Saturday, 25 October 2014

Royal Mews, Hampton Court Palace

In 1537 Henry VIII, wanted suitable accommodation for his horses at Hampton Court, so he commissioned Christopher Dickinson to build the Royal Mews. The stables were arranged around a square courtyard, at a cost of £130. The chosen site was between the river (Thames) and Hampton Court Green at quite a distance from the palace. The new building provided stabling for the King's Horses and also for those courtiers entitled to stabling. Above the stables were hay lofts, tack rooms and in the attics, accommodation for the officers of the stable.

Henry's daughter, Queen Elizabeth was to preside over a modest revolution in royal transport. Previously monarchs had traveled between London and Hampton Court along the River Thames, aboard the royal barge. The Queen however took to coach travel.  The bells of Kingston church were rung each time the queen passed by.  In 1570 the churchwardens' accounts showed that she increasingly passed by along the road. In 1571 the bells were rung eight times, but only on one occasion was it the royal barge that carried the queen. The end of one era and the beginning of another.

To house her carriages and horses, Queen Elizabeth built a new coach house of fourteen bays measuring 16' by 75' next to the original stables. A great central arch gave access for the coaches, and a stone plaque above it reads 'Elizabethe Regina 1570'.

How wonderful that after 450 years, horses are still kept in these stables. They belong to the Horse Rangers Association an organisation that teaches suburban children how to ride and care for horses.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Hexagon, Inveraray

The Hexagon is a charming Gothick gazebo overlooking the The Millar's Lynn on the River Aray on the Inveraray estate. Built in 1802, the Hexagon was used as a fishing house by guests at the castle and most notably by Lady Elspeth Campbell, sister of the 10th Duke of Argyll. That lady was an expert with the rod and line who spent many (happy) hours fishing there. And such was her expertise that it was said; 'there was always salmon on the table when Lady Elspeth was at the castle'. Quite possibly the Hexagon was designed by Alexander Nasmyth, who was working at that time on the family's estate at Rosneath.

It is a great pity that one of Alexander Nasmyth's more ambitious designs was never built; a lighthouse he designed for Inveraray harbour, with battlemented parapets rising from a castellated tower, surmounted by a Chinese pavillion. What a sight that would have been.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Hamlet, Chantilly

In 1775, Louis Joseph de Bourbon, Prince of Conde engaged his architect, Jean-Francois Leroy, to create a model village in the park at Chantilly. From its outward appearance, the hamlet resembled a peasants' settlement; however, the interiors were luxuriously furnished, for the private use of the Conde family, the Prince's daughter, Mademoiselle de Conte dressed up as a farmer's wife, or when entertaining friends. Every cottage had its own specific use; as a drawing room, a billiard room, and a dining room. The drawing room was lined with luxurious pink silk. The interior of the dining room was decorated with a trompe-l'oeil depiction of vegetation.

The Dining Room

The Drawing Room

Louis Joseph de Bourbon, Prince of Conde (1736-1818)

During the course of the 18th century many important guests were to be entertained at the Hamlet; Marie Antoinette's brother, Emperor Joseph II of Austria, Louis XV's daughters, the Mesdames Tantes, Adelaide, Victoire and Sophie; and also the Compt du Nord, the future Emperor Paul I of Russia and his wife, who according to the record were to eat supper there. According to the  account of Baroness d'Oberkirch:  "Supper was served in the Hamlet, a picturesque collection of rural dwellings amidst English style gardens. The biggest cottage is covered with green foliage inside, and outside is surrounded by all the tools needed by a master ploughman. It is inside his cottage, comprising a single oval room, that we had supper around a dozen small tables seating ten or twelve each. It was convenient, cheerful, without fuss and perfectly well devised."

Overdoor depicting the Hamlet in the private apartments of the Duke d'Aumal, Chantilly

The Hamlet at Chantilly inspired  Marie Antoinette to build her own hamlet at Versailles. Unlike the Queen, the Prince of Conde managed to flee France at the Revolution and in doing so undoubtedly saved his neck.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Kilmory, Rum

Rum is largest of the small islands of the Inner Hebrides. It used to have the sobriquet, "forbidden isle". This was not due to the dramatic landscape, forbidding though that is, but to Rum's reputation as a rich man's, private playground. Uninvited visitors seen off, down the barrel of a shotgun. Everything changed in 1957, when Monica, Lady Bullough sold the island to the Nature Conservancy (Scottish Natural Heritage today) for £23 000. Most of Rum is now a national nature reserve, home to otters, eagles and red deer. Manx Shearwaters breed in burrows high upon the hills. The only way to get about the island is to walk.

Sailing to Rum the island's geological origins are obvious. The majestic mountains, the Red Cuillins are the weathered remains of a gigantic volcano; the sandstone plateau in the north of the island originated somewhere near the equator. The end of the Ice Age allowed small plants to colonize Rum, followed by woodland, birch, hazel and willow. The first people arrived 9 000 years ago. The earliest recorded human settlement in Scotland was at Kinloch. However Stone Age settlers lived on Rum for only part of the year. While there they supplemented their crops and livestock by catching seabirds, seal, deer and scavenging along the shoreline for shellfish.

Along with the other Hebridean islands, Rum came under the domination of the Norsemen. They left their place names behind; Halival, Askival (812 meters, the highest peak) and Trollaval. Orval, Papadil and Dibidil. Rum only became part of the Scottish Kingdom in 1266.

The islanders managed to maintain their lives in three isolated pockets of fertile land, at the mouths of the major glens.  Christian hermits arrived from Ireland in the 7th century. St Becca is said to have landed on Rum in 632. A stone pillar at Kilmory may date from this period. Kilmory was the second largest settlement on Rum, after Harris. Over the centuries the crofting and fishing communities of Rum gradually grew in number to around 400, until the Clearances of the 19th century. The remains of around twenty blackhouses survive at Kilmory, testament to the tenacity of the small, isolated community that once called this extraordinary place 'home'.

In 1825 Alex Maclean, the laird who held the island, decided to evict his tenants. He gave them one years notice, so he could lease Rum as a sheepwalk. 50 people were left behind on the island after 300 sailed on the 'Dove of Harmony' and the 'Highland Lad', bound for Canada. Two years later the remaining islanders were removed, aboard the 'St Lawrence', destination Nova Scotia. In 1845 Maclean sold Rum to the Marquess of Salisbury' as a sporting estate. The noble lord replaced the expelled population with imported deer.

The last people to live at Kilmory were two two laundry maids who worked for the Bulloughs, the last lairds of Rum. Apparently the Bulloughs did not want the sight of their laundry to spoil the views from Kinloch Castle, so they located their laundry on the other side of the island, eight kilometers away at Kilmory. So for the two laundry maids, their only contact with the outside world, and sole source of their news and gossip, was the arrival once a week of the  cart from the castle bringing the weeks dirty washing and collecting last weeks laundry. For consolation they did have access to the two most beautiful sandy beaches on Rum, that is if they ever had the time to enjoy them. Rubha Shamhan Insir has wonderful views of the Skye Cuillins: weather permitting. Just over the headland is Rubha na Moine, said to be the Queen's favourite beach, and picnic spot. Every summer on her cruise around Scotland, on the Royal Yacht Britannia, she is said to have come ashore here for a picnic, in this incredible isolated place, where there was no danger of intruders spoiling the royal picnic party.

Today the only (occasional) residents of Kilmory are scientists working on the Red Deer Study. The deer regularly come down onto the beach to graze on the seaweed at low tide. Rum's residents, who number around 30, all live in Kinloch, a village whose lifestyle has been described as akin to living in Antarctica. So isolated and introspective are they. But don't let that put you off. Kilmory is a return walk of 16 kilometers (10miles) from Kinloch, along a rough track taking around two hours each way. Don't let the midgies put you off.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Ai Weiwei at Blenheim Palace

Ai Weiwei, icon of China, renowned as much for his courage in defying power as for his art, has chosen Blenheim Palace, seat of the dukes of Marlborough for his new exhibition. On the face of it an unlikely choice.  One of England's great buildings, UNESCO World Heritage site, a stately home on a stupendous scale where visitors come to be overawed by the architecture, enjoy the Capability Brown gardens and recover afterwards with a cup of tea in the shop, not to appreciate conceptual art. The choice reveals a wicked sense of humour. While the Brits may think of their country as Tate Modern, Damien Hurst and Tracy Emin, to the rest of the world, Britain is Downton Abbey and the Royal Family.

Ai Weiwei was invited to exhibit here by the Blenheim Art Foundation, creation of the duke's younger son Lord Edward Spencer-Churchill. Even though the artist is unable to leave China, due to his challenging relationship with the state, accepted. Perhaps one of the reasons he did so is because Blenheim is the birthplace of Winston Churchill; the room where the great war leader was born is preserved as a shrine. So from his studio in Beijing, Ai Weiwei curated the most comprehensive show of his work in Britain, in these extraordinary surroundings. 

Any idea that his work would be overawed by the scale of the surroundings is immediately dispelled in the entrance hall. Here hangs a colossal chandelier whose magnificence dazzles, even these opulent surroundings. What follows is stunning, the work of 'one of the most influential cultural figures of the 21st century' in one of the great secular buildings of Europe. A fabulous juxtaposition. Smile.

The Great Hall  Chandelier, 2002

Churchill Rooms  Slanted Table,1997

The North Corridor  Cao,2014

The Great Hall  Owl House, 2010

Churchiill's Birth Bed  Handcuffs, 2012

China Ante Room  Sunflower Seeds Stool, 2014

Green Drawing Room  Han Dynasty Vases in Auto Paints, 2014

West Side of the Great Hall  Han Dynasty Vase with Coca-Cola Logo, 2014

Red Drawing Room  He Xie, 2012

He Xie, 2012

Saloon   Circle of Animals, 2010

Green Writing Room  Grapes, 2011

2nd State Room Marble Chair, 2008

3rd State Room, Bowl of Pearls, 2006

Long Library  Divina Proportione, 2006

Long Library  Study of Perspective, 1995-2011

Study of Perspective, 1995-2011

Study of Perspective, 1995-2011

The Chapel  Cube, 2009  

South Park  Bubble, 2008

Secret Garden  Oil Spills, 2006

Secret Garden  Waterdrop, 2009

Secret Garden  Rock, 2009

Pillar, 2007

Gallery  New York Photographs 1983-1993

Blenheim Palace

Ai Weiwei