Or, the art of British country house interiors

April 24, 2013

Wentworth Woodhouse

Wentworth Woodhouse is an enormous country house in South Yorkshire with 365 rooms, 1000 windows, and five miles of underground passageways [1]. It was originally the home of the Wentworths in the 13th through 17th centuries, and then passed to the wealthy Fitzwilliam family in the 18th century [2]. For the Fitzwilliams, Wentworth Woodhouse exhibited their great wealth and status, and was frequently used as a venue for entertaining. The house features an acclaimed art collection, with rooms dedicated to its display including the Van Dyck Room and the Long Gallery. Wentworth Woodhouse was used when filming the grandiose Cumnor Towers in Wives and Daughters.

Paintings in Wentworth Woodhouse include works by Van Dyck, Lawrence, Reynolds, Lely, Lorraine, and many others. These works stand as examples of taste, discernment, and wealth for all visitors and guests to marvel at [3]. Additionally, the Palladian style of the facade continues in the interior of the house, which features Neoclassical architectural elements and an elaborate gold ornamentation throughout.

Sadly, much of the contents of Wentworth Woodhouse were sold in 1949 in a period of transition after the death of the 8th Earl Fitzwilliam [1]. I can only suppose that the works visible in the scenes of Wives and Daughters are what remains of the house's art collection. Considering the still impressive decorations of the interiors today, one can only imagine the splendor of the rooms in their heyday. Wentworth Woodhouse contains the whole gamut of portrait types: royal and family, large and small, group and individual. Little information is available about the history of each of these works, but they can still be viewed and appreciated in their own right, as well as in their function of adding to the rich atmosphere of Wentworth Woodhouse and, by proxy, Cumnor Towers in Wives and Daughters.

 Wives and Daughters- Wentworth Woodhouse dining room

 Wives and Daughters- Wentworth Woodhouse hallway

 Wives and Daughters- Wentworth Woodhouse hallway

 Wives and Daughters- Wentworth Woodhouse sitting room

  Wives and Daughters- Wentworth Woodhouse sitting room

Wives and Daughters- Wentworth Woodhouse painted drawing room

The fate of Wentworth Woodhouse is indicative of the consequences of the fall of the British country house. Such a large building, dilapidated and in disrepair, grows increasingly difficult to maintain in modern times, particularly under private ownership. Often, the sale of a precious art collection is necessary for the survival of the house. This is a very lucrative option; for example, in 1998 Wentworth Woodhouse sold a portrait of Thomas Wriothesley, 4th Earl of Southampton by Lely for £25,300, The Infant Hercules by Reynolds for £199,500, and many other paintings through Christie's [1]. While these auctioned works usually are bought by major museums and displayed for a wide public, it is still a shame that many country houses are unable to retain the art collections that their families developed over generations and centuries.


[1] The DiCamillo Companion to British & Irish Country Houses. “Wentworth Woodhouse.” Accessed April 24, 2013. 
[2] Wentworth Woodhouse. “The History of Wentworth Woodhouse.” Accessed April 24, 2013. 
[3] Musson, Jeremy. English Country House Interiors. New York: Rizzoli, 2011.


  1. Lily- I hope you don't mind- but I'm doing a "Pride and Prejudice" post about the paintings in Burghley House- the filming location for Rosings- and I am going to include a link to your blog because that post is basically what you do all the time!

    1. I don't mind in the slightest! I'm really looking forward to reading your post- Burghley House is the only British country house I've actually been able to visit!