Or, the art of British country house interiors

April 16, 2013

West Wycombe Park

West Wycombe Park is an early 18th century Palladian villa in Buckinghamshire, now owned by the National Trust but still the residence of the Dashwood family . The grounds of West Wycombe Park are notable for their Neoclassical garden buildings inspired by Grecian archaeological finds [1]. The house, particularly its impressive yellow saloon, has been used in many period films including Daniel Deronda, Foyle's War: Series 5, Episode 2 (Casualties of War), and Cranford.




While there is much information available about the interior decoration of the rooms of West Wycombe Park, greatly inspired by Roman and Greek mythology and Italian architecture, there is virtually nothing about the many portraits that hang in the saloon. 


This house is much newer than many other country houses with portrait galleries dating back to the 16th century, containing images of relatives through the ages. West Wycombe Park was not built until the 18th century and so, while the Dashwood family itself certainly might have had the opportunity to amass ancestral paintings, the house they inhabit has none of that tradition of portraiture display. This then leaves the question of who is depicted in the portraits in the West Wycombe Park saloon.

East side of the room:
Foyle's War

While there is the possibility that these portraits truly are of the Dashwood family, inherited and passed down through the generations, there is another possibility; amidst landscapes and history paintings, these portraits may simply be an extension of the Dashwood art collection. Valued for aesthetic merit instead of familial connections, these works may in fact hold no further sentimental value for the Dashwoods. Also, family portrait collections usually vary greatly in size and style; the portraits on the walls of the saloon are all very regular, in artistic style and in size. This is not to say that perhaps there exist larger full-length family portraits that are displayed elsewhere in the house, but typically when an important receiving room exhibits such impressive works, there is much more of a variation. This is purely speculation, and I do wish there were more information available about the artwork in West Wycombe Park, but it remains something interesting to consider. 

Foyle's War

This classically inspired, Italianate house represented Hanbury Court, Lady Ludlow's house in Cranford. The grandness of the room, with its many artworks and vast decorated carpet complements the always proper, aristocratic nature of Lady Ludlow. Although she is a member of the town, she is completely separated from it, physically by her magnificent house and mentally by her high status. Lady Ludlow is a woman so adverse to change, even in the face of the decline of the aristocracy and the rise of the railroad. It is interesting, then, that her house is represented by one so unique and ahead of its time as West Wycombe Park.


Cranford

Cranford

Many of the portraits in the saloon of West Wycombe Park share similar themes; the torso is captured, with an emphasis on the face and hands and a dark background. Assuming these works are contemporary with the house as their style resembles, this reflects the growing trend in the 18th century of portraits with poses having little to do with the individual sitter; the artist simply captured their distinctive features in the traditional guise of proper deportment [2]. There is little variety in pose or expression, and the true details are in the costume and facial features.

West side of the room:
Daniel Deronda

The large windows on the north side of the room, visible below, provide abundant natural light to the space and give visitors a perfect prospect of the garden and grounds. As this was one of the main reception and entertaining rooms of the house, this magnificent vista of the exterior complements the many portraits in the interior in a dual effort to impress guests. In the 18th and 19th centuries, country houses were regularly open to visitors, and so even private art had a public function [3].

Cranford

Cranford


An emphasis on the spheres of private family life and public entertaining in country houses developed during the Regency period [4]. The saloon at West Wycombe Park represents the perfect marriage of the two. Even while emphasizing grandiose portraits and a spectacular view of the gardens, the room still retains a comfortableness and sense of warmth. These traits explain why West Wycombe Park has been used so frequently in the representation of country houses in period films.

Bibliography:

[1] The National Heritage List for England. “West Wycombe Park.” Accessed April 16, 2013. http://list.english-
              heritage.org.uk/resultsingle.aspx?uid=1000447.
[2] Simon, Robin. The Portrait in Britain and America: with a biographical dictionary of portrait painters 1680-1914
              Boston: G.K. Hall, 1987.
[3] Hearn, Karen. In Celebration: the Art of the Country House. London: Tate Gallery, 1998.
[4] Miers, Mary. The English Country House: from the Archives of Country Life. New York: Rizzoli International 
              Publications, 2009.

8 comments:

  1. Hello Lily, I'm a volunteer room guide at the house when it's open during the summer so I thought I'd help you out with explaining some of the pictures in the Yellow Saloon.

    It's worth saying that although the building itself is owned by the National Trust, all of the contents belong to the Dashwood family, which might explain why there's little public information about the pictures.

    In general the pictures here are either family portraits or landscapes/ scenes acquired by Sir Francis Dashwood 2nd Bt on his travels in Italy and elsewhere in the early 18th century.

    In your first picture - the East Wall - the portraits are of Sir Francis Dashwood 1st Bt and his brother Samuel and Francis's four wives (three of whom were called Mary, confusingly). There's a better view of them in your picture from Cranford.

    On the south wall (around the main door) are pictures from the Westmorland family, that of Sir Francis 1st Bt first wife Mary Fane.

    On the west wall is a portrait of Alderman Lewis who owned the house before the Dashwoods and various 'court beauties'.

    The house will be open to the public between June and August so do come and have a look around. http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/west-wycombe-park/

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    1. Louise- Thank you so much for this fantastic information! It is often difficult to find much information about the artwork in country houses without visiting them, so knowing who is depicted in the portraits at West Wycombe Park is wonderful. I hope to be able to visit soon!

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  2. I also noticed that you're an Austen fan. The film Austenland was filmed at the house in summer 2011, I think it should be out soon.

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  3. How exciting! I'll be sure to look out for it.

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  4. This is going to seem like a silly question -- but of whom is the portrait of that adorns practically every office in Foyle's War? I'm American and it looks like Lord Mountbatten to me -- but that doesn't make sense. Is it the King?

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    1. Not a silly question at all! In fact, it is an excellent question, and I'm afraid I don't have the answer. Do you have an image of the portrait? That would be very useful in trying to identify the individual!

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  5. Hi there,
    I live in Canada and I'm working on a family tree. It turns out that one of my family members "Marion Kate Norton" was cousins with Florance Norton who married Sir Edwin Abercromby. This is a long shot but does anyone know if any of the paintings in the manor are of these people? Some of my family members remember Kate asking back in the early 1900's to please go visit as she was sent off to Canada at a young age. Apparently in WW2 someone from my family did visit but I don't have any information on this. Anyways long story short would like to find some family photos if possible.

    Thanks for your time,
    Brad

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  6. Fantastic Post! Thanks for sharing this one..How exciting! I'll be sure to look out for it. Well done

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