An Antiquarian's Tale, Issue 131

Clinton Howell Antiques - June 7, 2021 - Issue 131

An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture

A semi biographical journey of my life in the English Decorative Arts

Newby Hall is another North Yorkshire house of distinction often overshadowed by its neighbors, particularly Castle Howard and Harewood House, but equally sensational. You can read the Wikipedia entry on the house below, but it really doesn't tell you much save for the families involved in the house and property over the years. Robert Adam, the Scottish architect who seems ubiquitous when it comes to English country houses in the thirty years between 1760-90. is mentioned and his work was the main reason that I wanted to go see  the house.  Adam's work can often seem formulaic as the colors and the decoration come across as a regular default, but that denies just how sumptuous and unique his work could be and it is at Newby. You come to realize that you should probably visit all of Adam's houses to see just how good he could be. Newby, I have to say, does not disappoint--it is a great Adam house.

I was there with my family, our young children loved the train that runs around the property and my gardener wife was overawed by the size of the herbaceous borders, they were deep and long and must have required a small phalanx of gardeners. But as wonderful as the exterior is, my thrill was in the Gobelins tapestry room, one of seven, I believe that Adam created (the Newby Hall website says there were six, but I seem to remember being told their were seven) and the only one with a gray background, the rest being a rose color. One of those tapestry rooms is at the Metropolitan Museum in New York and it was fascinating for me to see one in the room for which it was designed as opposed to in a museum setting. It seems odd that Adam would buy Boucher inspired French tapestries to decorate his houses as they have a rococo sensibility, but the owners or Newby likely would have considered their purchase as an artistic coup, particularly with their gray backgrounds.

The house also contains Thomas Chippendale furniture and as was done in other tapestry rooms, furniture was produced by Chippendale that had tapestry upholstery that went with the wall coverings. This is not unusual, but it is rich and the chairs made for the tapestry are just that, full blown carved and gilded neoclassical Chippendale open armchairs. Again, if you are interested, the Met tapestry room which comes from Moor Park, has similar gilded chairs and a settee. The lushness of the work of Adam and Chippendale together is part of the thrill of Newby. The mahogany dining chairs are a wonderful Chippendale model (again, not dissimilar to the ones that the Met has in the Lansdowne dining room, another period room) and the inlaid furniture in the house is sensational. This is one of the must see houses for a furniture enthusiast and it isn't such a bad place to take children and garden lovers, either.