Christmas Ideas from the National Trust

When you are making up your Christmas list for yourself or for lucky giftees, you might want to take a look at the National Trust’s gift shop.

The historic Blewcoat School on Caxton Street in London is a to-die-for shop you won’t want to miss next time you are in London.  But if you can’t quite make it to London this holiday season, shop on line here.  There is something for everyone.

If you live in the US and travel to Britain, you should join the Royal Oak, the US support group for the National Trust. It will give you free admission to Trust properties, newsletters and magazines from both organizations, discounts on purchases, and a great deal of satisfaction.  I have often shown my Royal Oak membership card at a Trust stately home and received a big cheer from the volunteers.  “We love our Royal Oak members,” they always say.  Additional perks are invitations to special programs in major US cities by traveling lecturers and authors sponsored by the Trust and the Royal Oak — and some travel tours that sound brilliant. Or if you are in Britain or elsewhere, join the Trust. And memberships make great gifts too.

As you will see on their website, the Trust’s shops have a wide variety of books. The Christmas recipe collection above is on my list, for sure.

A few more selections… of 100’s.

Or you could choose a photo album and fill it with your own snapshots.

As seen in the examples above, the Trust sells magnificent prints, many by renowned photographers, suitable for framing.

The National Trust runs many shops both in cities and on their properties. They are always good for a browse.

Many popular items such as ceramic mugs and pieces of china compete with wonderful lotions and soaps, silk scarves and shawls, umbrellas and even hiking shoes.  Here are two more books I covet:

Could someone please contact Santa and give him my list?

Photos from the National Trust.

Travels with Victoria: The Windsor Museum

I was delighted to spend my last full day in England, June 15, 2011, with Hester Davenport in Windsor.

Here is Hester with members of the Irish guard with their canine mascot at the opening of the museum.

Hester generously planned our day beginning by meeting me at the train station in Slough, pronounced I believe to rhyme with plow (or plough).  Our first stop was a new park, formed from an old one which had fallen into disrepair. 
 The Herschel Park, 2011
The park is named after the famed German-born astronomer and musician-composer Sir William Herschel (1738-1822) who died in Slough after a distinguished career in which he discovered the planet Uranus and its moons, invented a number of telescopes, named the “asteroids”, and composed more than twenty symphonies. His sister Caroline was a significant partner in many of his scientific studies.

In the mid-nineteenth century, this area was part of a housing development which included large open spaces, and was known as Upton Park. It borders the M-4 and most of it was badly in need of renewal when a group, with money partially from the Heritage Lottery Fund, redesigned the park with nature trails and a Victorian band shell, a real asset for the neighborhood.Below, an old view of the Victorian park.

Our next stop was the Windsor Farm Shop where one can buy the Queen’s own beef, poultry and vegetables, straight from the Royal Estates. The goods were very enticing, I must say.

 Outside, there was a wide array of herbs, vegetables and flowers for one’s own gardens.  But I couldn’t quite figure out how I would get them home across the pond!

After a quick sandwich, we walked over to the Windsor Great Park to see the Queen and the royal family pass by on their way to the Ascot Races. I completely failed to get a photo here, but I found one in a newspaper that shows the Queen in what I believe is her loveliest hat. We got a very good glimpse of her and I was so impressed, I forgot my camera altogether.  Isn’t this the prettiest chapeau EVER?


Above, Queen Anne on the Windsor Guildhall,  home of the new museum.

View of the Guildhall from the south, showing the original Wren building completed in 1689 and the extension at the rear, constructed about 1829.

In March of 2011, the Windsor and Royal Borough Museum opened on the ground floor of the Guildhall. The doll above is one of thousands of artifacts to be exhibited, covering prehistoric to recent days.

Hester Davenport blogged here about some of the most fascinating items in the collection, the miniature d
ioramas created in the 1950’s by Judith Ackland and Mary Stella Edwards.  Below, a detail of Windsor during George II’s Golden Jubilee in 1809, showing the princesses dancing at the local celebration.

 Since the town council was not in session, I had the opportunity to go upstairs and view the council chamber, the mayor’s office and  the Ascot Room up close.

 You will be pleased to know that I did not dissolve the town while I sat in the mayor’s chair under the portraits of Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.

This recent picture of Queen Elizabeth II hangs in the Council Chamber, but I have to admit I preferred the earlier one below, which is not currently hanging but can be seen in the Ascot Room underneath a portrait of Queen Victoria, her great-great grandmother.

The Ascot Room, next to the Council Chamber, is often used for wedding ceremonies, most notably the 2005 marriage of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles, and later that year, the civil partnership of Sir Elton John and David Furnish.

Hester and I finished with a delicious dinner.  I thank her ever so much for showing my around.   Hester is a very busy lady, with many boards and committees having to do with local history and the 18th /19th C. history. She is currently, for example, the chariman of The Burney Society and is a frequent speaker and writer on literary figures.  Thank you, Hester!!!

The next day I was off to Heathrow for the return trip, already planning for my next visit.

Travels with Victoria for 2011 concludes with this post. I hope you have enjoyed vicariously accompanying me on my jaunts.  And I hope you did not catch my pesky cold — which followed me back home but is now, thankfully, only a memory.

Travels with Victoria: British Museum, Part Two

The King’s Library in the British Museum has a new function. The oldest room in the museum, it was built in 1827 to house the collection of books amassed by King George III. This collection of 60,000 volumes was moved to the new British Library, St. Pancras, in 1997.

In the British Library

George IV donated his father’s book collection to the British people in 1823, necessitating a new building on the site of the original British Museum in Montagu House, Bloomsbury, one of many expansions and re-modelings over the years. Since George III’s book collection was moved a few years ago, the King’s Library Gallery has been restored, conserved and adapted for a new purpose: a permanent exhibition devoted to The Enlightenment.

ancient statues in front of cases filled with books on loan from the House of Commons Library

From the introduction to the exhibition:  “The Enlightenment is the name given to the age of reason, discovery and learning that flourished from about 1680 to 1820 and changed the way that people viewed the world. Enlightened men and women believed that the key to unlocking the past and the mysteries of the universe lay in directly observing and studying the natural and the man-made world. Their passion for collecting objects, from fossils and flints to Greek vases and ancient scripts, was matched by their desire to impose order on them, to catalogue and to classify.”

Bust of Hercules: Roman copy of  original by Greek sculptor Lysippos,
said to have been found at the foot of Mount Vesuvius and
presented to the British Museum by Sir William Hamilton in 1776. 

Continuing with the introduction: “The objects displayed in this room were collected during the early years of the British Museum, which was founded in 1753. They help us explore the passions and ideas of collectors and scholars at this time. When the British Museum was founded, it was a place not only of learning but also of wonder. This gallery focuses on the Museum’s early collectors, recreating that first sense of amazement and exploring some of the ways that people in Britain viewed their world and its past.”

Sir Joseph Banks, 1743-1820, Botanist, Trustee and benefactor of the British Museum; bust by the Hon. Anne Seymour Damer, 1813.

After spending quite a bit of time wandering in this fascinating room — much larger than it appears in these pictures — I decided to take another quick look at some of the other British Museums earliest treasures. 

The Elgin Marbles were collected by the 7th Earl of Elgin from the ruins of the Parthenon in Athens between 1799 and 1812.  He had them shipped to London and after considerable Parliamentary controversy, the nation purchased them and placed them in the British Museum in 1816.  It’s a long, convoluted story, interesting on many levels from the personal travails of Lord and Lady Elgin to the continuing arguments over their ownership. I don’t  have the time or space to condense any of these stories at the moment.  I just enjoyed joining the hundreds of people studying the brilliant examples of ancient sculpture.

The Rosetta Stone was taken from its original location in Egypt by French troops in 1799; British troops defeated the French and took the stone in 1801. It was brought to London and has been in the British Museum since 1802.  On the surface of the stone, a government decree is inscribed in three languages: ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, demotic script and ancient Greek.  Thus it was possible to translate and read hieroglyphs for the first time.  Though almost all the above photographs are mine, I literally could not get close enough to the Rosetta Stone to take a photo on Sunday, June 12, 2011.  There were constant crowds around it, exclaiming in a multitude of languages about this great treasure of civilization — I thought that was a good thing!!

And now, another of those absurd wrenches from the sublime to the ridiculous.  Having had enough exploring in the British Museum, I started walking back to my hotel. When what should appear but another version of the world naked
bike ride. In June of 2010, Kristine and I were surprised to stand in the doorway of Apsley House in front of a street full of hundreds of nude riders. All we could do was wonder what the 1st Duke of  Wellington would have thought?

And here I was, almost a year to the day later, again confronted by the same spectacle. This time, however, I had my camera handy.  The most amusing part of it was to watch the reactions of drivers, bus riders and passers-by as the huge number of bikes (accompanied by a police escort) rode down Kingsway.  Believe me, dear readers, it was not easy to take a non-X-rated snapshot.  I assume that these riders — who can be found in similar events around the world — have a mission of some kind.  But for me, it was again such a peculiar juxtaposition of the enlightenment and “not a pretty sight” that the point of it all (so to speak) was lost on me.

But it is certainly another confirmation of the idea that in London, you can find a little of almost everything! And maybe even too much of some things?

The last stop on Travels with Victoria will be Windsor, where I had a lovely day’s visit with Hester Davenport, coming soon.

Travels with Victoria: The British Museum, Part One

Saturday 4 June 2011

According the September 2011 British Heritage magazine, the British Museum is the leader of all London attractions, with more than 5,840,000 visitors in 2010. And it is free. Yes, they ask for a contribution and special exhibitions carry an admission fee.  But I suspect that many people enjoy hours and hours of browsing without paying a penny. Like most frequent London visitors, I have been many times, but I love to go back because there is always more to see.  And I always leave a contribution.

On this particular visit, I was interested in seeing some of the Regency-era acquisitions on display.  I have a copy of Louise Allen’s Walks Through Regency London guide book. She points out that many of treasures from the late 18th and early 19th centuries can be seen in a few rooms on the upper level. For more information on Louise, her novels and her guidebook, click here. While I had seen — many times — the most famous of the British Museum early treasures such as the Rosetta Stone and Elgin Marbles, I realized I really hadn’t spent much time looking over the less obvious items.

The display cases on the upper level were well worth close examination. Information comes from the museum’s labels. Above, four pedestals in Jasperware by Josiah Wedgwood, 1787, showing Mars, Jupiter, Cupid and Venus. Behind them, a vase with a relief of Aurora in her Chariot in Jasperware by John Turner, about 1790; Turner was the most successful of many imitators of Wedgwood’s jasperware.

Coadestone bust of John Flaxman, RA (1755-1826), English, London, late 18th century; in 1769, Eleanor Coade (1752-1821) ran a factory making a durable stoneware for outdoor use.

The Pegasus Vase, Jasperware, thrown, with applied reliefs, England, Staffordshire. Josiah Wedgwood, 1786;  The main scene designed in 1778 by John Flaxman (above) is the Apotheosis of Homer, copied from a Greek vase bought by the museum in 1763 from the Hamilton Collection.

Sir William Hamilton in Jasperware with gild wood frame; England, Staffordshire, Wedgwood, 1779; Hamilton is shown in the guise of a Roman.

An aside: Sir William Hamilton  (1730-1803) was a British diplomat who served as British Ambassador to the Kingdom of Naples between 1764 and 1800; he was a scientific observer of Vesuvius, and a collector of antiquities, many of which he shipped home to England and sold to the British Museum in 1772.

Sir William Hamilton by Reynolds, 1776-77, National Portrait Gallery

In 1791, at age 60, Hamilton married Emma Hart, age 26. She accompanied him back to Naples where she met and began a famous liaison with Admiral Horatio Nelson.

Emma, Lady Hamilton by George Romney, c. 1785, National Portrait Gallery

Copy of the Portland Vase; Jasperware, thrown, applied reliefs; England, Staffordshire, Wedgwood, c.1791; between 1786-95, Josiah Wedgwood painstakingly reproduced in black Jasperware the roman glass vase brought to England by Sir William Hamilton and lent to the potter by its owner, the Duke of Portland.

The Portland Vase, made of cameo glass, probably in

Rome 15 BC to 25 AD.

The Portland Vase is one of the finest surviving pieces of Roman glass; it is named for the Duke of Portland who owned it 1785-1945. Cameo glass is made in two layers; the outer (usually white) layer is carved away from the underlying dark layer to create decorative scenes and patterns.
The vase was deliberately smashed in 1845; it was carefully restored by museum conservator John Doubleday; subsequently it has been re-assembled to insure its stability by using new adhesives.  It is considered one of the museum’s great treasures.

Jasperware Wine Cooler, England, Staffordshire, Etruria c. 1783, Wedgwood; applied relief designed by Lady Diana Beauclerk (1724-1808).

In a second British Museum post, we will look at a few of the recent developments in the museum itself, as well as a quick visit to the Elgin Marbles.

Travels with Victoria: Celebrating the Regency in the Queen's Gallery

Last year, when Kristine and Victoria OD’ed on the Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace, we enjoyed the exhibition of Victoria and Albert: Art and Love.  This spring the kind of love celebrated was the Prince Regent’s fondness for art and acquisition. Certainly the two go hand in hand, but the future George IV carried his love for magnificent surroundings to an extreme.  His extravagance made him unpopular with politicians and the people, but left us a lasting legacy in the Royal Collection and royal residences. For the RC website, click here.
The exhibition devoted to the Regency was suitably opulent.  In the center above is the Prince of Wales, portrayed in 1791 by artist John Russell (1745-1806). On each side are two of his siblings in portraits by Sir William Beechey (1754-1839) of the Duke of Cumberland and Princess Augusta. These two were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1802 and by 1805 were hung in Kew Palace.
Here is one of a pair of candelabra by goldsmith Paul Storr (1771-1844); the child is Princess Sophia at age 8 by John Hoppner (1758-1810), exhibited at the RA in 1785; A Rough Dog was painted by royal favorite animal painter, George Stubbs (1724-1806).

The candelabrum of gilt bronze and blue enamel and the pedestal of gilded pine were parts of a set of eight supplied to the Prince about 1794 for the Great Drawing Room of Carlton House. The dealer was Dominique Daguerre, who provided many items made in both England and France.

The magnificent table above was chosen in 1826 for the Crimson Drawing Room in Windsor Castle, one of the last of George IV’s elaborate redecoration schemes, which previously included Carlton House, the Brighton Pavilion, and Buckingham House. The Sevres hard-paste porcelain vases were originally in the Brighton Pavilion and later moved to Carlton House.  The Prince had an extensive collection of Sevres.

The top of the table is inlaid stones and marbles, a colorful and complicated inset design.

According the label, this pedestal clock was purchased by Francois Benois, the Regent’s pastry chef, on one of his trips to France to acquire art for the Prince.  Of particular interest was the emblem of Louis XIV, the mask of Apollo; the Regent was an admirer or the French Sun King.

The painting above is Rembrandt van Rijn’s The Ship Builder and his Wife (Jan Rycksen and his wife Griet Jans), painted in 1633; at a price of 5,000 guineas, it was the most expensive painting the Prince Regent purchased.

One of a pair of Chinese bottle vases and stands, c. 1814, of porcelain with gilt bronze mounts by Benjamin Vulliamy and stands of marble and ebonized wood; These celadon porcelain vases stood in the Blue Velvet Room at Carlton House; Vulliamy was a clock-maker to George III but was increasingly employed at Carlton House to enhance porcelain objects with decorative gilt bronze mounts.

The center portrait in this grouping is Charles-Alexandre de Calonne, 1784, by Elisabeth-Louis Vigee-Lebrun (1755-1842); Calonne was French finance minister to Louis XVI; his reform suggestions to the king (a copy is held in his hand) might have prevented the French Revolution, but instead he was dismissed and fled to England in 1787; the canvas was purchased by the Prince before 1806.

One of a set of large armchairs, c. 1790. by Francois Herve, made for the Chinese Drawing Room at Carlton House, “perhaps made under the direction of Henry Holland and dealer-decorator Dominique Daguerre. The three men formed part of the highly cultivated Francophile entourage which surrounded the Prince of Wales in the later 1780′ and 1790’s during the early phase of construction and decoration at Carlton House.”  (from the label)

The pier table, above, with the candelabra, vases and Chinese Mandarin on the low shelf, were acquired for the Chinese Drawing Room at Carlton House in 1792, the first of a number of Chinese-style rooms created for the Prince of Wales at his various homes, culminating 25 years later with the chinoserie at the Brighton Pavilion.

Since Carlton House was pulled down in 1826, the only pictures of its interior are paintings done in the house, particularly this collection of eight watercolours by Charles Wild (1781-1835).  Fortunately, as we have seen in this exhibition, the furniture and decorative objects were moved to other remodeling and construction projects of George IV; his essential and extravagant tastes for exotic and sumptuous theatricality continued into his residences in Brighton, London and Windsor. 

This commode is made of ebony, tulipwood, gilt bronze, marble, mirrored glass and a porcelain  plaque. It was probably designed under the guidance of French dealer-decorator Daguerre and made by the leading Parisian cabinet maker Adam Weisweiler (1744-1820)  in 1785.

In addition to paintings, furniture and decorative objects, the exhibition includes military items, a particular interest  of the Prince of Wales. As heir to the throne, he was not allowed to participate directly in the armed forces, but he often designed uniforms, such as the elaborately frogged jacket above. And he collected guns, swords and other paraphernalia as well.

This pair of double barreled flintlock pistols was made by Nicolas-Noel Boutet and presented to the Prince Regent by Louis XVIII of France in 1814 after the first abdication of Napoleon.

 Elsewhere in the Queen’s Gallery were exhibitions from the Royal Collection focusing on Mythology and Dutch Painting. Many of the objects shown were purchased by the Prince of Wales /George IV. The clock above was made by Pierre-Philippe Thomire about 1805 of gilt bronze, marble and blue enamel. From the label: “Apollo was believed by the Romans to be god of the sun. Each day was marked by his emergence from the sea and his journey across the sky in his golden quadriga — a chariot drawn by four horses abreast — a cycle illustrated vividly by the clock.”

Also in the Mythology exhibition was this painting of Pan and Syrinx, c. 1620-25, after Sir Peter Paul Rubens, showing a story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses about Pan’s pursuit of a wood nymph who was transformed into tall reeds as he caught her — reeds Pan used to make  musical instrument — his pan pipes. The Prince Regent bought this painting in 1812.
In the Dutch Paintings exhibition, this painting by Aelbert Cuyp (1620-1691) “Cows in  Pasture beside a River, before Ruins, possibly of the Abbey of Rijnsburg,” c. 1645, was acquired by the Prince Regent in 1814. From the label: “Cuyp often employed an unnaturally low viewpoint which forces every form to be silhouetted against the sky, creating a detached effect. In this imaginative view, cows dominate the foreground, with shadowy ruins in the far distance.”
The Queen’s Gallery in June, 2010
The Queen’s Gallery is open year around with shows drawn from the Royal Collection. during the months when the Queen and royal family are at Balmoral, the State Rooms of the Palace are open, as they are on a few other occasions during the year. See Kristine’s post on her visit to the palace 1/9/11.  But you can go to the Quee
n’s Gallery any time you are in London;  I cannot recommend their exhibitions enough. I have attended many times over the years, and I have never been disappointed. However there is DANGER!!  The shop is too tempting to be believed.  Click here for a taste of what awaits you if you venture inside. Of course, it’s all available on line, but being there is even more toxic to the bank account. Nevertheless, it is wonderful!
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