Upton House has been transformed back to its 1940's life, so on my second visit to this NT property much of the furnishings have been removed and the Bearsted family Merchant Bank has been moved in, just as it had during WWII in an effort to protect its staff and assets. Lots of paintings were also moved out to safety.
Yelana Popova is current;y artist in residence at Upton House. These are beautiful paintings and feel so fragile and intangible. Hung in what was once the squash court, it took a while for my eyes to adjust to the dim lighting and then, slowly the images on the canvas start to appear. They do bring to mind everything about a collection of paintings, particularly in NT houses. Restoration, instillation, what happens to them when paintings are removed and then there is the space that is left behind before i even get to the disappearance of those depicted in the painting, their eventual anonymity. The disappearance of paintings follows throughout the house while we are back in the '40's, in the faded wallpaper around where a panting used to be. At the same time Popova's work feels very contemporary, which is really interesting to me right now, the contemporary and the old, really old, together.
These small bathrooms in a cupboard were not open to the public on my last visit and are one of my favourite things about the house. Recreated with an intimate and personal touch...
You can see more pictures from Upton House and Yelana Popova's residency on my Flickr here.
I saw a peacock for the first time in real life just a few weeks ago, colourful and noisy. Now more peacocks, this time white and silent. Welcome to Newstead Abbey.
Lord Byron lived here and there is a lot of Byron to see. Portraits and personal belongings and cabinets full of objects including his uniform, about which every visitor remarked 'How small?!'. There was a rather long queue to visit Lord Byron's bedroom, naturally.
I was really interested in the paintings at Newstead Abbey and two of my favourites were of unidentified women. Both paintings are hung in the same room but these two women, from appearances, seem to have very different backgrounds, one with a rather chaste look and the other less so.
For some time now I have been thinking a lot about contemporary art in historic settings, the sharp contrast between new art and the very old. The new may be unconventional or even shocking to those used to visiting these stately homes or buildings of historic importance when perhaps, when new and bright, unfaded and undamaged by the passing of time, some of these properties and their art, objects and goings on, were once just as unconventional in their own ways.
Newstead Abbey is not an NT property but last week Radio 4 'Great Lives' featured Director General of the National Trust James Lees-Milne who worked for the Trust between 1936 and 1966. It was a very interesting listen
You can see more pictures from Newstead Abbey on my Flickr here.
Welcome to Calke Abbey, The Un-stately Home, or so the NT call this house. Here the demise of the stately home is presented with love, I think.
The family who once made this house their home were collectors of, well, everything and anything while paintings are crammed onto any spare wall space, my favourites of which are those of the family and particularly the female members. In the saloon the same female face appears again and again in a slightly different pose, a different coloured dress. There's something really interesting about this repeated 'likeness'.
This was a really good time to visit this property. I have reached the half way mark of a painting project which will be installed at Nottingham Castle in September 2015. Painting a large number of portraits, daily, has thrown up some unexpected issues, repetition is an interesting one, particularly when unintentional. Trying to visualise how a large number of portraits (all identical in size) has been tricky too, this visit to Calke has been helpful in that regard.
National Trust Houses are waking up after their winter hibernation and that means I need to get back into my visits before my membership runs out for the year. I still have loads left on my to see list, even though I have managed to get to a fair few. There are also a handful I want to re visit to retake photographs and make better films.
Welcome to Lyveden New Bield, my first NT visit of 2015. Its a bitterly cold, windy, muddy, swampy day, the perfect type of day to see this half finished Elizabethan lodge. I like to think of it as a miniature stately home.
There are lots of things I really like about this incomplete house, seemingly sitting the middle of nowhere, secluded and yet surrounded by so much space, it is unprotected from the elements and today it has a really eerie feel about it, I was thinking of Wuthering Heights a bit and dramatic love stories/death stories.
You can see more pictures from Lyveden New Bield on my Flickr here.
A paper Ruff, shoddy and held together with bull dog clips and staples, the ruff in a series of paintings I'm making at the moment are a direct response to dressing up at one of the NT houses I visited this year. During the winter break, rather than visiting houses, I've been reviewing photographs and thinking about the feelings of romantic disappointment that can accompany these visits.
For the last few weeks I have been messing about with polaroids, dressing up with a shoddily home made paper ruff and painting imaginary portraits. The paper ruffs started when I tried on a well made sturdy ruff from a dressing up box (for kids) at an NT property. They should definitely do more of that for adults, I got really into it, it all felt a bit romantic, more so if i didn't feel a bit silly and was very aware of the other visitors looking at me and then me hurriedly asking my partner in NT visits to take a picture of me.
Nightwalkers is a mix of imaginary portraits and the feel of old dark empty houses. These women are anonymous and mysterious but perhaps they long for a lost love or have grown haunted through a life of unrequited love.
A rainy, blustery day with follies, monuments and some grand topiary, welcome to Shugborough hall.
One of the rooms had been stripped of all furniture and most fixtures, gloomy but atmospheric and unusual to see a room in this sort of state.
There were a couple of statues and paintings that grabbed me though they felt very incidental in the house itself. The grounds were much more interesting. Many of the NT houses are packing for the the winter 'putting the house to sleep' as they say, so this might be my last NT visit for a while. A break gives me a chance to really start thinking about my trips, reviewing all of my photographs and also decide which houses I want to revisit particularly for making longer films.
Mirrors are everywhere here, decorated and ornately shaped, in their refection hallways seem endless and lights are brighter.
You can see more pictures from Shugborough Hall on my Flickr here.
The Palladian bridge and The Apollo Temple feature in the 2005 film adaptation of Pride & Prejudice. This garden and man made lake look huge but actually they are very compact, taking less than an hour to walk along the guided path. Welcome to Stourhead.
Walking from temple to temple, and actually being able to access them fully, created a kind of dreamy miniature romance. Originally planned as a mini european (grand) tour, it does work.
The number of unknown portraits grows and grows, I'm really attracted to the anonymity of these paintings that are in every NT house I have visited so far. They perch atop doorways, half hidden in the gloom, they sit among the family portraits crammed onto a brightly patterned wall, they stare out all at once real and imagined.
I have started to gather the work I have been making in response to the things I have been seeing during my NT house visits and thinking more seriously about new work. Just small ideas being worked out on an even smaller scale.
There is a yellow room at Coughton Court which houses the most wonderful collection of paintings (family portraits) and the collection is one of my favourite things so far. The owners call them 'The Uglies'. They are somewhat overly truthful perhaps but there is a huge amount of beauty in this realness.
Chandalliers, lampshades, miniatures, bathrooms, checked floors, busts, portraits, fakeness, volunteers, lost loves, death and scandal: the ongoing list of the things I like.
The car ran on along the uplands, seeing the rolling county spread out. The county! It had once been a proud and lordly county. In front, looming again and hanging on the brow of the sky-line, was the huge and splendid bulk of Chadwick Hall, more window than wall, one of the most famous Elizabethan houses. Noble it stood alone above a great park, but out of date, passed over. It was still kept up, but as a show place. `Look how our ancestors lorded it!'. Lady Chatterley's Lover, D.H. Lawrence
Welcome to Hardwick Hall (D.H. Lawrence's Chadwick).
Fabrics, tapestries, portraits and gloom are all overwhelming at different points within this house. At times it feels like a home, something about the wear on the stone steps. There is a long promenade room, where residents would take their exercise, the floor has bumps in intervals like waves. Its easy to feel sea sick, but the room is full of paintings, portraits, porcelain and huge wall tapestries. Queen Elizabeth I occupies one end above a fire place.
I was pleased to see a bathroom full of features from different centuries. I like it when the houses show their growth rather than taken back to a particular time. The bathrooms are usually a good example (and consequently locked away) a lot can be said for moving with the times where good plumbing is concerned.(I feel like I have said this before about a couple of NT's I have visited)
The old hall was by far the most interesting thing to climb about and into. Left to fall to ruin when the new hall was built by ambitious Bess of Hardwick, it looks like there has been some preservation of freezes about the fire places and walls, with no floors to speak of its left up to he imagination to construct the grand rooms where as little is left to the imagination in the new hall.