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Exhibitions at Harewood

Professor Ann Sumner on the Chippendale Diana and Minerva Commode

In her first blog as part of the Chippendale 300 series sponsored by Christie’s, Harewood’s Historic Collections Adviser Professor Ann Sumner shares her research on one of the most spectacular pieces of Thomas Chippendale furniture in the Harewood collection.

The Diana and Minerva Commode, 1773, usually on display in the State Bedroom, is currently displayed in the Ante Room as part of the exhibition Designer, Maker, Decorator.

The Diana and Minerva Commode is one of the most famous pieces of Thomas Chippendale furniture in the world. It is the finest of a distinguished group of marquetry furniture that was supplied to Edwin Lascelles in the 1770s for the interior of his new house at Harewood. A commode is the term used to describe an elaborate chest of drawers popularised in France, which in turn, became much desired in England too. This commode was designed as a tripartite breakfront dressing commode and is generally considered to be Chippendale’s finest Neo-Classical masterpiece, with its superb craftsmanship and the elegant lines of its distinctive rectilinear design, along with splayed sides and decorative motifs of swags of husks, repeated garlands of flowering acanthus leaves and radiating fans. The main feature is the central concave recess with superbly executed ‘trompe l’oeil’ marquetry, enabling a lady to sit in front of it and use the central compartmented drawer.

Detail showing the acanthus leaves design.

 

A status symbol

The Diana and Minerva commode was supplied for the State Dressing Room (now the Spanish Library) in November 1773 and the Harewood bill described it in much more detail than any other item for the room – ‘A very large rich Commode with exceeding fine Antique Ornaments curiously inlaid with various fine woods . . .  with Diana and Minerva and their Emblems Curiously inlaid & Engraved’. This would indicate that although it was not the most expensive item in the room, it was highly regarded by the maker who so carefully described it. Chippendale only detailed truly exceptional furniture in such terms and the use of ivory in particular was reserved for only his firm’s most sumptuous marquetry work. The cost of the commode was £86 and a protective leather cover was also supplied for a further £1 to prevent fading.

An extract from the original bill in which Chippendale describes the Diana and Minerva commode, 1773.

The piece takes its name from the two Roman goddesses represented in dark roundels facing each other on either side of a feminine concave central section. The first is Diana, the goddess of hunting, with her emblem of the crescent moon, bow and hunting dog, and the second is Minerva, the goddess of learning and the arts – often seen as a patron of the arts – with her helmet, spear and shield representing her interest in war. Both are appropriate for the patron Edwin Lascelles, with his patronage of the arts and enthusiasm for country pursuits. The roundels are surrounded by laurel wreaths.

Details of the two roundels containing the Roman goddesses, Diana, the goddess of hunting and Minerva, the goddess of learning and the arts.

The State Dressing Room in which this commode was situated is described as being ‘Thirty feet by twenty-four; the furniture green and gold’ with a ‘chimney-piece of white marble’ in the History of Leeds guidebook of 1797. This elegant commode would originally have been displayed to best advantage situated under a superb mirror on the pier between the two windows in this luxurious room, adjacent to the State Bedroom. The ‘very large pier Glass’ sited above the commode cost Edwin Lascelles £290. Today in the current exhibition, the mirrored display helps give an idea of how the commode would have looked with a mirror above it. The Chippendale firm further supplied two large ‘richly Carved’ sofas costing together £64, with green serge protective covers at £5 10s. There were also twelve ‘Carved Cabriole’ armchairs which matched those in the bedchamber ‘gilt in burnished Gold, Covered’, costing a further £120, with their covers at £6.6s. The walls were richly hung with green damask as in the State Bedroom, finished with an ‘Antique Border gilt in Burnished Gold’ and there was a ‘very Elegant Chimney glass’. Green was a popular colour in the 1770s and in this case, the damask had been purchased by Edwin directly, demonstrating how engaged he was in the decorating of his new home. This commode was conceived as a piece of ‘parade’ furniture, used as a symbol of status and wealth and was ‘paraded’ formally against the walls to both impress, reflect and harmonise with Robert Adam’s elaborate interior decorative scheme. Commodes quickly assumed the status of the most prestigious type of ornamental cabinet furniture. Although commissioned for the State Dressing Room, the commode is usually displayed in the State Bedroom against the green damask walls, following restoration of the room in 1999 – 2000.

Detail of the inside of the coved door.

 

Craftsmanship

The main carcass of the commode was made of mahogany (the most common cabinet wood used in the 18th century and favoured by Chippendale more than any other tropical wood), oak and pine. The thin veneer ground is golden satinwood from the West Indies, which would have been carefully hand-cut and inlaid with dyed exotic tropical hardwoods such as rosewood and tulipwood. The sheen of the satinwood, applied with the grain going in various directions, gives the piece a jewel-like quality, catching the light at differing angles. The pictorial roundels representing the goddesses are inlaid with expensive ebony and ivory. Some of the inlaid woods were stained a variety of colours, whilst others were finely engraved with details such as leaf veins or scorched on the edges by being dipped in hot sand to give a 3-D quality. Engraving is employed with cross-hatching applied to the precious ivory as well, to highlight facial features and areas of flesh for the goddesses. The coved door is also a unique feature in Chippendale’s work and achieved by steaming strips of mahogany to shape them, using a technique similar to barrel making. The concave sides accommodated the hanging of curtains since the commode was placed on the pier, between the windows where it was originally sited.

Detail of the central, finely executed coved door with trompe d’oeil marquetry.

The top of the commode illustrating the beautiful marquetry and the extended open compartmentalised drawer.

The exquisite marquetry top would have been reflected in the mirror above, highlighting the detailed craftsmanship. The inlay colour scheme was predominantly pink and green, but despite the protective covers, the commode has faded and originally the marquetry would have been much brighter. Overall, the high technical finish is outstanding, as is the rich ormolu decoration. It is not known if this decorative brasswork was actually made in the Chippendale workshop as possibly the casting and chasing may have been sub-contracted, although there was a forge in the premises at St Martin’s Lane which suggests that he may have employed a brazier himself. It is key to note, as has been pointed out recently by James Lomax, that the use of ormolu is restricted to the stiff leaf scrolled brackets in the entablature. Although the Diana and Minerva commode was a piece of ‘parade’ furniture, it has functional elements such as the top dressing drawer which still contains neatly fitted, lidded and boxed compartments with the original glass cosmetic bottles and comb trays, and would originally also have had a fitted mirror.

The level of craftsmanship throughout the State Dressing Room was superb, but the Diana and Minerva commode was the outstanding piece, with its eloquent marquetry designs, intricate ivory inlay and drawers that still whisper shut, demonstrating the technical brilliance of the workshop where it was produced. The classical theme of the commode reflected the image of Edwin’s home, where the ancient Roman ideal of cultivated leisure on a country estate would be enjoyed by all. In total, the cost of furnishing the State Dressing Room to this luxurious standard was over £1,000 and within this context, the Diana and Minerva commode seems particularly reasonably priced at £86. It is often compared with the Renishaw commode, originally designed by Chippendale for the Dining Room at Melbourne House in Piccadilly for Lord Melbourne, which was however never intended to be a dressing commode. There it was seen by Thomas Mouat on a tour with Chippendale’s financial partner, Thomas Haig. Mouat recalls that the commode cost £140, making it far more expensive than the Harewood Diana and Minerva commode. Of course, the price might have been exaggerated by Haig or it might have been more expensive because of the larger amount of ormolu decoration. It also differs from the Harewood commode in that holly is used as the principal veneer, which has faded. The Renishaw commode was acquired at auction in 1802 by Sir Sitwell Sitwell of Renishaw in Derbyshire, where it remains today, hence the name ‘Renishaw commode’.

As with other rooms in the house, the décor of the State Dressing Room was transformed quite quickly with the arrival of family portraits. The History of Leeds guidebook in 1797 describes the State Dressing Room, some 25 years after it was completed, as already having the famous portraits of Edwin Lascelles’ step-daughters hanging in it – ‘The pictures of the Countess of Harrington and Lady Worsley, by Sir Joshua Reynolds’ (p 102). Despite the fame and admiration for this commode today, it is not singled out in this guidebook or by early visitors to the house for particular attention or praise. The commode is part of a group of celebrated marquetry pieces at Harewood, all dating to the 1770s, including the marquetry satinwood fall-front secretaire, inset with oval medallions enclosing a classical urn and reclining figure, which can be viewed in the State Bedroom today and a magnificent semi-circular table made originally for the Yellow Drawing Room, which has emblematic heads inlaid with ebony and ivory also.

Sir Charles Barry’s alterations to the interior of Harewood produced a house well suited to the complex structure of aristocratic Victorian society and improved domestic organisation. The State Dressing Room became a breakfast room with the addition of bookshelves and was situated next to the Countess’ Sitting Room, overlooking the new parterre. With this change of function, the beautiful Diana and Minerva commode moved to the Countess’s Sitting Room, the original State Bedroom, where it remained for many years, even when this room was Princess Mary’s Sitting Room and it was used by her, as her son the 7th Earl of Harewood remembered. It has found a permanent home in the State Bedroom since the restoration of this room in 2000. For the exhibition ‘Designer, Maker, Decorator’, the commode is for the first time displayed using mirrors to show aspects of the commode to full advantage, just as the original pier mirror would have done in the State Dressing Room, enabling visitors to see the details of the design, quality of the materials used and outstanding craftsmanship in detail.

Rebecca Burton, Collections Assistant, giving visitors a rare opportunity to see the central compartmentalised drawer opened for them to view in the exhibition. See the Diana and Minerva Commode in the ‘Thomas Chippendale: Designer, Maker, Decorator’ exhibition at Harewood House until 2nd September, 2018.

With thanks to James Lomax for discussions about the Diana and Minerva commode. For a full comparison between the Diana and Minerva commode and the Renishaw commode see James Lomax The Panshanger Cabinets in Context, 21 July 2017, on the Firle website under House, Family and Collection articles.

Professor Ann Sumner, Historic Collections Adviser, April 2018

Look out for Ann’s next blog in May when she shares her interview with Dr Adam Bowett, Chairman of the Chippendale Society and more on her paper about what early visitors thought of the Chippendale interiors at Harewood when they first saw them in the late 18th century.

Kindly supported by

2018

A big thank you to all of our visitors and members who supported us in 2017!

We are very much looking forward to 2018 and this year, we will be doing things a little bit differently, with a changing theme for every season.

In the Spring, we will be celebrating the 300th anniversary of Chippendale’s birth. Through a series of exhibitions, events and activities, Designer, Maker, Decorator offers a new way of looking at Chippendale’s work and a story unique to Harewood. Chippendale was born just 7 miles down the road from Harewood in the town of Otley and in 1767, he received the largest commission of his career, to furnish the newly built Harewood House. The season will also include a contemporary response to Chippendale from artist Geraldine Pilgrim, with both internal and external installations.

Throughout the Summer, we will be working in creative partnership with Lord Whitney, looking at life at Harewood at the end of the First World War. Seeds of Hope will explore the life and experiences of the local community and the people who lived and worked at Harewood during this period. Featuring crops, livestock and exhibits that will take visitors back in time, we will create a picture of the Walled Garden as it was in 1918.

Towards the end of the year, our thoughts will turn to artisans, designers and the contemporary with exhibitions, installations and events that celebrate craft.

Throughout the year, we will also have an exciting range of external events taking place, from our ever-popular annual Great British Food Festival and Rolls Royce Rally, to Classic Ibiza – a new, family friendly addition to our events programme.

Look out for more details and a full programme coming shortly. We look forward to welcoming our visitors and members for this exciting year ahead when we re-open on Friday 23rd March.

Harewood Launches New Frank Walter Exhibition

Visit Harewood House in Yorkshire to see Frank Walter exhibition

Harewood House Trust is delighted to exhibit 63 paintings by the Caribbean artist Frank Walter (1926-2009). These works have never been seen together in England before.  The majority are landscapes, including many of trees purposely selected to resonate with Harewood’s Capability Brown landscape. Apparently simple, they beautifully depict real and imaginary vistas which speak with an unmistakable visionary voice.

Frank Walter (Francis Archibald Wentworth Walter), self-styled 7th Prince of the West Indies, Lord of Follies and the Ding-a-Ding Nook, was born in Antigua in 1926. Walter was hugely talented as an artist and writer, although somewhat flawed by an obsession with his ancestral lineage which he believed linked him with the aristocratic families of Europe including Charles II (through his mistress Lucy Walter), Franz Joseph of Austria and the Dukes of Buccleuch.

His fragile mental state became more apparent and for the last 25 years of his life, Walter removed himself from society, living in an isolated shack on an Antiguan hillside, painting on all sorts of material including discarded Polaroid boxes and LP covers.

His rich legacy includes several hundred paintings and carvings, as well as 25,000 pages of his thoughts on every conceivable subject including history, philosophy, religion and science.

In 1958, he travelled to Leeds (probably Chapeltown from the description) working in poorly paid part-time jobs – feather packer, a lamp manufacturer, boot factory, floor sweeper. He was pretty much starving, which may account for some of his almost hallucinatory writing. He was researching his real and imaginary genealogy in Leeds central Library.

In 1960, he went to Scotland which had a great effect on him as he felt so strongly connected to the country through his family legacy.

Flamboyant Trees has been made possible with support from the Ingleby Gallery in Edinburgh who have championed the artist’s work in the UK and internationally. Richard Ingleby, Director of the Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh said:

“It is terrific to see this exhibition of Frank Walter’s paintings at Harewood House and I suspect that the delusions of grandeur from which he suffered would have encouraged him to see it as an appropriate setting. The view out across fields from the Terrace at Harewood seems especially fitting for an exhibition that includes so many of Walter’s paintings of trees, some of which were inspired by the time that he spent in Yorkshire and Scotland in the 1950s, before returning to the Caribbean and a life of self imposed isolation. These gloriously fresh and directly painted landscapes have an anthropomorphic quality – as if he were painting his friends, or recording a kind of companionship still offered by trees when people had long since let him down.”

Nicola Stephenson, Exhibitions and Projects Producer at Harewood House Trust said:

“Harewood is particularly delighted to exhibit a selection of paintings by Frank Walter this summer when Leeds is also celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Leeds Carnival and the contribution of the Caribbean community to our wider cultural life. Walter was a complex man – an artist, a writer and philosopher; since his death in 2009 there has been a growing recognition of his work.”

Frank Walter’s work is now highly sought after by collectors and this year, marks Antigua and Barbuda’s inaugural representation at the 57th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia with an exhibition of Walter’s paintings, sculpture, audio recordings and writing.

Read more about the exhibition here.

Dining in Style – Victorian service in the State Dining Room

Visit Harewood to see a milliefiori service

Visitors to Harewood House this spring bank holiday (14th April – 17th April 2017) will be treated to a fantastic table display in the State Dining Room. Emulating a Victorian dinner service, the stunning table is decorated with beautiful millefiori glassware service and silver candelabra.

Daily throughout the spring bank holiday, our guides will be giving a free, introductory talk at 11:30 on food and drink for visitors in the State Floor.

About the Millefiori Service

Baccarat enamelled and gilt glass service in the Venetian-style with flower-sprays (millefiori) inset and gilt foliage. Cut star on plates, white foliage on wine glasses. Dated pre-1864 (as recorded in Hamilton Palace inventory).

The term millefiori is a combination of the Italian words “mille” (thousand) and “fiori” (flowers) used to describe a distinctive glass pattern. This flower like pattern is produced by heating a bundle of thin glass rods of different colours until the rods fuse together.  It is a term that came into common usage in the Victorian period and was included in the Oxford English Dictionary from 1849.

Visit Yorkshire to see porcelain and glassware at Harewood

This millefiori service at Harewood consists of 242 pieces: two tier centre pieces, vases and covers, tazzas, bowl, bowls on feet, small and medium plates, dishes, finger bowls, wine glasses, liqueur glasses, tumblers, water jugs and decanters.

This spring bank holiday you will see one third of the service laid out on the State Dining Room table.  The ‘service à la française’ was a style of dining popular in the Victorian period where various dishes for a meal are served at the same time, contrary to ‘service à la russe’, where dishes were brought to each guest by a footman.

On the State Dining Room table this spring you will also see sugared almonds, fruits and flavoured jellies, all common sweet treats served at a Victorian dinner party.

Below Stairs, you can see copper moulds used for jellies by 19th century chefs in the Old Kitchen.

A Unique Provenance

Tracing the provenance of items such as this service can be challenging. We found a reference in the Chesterfield House Inventory from 1920, (the London home of the 6th Earl of Harewood) as ‘coming from Hamilton Palace’.

From recent discussions with the Museum of Scotland, we know the service was originally purchased by the 11th Duke and Duchess of Hamilton for their new London townhouse before it was taken to Hamilton Palace in Scotland sometime between 1866 and 1870.

Hamilton Palace, located 10 miles from Glasgow, was seat of the Duke of Hamilton from 1642. The superb Hamilton Palace collection consisted of furniture, antiquities, fine and decorative art, and was so grand it rivaled the royal collection.

During the mid-19th century, much of the collection had to be sold due to debts of £1.5 million with the first major sale taking place in 1882.

In 1895, the 13th Duke of Hamilton, Lieutenant Alfred Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, inherited the dukedom, property and debts. These debts led to a final sale and auction which marked the ultimate dispersal of the Hamilton Palace collection in 1919.

The story doesn’t end there; the Palace itself was demolished in 1927 due to subsidence caused by coals mines owned by the Hamilton family.

Visit Leeds to see porcelain and glassware at Harewood House

This bank holiday (14th – 17th April 2017) the service is displayed as part of our year-long focus on Harewood’s Victorian history. See this service for a limited time only and enjoy all the Victorian Harewood displays throughout the House.

Best Season yet at Harewood House

Harewood House Trust Director Jane Marriott

2017 promises to be the most exciting season at Harewood House to date. Many people know Harewood for its wonderful 18th century Adam interiors, wonderful Chippendale furniture and Capability Brown landscapes and yet the Victorian story of Harewood is far less well known.

Queen Victoria came to Harewood House in 1835 as a 17 year old Princess, staying overnight in the State Bedroom and dining in the wonderful Gallery. It is therefore with great pleasure that we welcomed ITV to film their ‘Victoria’ series at Harewood last year. The series chronicles the life of Queen Victoria, starring Jenna Coleman and has been seen by over 7 million people. The House was used as a set, to recreate Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace, including the wonderful Below Stairs storyline in our kitchens.

Visit Leeds to see locations used in ITV's Victoria series

After Prince Albert’s death, Queen Victoria’s reign was characterised by rather formidable images of her in black, but the young Queen understood the importance of dress as an outward expression of her status. Very little remains of the Queen’s original dress, so the costume designers had to work with paintings and historical documents to recreate the final pieces. Set in Harewood’s beautiful Cinnamon Drawing Room and Gallery, costumes worn by Jenna Coleman as Queen Victoria and her Ladies’ in Waiting are on display. These include the dress she wore when she proposed to Prince Albert, the beautiful green shot silk dress from the opening sequence and the sumptuous Coronation Gown.

Harewood’s Victorian history is shaped by 3 other influential ladies of the time. Lady Louisa, the 3rd Countess of Harewood arrived in 1841 with a growing family of 13 children. She set about creating her vision of Harewood to make it more comfortable, efficient and fashionable using the most celebrated architect of the time, Sir Charles Barry, who had recently designed the Houses of Parliament.  Most notable of Lady Louisa’s renovations was the Terrace and as the season develops, please do come and see how the planting in the parterre creates a wonderful tapestry of colour.

Visit Leeds to see paintings of Osborne House at Harewood

Charlotte, Lady Canning, another of Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting, was a renowned watercolourist, painting scenes from her travels and giving Queen Victoria lessons in watercolour painting. Harewood House owns 80 albums of her watercolours and we are delighted to have the opportunity to change this display to reflect her time in India after 1856. This will coincide with the 70th anniversary of the Independence of India, a theme which we will reflect in Gavin Fernandes’ contemporary photographs.

See rare photography at Harewood House in Yorkshire

The 5th Countess, Florence Bridgeman, arrived at Harewood towards the latter half of the Victorian period and developed a passion of photography. The notion of the snapshot was developed at the turn of the century by Kodak, as as photography was now accessible to everyone. Our wonderful collection of informal photographs capture life at Harewood, as friends and family are snapped sledging, sword fighting with sticks and balancing glasses of water on their heads whilst out on the lawn!

As the season develops, we will also spend the summer celebrating one of Queen Victoria’s favourite authors, Lewis Carroll, displaying our first edition of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and taking this as inspiration for a summer packed full of family fun activities.

I am delighted to have joined as Director, as Harewood House is clearly held very dearly in people’s hearts. As a charity it would not be possible to preserve the house, collections and grounds and tell the stories of our history, without our visitors and member’s support. We greatly appreciate that and look forward to welcoming you throughout 2017.