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.
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.