Fashions and trends, and, what’s in and what’s not, isn’t just for clothing, but also interiors. Now I suppose I am a little old fashioned as I have never invested either time or money in the idea that your home needs refreshing every five years or so. That’s my excuse for not noticing that along with the recent weather, it’s all gone grey inside too.
Curiously, the marketing algorithms have gleaned that I am in the process of moving and I have received a slew of emails showing the latest paint colours, wallpapers and soft furnishing fabrics available. Does anybody actually take notice of this type of approach? Personally, I think there’s a whole lot more to rooms than mere products.
Designing and decorating any room, for me, isn’t simply carried out over a weekend on a whim following a perusal of the homes column in the Sunday newspaper and a quick flick through a couple of interior design magazines. It takes time. I don’t know what type of rooms my next home will have, but I know I will be months living in them before I figure out how to use the space efficiently.
During this time the gradual process of generating solutions of how to incorporate most of my old furniture into some kind of coherent whole will proceed one room at a time.
I like most of my old stuff and have no intention of buying anything new unless replacing items that no longer work (sometimes washing machines seize when in storage for too long).
From a bedsit, whilst at university, through to my last home invariably there have been space and light issues. But colour has always been important for me and I use it to set the general tone of any room. However, at the moment I appear to be very out of step as the most fashionable look is all about grey.
Yes, I know grey is a colour, but it doesn’t spring to mind when somebody says colourful, does it? Looking at the above ‘grey’ adverts I can’t image I will be decorating using contemporary greys with my old furniture and handmade rag rugs.
Following on from Oxburgh Hall Part 1 let’s now take a tour of the interior of this National Trust moated manor house. As we wander through the ground floor rooms we find essentially a nineteenth-century, neo-Gothic revival aesthetic. As with any property surviving over 500 years the handful of grand rooms open to visitors is an eclectic mix of period layers, but essentially the top gloss is a Victorian version of Gothic.
The first noteworthy room on the tour is the Saloon. This is a large space built to be a picture gallery by the architect John Tasker in 1775. Today, all is not quite what it seems. For example, beneath the residual Neo-classical frieze (see chandelier photo) is a red Gothic Revival wallpaper. The original Pugin design for a red flock wallpaper was made by J D Crace, but the paper on the walls today is a replica. This large room is also hung with a number of oil paintings that turn out to be mostly 19th-century copies of earlier royal portraits.
There are a few earlier primary pictures such as this portrait of Lady Arundell of Wardour that may have adorned this specific space when it was first built. Lady Arundell was a distant cousin of Sir Henry Arundell Bedingfeld’s (1689-1760) wife. As an interesting and valuable original painting, it was sold from the estate in 1951 before the house was given to the NT. However, in 2007, it was bought back by the NT for £11,250 from an auction at Sotheby’s in London and then restored to Oxburgh Hall.
The decision to style this room, despite its 18th century origins, with royal portrait copies, heavily carved neo-Gothic furniture, flock wallpaper and a 19th-chandelier giving it a high Victorian sensibility, is puzzling. Perhaps this is more a nod to a version of the manor house when it was in its Victorian heyday. Of course, all these derivative oils may have been collected/bought by the Bedingfelds during the 19th century to boost their credentials during the period when the old English Catholic families were returning from exclusion. Interestingly, there is also a question mark as to the authenticity of one of the Oxburgh grand furniture pieces, the splendid Antwerp Cabinet. It looks like a Collectors’ Cabinet that was traditionally made in Antwerp during the period 1650 to 1670, but according to the experts it has features that suggest it may have been constructed in the 19th century to look like an older piece.
The West Drawing Room was also originally a Neo-classical room with floral chintz wallpaper, but was substantially changed in 1865. Today there is a painting by the renowned 18th-century portrait painter Angelica Kauffman hanging to the right of the original Neo-classical fireplace.
It’s a portrait of Mary Walsh also later known as Mrs Ralph Clavering, another Bedingfeld’s wife’s relative. It too was sold in 1951, but in 2008 it was also purchased back at Sotheby’s in London for £79,250 and returned to Oxburgh Hall by the NT. And, here’s what the NT has to tell us about finding the funding to make the purchase. It is an excerpt from their blog – Treasure Hunt, National Trust Collections:
It was clear that we would need significant funds to buy back the personable Mrs Clavering. However, the volunteers who run the second-hand bookshop at Oxburgh generously contributed a substantial sum, and we also managed to secure a grant from the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund. In the end we had just enough to beat off the competition, and the picture is now back at Oxburgh.
Next we walk past the West Staircase which is adorned by the most fascinating painted leather wall covering (early 18th century from the Low Countries), but it’s cordoned off. Then it’s into the library. This room displays more of a wholesome expression of Victorian Gothic as it appears less restored and has a more authentic feel.
Naturally, a library has many books and along with the room’s original Buckler fireplace (1831) and the (mostly original) heavily carved Victorian Gothic furniture, the library contains little groupings of ephemera that bring the room to life.
For example there is a table set with a cut glass decanter, glasses, pipes and matches, and, predictably, a family photograph. Oddly the chosen photograph is not an early photographic portrait – though it could be. They could have used the 19th-century photograph of Margaret Paston who married Sir Henry Bedingfeld in 1826. It was she, together with her husband, who was primarily responsible for the creation of this room. Obviously, the original image cannot be displayed in daylight, but a good quality copy could be easily made.
After the library we walk into the Dining Room which used to be the library during the 18th century. Like much of Oxburgh Hall this is another room reworked by the Victorian architect J C Buckler. During the 1830s Buckler oversaw the installation of the heavily carved wooden panelling some of which also includes earlier carved sections dating from 1635 and 1731. The room has an enchanting atmosphere created by the slightly distressed, gilt and scarlet wallpaper thought to be designed by the Victorian stained glass artist, Thomas Willement.
However, the most beautiful arrangement in the room is the octagonal table in the bay window.
How delightful it would be to sit here, sipping coffee and gazing out over the moat towards the Norfolk countryside.
Morning view towards the south-west.
Morning view towards the north-west.
As National Trust visitors when you enter Oxburgh Hall you turn right, but if you’re “U” then you turn left . . . . . . . . a bit like boarding a plane!
Last November Philip Hook, a senior director at the famous auction house Sotheby’s, published his book about the art business. “Breakfast at Sotheby’s: An A-Z of the Art World” is partly about the art market – the money side, and partly about his 35 years of experience in the art world as an auctioneer and art expert. Reading down his irreverent glossary of words frequently used to describe, discuss and explain art entertained me no end. He takes no prisoners swiping at some of the ridiculous language employed to promote a work of art. For example;
challenging: obscure, incomprehensible or unpleasant, as in “X’s challenging Abattoir Series” difficult: one step beyond “challenging”; applied to a work that is so obscure, incomprehensible or obscene that there’s nothing to do but admit it accessible: euphemism for obvious or superficial (see decorative) decorative: devoid of intellectual substance
Of course there is a serious side to all this. Here’s the conundrum; by its very nature art is primarily a visually experience and any attempt to describe it becomes a translation of the original. Still, we do need a stock of words at our disposal to share our experiences, but so often an ‘in-the-know’ jargon develops and this is what Hook is having fun with. I understand that any academic discipline has its own terminology and from my own experience I know that Art History is littered with special words – signifier is one of my favourites. But any general discussion involving a wider audience needs to be jargon free and clear. We see from Hook’s glossary that ‘decorative’ used about art is now a pejorative term.
Why then is ‘decorative’ a dirty word? I suppose with an intellectual approach to art, content is more valuable that any surface attractive quality. It takes a very secure contemporary artist to make a piece that is remotely decorative. But, if you review what sells at auctions, what is being collected and what commands the higher prices its surprising how often that work with a decorative quality is more sought-after. According to Hook he informs us that some subjects are more popular than others. For example, paintings of interiors have been selling well in recent times. Now, that is not all interiors, that is domestic interiors not the interior of churches etc and preferably paintings by certain, well-known artists such as Bonnard.
Mentioning interiors reminds me of a comment made by one of my Art History professors, ‘Of course you do realise that often when people buy a work of art they consider how it will fit with their overall interior look.’ Hmmm, I don’t know about you, but that is sounding suspiciously as though some art, with or without intellectual substance, is viewed as ‘decorative’! Final thought – just measured my dining room and it’s not big enough for a dead shark in a tank nor will my bank balance stretch to a diamond encrusted skull. Oh well, I’ll just have to make do with this watercolour of an interior.