Since the Wellington archives are closed at the weekends, Vicky and I had another welcome opportunity to spend some time with our friend, author Beth Elliot. This day, Beth took us to beautiful Henley-on-Thames, set on the River Thames in Oxfordshire. Dating back to 1179, Henley has been home to the famous annual Regatta, which began in 1839 and which has been considered “Royal” since Prince Albert became a patron of the race in 1851. The Grade I listed Henley Bridge, above, is a five arched bridge across the river built in 1786.
In fact, historic Henley-on-Thames boasts 369 listed buildings, of which these are but a few –
The Red Lion Hotel, above, began life centuries ago as a coaching inn on the London to Oxford Road. From their website:
“The earliest guest of note whose visit was recorded, was Charles I who stayed in the hotel in 1632 on his way from London to Oxford. The original Coat of Arms, painted above the fireplace in one of the rooms, has been preserved and glassed over following its discovery during alterations in 1889. These alterations included the addition of the porch upon which the effigy of the Red Lion was placed and the building of the central hall where previously an archway had led to the courtyard.
“The Red Lion was, in the old days of slow travelling, the resting place of the Duke of Marlborough on his way from Blenheim to London. He furnished one room which was kept for his command on his stately journey through Henley. His furniture remained in the hotel until 1849 (over a century).”
When it came time for a meal, Vicky, Beth and I chose the Angel at the Bridge, a slightly newer pub, having been built as recently as 1728. The deciding factor was it’s location, directly on the riverside, and the sign below –
Again, the weather was glorious and we relaxed by the water as we ate our lunch, followed by a shared cheese plate and several glasses of Pimms. At last, we roused ourselves and set off for a bit of shopping, author/researcher style.
In the bookshop above, I found a period print of Rotten Row and snapped it up while Beth and Vicky chatted about Venice and French authors with the lady who ran the shop. If you’re ever in Henley, I do recommend your dropping in – it’s just higgedly piggedly enough to make browsing an adventure.
Of course, we also stopped in at several antique shops. In one, I found the display below. If only I knew a highwayman, I could have gotten his Christmas present sorted on the spot.
There are many more adventures with Beth to come, so stay tuned!
A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit an exhibition called “Mrs. Delany and Her Circle,” at the Yale Center for British Art. The show, organized by the Center for British Art and Sir John Soane’s Museum in London, included work in every conceivable medium.
One of the items included in the exhibition was the needlework Mrs. Delany executed on a black ground for the court dress mentioned in a previous post and shown here.
The piece of fabric was placed between two panes of glass, allowing visitors to examine it closely. I have been doing crewel, embroidery and needlepoint for decades and must say that I’ve never seen anything so astonishing. Mrs. Delany’s stitches were neat and well placed, but that was only the beginning. The reverse of the fabric had been as neatly wrought as the front, with nary a knot in sight. The threads were as vibrantly coloured today as they must have been two hundred years ago, showing the detail of the design and the subtlety of color variations throughout the work. It is astonishing to realize that the designs for Mrs. Delany’s work originated in her own mind. Perhaps she worked her pieces directly from that picture in her mind’s eye. However, she was also able to translate those designs onto other pieces of fabrics and to write instructions and colour directions down, thus making needlework “kits” for her friends and family to execute.
In 1861, Augusta Hall (Baroness Llanover) edited a volume called The Autobiography and Correspondence of Mary Granville, Mrs. Delany. In the appendix, the editor wrote:
“Were it possible to give a list of the work designed and executed by Mrs. Delany with the needle, independent of the quantity of various works in various ways designed by her for her friends to execute, it would be a much more extraordinary exemplification of what may be achieved by human industry and ingenuity, aided by natural talent, than the catalogue of her paintings. The Editor is not able to give an account of more than the specimens of Mrs. Delany’s needlework which are in her own possession, and that of her sister, and a few other relations. Of these are a number of chairs, the backs and seats of which are embroidered in a manner entirely different to anything that has ever (in the knowledge of the Editor) been done for a similar purpose. They consist of magnificent groups of flowers from nature, some on light and some on dark grounds, all different from each other, and all executed in worsted chenille, (made upon linen thread;) possessing the finest semi-tones of colour, which produce a variety of tint and harmony, as well as depth of colour, which never appear in the modern dyes of wool of any description. Some of these chairs are worked in embroidery stitch upon canvas, by which means the utmost freedom of outline was possible, and the most exact imitation of nature. In other sets of chairs cloth was used as the ground upon which the outline of the flowers must have been sketched, and the shades and colours filled in by sewing down the worsted chenilles by the eye, and cutting them off where required. These specimens prove Mrs. Delany’s marvellous talent for design, as well as ability in execution, and are suitable for furniture which though ornamental was yet useful; but there also exist bed hangings, and chair and sofa covers, which combine in as remarkable a manner striking effect with every day utility. Some of these were the covers of her drawing-room chairs in London, where the ground was brilliant dark blue linen, bordered with leaves cut out by herself in white linen, and edged and veined with white knotting of different sorts and thickness, sewed down along the edge. A bed completed by herself, and her sister Ann Granville, was of nankeen, with designs executed in white linen, for the headboard and hangings, all different, but well adapted to the various parts, and of a washing material, the durability of which as well as the excellence of the work is best proved by its endurance for near a hundred years in continual use! Mrs. Delany did not employ silk for her furniture, but woollen or linen materials; and the worsted chenilles, made on linen thread, never were attacked by the moths: there is now a box of them in the Editor’s possession left from Mrs. Delany’s work, which are still fit for use; it ought also to be mentioned that all these chenilles were wound on two cards folded together by herself in a peculiar manner, which prevented the chenilles being cut by the edges of the cards.”
Mrs. Delany died April 10th, 1788, and was interred in a vault belonging to St. James’ church, where a monument has been erected to her memory.
For further reading on Mrs. Delany read Mrs. Delany: Her Life and Her Flowers by Ruth Hayden (ISBN: 071418022X / 0-7141-8022-X ); Mrs. Delany (Mary Granville): A Memoir, 1700-1788 by George Paston (ISBN: 1150362642 ) and The Autobiography and Correspondence of Mary Granville, Mrs. Delany by Augusta Hall (Baroness Llanover).
There are ten stately homes that have been designated as “The Treasure Houses of England,” and three of them are included on our 2019 Country House Tour – Harewood House, Castle Howard and Chatsworth House.
Edwin Lascelles, 1st Baron Harewood, started building Harewood House in 1759, selecting Robert Adam as architect who, in turn, selected Thomas Chippendale as his furniture maker. This illustrious foundation was built upon once the house was completed, with the Baron filling it’s rooms with only the best. In addition to housing the single best collection of Chippendale furnishings in the UK, Harewood House also boasts a stellar porcelain collection, including many Sèvres pieces once belonging to the French royal family.
The art on display at Harewood House includes works by Turner, Gainesborough, Lawrence, Titian, El Greco and many other masters, but this may be the most famous, and most recognizable, painting in the collection –
Outside, Harewood House is surrounded by 100 acres of gardens set amidst a landscape created by Capability Brown, who may or may not be surprised to learn that Harewood now has a Bird Garden featuring 80 species of exotic and endangered birds.
The video below will introduce you to the highlights of Harewood House –
Mary Granville, or Mrs. Delany, is remembered for her letters and for her elaborate paper flower work and her magnificent needlework. What’s most remarkable about Mrs. Delany is the fact that she only hit her artistic stride after reaching the age of 72! Twice widowed with no children, Mrs. Delany became a royal favorite and sought after by society, numbering Handel, Jonathan Swift, the Duchess of Portland, Fanny Burney and the king and queen of England among her closest friends, all while executing an astonishing body of work that includes the Flora Delanica – almost 1,000 botanical collages that took a decade to complete.
Mary Granville was married at seventeen to the Cornish squire, Alexander Pendarves of Roscrow, who was more than forty years older than she and described by a contemporary as being ‘ugly, disagreeable and gouty’. After he died in 1724, Mary discovered that she’d been left annuity in the hundreds of pounds, far less than she’d anticipated, yet enough to allow her travel amongst relatives and forge ties and friendships that would serve her well in later life.
In the following years, Mary designed an unusual court dress of intricately detailed floral embroidery on black satin. Portions of the dress, preserved in frames by her heirs, reveal the sort of attention to detail that would later be the hallmark of her lifelike floral collages.
While in Dublin in 1740, Mary met Patrick Delany, a Anglican cleric, widower and close friend of Swift’s who would become her second husband in 1743. The marriage was a true love match and Mary flourished under Mr. Delany’s affection and his support of her talents. She had her own workroom at their home in Ireland, with a large bow window overlooking the gardens. Here, Mary made landscape drawings, silhouettes and “japanned” (lacquered) objects. A larger project was the garden grotto Mary designed and executed at Alexander Pope’s estate.
Upon Mr. Delany’s death in 1768, Mary took up residence with her friend and fellow widow the Duchess of Portland. It was the Duchess who introduced Mrs. Delany to Queen Charlotte, and she became a firm favourite at court, where her talents, intellect and ‘social refinement’ were much admired.
The Duchess of Portland died in 1785, and the King and Queen, concerned for the welfare of their old friend, offered Mrs. Delany an annuity and a small house at Windsor.
On September 3rd, Queen Charlotte wrote: ‘My dear Mrs. Delany will be glad to hear that I am charged by the king to summon her to her new abode at Windsor for Tuesday next, when she will find all the most essential parts of the house ready, excepting some little trifles that it will be better for Mrs. Delany to direct herself in person or by her little deputy, Miss Port. I need not, I hope, add that I shall be extremely glad and happy to see so amiable an inhabitant in this our sweet retreat, and wish very sincerely that our dear Mrs. Delany may enjoy every blessing among us that her merits deserve, and that we may long enjoy her amiable company. Amen. These are the true sentiments of my dear Mrs. Delany’s very affectionate queen, Charlotte.’
Mrs. Delany wrote the following account of her arrival at Windsor to her friend Mrs. Hamilton : ‘I arrived here about eight o’clock in the evening and found his Majesty in the house ready to receive me. I threw myself at his feet, indeed unable to utter a word; he raised and saluted me, and said he meant not to stay longer than to desire I would order everything that could make the house comfortable and agreeable to me, and then retired. Truly, I found nothing wanting, as it is as pleasant and commodious as I could wish it to be, with a very pretty garden, which joins that of the Queen’s Lodge. The next morning her Majesty sent one of her ladies to know how I had rested, and how I was in health, and whether her coming would not be troublesome. I was lame, and therefore could not go down to the door as I ought to have done, but her Majesty came upstairs. Our meeting was mutually affecting; she well knew the value of what I had lost, and it was some time after we were seated before either of us could speak. She repeated in the strongest terms her wish and the king’s, that I should be as easy and happy as they could possibly make me; that they waived all ceremony, and desired to come to me as friends! The queen also delivered me a paper from the king: it contained the first quarter of £300 per annum, which his majesty allows me out of his privy purse. Their majesties have drunk tea with me five times, and the princesses three. They generally stay two hours or longer. In short, I have either seen them or heard of them every day, but I have not yet been at the Queen’s Lodge, though they have expressed impatience for me to come, as I have still so sad a drawback on my spirits that I must decline that honour till I am better able to enjoy it, and they have the goodness not to press me. Their visits here are paid in the most quiet, private manner, like those of the most consoling, disinterested friends; so that I may truly say they are a royal cordial, and I see very few people besides. I have been three times in the king’s private chapel at early prayers, where the royal family constantly attend, and they walk home to breakfast afterwards, whilst I am conveyed in a very elegant chair which the king has made me a present of for that purpose.
While at Windsor, Mrs. Delany would befriend Fanny Burney and receive regular visits from Mrs. Garrick, the late actor’s widow. Perhaps it was the Duchess of Portland’s friendship that had the most influence on the art Mrs. Delany would undertake later in life. Each year, Mrs. Delany made a visit of several months to Bulstrode, the duchess’s estate in Buckinghamshire, where she had access to an extraordinary cabinet of curiosities that included rare and exotic plants and flowers. Also at Bulstrode were the botanist John Lightfoot, the botanical artist Georg Dionysius Ehret and other advocates of the revolutionary taxonomy developed by the Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus. Mrs. Delany observed their dissections of flowers and taught herself the art of the “hortus siccus,” or pressed-flower composition. These experiments would give her the knowledge and understanding of flowers that would breathe life into her collages.
Eventually, Mrs. Delany devised a means of cutting tiny pieces of paper to create her flower collages and she went on to create several volumes of these ‘paper mosaic’ plants and flowers. So amazing were their realistic qualities that King George III ordered the volumes to be preserved in the British Museum “as a standard work of art unparalleled for accuracy of drawing, form, and perspective, as well as colouring, truth of outline, and close resemblance to nature.” Horace Walpole called her collages “precision and truth unparalleled,” while author William Gilpin wrote, “These flowers have both the beauty of painting, and the exactness of botany.”
“There is no other country in the world, besides my own, whose way of life I like so much. I love English traditions, English politeness, English architecture. I even love English cooking.” Christian Dior
In February 2019, the V&A will open the largest and most comprehensive exhibition ever staged in the UK on the House of Dior – the museum’s biggest fashion exhibition since Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty in 2015. Spanning 1947 to the present day, Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams will trace the history and impact of one of the 20th century’s most influential couturiers, and the six artistic directors who have succeeded him, to explore the enduring influence of the fashion house.
Based on the major exhibition Christian Dior: Couturier du Rêve, organised by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, the exhibition will be reimagined for the V&A. A brand-new section will, for the first time, explore the designer’s fascination with British culture. Dior admired the grandeur of the great houses and gardens of Britain, as well as British-designed ocean liners, including the Queen Mary. He also had a preference for Savile Row suits. In 1947, he hosted his first UK fashion show at London’s Savoy Hotel, and in 1952 established Christian Dior London.
This exhibition will investigate Dior’s creative collaborations with influential British manufacturers, and his most notable British clients, from author Nancy Mitford to ballet dancer Margot Fonteyn. A highlight will be the Christian Dior dress worn by Princess Margaret for her 21st birthday celebrations, generously on loan from the Museum of London. It will also bring to life Dior’s spectacular fashion shows staged in the UK’s most luxurious stately homes, including Blenheim Palace in 1954.
Drawn from the extensive Dior Archives, the exhibition will also showcase highlights from the V&A’s world-class Couture collections, including the iconic Bar Suit, gifted to the museum by the House of Dior in 1960. The exhibition will present over 500 objects, with over 200 rare Haute Couture garments shown alongside accessories, fashion photography, film, perfume, make-up, illustrations, magazines, and Christian Dior’s personal possessions.
The exhibition will highlight Dior’s vision of femininity, encompassing garments, accessories and fragrances. Flowers are emblematic of the Couture House and have inspired silhouettes, embroidery and prints but also the launch of Miss Dior in 1947, the first fragrance created alongside the very first show. From horticulture to global travel and 18th century decorative arts, the show will reveal the sources of inspiration that defined the House of Dior’s aesthetic. From the daring designs of Yves Saint Laurent to the rational style of Marc Bohan, the flamboyance of Gianfranco Ferré, the exuberance of John Galliano, the minimalism of Raf Simons, and Maria Grazia Chiuri’s feminist vision of fashion, the exhibition will show how each successive artistic director has stayed true to Dior’s vision of Haute Couture, while bringing their own creative sensibilities to the House.
Tim Reeve, Deputy Director and COO of the V&A, said: “Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams celebrates one of the most ingenious and iconic designers in fashion history. Reimagining this hugely popular exhibition from Paris – as the largest fashion exhibition the V&A has undertaken since Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty – will shed new light on Dior’s fascination with Britain. The V&A holds one of the largest and most important fashion collections in the world, and we are delighted to be able to reveal highlights from our outstanding collection alongside those from the remarkable archive of the House of Dior, for this spectacular exhibition.”
Oriole Cullen, Fashion and Textiles Curator at the V&A, said: “In 1947, Christian Dior changed the face of fashion with his ‘New Look’, which redefined the female silhouette and reinvigorated the post-War Parisian fashion industry. The V&Arecognised Dior’s important contribution to design history early-on in his career, acquiring his sketches and garments from the 1950’s onwards. The influence of Christian Dior’s design was all-pervasive and helped to define an era. In their own individual ways, each of the House’s successive artistic directors have referenced and reinterpreted Dior’s own designs and continued the legacy of the founder, ensuring that the House of Christian Dior is at the forefront of fashion today. More than seventy years after its founding, the V&A’s exhibition will celebrate the enduring influence of the House of Dior and uncover Dior’s relationship with Britain.”
Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams The Sainsbury Gallery 2 February – 14 July 2019