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 –
On Number One London’s 2017 Country House Tour, our group had a few adventures in addition to seeing spectacular houses and gardens. For most of our tour, we stayed at the Old Hall Hotel in the charming spa town of Buxton, Derbyshire, once well known for its warm mineral waters.
The healing qualities of the waters have been known since the Romans ruled. Mary, Queen of Scots, came here several times while she was being held prisoner by the Earl of Shrewsbury in the late 16th century. A plaque on the hotel commemorates her visit, as does information etched into windows.
Below, the streets of Buxton, and a former stables later turned into a hospital and which is now a part of the University.
The Crescent, built in 1779 by the Fifth Duke of Devonshire, is being restored as a five-star, 80-room hotel and spa, right around the corner from our Old Hall Hotel.
We covered a lot of the Derbyshire countryside and drove through the Peak District National Park. We stopped at Castleton for a spot of tea, and a bit of jewelry shopping; the renowned semi-precious Blue John gemstones can be found here.
To close our series of adventures, I will tell you about an ancient bridge still in daily use despite its inconveniences. The Swarkstone Bridge and Causeway is almost a mile long, crossing the River Trent and adjacent marches.
This Grade 1 listed structure, an official Ancient Monument, is a bit narrow for today’s traffic, so vehicles sometimes have to take turns driving over some stretches. It gives a good idea of how bridges were once built for traffic consisting of walkers, horses, donkeys, oxen, and assorted wheeled vehicles long before the internal combustion engine. I hope they never replace it!
I have ever so much more to write about this great trip with Number One London Tours – Find details regarding Number One London’s 2019 Country House Tour here.
What is more magnificent than Chatsworth House? How about a fashion exhibition of clothing shown in the very rooms in which they were worn?
The exhibition House Style: Five Centuries of Fashion at Chatsworth was on show and we felt really fortunate to see all these wonderful garments long stored away, in most cases.
Many other treasures are permanently on display at Chatsworth, not to mention the art, gardens, restaurants and shops which delighted us.
The Cavendish family and Dukes of Devonshire descended from the marvelous Elizabethan lady known as Bess of Hardwick. At age 70, after surviving four husbands (Cavendish was #2), and assisting her fourth husband, the Earl of Shrewsbery, in holding Mary Queen of Scots under house arrest for many years, Bess built herself one of the finest “prodigy” houses of the age.
Architect Robert Smythson designed Hardwick, one of England’s earliest structures in the Renaissance style. Bess chose the sight on a high hill next to the Old Hall, which is partially in ruins today.
Huge windows bring light into the rooms, astonishing her contemporaries. Despite her age of 70 years, Bess lived here for about ten years, dying in 1608. The property was left to her son William Cavendish, 2nd Earl of Devonshire. Among the treasures in the house are fine portraits and excellent tapestries, shown under reduced illumination for their protection.
We made a quick stop at the ruins of Sutton Scarsdale, a fine Georgian mansion now roofless and in ruins, in order to appreciate the state in which some houses are in when they are handed over to the National Trust, English Heritage or a civic or government body. Built in 1727, the house contents were auctioned in 1919.
The estate is owned by English Heritage, which is in the process of conserving some of the remaining plasterwork and other features. It is a sad reminder that houses such as these may be lost forever unless they are funded and maintained by governments or heritage organizations.
Though the whereabouts of most of the contents are are unknown, at least one room has been recreated and adapted at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, probably a reception room from the ground floor.
Our final day with Number One London Tours in 2017 was spent at Tatton Hall, another Georgian house, this time carefully cared for. I neglected to get around to the front for a photo, but here is an excellent replacement.
We ended our visit with tea at the Gardener’s Cottage, sad that our visit was almost at an end, but already looking forward to our next Number One London Tour.
This is how I felt for almost the entire 2017 Number One London Country House Tour. I love visiting English Stately Homes and this Tour offered a stellar variety of periods, architectural styles, and decorative arts. Plus, our group was remarkably compatible and full of historical curiosity. We had great food, accommodating drivers, fun hotels, etc. etc. etc. Only thing I wished for was more energy!!!
See how our first hotel’s wall recognized our goals!
Our first stop was one I had been eagerly anticipating for several years. Wentworth Woodhouse has only recently opened to the public. As you can see from the pictures of the south facade, you have to get back a long distance to photograph the entire house, and this is only half of it.
Said to be the largest private residence in Europe, Wentworth-Woodhouse in fact is two houses joined. The earlier west-facing house was begun by the 1st Marquess of Rockingham in the 1720’s in mellow red brick in the baroque style. A few years later, the same Marquess chose to build an even larger house, the east facade, constructed of sober grey stone in the Palladian style.
Recently WW, as I will refer going forward to Wentworth Woodhouse to save my fingers, has been seen in several films and on television. In Episode One of Season Two of Victoria, the scenes of the royal couple reviewing the regiment were staged in front of WW.
I will relate the full story of WW soon, and a long complicated tale it is. For the time being, just know that touring it was fascinating. Recently, the estate has been acquired by a Preservation Trust after many years as a school and then standing empty and abandoned for some time. Fortunately, the Trust will preserve and restore the house and the gardens.
We entered on the ground level, to find a great forest of pillars, cleverly named the Pillared Hall.
And a noble staircase leading to the Piano Nobile, that is, the State Rooms.
It is easy to see why there are so many pillars holding up this vast room, which was used for all sorts of gatherings, as a grand ballroom, as a gymnasium for the women’s college, and it also stands in for Buckingham Palace in the film Darkest Hour.
Most of the rooms are now empty, previous furnishings sold, stored, or lost. WW is a venue for business meetings and weddings, with the facilities able to accommodate either intimate gatherings or a virtual mob.
The gilded walls of this room once held the famous 1762 painting by George Stubbs of Whistlejacket, a champion racehorse owned by the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham. Sold to partially fulfill death duties, the canvas now hangs in London’s National Gallery, where I had visited at the beginning of my trip. The version at WW is a copy.
I will close with three views of the extensive gardens, which are being restored after wholesale destruction for strip mining of coal. Next time I will cover, more briefly, other houses we visited on Number One London’s 2017 Country House Tour.