Or, the art of British country house interiors

April 21, 2013

Brocket Hall

Brocket Hall in Hertfordshire is a large Neoclassical red brick house built for the Lamb family in 1760-1780 [1]. A short 22 miles from London, Brocket Hall has all the charm of a country house while still retaining accessibility to a big city. The illustrious ballroom represented Netherfield Park in the wonderful 1995 miniseries of Pride and Prejudice.


The ballroom at Brocket Hall, also called the dining room or the saloon in various sources, is lined with impressive full-length royal and family portraits. From depictions of Charles I to representations of the Prince Regent with his horse, these works provide a fitting backdrop for Netherfield Park and its much anticipated ball.


Although there is little information available about the identities of the individuals in these very fine 17th, 18th, and 19th century portraits, some of the faces are immediately recognizable. Below on the left is undoubtedly Charles I, with his easily distinguishable facial features and beard. The period between the reign of Charles I and the rise of the House of Hanover in Britain saw a huge growth of portrait collections in country houses [2]; this proliferation is reflected in the artistic holdings of Brocket Hall's ballroom.  In these portraits, visitors can recognize not only the great wealth of the family, to be able to commission or acquire these noteworthy works, but also their connection to the most powerful royal houses of Britain.

Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice

The ballroom at Brocket Hall functions similarly to a traditional country house long gallery. With magnificent royal and family portraits lined up on one side of the wall and large windows opposite letting in natural light, the setup of the ballroom is akin to that of a gallery. They also share the elevated architectural space so important in the display of large portraits [3]. However, while Brocket Hall's ballroom is intended expressly for the gathering of people, long galleries were more for solitary exercise or contemplation of the fine portraits displayed [4]. Still, the impressive qualities of the portraits here have the same effect as paintings displayed in long galleries, with an emphasis on influential familial connections and celebrated relatives.



The Prince Regent, later George IV, was a frequent visitor to Brocket Hall and gave to the house a large portrait of himself, painted by Reynolds in 1784 [5]. This gift can in part be explained by the romantic liaison between the Prince Regent and the wife of the owner of the house. The emphasis on the rump of the horse in the portrait is undoubtedly a pointed message from the Prince Regent to Brocket Hall's cuckolded owner.  Unfortunately, the original portrait was sold in the 1990s during a transitional period between owners, and a copy of that work is now displayed in the ballroom.


Pride and Prejudice 


The concept of a country house as a place to meet and entertain is retained at Brocket Hall still today. Their ballroom provides the space for large groups to dine and socialize, surrounded by impressive royal and family portraits, much as house parties might have functioned in the 18th and 19th centuries in the very same space. Whether it is a present day wedding dinner or corporate meeting, or the first dance of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy at the Netherfield Ball, the ambiance of the Brocket Hall ballroom contributes greatly to an always maintained sense of dignity and importance.

Bibliography:

[1] The National Heritage List for England. “Brocket Hall.” Accessed April 21, 2013. http://list.english-
              heritage.org.uk/resultsingle.aspx?uid=1000540.
[2] Strong, Roy. Introduction to The British Portrait, 1660-1960, 14. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique Collectors’ Club, 
              1991.
[3] Musson, Jeremy. How to Read a Country House. London: Ebury Press, 2005.
[4] Maroon, Fred J. The English Country House: a Tapestry of Ages. Charlottesville: Thomasson-Grant, 1987.
[5] Brocket Hall. “Estate History.” Accessed April 21, 2013. www.brocket-hall.co.uk/the-estate/history.

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