New British Galleries at the Met

by Victoria Hinshaw

Just before closing for the covid 19 pandemic, New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art reopened the British Galleries after a total reinstallation. When  was last in NYC, I was disappointed not to visit favorite spots such as the Lansdowne House Dining Room, removed from the London structure and brought to the Met many years ago. But now that room and many other treasures have been restored, reinstalled, and reinterpreted.

The Lansdowne House Dining Room

I have not visited the new Galleries (the Met is scheduled to reopen in late August), but they have received widespread comments from art and cultural sources, enough to give us a pretty good idea of the new approaches.

19th Century Gallery

From the Met’s press release last March, 2020: ‘The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s $22m reinstallation of its British galleries opens to the public on Monday with a stirring narrative on the anxious commercial striving that shaped the British decorative arts from 1500 to 1900. Featuring nearly 700 works in 10 rooms spanning 11,000 sq. ft, the galleries tell a warts-and-all story of empire in which dark elements like the slave trade emerge and cataclysmic events like the Great Fire of London in 1666 serve as dramatic punctuation points. Nearly a third of the works on view have been newly acquired, with a preponderance of those recent purchases in the 19th-century section.’

19th Century Gallery

In the above picture, a bust by Sir Francis Chantrey (1781-1841)  of Arthur Wellesley, lst Duke of Wellington (1769-1852), is at the left and below.  At right and below is a portrait of George (1762-1830), Prince of Wales, later George IV, by Sir William Beechey (1753-1839). Beneath the portrait is a red bench by Thomas Hope (1769-1831), before 1807.

Duke of Wellington, marble, 1823
George IV

Other than these familiar objects, the installation is very different than past representations of British Art. Again, quoting the Met’s press release:  ‘The Met’s British collection is the largest of its kind in the US. The opening, part of the Met’s 150th anniversary celebrations, crowns a seven-year effort that began with the notion that “these galleries needed some attention and refreshment,” says Wolf Burchard, the Met’s associate curator of British furniture and decorative arts. “The previous galleries were all about the individual objects in historic interiors, and there was no thread that went through it,” he explains. “The new galleries are all about the cross section between creativity and entrepreneurialism.”’

Pietro Torrigiano’s bust of Bishop John Fisher (1510-1515) Courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art
The newly conserved pine and elm staircase from Cassiobury Park, Herfordshire (around 1677-80) in the Metropolitan Museum of Art ‘s new British galleries Photo by Joseph Coscia, February 2020/Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Met continues: ‘The first gallery, clad in paneling made for the merchant trader William Crowe, opens from the museum’s medieval sculpture hall, vaulting the viewer into the 16th-century Renaissance era. A wall text emphasizes how the House of Tudor competed to match the artistic splendors of papal Rome, the French courts and the Germanic centers of Hapsburg power, and how a new class of professionals with luxury appetites arose under the stable reign of Elizabeth I amid an expansion of global trade. Surveying the gallery from its perch is a polychrome terra cotta bust that is thought to depict Bishop John Fisher, who was executed for opposing Henry VIII’s decision to lead the Church of England away from Roman Catholicism and papal authority. Leading to a mezzanine is another highlight, the magnificently ornamented and newly conserved pine and elm staircase from Cassiobury Park, Herfordshire (around 1677-80), with its naturalistic acanthus leaves, acorns, birds and snakes.’

The Met continues: ‘A gallery titled “Tea, Trade and Empire” drives home how four commodities—tea, sugar, coffee, and cocoa—fuelled artistic innovation in Britain from the late 17th through the late 18th century. The museum has installed two towering semi-circular glass cases filled with a whimsical assortment of 100 teapots, underlining how that staple became a pivot point for social interaction in even modest British households and nurtured an enormous national ceramic industry. (The galleries are mindful not just of an aristocratic elite but of multiple layers of society.) At the same time, the 1789 title page of a slave’s memoir on the perimeter of the gallery alerts viewers to the exploitative nature of empire, with the trans-Atlantic slave trade rising in tandem with the spread of sugar plantations. “Much of the wealth of this period is built on the labor of enslaved Africans,” a wall text says simply.’

A gallery titled “Tea, Trade and Empire’ features two towering glass cases featuring 100 British teapots Photo by Joseph Coscia, February 2020/Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
teapot in the form of a house, ca. 1775; Salt-glazed stoneware with enamel decoration
Staffordshire teapot, salt-glazed stoneware with enamel decoration, ca 1760
Staffordshire Teapot, ca. 1750-60
Hanging depicting a European conflict in South India, cotton, drawn & resist-dyed
Sugar Box, Silver, Ca. 1738, by Paul de Lamerie
Josiah Wedgwood, anti-slavery medallion, 1787

The Met continues: ‘Three galleries are devoted to the re-creation of striking 18th-century British interiors moved from Kirtlington Park (Oxfordshire), Croome Court (Worcestershire) and Lansdowne House (London). A wall text notes that the Lansdowne dining room, designed by Robert Adam and crowned by an intricately decorated ceiling, banished odor-absorbing textiles that would have retained “the smell of the victuals”.’

Kirtlington Park; photo by Richard Lee
Croome Park room, after Robert Adam, 1763-71, photo by Joseph Coscia

Last year I was at the Met in July but I won’t make it this year. What a strange year 2020 is!

July, 2019, photo by Victoria Hinshaw
View from the Met roof, July 2019, photo by VH

Renovation in Brighton

by Victoria Hinshaw

I was hoping to get to Brighton this year to see the restored Saloon in the Royal Pavilion, but I am not going anywhere for the time being. So I will pretend I’m going while I present a few pictures and on dits about the latest restoration of this absurdly appealing structure.

The Saloon, Brighton Pavilion, after 2018 restoration

I’ve visited the Pavilion several times over the years. I regard it as the perfect representation of the personality and reign of George, Prince of Wales, the Regent for nine years beginning in 1811, and King George IV upon the death of his father George III on 29 January in 1820. In many ways, George IV was a magnificent fellow with excellent taste and great ambitions for improving art, architecture, and design;  in other ways, he was a spendthrift, selfish, narcissistic adulterer  whose unpopularity almost brought down the monarchy.

George IV by Sir Thomas Lawrence
A Voluptuary Under the Horrors of Digestion, 1792, by James Gillray

Like the Pavilion, one could say, magnificent or ridiculous, praiseworthy or laughable.

Beauties of Brighton, by George Cruikshank 1826

The restoration of the Central Saloon took more than eight years of work. Below is the way it looked when I first saw it, with handsome chinoiserie panels  and subdued draperies and carpeting.

The restoration was based on a painting of the Saloon in 1826 by John Nash, who painted all the royal interiors around this time, and on historical drawings, photos, and accounts

Saloon, by Nash

The walls were hand-stenciled in platinum leaf, a process that took several years to accomplish.

Likewise the draperies were expertly created from the finest silks.

The Guardian wrote: ‘The staggering carpet, a swirling kaleidoscope of flowers, stars, dragons and exotic Chinese birds, had to be reinvented from the hazy detail in a 19th-century watercolour by Anne Sowden, artist and glass conservator for the pavilion, as her last challenge before retirement.

Queen Victoria was not amused by the pavilion and she sold it to the city of Brighton in 1850 after she removed most of the furniture and decorative material, much of which can be found at Buckingham Palace, it is said. Many items have been loaned back to the Pavilion and are on display there.

The Royal Pavilion Brighton
PICTURE BY JIM HOLDEN

The magnificent ‘Kylin’ clock, purchased in France for the Saloon,  is decorated  with turquoise-glazed Chinese lions, known as kylins, after a mythical Chinese animal.

The Royal Pavilion Brighton; The Royal Collection
PICTURE BY JIM HOLDEN

The restoration was accomplished for about £380,000, with most work done by in-house experts on the museum staff. They certainly can be proud of their skills. Here are a few more angles on the Saloon. Let’s hope we can return soon!

Brighton Royal Pavilion
Restoration of the Saloon
Picture by Jim Holden

 

A DAY AT MOTTISFONT ABBEY

by Victoria Hinshaw

Mottisfont Abbey

Tucked away in Hampshire is a stately home I have long wanted to visit for several reasons.  The estate encompasses the ruins of an Augustinian priory  (the title Abbey was added later — and incorrectly, according to the NT); the gardens are renowned; and Rex Whistler painted some famous trompe d’oeil decorations in the drawing room.

Kristine Hughes Patrone, Alicia Rasley, Nonnie St. George, Victoria Hinshaw in the morning room

During the course of my research with Kristine at the various Wellington archives, we were able to steal off for the day to meet with fellow authors Alicia Rasley and Nonnie St. George. Of course the best reason for the visit was the opportunity to connect with friends from many a meeting of The Beau Monde…and fellow writers one and all. If we missed any of the relevant treasures of the estate, it was because we were so full of conversation catching up on our latest activities.

First stop was the cellarium, a remnant of the original priory building, dating from the 13th century.

 

The morning room was the perfect place to enjoy reading and conversing. It was a favorite spot for Maud Russell, the lady responsible for the current appearance of the estate.

In this handsome bedchamber, several remnants of the old priory building have been left uncovered.

The painting over the fireplace is Johanna Warner, Mrs. Robert of Bedhampton and her daughter, Kitty, later Mrs. Jervoise Clarke, 1736; by Joseph Highmore.

To the Right of the fireplace is another of the secret doors which show the old structure behind the walls of the current house.

The charming picture above (and below) is The Challoner Daughters by John Roger Herbert, RA (1810-1890), described as “three little girls in a woodland scene with a pony and dogs.”

The dining room was a popular venue for gatherings of the Russells’ artistic and intellectual friends in the 1930’s.

Maud Russell of Montisfont Abbey

 

Georgian desk.

The piece d’resistance of the Montisont House: The Whistler Room. Maud Russell commissioned artist Rex Whistler to decorate her drawing room in the late 1930’s.

Rex Whistler self-portrait

Whistler (1905-1944) painted many murals and trompe d’oeil works in England, including the famous murals in the restaurant of the Tate Britain, ad the fantasy landscape at Plas Newydd, from which the self-portrait below is a detail.

In addition to his renown as an artist, Whistler was a member of the set known as the “bright young things” between the wars, a friend not only of Mrs. Russell, but of Lady Caroline Paget, Cecil Beaton, and many others. Whistler died fighting in Normandy in 1944.

Above three pictures ©National Trust. All others in this post were taken by me.

In May, we were a little early for the roses in the NT Rose Collection of pre-20th Century species. But we thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful font (spring) and stream which feeds into the River Test, as well as the many families enjoying picnics and games on the lawns.

 

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Travels with Victoria: WILTON HOUSE – Part Two

By Victoria Hinshaw

Wilton House, by Rex Whistler

The view above is a 1935 painting of Wilton House by Rex Whistler (1905-1944).  Wilton House, near Salisbury in Wiltshire is renowned for its architecture, interiors, treasured artworks, and all the elegancies associated with the most distinguished of Britain’s stately homes. And, like some of the others, it is frequently the scene of major filming for cinema and television. The South Façade is the location of the State Apartments created by James Wyatt in the early 19th century, replacing the 17th century arrangement of rooms by Architect Inigo Jones (1573-1665) and his assistant Isaac de Caux and later altered by Webb.

The Crown: (L to R) JFK, Jackie, Elizabeth, Philip – The Kennedys and Windsors meet.

Above, Wilton’s Double Cube Room plays Buckingham Palace in episodes of The Crown on Netflix. Below, it doubles for Pemberley in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice.

Pride and Prejudice, 2005

Although there is dispute over how much of the south wing of Wilton House can be attributed to Inigo Jones (1573-1652), we know that the Double Cube Room and the Single Cube Room along with the other state rooms were finished by John Webb (1611-1672) in the mid-17th century. Various changes have been made over the years, but the earls and countesses have maintained most of the magnificence designed by Jones and Webb. Below, two views of The Single Cube Room, 30x30x30 feet in dimension, a perfect cube.

Single Cube Room

The Double- and Single-Cube Rooms were part of the State Rooms in which the monarch was to visit and mingle with Lord Pembroke, his family, friends, and retainers. The Single Cube Room, below, was the first of the State Rooms and led into the Double Cube. The furniture is by Chippendale, added in the 18th century. Above, the Single Cube Room, 30 x 30 x 30 feet.

Single Cube Room

The portrait over the fireplace is Henriette de Querouaille, Countess of Pembroke, wife of Philip, 7th Earl, and sister of Louise, mistress of Charles II and mother of the 1st Duke of Richmond. The portrait was painted by Sir Peter Lely (1618-1680).

Sir Peter Lely, artist

The Double Cube Room, below, is the size of two 30-foot cubes, a technique Inigo Jones used in several buildings. Much of the furniture in the two rooms is by William Kent or Thomas Chippendale.

Double Cube Room

The Double Cube Room, originally called The King’s Great Room, is sixty feet long by thirty feet wide and thirty feet high. The magnificence of the room defies description! The ceiling decoration is clearly in the baroque style.

The central ceiling panels show three views of the legend of Perseus painted by Emmanuel de Critz. The twelve-foot coving was decorated with swags, urns, and putti by Edward Pierce, a frequent collaborator with Architect Inigo Jones. They are dated c.1653

Double Cube Room

Below, the painting for which the room was designed, the magnificent family portrait, c. 1635, by Anthony Van Dyck of the 4th Earl of Pembroke and his family which hangs at one end of the Double Cube Rooms. At 17 feet wide, it is the largest portrait by Van Dyck (1599-1641) in England. Numerous other portraits by Van Dyck and his studio adorn the walls.

Van Dyck

The State Rooms served as Allied headquarters during World War II; the D-Day landing in Normandy was planned here.

Below, the Great Ante Room, added in the 18th century, is sometimes thought of as James Wyatt’s homage to Inigo Jones.

Great Ante Room

The King’s Bed Chamber and King’s Closet were redecorated in the 18th c. for the visit of George III and Queen Charlotte in 1778. Many priceless masterworks hang on the walls.

The house is replete with great works of art in multiple media. Many members of the Herbert family, the Earls of Pembroke, were avid collectors.

Rembrandt

Above,  Mother Reading, c. 1629, by  Rembrandt van Rijn  (1606-1669), is one of the most famous paintings in the collection of Wilton House.

Shakespeare

At the currently-used entrance on the North Front, visitors arrive in the Front Hall designed by James Wyatt in 1809. Who better to greet us than The Bard himself. According to the Guidebook, the statue “recalls the 2nd Earl’s and his wife Mary Sidney’s patronage of literary men and of Shakespeare above all.”

Smoking Room

Numerous other rooms, more than one could count, are worthy of attention. I particularly liked the Large Smoking Room, redecorated by the current Lady Pembroke in 2017. The picture above was taken before the new color scheme was installed. Below is the yellow moiréed silk now on the walls. The huge bookcase, from the workshops of Chippendale, is a temptation I could hardly survive. What is tucked away inside? Imagine how much work you could get done here — once you had examined the art and furniture and gazed out the windows for a month or two!

Chippendale Bookcase
South Front

I have visited Wilton House several times, but I will never get enough of this wonderful house and grounds…on the edge of the city of Salisbury in Wiltshire.

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Travels with Victoria: WILTON HOUSE – Part One

North Front

On the edge of the city of Salisbury is one of England’s greatest country houses, the home of the Herbert family for almost five centuries. Wilton is one of those fabled British Country Houses which almost defy description. Should one concentrate on the architecture, which includes Tudor, Elizabethan, Palladian, and Regency examples? The interior, of amazing variety and stellar quality? The gardens? The collection of old master artworks?  Or, how about the many stories of the history of the Herbert family, which is currently represented by William Alexander Sidney Herbert, 18th Earl of Pembroke, his Countess and their four children?

South Front

The top photo shows the North Front, dating from the Tudor era, the current public entrance to the house. Immediately above is the South Front, the wing of the house probably designed by Architect Indigo Jones in the Palladian style in the 17th century. This area contains the sumptuous state rooms.

East Front

Above, the East Front, opening into the public lawns and gardens, dating before the 16th century. This was the original entrance to the house. You can see that even today, restoration work is necessary.

West Front

The West Front and its garden are the private areas of the 18th Earl of Pembroke, his wife and four children. Below, the official portrait of William Herbert, the 18th Earl of Pembroke, and his dog painted by artist Adrian Gottlieb. ‘Will’ is the latest of the long line of owners belonging to the Herbert family,

photo: Adrian Gottlieb

I am sorry to report that no photography is allowed in the house so in these posts, I will be mixing ‘borrowed’ photos, of which there are many on the web, with my own pictures. First, let’s look at the exterior and the gardens. Below, an aerial shot of the house with the south façade at the left.

Below, from the central cloisters courtyard, looking east at the inside of the East Front. The original house was built on the site of an 8th-century priory. After Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries, the site was ceded to Sir William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke (of the new creation) in 1544. He constructed a house in the quadrangular style which through many remodelings, remains today with a central open courtyard.

Below, peeking out from inside the cloisters, re-built by James Wyatt in 1801.

Inside the Cloisters, you will find a collection of statuary, including rare classical antiques collected by the Earls of Pembroke.

Today, visitors enter through another courtyard facing the North Front, past the fountain and a grove of trees among the patterned plantings.

North Front Visitor Entrance

Behind us was the great gate, often a symbol of Wilton House.

Leaving the interior for another post, let’s look at some of the gardens. I am particularly fond of Palladian Bridges – why I cannot imagine, but I find them charming. Below, the Wilton Palladian Bridge, constructed in 1737 by the 9th Earl of Pembroke, known as the “Architect Earl” and his assistant Roger Morris. It was designed to bridge the River Nadder in the style of the Italian architect Andrea Palladio (1508-1580). It has been copied at least three times, at Stowe and at Prior Park near Bath in England and at Tsarskoe Selo near St. Petersburg, Russia.

Wilton House Palladian Bridge

The inspiration for the Palladian Bridge is reputedly an unbuilt design for Venice’s Rialto Bridge, drawn by Andrea Palladio about 1570, pictured below in a Capriccio by Canaletto, 1742.

©Royal Collection Trust

The river Nadder is a chalk stream known for its trout flyfishing.

Below, the charming Japanese Garden, also known as the Water Garden, with its red bridges and reflecting pools, was designed by Henry Herbert, 17th Earl of Pembroke, who died in 2003.

By Herry Lawford from Stockbridge, UK – Wilton, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42551086

In Part Two, we will look at the magnificent interiors of Wilton House.