in big museums the decorative arts take a back seat. Failing that, they'll be shut off to the public and you can only see them from 10 metres away (the King's Bed @ V&A for example). I've even been told off recently for walking on a carpet that was not sectioned off, and while I completely understand that the conservation issue, it is lovely to be able to literally sit underneath a Boulle table and have a thorough look from all angles. Something that is very useful for my course!!!

Another thing that was nice was the massive collection of Snuff Boxes, they're very cute and sparkly.

This is the staircase that you see immediately as you walk in through the main entrance.

All of the pictures above are of an Armoire. I wish that the Wallace Collection website was bit more thorough in their online catalogue but hey ho. I remember from my visit that most of the gems at the Wallace are attributed to Andre-Charles Boulle. Especially lacquer pieces, defined by their hard and glossy finish. Another important aspect used to describe not only pieces by Boulle but of others too, is 'Boulle marquetry'. Marquetry is found on countless pieces of furniture and the easiest way to explain it is that the surface of an object is 'marked' or otherwise engraved with foreign materials to achieve the desired, decorated, effect. It is generally done with other types of wood, or at least I have more seen examples of that. However, Boulle marquetry uses a type of metal, which along with the Lacquer leaves a luxurious finish.

Another Boulle piece, I think. Boulle was fashionable throughout the early 18th century until tastes changed in the middle of the century. However, there was a Boulle revival towards the end of the 1700s. Makes it fairly difficult to verify some attributions because of this.

Many museums and houses can boast that they have a sizeable collection of antiques. However, there are fewer who can say that the house has maintained the same decoration it has had for the past 200 years. I find that a lot of restorers aim to restore the house to the state it would have been prior to the 19th century - regardless of whether it was last used by a historical figure in the 19th century or not. Is 200 years ago not along enough to be interesting? I think so. All of the house is genuine. It looks how it would have done when Wallace and his wife would spend their time here. It is details like the chandelier that reminds us that every aspect is the same - do not keep your observations at eye level.


According to the Wallace they have the finest collection of Serves Porcelain in the world. However, I do think the understated collection of Waddesdon Manor is just as impressive in size. The difference in my eyes is that the Wallace have acquired a larger range of pieces with a larger variety of decoration.

My favourite piece of porcelain, ever. Look at the globe! This was once believed to have belonged to Marie Antoinette thanks to the M.A mark underneath it. However, it is thought now that the mark was deliberately forged to increase its value. Lovely nonetheless.

 This is the poster that corresponds to the sale of Marie-Antoinette's 'Petit Trianon' in 1793.

Another Boulle piece.

Laughing Cavalier - Frans Hals, 1624

Snuff Boxes

I took a picture of these two as examples of 18th century porcelain being modified in the 19th century (off of the top of my head - I think??). Dinner services were soon to require less pieces and thus elaborate pieces like these two above became obsolete. The 19th century solution was to use them purely as decoration. To achieve their new purpose, they had to be mounted on a new base and given a cover. In the latter piece, you can see that the item had been a gift from, to or perhaps in admiration of a royal - hence the royally themed cover.
I will never be able to do the Wallace any justice so make sure to visit it for yourself. I am doing another decorative arts course this term so hopefully I will visit again and gather more information to write up something better.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Claydon House

Buongiorno, this post is about Claydon House, built and still owned by the Verney family (edit: inhabited is probably a better word - officially owned by the NT). It is located near Middle Claydon, Buckinghamshire. I have the pleasure of living near this little gem but still I have only gone twice. These pictures were taken in October 2012 and because my memory doesn't always serve me well I might not always know what I took a picture of and why lol.
The reason I am writing about this house in particular is because the weekend before last I spent a couple of hours here (and wasn't allowed to take pictures this time around boo!). The house has only just opened up after its winter closure and will be open Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays until November the 2nd. I've also been told by a boy who lives in Claydon Village that throughout the Halloween period they host a ghost tour at night (!!!!)
It costs £8 for adults and £4 for children, and £20 for a family ticket. If you happen to bank with Natwest though, there is a chance you can claim free visitors passes for National Trust properties twice a year :)
Ok so, the first time I came here was at the beginning of my course. My first day. It was the day before I flew out to Italy and served as a taster session if you like. I remember very clearly that my classmates and I were stood outside of the building and asked what style it was and to discuss the exterior. We were all terrified and knew nuttin'.
P.S I am sorry that some of the pictures are the wrong way round. I didn't think to rotate them before I uploaded them!

I've decided to not give in to my OCD and make the first picture bigger than the others. Purely because the beauty is in the detail of this fairly plain fa├žade and this is one of the rare occasions that I used my lovely camera!
The first time you look at this place you might be put off by its lack of English character. Us English love to mish mash styles and make them generally quite pretty (I think so anyway). However I am here to fight its corner because, although we haven't got the same eccentricity here that can be found at Waddesdon Manor and it's visually quite harsh, I think it is beautiful. Can you spot in the picture all of the different shades of brown, beige, off white and yellow (and everything in-between)? I haven't done enough research on Claydon to tell you whether this was deliberate or a result of weathering (my opinion is that it is probably a bit of both), but either way I think it is understated and gorgeous.
Claydon fits in with the Chronology of English stylistic development in the 18th century, in that it is Neo-Classical. This is to say that it is a revival of Classicism. If you're interested to know WHY we loved Classicism so much in this century then perhaps you could read up on it here. Claydon was built between 1757 and 1771(the Verney's lived on the site since 1620 in a different house), and it was in '76 that Chambers designed Somerset House. Can you see that the two belong to the same style? In any case however, Claydon is still more austere than what was going on elsewhere.
One prominent feature that I would pick out are the Palladian Windows with sash panelling. Look closely enough and you'll see there is a door. Interestingly enough this would have never of been there. The house used to be THREE times as big before one of the Verney Ladies (can't remember which one) decided to tear down the other parts. It originally had another wing (identical to the one pictured) to its right; and in-between the two wings was a gorgeous pantheon style rotunda that served as the main entrance and grand hall. Hence no door on the windows originally. There are also some servant houses, stables and other tid bits behind what remains and a small chapel/church to its right. The church was not open the last time I visited but was the first time. If you're interested in their family history then it's a good place to visit.
Another good thing to point out are the pediments dotted above the windows and atop the entablature with the little oculus placed in the gable and in-between the two storeys.  The pediments are about as classic as you can get. The 18th century was all about classical Greece and Rome however we can assume the architects had had a little bit of influence from the Renaissance palaces of Italy, too. We can deduce this from the fact that the oculi above the windows are there to imply another floor (which in fact is not there), why? This is because the Italians loved a Mezzanine floor and in the age of palaces it was imperative to have all sorts of different sections and floors to your house (the piano nobile for one). The Verney family therefore obviously wanted the same prestige.

This is a picture from the chapel. I took this (and I remember why!!) because my lecturer was giving us a 'crash course in Iconography'. He pointed out the Memento Mori on this tomb. Can you see it? You can tell from the tombs and the house that the family are particularly proud of Sir Edmund Verney, who was the Standard Bearer to King Charles I.

This is the first room you enter. Its purpose is clear - beautiful and impressive - obviously for entertaining! The interiors are quite a shock if you look at the outside first. It is very busy and largely in the Rococo style. Most of the interiors are attributed to Luke Lightfoot. This ceiling is lurrrvely. My boyfriend and I had a good old chat with a volunteer working there and when I mentioned that Lightfoot's ceiling work reminds me of Robert Adams' he said that Lightfoot's team was largely made up by Adams' plasterers and workers! That will be why then :)

The hall is made up of 4 niches like this. Each one has a bust in it that is an allegory of summer, winter, autumn or spring.

This is one of the windows with a broken pediment design above. Each opening of the broken pediments dotted around the house usually have a vase or porcelain placed in-between (you can see it here very vaguely).

Detailing of what I think was the drawing room. The coffered ceiling is not so much to my taste because you can tell it is stucco work and not actually sculpted.

The wallpaper on the other hand is pretty. The colour was all the rage at the time. I think it was Prussian Blue. The texture of the wall paper is like velvet. The National Trust have an example of the wallpaper placed on a table in the room so that you can feel it. It is prone to fading and although it has been restored once it has begun to fade again, in as little as 30 years (I think). My boyfriend pointed out that the house must be built in some direction or other because it is the wall paper to the left of this picture that has faded the most. The patch of faded wallpaper is situated off centre to the windows to the right of this picture and therefore he deduced that the sun must rise in a certain direction to the house and therefore...

It was this room that housed all their wonderful portraits by Antony Van Dyck. For a small country house they have loads!! They're brilliant. They are all within the generation of Sir Edmund Verney. As he was close to the King, he shared his court artist: Van Dyck. Van Dyck was the court painter for a decade.

This is the library.
I think I took this picture because I was impressed by the idea that a fireplace would have Helios' face on it. I still think its brilliant every time I see how fit for purpose old furniture and buildings were - both in decoration and function.

This is, quite frankly, horrific. Remember the stucco work that was just OK in the drawing room? This is not OK, at all. The Etruscan motifs on top of a pastel pink background as well? REALLY?!? The staircase though is absolutely gorgeous and is almost art nouveau 150 years before its time! Of course I didn't get a picture of it because I suck. Notice how badly the sun has ruined what would have been a lovely floor.

This room I love and hate in equal measures. I love that I've just studied a decorative art course and the Chinoiserie dotted about everywhere makes me feel clever because I know what it is. I equally love the carving below. But, I just cannot handle the colours. Interestingly, the volunteer said that one of the only genuine things in this room are the nodding dolls. If I'd been asked to point out the Chinoiserie in this room I would have pointed at those first. There is also a gorgeous genuine Chinese dressing table in this room too. It is an example of when the Chinese made things especially for us and overused oriental motifs. Oh and, the nodding dolls would nod as you entered the house! ha

Tea party decoration in the tea party/ Chinese room !
This, I THINK, was a washing machine from back in the day...
I'm really sad that I never took any pictures of the things in the house that were related to Florence Nightingale. Before, during and after the Crimean war she stayed here. Her sister lived here. It was at a desk that they still have on display that she wrote her medical handbook! The house has her bedroom and living area still in tact. One really odd thing they have however is an orange that Florence gave to a soldier. I don't know how they preserve it, how they acquired it or why the hell they would want it but hey ho.
Another place everyone should visit!

Waddesdon Manor

This is a repost. I accidentally deleted the original one! thank god for google caches. This was originally written on the 26th of February.

On Monday I visited Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire. It was part of an extensive collection of stately homes owned by the Rothschild family.

The family were fond of Buckingham as a place to set up shop because, apparently, it was their favourite place to go hunting. The Rothschild that had this Manor built in 1874-1889 was Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild.

The building is absolutely beautiful and is another example of an eclectic use of styles in England. As a little island tucked away on the edge of Europe, Italy and French architectural style reached us a bit late and had seemingly lost some of it's intensity along the way. Our original Renaissance was at its height in Henry VIII's court and it was never used as compulsively by the English. So, fast forward 3 centuries and our 'Neo-Renaissance' took on board gothic and baroque elements along with the Renaissance design. For example, the building itself is comparable to the barroquial obsession in convexing and concaving the perimeters of a building and all the architectural elements therein. In terms of Gothic influence, the design incorporates turrets and numerous pointed motifs. However, because of the clear division between the top half of the building and the bottom, rustication and loyalty to the classical orders, this building is in a Neo Renaissance style. Elsewhere on the continent though a building in this supposed style would probably be less eclectic.

Look closely at the last photo, made me laugh that the window has a hello kitty toy hanging from it.

Unfortunately we didn't get to take a tour of the whole house. This may in fact of been quite lucky for us because what we did see took us 5 hours. The reason for parts of the house being closed is because it is actually closed season for them and because they are filming Frankenstein there and if we'd gone today Daniel Radcliffe would have been on set!!!!!!!!! Gutted.

But yeah, because of this the room we saw were mostly quite modest in comparison to what you might expect. However, even though the house has fairly large Galleries in general it is smaller than you might assume from seeing the outside. It is long indeed but narrow as well.

The painting pictured above was placed in a room opposite George III's silver service. The silver is all incredible in itself but more interestingly it is so weird to think how people went about a dinner. We have recently gathered in the news that rich men today's idea of good hospitality is taking a girl to Nandos so really it's time to take note boys of how to wine and dine. Luckily, it will only set you back a few million if not more... They even had an ice cream cooler to put on the table. It had a lid that was openable itself and to be filled with ice which then sits on top the bottom half of the pot to cool the ice cream beneath it!

The painting itself is a 10th copy of a painting of 12. Therefore not particularly valuable. The frame however is so important that the item is a 'starred item' and will be the priority to save in a disaster. The frame is important because of its meaning. Despite the image, the whole painting was a diplomatic gift. Beforehand, tensions where high when France took America's side in the War of Independence, so once ties had been mended this image was whisked off to England. The four roundels in the corners say King Louis XVI of France. The top bit has a crown and the extending hand of justice or friendship while the two heraldic crests are that of France and England : The Bourbons and the Hanovers.

Not part of the service but pretty all the same. Some kind of dessert ornament I think. One of the walkways in the house.

The main point of the photo is to show you how amazing the curtains are.

A vase given to the family as a gift from Tsar Alexander II.

Another room we visited housed some of the family's collection of porcelain.

R for Rothschild

Boy Building A House of Cards by Chardin !

Another room full of lovely porcelain from Sevres, the Razumovsky Service. All pieces have individual painter marks on the back of them and the Sevres mark to match which is so useful for a collector.

Afterwards we had the lovely curator take us upstairs to where they store some of their textiles. She curates the entire collection but specifies in textiles. She explained how the issue of restoration vs. conservation is proving difficult to resolve. The trust uses netting to slow down the ageing process and act as an extra layer between the object and the environment around it. She said that so far it hasn't done an awful lot of good. With the pieces we saw most of them were fragments of dresses or furniture that had been unpicked or were too delicate to be on display. The interesting thing about these objects is that although the house is a 19th century construction, the interiors were largely 18th century and were akin the tastes of many to look back on 'Le Ancien Regime'.

I recommend you visit this place, go go go. X