An Antiquarian's Tale, Issue 116

Clinton Howell Antiques - February 22, 2021 - Issue 116
An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture
A semi biographical journey of my life in the English Decorative Arts
There is a saying in Yorkshire, "where there's muck, there's brass", designed to reference the humbleness of Yorkshiremen and their abodes which, of course, cleverly conceals their wealth. The Yorkshire branch of the Howard family of Castle Howard forewent that expression back at the turn of the 18th century when the third Earl Carlisle enlisted Vanbrugh, aided by Nicholas Hawksmoor, to build Castle Howard. It is as grand a country house as you can imagine--so much so that it was used in the television adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's, "Brideshead Revisited". It is in North Yorkshire, a solid four hour plus drive from London, and it is one of those houses that you will never forget. If you ever watched the television show or saw the movie, you will remember that the driveway leading to the house is long and straight and that the baroque building at the far end just keeps getting bigger to the point where you realize that this is a sizable building! And, of course, it is privately owned by the Howard family still who have done an incredible job getting the house into shape beginning in the 1950's. I might add that virtually all of the houses I have discussed have had to undergo major treatment, always to the roofs, but also to wet and dry rot which plagues the wood in English structures and is exceedingly difficult to eradicate.

The third Earl's choice of John Vanbrugh as his architect was bold. He was not, officially speaking, trained in architecture, so one can imagine that Nicholas Hawksmoor's role was absolutely vital in the construction. If you click on the link below, you will see the most salient feature of the house is the dome that seems to float above the pediment. Last week, I mentioned the rotunda of Ickworth as being 105' tall--this dome is 75' tall on the interior so if you throw in the cupola, you are probably looking at an 85-90' tall structure. (At this point, I think it fair to say that the English 18th century oligarchs that built country houses had psychological makeups that are rich for interpretation.) When you walk into the house and under the dome, the feeling is not unlike being in church, particularly with all the painted frescoes. It is all quite monumental and it makes it pretty clear that the Howard family was not one to be messed with.

The furniture at the house is all quite good. The furnishing clearly took many years as the style of the furniture does not synchronize with the completion date of construction of 1710. Or, perhaps, newer furniture was ordered during the 18th century and replaced original furnishings, but usually in such cases, the early furniture would be stored, not sold. In any case, there are pieces by top makers in the collection including Paul Saunders John Linnell with designs by Robert Adam including a really lovely serving table and cellaret (see the link below). I was with my very young children on the day we went to Castle Howard and their lack of interest made for a fairly quick hustle through the house--I seem to remember they loved the gardens and all the outbuildings of which there are plenty--there is a Versailles like quality to the exterior. I might add that I was lucky enough to hear a lecture by Simon Howard in New York sponsored by the Royal Oak Society on the restoration of the house which is why I know that the restoration of the house began in the 1950's under the direction of his father. One thing I did know was that Simon hired an old friend of mine from the London College of Furniture to restore the furniture in the house. It might be a big house, but it's a small world.  Close-ups of some pieces at Castle Howard. Notably, the open armchair, Gainsborough style chair is similar to the Paul Saunders chairs at Holkham House. The pair of gilt consoles