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Sunday, 20 November 2016

A Treasure House

I can't think of a better pastime to brighten up a dreary November day (here in the UK at least) than looking through my photos from my last visit to the Wallace Collection at Hertford House in London.

Portrait of society beauty Nelly O'Brien by Joshua Reynolds
Beginning in the 18th century, the collection is the work of the Marquesses of Hertford. The first Marquess purchased works by Canaletto and Reynolds and was followed by his son who added to the collection with more works by Reynolds, as well as his rival portrait painter in fashionable circles, Romney, and fine examples of French furniture and art.

Miss Jane Bowles by Reynolds

The third Marquess, an unpleasant man who was mainly interested in leading a dissipated life did, fortunately for us, find time to collect more treasures, especially  the start of the collection's Dutch and Italian works, including a Titian and Rembrandt.

It was the fourth Marquess, however, who collected on a grand scale, adding magnificent examples of French furniture and works by French, Italian, Dutch and British artists. Among these are many of the highlights of the collection, for example The Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals and Fragonard's famous The Swing or as it's rather cheekily known, The Best View in the House.

 After the fourth Marquess's death, the collection, and much of his vast fortune, passed to his illegitimate son, Richard Jackson, whose name was eventually changed to Wallace. Richard Wallace, who was a philanthropist as well as a man of great taste, preserved and increased the collection, indulging his love of Renaissance and medieval art and his interest in armoury.

Medieval cup made of  crystal quartz

His widow then took charge and after her death, Hertford House became a museum. There, the richness of the collection is matched by impressive architecture and sumptuous interiors. A visit is a treat at any time of the year, and particularly as the dull days of winter advance.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Glorious Sudeley

This month's header picture shows the glorious autumn colour of the Long Border at Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire. Sudeley is best known for its associations with Queen Katherine Parr, the sixth wife of Henry VIII who survived him to marry her former sweetheart, Thomas Seymour, and come to live at Sudeley. Sadly, Katherine died there shortly after giving birth to their only daughter, Mary, whose fate is unknown.
The Tomb of Queen Katherine
After a golden period in the Tudor era, with a notable visit from Elizabeth I and her vast retinue that almost bankrupted the family, Sudeley fell to the Roundheads in the English Civil War. The castle was 'slighted' meaning that its roof was removed and it was made indefensible. Two centuries of decline followed as weather and the depredations of local builders looking for materials did their worst.
Stained glass panel at Sudeley showing Queen Elizabeth I in the Armada dress
Parts of the castle are still ruined.
In its ruined state, however, the castle appealed to the 18th century passion for the picturesque and was visited by parties of sightseers. It was in 1782 that one such party of ladies noticed an alabaster slab on the wall of the ruined chapel. They found local men to dig against the wall and a lead coffin was revealed - the coffin of Katherine Parr. The coffin was opened and the Queen's remains, wrapped in linen, were found to be remarkably well preserved but, sadly, with exposure to air they started to deteriorate. By the time they were removed to their present resting place in Sudeley's Victorian chapel, all that remained was a handful of dust.