Saturday, 22 October 2016

Own work: The Green Man II

Taking a break from the Rustiche series I've returned to other themes that attract me.  One of those is the Green Man.  I think this may require further work....

Own work: Life Drawing XXIX

After a week off back to the Life Drawing studio - the final session before half term.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Own work: The Rustiche of Sebastiano Serlio

I've now completed fifteen pictures in the Rustiche series from the Extraordinario Libro d'Architettura of Sebastiano Serlio.  Half way.  So I'm taking a rest, and for a few months will be drawing and painting other things!

Own work: Life drawing XXVIII

From Thursday's life drawing class.  Not happy with either.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

London and Walsingham

It's been an eventful week.  A week ago today I took the train into town and a wonderful party at the Art Workers Guild in London's Bloomsbury.  Think architecture meets interior design, meets journalism, meets academia, meets literary London.  The host was my friend Ben Pentreath; the occasion was the launch of his stylish new book 'English Houses'.  With beautiful photography by Jan Baldwin its a lavish, seductive book.  The hall of the Guild (by F W Troup 1914) was decorated in the best Pentreathian manner with armfuls of dahlias that Charlie, Ben's husband, had brought up from their house in Dorset. I'm sure the waiters had been chosen for their looks as well as there hospitality skills. In the long years of caring it was the sort of invitation that came along rarely, and one that would be invariably declined.  The logistics of it would have been just too much hassle. Initial nerves were overcome, and I had a lovely evening meeting new people and catching up with old friends. I briefly met Ben's business partner Bridie Hall (it was her birthday) and Max, her dog and a total charmer.  Ben and Gabby Deeming, the Decoration Director of House & Garden magazine, both made speeches.  And I left with my copy of 'English Houses' autographed.  'Result', as they say.

The other event of the week was of a totally different nature. And one I'm reticent to speak of, partly because at times I am such a piss-poor christian, but that was in its quiet way such a profound experience that I feel compelled to share.  On Saturday I joined a local pilgrimage party and headed east across the great, flat extent of the Fens and into Norfolk and to Walsingham. Here is my post from last year.  The morning's weather was superb again.  Walsingham has this amazing air of serenity that, I think, is quite unique. The sun was warm and the apple trees were heavy with fruit in the garden of St Seraphim's church, like a painting by Samuel Palmer. The afternoon was, however, unfortunately wet.  After attending two indifferent services in the Anglican shrine (Pilgrim Mass and Sprinkling - both meagre food for pilgrims) I found myself attending Orthodox vespers upstairs at the Anglican Shrine.  The chapel was minute - hardly really more than a landing.  So narrow a space that the iconstasis had room only for two doors instead of the usual three.  An elderly priest lead the service, supported by a choir of one - I think it was his wife. From such meagre resources was created something incredibly moving, incredibly spiritual and powerful. Numinous. Transcendent.  The congregation varied between two and seven, but that didn't matter.  It had a deep integrity that somehow what was going on downstairs simply did not possess.  I've been attracted to Orthodoxy for a long time, but rarely attended a service.  The opportunity has rarely arisen.  To attend therefore something that is so freighted with expectation is to risk disappointment.  I needn't have worried, the experience exceeded expectation.  I need to return.

At Home

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Houghton Hall III: The Interior

For visitors. paying, entrance to the house is under the west perron.  Beyond the austere porch we found ourselves in a vast dim space: the 'Colonnades' which runs under the 'state centre' for the entire depth of the house. How much darker it would have been when the east perron was in place.  It explains too why the windows of the 'rustic' are longer than those illustrated in the Vitruvius. The 'Colonnades' (Cruikshank) or 'Arcades' (Girouard & Hussey - see, back to the confusion!) forms the heart of the 'rustic' - dedicated, as Lord Harvey said, to 'hunters, hospitality, noise, dirt and business'.  It was on this floor that Walpole held his twice yearly 'congresses' when he entertained the local gentry and all lived 'up to the chin in beef, venison, geese, turkeys, etc. and generally over the chin in claret, strong beer and punch.'  Lord Harvey again.  Some of the side rooms are likely to have fitted out by Ripley, others by Gibbs.  Opposite each other in the very centre of the house are door leading to the two staircases.  We, like all visitors, used the south staircase - the Great Stair.
In my post about the interior of Belton House I remarked on how close the plan of that house, and innumerable other English country houses are close to the French manner of planning a country house.  For all of it's much vaunted Palladianism Houghton is no exception. As Mark Girouard wrote in 'Life in the English Country House' Neo Palladiansim' often represented nothing more than a 'change of uniform'.  If anything the plan of piano nobile is closer, in some respects, to the French ideal than Belton.  Certainly the plan is much more rational, and in fact is very simple: the 'state centre' runs e-w; at right angles to that are four apartments each one arranged enfilade and occupying' as it were, the corners of the house and separating the apartments are service rooms - stairs, dressing rooms etc. (there are no closets).  Each side of the house therefore forms an 'apartement double' - a plan form introduced by Le Vau at Vieux-le-Vicomte (1657-61). There are indeed a number of parallels in the history of both houses.  The plan at Houghton also follows that of Ragley in Warwickshire (1679-83) designed by Sir Robert Hooke, and a sketch design of an unbuilt house that it is believed to be by William Talman. Much is often made of the clear contrast the public nature of the piano nobile of a house like this and the domestic of the ground floor 'Rustic'.  At Houghton, however, this was never as clear cut.  The two southern apartments were used by the family; Sir Robert taking the south west one; and the south west one eventually becoming a common parlour and the bedroom the library.  The piano nobile became divided into public and family spaces sharing the 'state centre'.  It is an arrangement that was followed, and became formalized, in the construction of Hagley, Worscestershire, (1753-9).
In c.1727 William Kent was brought into decorate the house (raising the interesting possibility he worked with or under James Gibbs) and his work in the state apartments is stunning.  His work on the Great Stair less so.  Kent was a poor painter, a better architect and a superb interior designer and gardener.  Even at Houghton is it is possibly better not look too closely at his painted work.  He was a protege of that arch-palladian Lord Burlington, but his work is far more varied and eclectic a designer than his association with milord Burlington would suggest.  In fact Kent had trained as a painter in Italy in the Late Baroque tradition, and there is a feeling in his work that he is straining at the leash to be let loose.  His work at Houghton is of astonishing richness.  The state apartments form a real schatzkammer, even if they do not contain the art that originally decorated the walls.  The first room the visitor enters is the Stone Hall - a great 40ft cube of a room, and the eastern of the two rooms that form the 'state centre'.  It is the same size as the cube room in the Queens House at Greenwich by Jones. The ceiling has a great Baroque cove to it, based on the sort of cove Inigo Jones used later in his career when he was more influenced by contemporary French taste than Palladio.  Ironic really, as it is possible to see Neo-Palladianism as an attempt to dethrone French taste in Britain and replace it with the Italian.  The carved detail here and on the Great Stair are based on the details found in Coleshill - a house then thought to be by Jones but was in fact designed Sir Roger Pratt. Beyond that is the salon with its deep walls of Genoa velvet, and a fantastical ceiling that seems to combine that sort of Baroque form favoured by Wren (eg. St Lawrence Jewry) and the English Baroque school, with Renaissance detailing and painted in the manner of Guilo Romano, with a central panel painted in full blooded Italian Baroque.  The other State Rooms follow this pattern adding a good dash of contemporary French decoration in the manner of Jean Berain to the mix.  The furniture, which Kent also designed, too is a mixture of the Roman Baroque, the Antique and the contemporary French. It all culminates for me in the quite staggering Dining Parlour Kent created out of the withdrawing room in the NE apartment.  There he clad the walls in marble and alabaster and decorated the ceiling in the Italian Renaissance style.  Almost overwhelming.  Kent I suspect, had much more in common with Wren, Hawksmoor and Gibbs than has been suspected.  All of them took a stylistically eclectic, pragmatic, and contextual approach to design, and I think Kent did the same.
All of this is in deep contrast to the two rooms in the family side of the house which were open to the public: simple panelling and plaster ceilings.  Domestic, and rather pleasing
In 1742 Walpole fell from grace, and three years later he was dead.  As his youngest son, Horace, wrote; 'It is certain he is dead very poor; his debts amount to £50,000, his estate a nominal £8,000 a year, much mortgaged.'  The family struggled on, but in 1779 the 3rd Earl was forced to sell Sir Robert's entire art collection to Catherine the Great of Russia, and with the death of Sir Robert's youngest son, and 4th Earl, Horace the estate passed to the Chomondeleys.