HOUSES ONCE LIVED in by celebrated men and women make disconcerting museums. Accident and luck as much as bequest and acquisition lie behind their often haphazard accumulations of furniture, pictures and memorabilia. The pull of personality is inflected by whatever material objects have survived in buildings often unsuited to their display. Most such houses contain perhaps only a handful of ‘exhibits’ that the memorialised individuals would have recognised as their own: how depressing are those guide-book words ‘furnished in the style of the period’ when what we want to see is the actual desk, bed, easel or breakfast cup. Attempts at the look of ‘just-left-the-room’ invariably evoke an amateur production of a drawing-room murder mystery, yet informative museum display can kill any lingering domestic authenticity. Nevertheless there is much to be grateful for and Britain is dotted with the houses of the illustrious dead where a few splinters of the True Cross may be seen. That several such houses in London – from Sigmund Freud in Hampstead to Lord Leighton in Kensington, from Handel in Mayfair to Hogarth in Chiswick – have survived in so blitzed and bulldozed a city is remarkable; but it is not short of a miracle that the young William Morris’s home in Walthamstow, north London, escaped the complete development of that area in the later nineteenth century from village to sprawling suburb. Known as the William Morris Gallery since it opened in 1950, it offers riches comparable, in quality at least, with similar holdings at the Victoria and Albert Museum; but its future is under a cloud.
AN EXCEPTIONAL SET of six seventeenth-century Brussels tapestries depicting the Story of Theodosius the Younger recently surfaced on the London art market (Figs.1–6). The pieces, some of them distinctively in the manner of Jacob Jordaens, bear the Brussels city mark and the signatures of the tapestry producers Daniel Eggermans and Jean Le Clerc. They were presumably acquired by Sir John Shaw (c.1615–80), customs officer and Member of Parliament for Lyme Regis, around 1663 when he obtained a lease of the crown manor of Eltham, Kent, and built Eltham Lodge in the Great Park.
WHEN QUEEN VICTORIA took up residence at Buckingham Palace on 13th July 1837, her new home was fresh from the hands of the builders. The conversion of George III’s and Queen Charlotte’s Buckingham House had begun in 1826 to the designs of John Nash, whose interiors stretched the classical tradition to its limits, combining unashamed theatricality with developments in technology and innovative references to the Soanian picturesque. In 1830 Fraser’s Magazine commented: ‘It is indeed, not easy to conceive anything more splendid than the designs for the ceilings which are to be finished in a style new in this country, partaking very much of the boldest style in the Italian taste of the fifteenth century – They will present the effect of embossed gold ornaments, raised on a ground of colour suitable to the character and other decorations of the room’. The walls were covered in polychrome scagliola, and the mahogany-framed, mirror-plated doors, designed by Nash, did much to enhance the gold and glitter of the interiors.
VERY LITTLE IS known about Charles Duron. Born in Pont-à-Mousson in 1814, he appears to have moved to Paris in the early 1830s and joined the workshop of the jeweller Jules Chaise (1807–70), who had set up his business in about 1833. In 1836 Chaise installed his workshop at 10 rue de Richelieu, and the success of his enamelled jewellery soon obliged him to take on additional employees: Duron began to work for him as a ‘designer-engraver’, creating and supplying models and possibly also engraving stones. In about 1845 he seems to have started his own business, beginning his brilliant career as a goldsmith-jeweller. Evidence is sparse, but at the Exposition universelle in Paris in 1855 his talents were recognised with a First Class medal for his ‘well-made jewellery: enamel bracelets encrusted with roses, remarkable for their finish; a charming bracelet with emeralds and figures combined’. At a later date, Eugène Fontenay emphasised the extremely high quality of his drawings and technique: ‘Duron loved fine details, and his drawings were as elaborate as his jewellery’; he describes a bracelet decorated with a love-knot and roses, as well as belt buckles echoing Renaissance jewellery. But today that aspect of his work is almost entirely eclipsed by his more ambitious creations which were inspired by pieces mounted in gold and enamel once in the collection of Louis XIV and with which he had immense success at the Exposition universelle in Paris in 1867.
IF WE WISH to understand Joseph Duveen’s great success as a dealer in the first half of the twentieth century, we cannot do better than examine his relations with decorators and architects. To do this, we need to look at the situation in the second half of the nineteenth century, when the family firm was founded by Joseph’s father and uncle, precisely because it developed from a firm dealing in decorative arts and objets d’art to one that also provided the service of interior decoration.
A SURVEY MADE between 1999 and 2002 of listed works of art in Picardie (Oise) revealed seven panels of English alabaster in the parish church of Saint-Martin, Gondreville. These panels have been reassembled within a modern stone structure: a central tabernacle is decorated with a Trinity and two standing figures of St James the Great and St Christopher. They are flanked on either side by panels depicting the martyrdoms of St Lawrence, St Erasmus, St Stephen and St Thomas of Canterbury. Each of the panels is surmounted by a pierced alabaster canopy (Fig.39).
IN THE FIRST significant modern study of the Florentine Baroque sculptor Filippo della Valle (1698–1768), Vittorio Moschini referred to a brief, but near-contemporary, biography for evidence of the sculptor’s formation and early activity in Florence before his move to Rome c.1725. All that was known was that della Valle was a pupil of his uncle Giovanni Battista Foggini (1652–1725) and that he spent time in the Tribuna of the Uffizi, making models of ‘le statue le più belle della Real Galleria’. It was unremarkable that the sculptor, learning his craft in Florence in the Grand Ducal workshops, should have exploited the canon of classical sculpture in this way, and no less so that these primi saggi, presumably modelled in clay, should not have survived. When Hugh Honour reassessed della Valle’s life and career in 1959, he brought into consideration two earlier manuscript sources in the Central Library of Florence: Baldinucci’s life of della Valle’s Roman master, Camillo Rusconi, and the Vite of Francesco Maria Niccolo Gabburri. While Baldinucci is concerned chiefly with della Valle’s work as a mature sculptor in Rome, Gabburri’s account, written between 1734 and 1737, little more than a decade after the events described, confirms that della Valle ‘. . . disegnò e modellò tutte le più belle statue che sono nella Real Galleria di Toscana e quelle exiandio più singolare sparse in gran numero per la Città di Firenze’. While this suggests a greater range of activity than the later reference cited by Moschini, it scarcely implies anything more enduring than exercises in drawing and modelling. Leaving aside two medals made in Florence, subsequent literature has assumed that the sculptor’s independent œuvre starts with his prize submission to the Accademia di S. Luca in Rome, following his move there in 1725 after the death of Foggini. However, the existence of a bronze cast of the Venus de’ Medici (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence) signed by della Valle obliges us to ask whether, before leaving his native city, he was involved in the production of replicas of the Grand Ducal sculptures for sale, an activity that formed such an important aspect of the Florentine foundry under the Master of the Mint, Massimiliano Soldani-Benzi. Some light may be shed on the question if replicas in other media, especially Doccia porcelain, are taken into account.
DENNIS FARR, who died on 6th December last year, aged seventy-seven, was a highly productive art historian, with interests ranging widely from the earlier nineteenth-century painter William Etty, to the later twentieth-century sculptor Lynn Chadwick. Professionally, he was a skilful and respected museum curator and director, his career spanning nearly forty years and culminating in his appointment as a CBE in 1991. It can be divided into three essential phases: ten years as an Assistant Keeper at the then Tate Gallery, London, eleven years as Director of Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, and thirteen years as Director of the Courtauld Institute Galleries, London.
THE SON OF a distinguished bacteriologist, Sir Gerard Thornton, FRS, and his Danish wife, Gerda Nørregard, Peter Kai Thornton (who died on 8th February) trained as an aeronautical engineer at De Havilland before a spell with the Intelligence Corps introduced him to the Baroque churches of Carinthia. Modern languages (German and Danish) at the University of Cambridge preceded volunteer work on the ceramics and silver collections of the Fitzwilliam Museum and a two-year spell (1952–54) as joint secretary of the National Art-Collections Fund, then housed in the bowels of the Wallace Collection. An occasional crumpled five-pound note from its Chairman, the late Lord Crawford and Balcarres, eked out his modest salary. In 1954 he was appointed an Assistant Keeper in the Department of Textiles at the Victoria and Albert Museum where, with Nathalie Rothstein, he conducted the research which led to his first major, and groundbreaking, book, Baroque and Rococo Silks (1965). By then he had moved, in 1964, to the Department of Furniture and Woodwork, of which he became Keeper in 1966, in succession to Delves Molesworth, and where he remained until 1984, a record tenure.