In 1845, Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert bought property on the Isle of Wight. The Prince designed the house, in coordination with architect Thomas Cubitt, to reflect his taste for Italian-style villas; Albert was known to compare the view of the Solent with the Bay of Naples, though I found this quite a stretch.
To Quote the guidebook, “The house and estate created by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert at Osborne are unrivaled in terms of the intimate insight they can give into their private lives. The story of a marriage, a family, and an empire is told in the richly decorated rooms and the treasures they contain. The tranquil gardens and wider landscape were vitally important for a couple seeking an escape from court life.”
Kristine and I followed the route laid out for visitors to see the state and family rooms, beginning with the Grand Corridor, almost a sculpture gallery.
Even though she was at Osborne House with her family, Queen Victoria met with her privy council here. In the center of the ceiling is the badge of the Order of the Garter.
The Queen received official visitors in the Audience Room. Below, Queen Victoria’s collie, Noble, sculpted by Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm.
We could hardly believe the feast for our eyes: the floor designs, the decorated ceilings, the artworks, the furniture, and rugs…but we had hardly begun. On the ground floor of the Pavilion, which was the family home, we find the dining room, drawing room, and the billiard room.
Copy of Winterhalter’s family portrait hung above the dining room sideboard
The dining room opens into the drawing room, decorated in yellow silk, a favorite decor of Queen Victoria’s.
The Billiard Room is adjacent to the Drawing Room.
Before we go upstairs, let’s take a break…
In Victoria’s later years, this room was used as a comfortably accessible chapel.
In Osborne House – Part Two, we will visit the personal rooms of the Queen and her Prince Consort, and the nursery.
If you’d like to see Osborne House first-hand, please take a look at Number One London’s 2019 Queen Victoria Tour – also on the itinerary are Kensington Palace, Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and the Royal Pavilion at Brighton.
I recently visited the new addition to the Royal Academy in London and concentrated on the addition of the building at 6 Burlington Gardens to the campus, in a very sympathetic renovation.
An exhibition showing early works, founding members, and methods of teaching emphasized learning to paint and sculpt by copying great works of art, as seen in the first part of this post. Another great work of art used for copying purposes was Leonardo de Vinci’s Last Supper in a copy made in the 16th century by the master’s students. It was purchased and hung in the RA in 1817 as an inspiration for the students and fellows.
Several copies of works by Michelangelo were included in a section of the exhibition called “Michelangelo as Muse.”
In the words of current RA President Christopher Le Brun, “The Taddei Tondo has become one of the great icons of the Royal Academy. Many people consider it to be one of the greatest works of sculpture in the UK.”
Turner’s Diploma work, given permanently to the RA as all academicians must do when elected, depicts a remote Welsh castle; He accompanied it with a poem:
How awful is the silence of the waste,
Where Nature lifts her mountains to the sky,
Majestic solitude, behold the tower
Where hopeless Own, long imprison’d, pined.
And wrung his hands for liberty in Vain.
Like Turner, Constable was more inspired by nature and landscape than by studying great works of art. Although Gainsborough was better known for his portraits than his landscapes, he too preferred to work from nature.
The new part of the RA is connected to the old part by walkways and bridges, allowing outdoor spaces for the students as well.
Architectural fragments from the vaults are found in hallways, for the use of architectural students, as are casts of famous statues as examples for sketching.
“Old” fans of the Royal Academy will be pleased to know that the Burlington House section remain much as before with exhibition galleries, the Fine Rooms, and other features still in evidence, as well as provocative new offerings from the latest artists.
I look forward to visiting in July to see the entire display: 250 years of the Summer Exhibition. Good show, RA!
After two hundred fifty years, the Royal Academy of Arts (RA) is celebrating its anniversary by adding an adjacent building to increase its exhibition space. The new look, not quite completed, opened May 19, 2018. I visited on May 24 and was delighted with newly added facilities. The annual Summer Exhibition will open June 12, 2018.
The newly added building once held the Museum of Mankind, located “behind” the Piccadilly site of Burlington House, home of the RA since 1868. The Museum of Mankind, an adjunct of the British Museum, moved out of the building in 2004. The RA subsequently bought it and held a competition for a design to merge the two structures. After a complicated series of setbacks, the eventual winner, architect David Chipperfield succeeded admirably. More building pictures are below, after the story of one of the opening exhibitions I enjoyed so much.
The exhibition The Making of an Artist: The Great Tradition intrigued me. As a researcher into the art and architecture of the Georgian, Regency, and Victorian periods, I was familiar with many of the early RA fellows, but had never seen the works shown, drawn from the vaults of the RA.
The huge, almost monumental painting leads the visitor into a selection of works by some of the earliest members. Lawrence, largely self-taught, studied briefly at the RA before earning fame as a portraitist and becoming a full member. He was the fourth president of the RA.
At the beginning of the exhibition, a text panel explains The Royal Academy Foundations: In 1768 a group of painters, sculptors and architects convinced King George III to support the creation of the Royal Academy of Arts. Their aim was to improve the quality of art in Britain and to raise the status of British artists and architects. The new Academy had three key functions that continue today:
Run an art school, training the next generation of artists
Hold an exhibition, selling contemporary art annually, now the Summer Exhibition
Elect as Royal Academicians a small number of leading painters, sculptors and architects (and eventually printmakers)
The full title is The Royal Academicians Assembled in their Council Chamber to Adjudge the Medals to the Successful Students in Painting, Sculpture, Architecture and Drawing. In the back row are the two female founding members, Angelika Kauffmann and Mary Moser. They were not allowed to participate in the life drawing classes.
The esteemed portraitist Joshua Reynolds was elected the first RA President.
Angelika Kauffmann, among the founding members of the Royal Academy
Kauffmann is shown sketching the torso, one if many sculptures or copies used as models by RA members and students to hone their drawing skills. The torso, like others of its ilk, has been in the possession of the RA for 250 years. It stands nearby, seen below in two views.
Note how the light changes the hue of the photograph, according to the angle.
In the painting of the RA members above, you will see a model of the Laocoon, an ancient Greek statue used for the same purpose as the torso. The exhibition asks the question: “Does great art begin with studying nature, or studying great art of the past?” One must decide for oneself! But Reynolds considered the study of great art essential for artists.
Part Two, further adventures at the RA, coming soon.
The story of Wentworth Woodhouse (WW) is intensely interesting — and convoluted. Since I am a great devotee of all things British, and especially the great country houses and the people who lived in them, I was particularly excited to visit the estate with Number One London Tours 2017 Country House Tour.
WW has been open to the public for only a few years. I was eager to see it, reputedly the largest private house in Europe, if perhaps one of the strangest.
The land has been in the hands of the family since the 13th century. The present structure was begun in the 1720’s by Thoms Watson Wentworth, 1st Marquess of Rockingham (1693-1750), on the site of a previous house. The baroque style, in red brick, did not find favor with the Marquess and his friends among the Whig aristocracy.
Almost as soon as it was completed, Rockingham built another house, facing West, this time in the Palladian style favored by his social set and political allies. The two back-to-back wings are joined together in an area perhaps saved from an earlier 17th century house. The estate and political influence both went to his son, Charles Watson Wentworth (1730-1782), 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, eventually Prime Minister and holder of numerous public offices.
The 2nd Marquess and his wife had no sons; therefore in 1782, the estate passed to his nephew, William Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, 4th Earl Fitzwilliam, and the marquess’s title, Rockingham, became extinct.
If most of these names have a familiar ring, don’t be surprised. Refer instead to Janine Barchas’ book Matters of Fact in Jane Austen.
I can’t resist posting the following picture which shows Dr. Barchas and me at a Chicago JASNA event.
Dr. Barchas traces the origin of many of the family names used by Jane Austen in her novels. Among relatives of the Fitzwilliams were the D’arcys, as used in Pride and Prejudice. Woodhouse is the family name of Emma. Wentworth is Captain Frederick’s family name in Persuasion. The Watsons is one of Austen’s two unfinished novels. Austen’s contemporary readers would have instantly recognized the names of these leading British families, though 200 years later, they come as a revelation. For the source of many other names used by Jane Austen, check the book by Dr Barchas.
The Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust was established to preserve and restore the estate, after many years of problems and neglect. Restoration will be a huge and expensive job, probably aided by the frequent use of the property for film and television dramas. We saw it in Mr. Turner, the 2014 film about J. M. W. Turner, the celebrated and eccentric artist, where the Marble Hall was staged as the annual exhibition of the Royal of Arts — note that floor.
The film Darkest Hour has been highly praised. WW stands in for Buckingham Palace where Churchill meets with His Majesty George VI.
Many scenes in the television series Victoria were filmed at WW, including the review of the regiment on the front lawn.
An ariel view of the adjacent houses shows how they are joined, and in that area where they meet are remnants of the earlier 17th-century structure. It is estimated that there are five miles of corridors inside.
Very little is left of the 1630 house but this garden gateway. Inigo Jones was probably the architect of this Wellgate. Below, compare it to the garden gate at Chiswick.
The previous house built in 1608, of which only traces remain, was otherwise incorporated into one (or both?) of the present houses.
Improvements were well underway when we visited in the autumn of 2017. Simply fixing the roof–said to be nearly four acres in size–will take up most of the initial grant from the government of 6.6 million pounds.
The Fitzwilliam family was one of the richest and most powerful in Britain in the 19th century. Coal mined on the estate supported them in near-regal style and employed thousands in nearby villages and as tenants on the land.
The 2014 nonfiction book Black Diamonds by Catherine Bailey reads like a novel as it relates the dramatic ups and downs of the estate and its residents. Highly recommended.
If you will permit another aside, the story of the last 8th Earl Fitzwilliam, has interesting features.
His romance with Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy was frowned upon by the very Catholic Kennedy family, especially by her parents, who were none too pleased when Kick converted to the Church of England.
Nevertheless, they married in May 1944. Only her older brother Joe attended the wartime wedding. Just four months later, Billy was killed in action in Belgium. Joe, eldest of the Kennedy brothers, died in August 1944. The widowed Kathleen later began a relationship with Peter Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, 8th Earl Fitzwilliam, who was married and the father of a daughter. Kick and Peter died together in a plane crash on their way to the Riviera in 1948.
She is buried near Chatsworth in the churchyard at Edensor, another of the ill-fated Kennedy children whose lives have been so tragic.
Upon the death of Billy, Andrew Cavendish, second son of the 10th Duke, became the Marquess of Huntington and eventually the 11th Duke of Devonshire. His Duchess, Deborah, nee Mitford, was particularly instrumental in making the family estate of Chatsworth in Derbyshire, into one of Britain’s premier stately homes. Deborah, or Debo as she was familiarly known, was the author of many books, died in 2014 at age 94.
The complex story of Wentworth Woodhouse is far from over. At the death of Peter Fitzwilliam, the estate was undergoing extensive strip coal mining, sometimes right up to the door, which weakened the house foundations as well as ruining the gardens. Postwar austerity and crippling death duties required putting the house on the market, and who, pray tell, might want to own such a white elephant? Most of the furnishings were auctioned and eventually the property was leased to Lady Mabel College for the training of female physical education students.
After several decades of changing ownership and sporadic attempts to halt deterioration, in 2017 the WW Preservation Trust acquired the property and a grant for the renovation of the house. They have a daunting task at hand. When we visited, only a few rooms had furniture, and evidence of sinking accompanied general decline.
This forest of pillars on the ground floor supports the Marble Saloon above.
Most of the rooms are without furnishings or temporarily provided with furniture for meetings, parties, and conferences, by which the Trust hopes to help fund restorations.
But the remaining features of the house are stunning, as in the details of this fireplace surround.
The Van Dyck Room boasts a magnificent chandelier.
The Whistlejacket Room continues the white and gilt decor; it is named for the painting above (though it is a copy) by George Stubbs , c. 1762, of a famous racing stallion owned by the family, Whistlejacket, winner of many races. The original Stubbs work was acquired by the National Gallery in London, where the original now hangs, for £11 million in 1997.
Upstairs, most of the attractive decor came to an abrupt halt. One room was preserved as it would have been for a student at Lady Mabel College in the 1950’s, but I am sorry to say I missed taking a shot there. Most of the upper floor was in need of considerable restoration.
After touring the chapel, we went outside to see where and how the two houses were combined with remnants of the original house built a century earlier.
By this time, I believe our tour participants were gob-smacked by the size and condition of the estate. But even more was ahead.
The gateway, reputedly by architect Inigo Jones, remains from the old house.
The Gardens are in need of considerable restoration also, but the land itself is interesting and worth seeing. Some garden decorations remain.
At last we were far enough away to achieve a perspective on the lovely West facade, the baroque house.
If you have managed to stay with us for this long, I will reward you with the other side of the Inigo Jones Gate:
Would you like a first-hand view of some of England’s most beloved stately homes? We’d love to have you along on the 2019 Country House Tour –
What is the fate of the author of eight published Regency Romances? Of the author of numerous short stories, novellas and countless articles and blogposts centering on the Regency era and its people, places, and fashions? Of the avid member of the Jane Austen Society with speaking gigs at many AGMs and regional meetings?
Okay, I admit it. I wrote a contemporary short story, now appearing in From Florida With Love: Moonlight and Steamy Nights, available as an e-book on May 1. 2018, and soon thereafter, in a trade paperback version.
And a further admission — I really enjoyed it. And I might even do it again someday. But the research problems were still there, just not quite so complicated as learning about late 18th Century dancing or the ins and outs of Almack’s. For example, what do young women call their …ah, dates? Boyfriends? Besties? I asked around and got both laughter and shrugs. Nobody could give me a good answer that seemed casual but…promising. So I punted — made the heroine’s best friend a Brit so I could call the guy in question a bloke! Seemed to hit the right tone.
Three images that might interest you in my story,”Playing for Good.” Above, a cello.
An Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake.
The story begins with a car breaking down on Alligator Alley. It concludes barefoot on the beach. Please order a copy!! Includes more fun stories centered on Florida.