Tuesday 4 August 2015

The Illumination of Houghton Hall

As the centerpiece of the exhibition, 'Lightscape: James Turrell at Houghton', the 7th Marquess of Cholomndeley commissioned the celebrated American light sculptor to create a site specific piece; 'The Illumination'. Every Friday and Saturday evening this summer, at dusk, the west front of Houghton Hall is bathed in a colour display that slowly evolves over an hour to highlight components of the Palladian masterpiece. Visitors are provided with deckchairs and  blankets. Sharing a bottle of prosecco, there is no better way to spend an evening in England this summer. Dreams are made of this.

Friday 24 July 2015

Stag Gallery, Fontainebleu

The  spectacular Stag Gallery (Galerie des Cerfs) at Fontainebleu  was created for Henri IV.

It was decorated on three walls by Louis Poisson around 1600, with oblique views of the royal forests and residences.

 The Gallery was named after the antlers from stags hunted in the surrounding forests, some of the finest hunting in France, that are mounted on 20 identical  stags heads made of plaster.

It was in the Stag Gallery at Fontainebleu that Queen Christina of Sweden had her grand equerry, rumoured to have been her lover, Monaldeschi assassinated on 10 November, 1657 and so it is said in her presence.

The Stag Gallery now houses the copies of the antique sculptures from the Vatican collection that were cast by Primaticcio for Francis I. The bronzes were cast at Fontainebleu.


In the 18th century the Gallery was divided up to provide accommodation for Louis XV and Louis XVI's children. In 1860 Napoleon III had the partitions removed and that led to the discovery of the original decoration which was then restored to its appearance today.

Sunday 5 July 2015

Fouquet, Musee Carnavalet

Although Art Noveau is not this blogger's favourite style an exception has to be made for 'Fouquet'  The jewelers at 6 Rue Royale is by far the most exciting reconstruction of a shop in the Musee Carnavalet.  It had been was designed by Alphonse Mucha in 1901;  he had already designed jewellery for Georges Fouquet.

The shop was itself conceived as a jewellery case. The design elevates the decorative at the expense of the practical, creating an Art Nouveau masterpiece.

Saturday 4 July 2015

Great Stables, Chantilly

According to legend the Prince of Bourbon-Conde believed in reincarnation and, naturally,  thought he would return as a horse. So the Great Stables (Les Grands Ecurie ) that he built at Chantilly were to be a palace for horses. According to the Prince of Ligne the Great Stables were "superior to the palaces of many kings".

The Great Stables were commissioned by Louis-Henri de Bourbon, Prince of Conde (1692-1740). He was the son of Louis III de Bourbon and Mademoiselle de Nantes, the legitimate daughter of King Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan. A grandson of the King, he was a member of the Regency council, then the King's Council after the coronation of Louis XV in 1722, before becoming prime minister in 1723.

Louis- Henri de Bourbon- Conde inherited the Chantilly Estate in 1710. Among the 'improvements' he made to the Estate were the Great Stables, built between 1719 and 1735  from the architect Jean Aubert. The Great Stables were his masterpiece. Monumental in scale, the facade is 186 meters long.

In the centre of the facade is the pavillion crowned with a 28 meter high dome surmounted with a statue of  Fame,  melted down during the Revolution, and  replaced in 1989.

Inside the domed pavillion is a fountain decorated with shells and simulated stalactites. The basin was once adorned with lead figures of horses and dolphins but these were lost in the Revolution. Four lead stags still adorn the pavillion.

The Great Stables housed 240 horses the majority of which which were used by the prince and his guests for hunting.

This magnificent building has been  described as the most beautiful stables in the world. It was the site of festivities held in honour of Chantilly's many illustrious visitors including Louis XV; Gustav III, King of Sweden and Grand Duke Paul, the future Tsar Paul I of Russia.

Behind the stables were three courtyards . Around one of them  were the coach houses where the Prince's Berlins (coaches) and caleches  (open carriages) were housed. Another courtyard was a riding school, 40 meters in diameter used for the training and display of Haute Ecole horsemanship that was surrounded by monumental arcades supported by  Ionic columns.

The third courtyard were surrounded by the kennels. The Prince kept seventy five couple of hounds for his favourite pastime; hunting.

The stables were still under construction on the death of Prince Louis-Henri de Bourbon-Conde. Some of the intended sculptures were still missing from the north-west facade. However the Conde princes continued to use the stables until the Revolution, when Prince Louis V Joseph de  Bourbon-Conde fled France and sold his horses and hounds. The military occupied the stables which saved them from the fate of the chateau which was burnt down.

In 1814, the Prince of Conde returned to Chantilly and resumed hunting, continuing the equestrian tradition of Chantilly.

Today the Grand Stables are the magnificent backdrop to Chantilly Racecourse (Hippodrome de Chantilly). The first race was run here on the right-handed track on 15 May 1834. In 1886 the Duke of Aumale donated the racecourse and stables, with the rest of the Chantilly Estate to the Institut de France. Chantilly hosts two of the French Classics, in the first week of June the Prix de Jockey Club, the French 'Derby' for three year old colts and the Prix de Diane, the French 'Oaks' for three year old fillies.

In 1982 the living Museum of the Horse was opened in the Great Stables and in 2006 the museum was acquired by the Foundation for Safe-Keeping and Development of the Chantilly Domain, presided over by HH Aga Khan V.

Monday 29 June 2015

Kenwood Dairy

In 1789 William Murray, Lord Chief Justice, 1st Earl of Mansfield bought "the Singularly Valuable and truly desirable Freehold and Tithe Free Estate", Millfield Farm. The farm had been described in The Morning Herald in an advertisement that played on the arcadian sensibility then at the height of fashion as;

"The beautifully elevated situation of this estate, happily ranks it above all others round London, as the most charming spot where the Gentlemen and the Builder may exercise their taste in the erection of Villas, many of which can be so delightfully placed as to command the richest home views of wood and water and the distant views of the Metropolis, with the surrounding counties of Essex, Surrey and Berkshire."

The appearance of the Kenwood Estate today largely derives from the late 18th century, when the 2nd Earl of Mansfield employed Humphrey Repton to enhance the grounds. Louisa, daughter of Lord Cathcart had married Lord Stormont, the 2nd Earl Mansfield in 1776, as his second wife, 31 years his junior. She was passionate about agricultural improvement and it was she that was responsible for the dairies at Scone Palace and Kenwood.

The Kenwood dairy was designed for Louisa, Countess of Mansfield by George Saunders between 1794 and 1795. (It replaced the earlier dairy presided over by Dido Belle.) The dairy is composed of three pavillions, a small octagonal tea room, a 'Dairy House' and a 'Scullery' with an ice house underneath. Under Louisa's supervision the Dairy provided the house with milk, butter, cream and cheese.

The popularity of dairies in the 18th century had been influenced by the Queen Marie-Antoinette's dairies at the chateaux of Versailles and Rambouillet which Louisa may well have seen when her husband was ambassador to France.

It was most likely to have been Louisa who commissioned the painting of Kenwood's longhorn cattle.

J.C. Ibbetson, Long-horned cattle at Kenwood, 1797. (detail)

Wednesday 24 June 2015

Inveraray Castle

Inveraray Castle  was the creation of Archibald Campbell, 3rd Duke of Argyll. He inherited the title from his brother on October 4, 1743, at the age of 61. He decided to to create for himself a completely new  castle. So he engaged the Palladian neo-Classical architect Roger Morris to design it for him. The castle he designed is a set on a square plan with turrets at each corner and a central tower that emerges through the middle of the building. 

The central tower incorporates a hall with two flanking stairs that rise from the entrance level. Running around the hall and stairs were three floors of rooms and a garret on top for the servants accommodation. The Armoury Hall takes its name from the amazing displays of weapons that elicited comment from Dr Johnson when he visited Inveraray in 1773.

The Dining Room was painted in the 1780's with images of the seasons from Herculaneum by two french painters Girard and Guinland..

The Tapestry Drawing Room is hung with Beauvais tapestries commissioned by the 5th Duke in 1785. Known as Pastorales draperies bleues et arabesques, after J.B.Huet, it is thought to be the only set of 18th century tapestries still hanging in the room for which they were made. The painting is of the 5th Duke's daughter, Lady Charlotte Campbell as 'Aurora', by John Hoppner. 

It comes as a wonderful surprise to find  a room of such sophisticated and exquisite 18th century Parisian taste should be found in such a remote location as Inveraray.

Torquil Campbell, the present, 13th Duke inherited the title in 2001. He uses the castle as his family home.

The decorative painting, by Girard was carried out between 1785 and 1788.  His painting on the shutters is exquisite. 

In the corner of the Drawing Room, concealed behind a pair of double doors, covered with tapestry is the China Turret. The display cabinets contain a wonderful collection of Oriental and European porcelain.

The 5th Duke commissioned Edinburgh born architect Robert Mylne to reconfigure and complete the interiors. Mylne reversed the castle, moving the main entrance from the south to the north side. The former entrance hall was converted into a saloon.

The MacArthur Room is named after the State bed of the MacArthurs of Loch Awe,  hung, of course, with the Campbell tartan. 

The Victorian Room commemorates the marriage in 1871 of Lord Lorne, later the 9th Duke, to Queen Victoria's daughter, Princess Louise.