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 Noble it stood alone above a great park, but out of date, passed over.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.
Welcome to the Wimpole Estate, my second attempt at visiting (never assume the opening times, always check) and thank goodness, because its a long journey, it was well worth a second go. In the grounds I found a set of bowls on a very bumpy bowling green, I had a go. Those balls are heavier than one might think.
This was a visit where the brilliant volunteers were really chatty, making jokes and pointing out lots of interesting facts about the house. Bits of their chatter have ended up in some of the films I have made. This is the noisiest house I have visited so far, partly because it was pretty busy and also there were sound pieces about the place, a disembodied voice on a huge stair case is movement activated.
There is a portrait of Queen Victoria in the dining room, because she stayed here, but this room has been renovated back to a dining room. Ripped out and turned into a kitchen by the final live-in owner this room is top to bottom fake and so how perfect that on the table there is fake food including two wonderful pineapples. This prompted more discussion about how changes made to the house are in themselves historical documents so should they always be taken back to a chosen point in time. I suppose its about what is deemed as more interesting or of historical importance.
Inevitably I have started to think about the work I will make in response to the visits I have made so far, though I'm a little way off from the end of my one year NT membership (which was a birthday present and maybe I will renew it) I like the feel of having a time limit but at the same time I don't want to make any decisions about the work just yet. If its going to be film based then I will have to revisit one or two houses and plan ahead a bit, if its about painting I can let things simmer away a bit, in my mind.
Welcome to Upton House, theres no getting away from it, Upton is presented as an art gallery of sorts and although there was some evidence of a home, there is very little and this seems to be by design. Not every house has the feel I'm looking for or enjoy viewing but on reflection there were areas of the house and collection within which were thought provoking.
There is an empty swimming pool off to the side of the long lawn which leads down to the famous haha. Its my favourite thing here. It made me think of the scene in 'Atonement' when the brother, sister and visiting friend (owner of chocolate empire during WWII) lounge by a pool on a hot hazy afternoon.
The famous art deco bathroom had been re modelled to resemble its former life rather than conserved which prompted a bit of discussion about what conservation means, I think perhaps its a personal thing and will depend on your point of view.
Above is one of my favourite photographs from the day but in lots of ways its a bit of a lie. Its a picture of what I would like to have felt from the house.
You can see more pictures from Upton House on my Flickr here.
Usually a visit to one of these houses goes a bit like this, I wonder about with my mouth open making appreciative noises while my partner reads the information and historical details then relays those to me, I've decided that this is not because I am lazy and only interested in the visual but its a nice activity for us (I'm lazy aren't I?). Anyway, he was telling me that half of this building was never really meant to 'do' anything, it was simply for symmetry. For some reason I found that really hard to get my head round.
Welcome to Ickworth House, there is a spattering of scandal in its history and a huge collection of art and objects. Though essentially a museum, unlike Kedleston Hall, some how it retains or has conjured the feel of a lived in house, this could be good presentation or it could be to do with the personal feel to the collection.
The chandeliers and mirrors are interesting in these houses and in particular in this one. They bring light into the room but they also create doubles, triples, even more if you get the angle right. The opulence can be multiplied exponentially. I have started to make a few films around the chandeliers and mirrors here and here .
I've started to think about portraiture in a slight;y different way of late, this house has the most extensive collection of family portraits that I have visited so far, from the grand to the miniature there is a through documentation of family history.
I had access to bathrooms upstairs and downstairs, which was pretty thrilling, a mash up of styles and dates and even the bellow stairs have been painstakingly recreated. I enjoyed peeking into the boiler mans loo.
The grounds are really romantic here, its got a lot to do with the Italianate style which seems to have the perfect balance between formal and relaxed, open spaces and hiding places.
You can see more pictures from my visit to Ickworth House on my Flickr here.
This is one of the stranger NT houses I have visited so far, there is nothing wrong with it and it didn't have a bad feel about it. It didn't have any feel about it at all actually, it is a very sterile house. The interior, or that which we get to see, has been immaculately and laboriously restored, the gold is vibrant and the wall fabrics shimmer, the paintings are many and beautiful(a mixture of family portraits and religious stories). Room after room, the beauty on this Grand Tour seems never ending.
One NT volunteer was particularly helpful in pointing out the hidden doors within the bedroom walls and the bathrooms, long since blocked up, but photographs were available. Although the bathrooms were last refitted relatively recently in the 1920's I would liked to have seen them. The only bathroom related object was this bathroom cabinet. There is a photograph available of what this piece of furniture looks like open, a small bowl for washing, a commode and shelves. Portable ablutions.
The seating I found around and about this house turned out to be my Kedleston attraction, there are a lot of seats. The volunteers talked a lot about how the house was meant purely for entertaining, and showing off and never really for living in, one said 'You could live in a shed at the end of the garden, this place had to be kept perfectly, for the parties' perhaps this explains the seating a bit.
The exterior of Kedleston Hall is romantic, set within a sweeping green landscape, no formal gardens, just trees dotted about and gentle hills. But the inside, though stuffed full of beautiful art and objects, lacked heart and soul, the impression that it had never been truly lived in.
Since my visit I have thought about the art within this house rather a lot, the Curzon wives and the unknown ladies and and ruin paintings in particular, so maybe the house continues as a showcase, just as it was perhaps intended.
You can see more pictures from my visit to Kedleston Hall on my Flickr here.
Its funny that in my last post Newly-Weds, Lamp shades & Chandeliers I had started to think about the realness and fakeness of the houses I have been visiting, there has to be an element of staging to attract visitors and help us too see the bits that are interesting or important to the house, but it has struck me that I have been seduced by much of the staging. The same can't be said of Chastleton House. Preserved as the last owners left it, Chastleton has minimal staging and so has the charming atmosphere of an almost neglected country house.
There are two prize possessions in this house, one is the bible which Charles I used just before his execution and can be seen under glass in the library. The other is a display of Jacobian glass wear which live safely under more glass. The glass wear in the picture above, possibly replicas (it wasn't very clear), are in the dinning room.
The window dressings are wonderful here and they interacted with the incoming light in a way that made this house feel grand and homely all at once and also very, very old. If I believed in spirits or ghosts (which I don't) I would have expected to see ghosts here, I'm sure I would have exited the house and declared 'Oh, yes I could feel them'. Actually, as one of the volunteers was telling us about a past owner who had many, many cats I realised that I had smelt a really strong waft of cats pee while I was in the great hall. (It was probably me, my cat smells pretty bad)
This is the last owner of the house who welcomed visitors until relatively recently. The great hall was a show case for portraits of all of the past owners. The paintings themselves become smaller and less grand as the fortunes of the family change, but no less interesting and definitely more intimate.
The dressing rooms were a real treat, one of them felt very private and very much as if the last occupant had just left the room, if I ignore the obvious passing of time in the drooping wall fabric and deteriorating timbre. In any case I am back on track and getting to see interesting, once private, spaces.
You can see more pictures from my afternoon at Chestleton House on my Flickr here.
Welcome to Polesden Lacey in Surrey, this house was made infamous by Mrs Greville, her lavish life style, famous guests from the Royal family and Hollywood and endless gossiping. It was also the venue for the Queen Mothers honeymoon. Honeymooning in Surrey seemed a bit odd to me, even in 1923 so I was hoping to be proved wrong with a bit of romance on this NT visit (atmosphere, not actual romance).
This is a beautiful place, the Queen Mother thought it 'delicious' and it is. The views are vast and spectacularly green, the house feels secluded but not isolated and its just really, really pretty. Its homely, which is perhaps another reason the Queen Mother liked it, it seems to suit her personality.
Bathrooms, bathrooms, bathrooms and here I got to see three, a small toilet and sink, a guest bathroom and Mrs Grevilles private bathroom, which was a marble extravaganza, it must have been really cold in the winter. All three were very different but none had a particularly private feel to them.
The gold room was too much for some, but I could have easily had some more gold in my life. The Tour guide said that this room was used as a sitting room, I'm wonderingg if I misheard, because as much as I loved being in this room, I can't imagine taking afternoon tea, reading a book or having a chat. Watching TV would be out of the question (its just to loud) even with out the display cases full of porcelain collections, silver boxes, jade and tea cups(maybe if the lighting was low) but for parties and generally showing off, this gold and jewel encrusted room would be perfect.
There is a lot of romance here, its in the art collection and the objects from far away places that Mrs Greville collected over the years. I wondered a bit at how she acquired some of it, there was much talk of Marie Antoinette's jewels which found their way into Mrs Grevilles hands. Status and showing off seems like the main motive what with rooms like the gold room stuffed full of shiny things but actually as a collection of objects there is an underlying beauty and romance tying them all together which made it hard for me to be to cynical.
(A lot of the objects on display in the gold room had been placed there by the NT for viewing, so perhaps some of it would have been more evenly distributed about the house. Of course when placed all together the collection is more over whelming and it does make me think about the realness and the fakeness of visiting houses like this)
The paintings at Polsden Lacey are on line here, which is handy because I struggle to stop and note down the titles/artists while I'm on theses visits.
So far during these NT house visits there is usually a thing that grabs me. Its been the bathrooms, or black and white tiled flooring, here it was the lamp shades and the chandeliers. The house is full of them and they are all slightly odd, over the top and a little grotesque in places but very beautiful all the same. I have just been searching for some historical pictures of the interior of the house to see if any of the lampshades are old, they are, which made me feel a bit better about getting really excited about them and taking lots of pictures (phew, I wasn't swooning over an IKEA lamp).
I overheard a tour guide talking to a small group of people on the upstairs landing, I think perhaps they were looking at the signatures in a guest book, I'm not sure. I was looking at the paintings and only partly listening but inevitably Walils Simpsons name cropped up and so did the well worn comments about 'That Woman' and how so many thought so ill of her right up to the end, that many blamed her for further upsets in the Royal family outside of abdication. While I started to tune into the tour guides comments I started to feel a bit irritated. Possibly because I have got to a particularly horrible part in Hugo Vicars 'Behind Closed Doors' and partly because I have been engrossed in Wallis's story for what feels like ages now with a drip-drip of information sticking to my brain as I read. Of course there was nothing said that wasn't true, I just felt a twinge of protectiveness. Its the first time that has happened, and I felt a bit silly afterwards.
Downstairs I overheard blame being apportioned to Wallis again but, it was more of a back handed compliment, in a round about way Polesden Lacey was handed over to the NT, where perhaps it would have been given to George VI, had he not become King.
There are lots more pictures from Polesden Lacey on my Flickr here.
Welcome to Coughton Court, which also has two churches, beautiful grounds and a bog garden. By far the best bog garden I have ever seen. This house is steeped in the history of Catholicism in England, the reformation and the gunpowder plot.
The bedside commode was the closest I got to a bathroom here, sadly, but having said that I really like this piece of furniture. It takes multi purpose to a whole new level, though I'm not to sure about sleeping directly next to such an object. Any evidence of ablutions were within the rooms themselves which are just as interesting. A very personal private time becomes less so despite the help of ornate screens
According to the info handed out this yellow room displays, what are affectionately (I'm sure) referred to as 'The Uglies' a room of family portraits by Willem Wessing. I tried to get a good picture of all of the paintings in this room but it was just too packed full of visitors. Smallish and at the end of a tour route it was an awkward space but probably my favourite room. I loved these paintings, unflattering? who knows but they certainly felt real and I do like a double chin. I saw beauties depicted in these paintings.
There are a lot of miniature portraits at Coughton, a helpful guide told me the back story of the couple pictured above, he would be the last male in the line to inherit the house and grounds and was desperate to marry so he attached himself to his young cousin. The fact that she was a cousin caused a huge problem and was regarded as shameful. When he died she (only in her early 20's) did not re marry and in doing so kept Coughton court within the family. (it would have been great if I had made a note of names and dates as the guide was telling me about what was a wall full of family miniatures as well as the dimly lit room they were in, but alas I did not - a country house rookie mistake)
This was a pleasant surprise, I wasn't expecting to find Edward VIII abdication speech and letter of abdication here. I stood in a room already evoking the feeling of history rather strongly and read the typed speech carefully, I have listened to it several times but reading the old fashion type set and feeling the rhythm of this Kings Speech made it very, very personal.
I've been thinking about what it must be like to live here while a portion of the house is open to the public. It's often the case that the the families continue on in a private part of the house but what must feel like a fish bowl. I wonder What it feels like to give up part or all of your family home in this way.
You can see. More of my photographs from Coughton Court on my Flickr here.
On a rainy bank holiday weekend we make our way to Charlecote Park, as we arrive the rain eases off which is good because the grounds (designed by Capability Brown) are very pretty and make a really nice walk. The trees in particular are really impressive all twisted and broken with time.
Mr & Mrs Lucy in bust form, in fact Mr & Mrs Lucy are everywhere amid the mostly Victorian interior of the house, in some areas it was really a bit of a period style mix up.
Bathrooms and areas to wash are really interesting to me, I'm starting to seek them out now and I'm disappointed if there are no bathrooms open to the public.
On the main stairs there is this window, covered in modern net curtains and blinds, there is something about it which made me think about being trapped in this big house, something about the gloom around it and not really being able to see out.
Elizabeth I stayed here, as did Shakespeare, though his was probably a far less enjoyable stay as it is said that he was tried here for poaching game on the land. This gold parlour is my favourite room in the house because it delivers everything I want from a country house with its over the top lavishness, crammed with large framed paintings of kings and queens, exotic objects and uncomfortable looking furniture. Completely other worldly, decadent and bright.
You can see more of my photographs from Charlecote Park on my Flick here.