An Antiquarian's Tale, Issue 79

Clinton Howell Antiques - May 25, 2020 - Issue 79
An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture
A semi biographical journey of my life in the English Decorative Arts
It is next to impossible for me to remember all the trips that I took to see the houses that I have seen. I do remember, however, my first trip to Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire. To be more precise, I remember that I visited prior to Kedleston's agreement with the National Trust when the house was only open the first Sunday of a month from the hours of 12-4, if I remember correctly. The British government, in their wisdom, created tax benefits for opening houses  to the public and the response by estate owners was to do the minimum. Hence, the times for visiting were never convenient and required a focus that would allow ample time for meandering. I wanted to be there on the dot and spend four hours looking at things. As it happened, I was in Derbyshire so early--9:30 I believe that I had time to nip up to Chatsworth, the house that is possibly the most convenient to visit in the entire country, partly because the management has been proactive in promoting Chatsworth and partly because it is in the center of England. After a quick hour tour of Chatsworth (I had visited at least three times before this visit) I made it to Kedleston by about 12:30. There were not that many people there, I have to add. (

Kedleston Hall is Robert Adam's tour de force. As great as Adam's work is at Osterley, Culzean, Mellerstain, Edinburgh, Kenwood, Syon or any of his other houses, Kedleston represents his thought process phenomenally well. The house is all based on Roman precedents which the Wikipedia article describes extremely well. This is all well and good, but when you think about it, the design of the interior is entirely based on Adam's imagination. Yes, he can draw inspiration from architectural precedents, but color schemes, furniture designs, carpets, hardware, doors, etc. are all his creative output. For example, the very first time I heard of the artisan, Henry Clay, was at Kedleston. Clay was from London and largely a maker of trays, often of molded papier mache, but at Kedleston, there is work by Clay on the doors leading off the main hallway. They are hardly worth mentioning, but when you are decorating a house, it is often the small things that are best remembered.

Of course, at Kedleston, that is a very hard thing to say, because the furniture is virtually unique in the English canon of neo-classical furniture. Once you have seen the dolphin sofas, they are hard to get out of your mind. (this link will take you there would put dolphins as the supports for sofas? The arms are particularly luxurious with the dolphins supporting nymphs. Sumptuous or decadent, it doesn't really matter, because in truth, they are outrageous. After about three hours looking at everything and taking breaks to read the guide book, I decided that I had had enough. I was by the grand staircase and so descended and worked my way around the house to get back to the car park. As it happened, Lady Curzon was walking a pair of black labradors. She was gracious and solicitous, asking if I had enjoyed my visit and asked why I was interested. It was one of those moments when I knew I should have been carrying a card.