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.
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.