I run on at length about going to a house and being surprised by what I find. Seldom is it, however, that I am not surprised. There is always something. My mother had a book, the cover of which I can see as clear as day in my mind's eye, on the gardens of England--I am sure a lot of you know it as it was published, I believe, in the late 1960's--the cover photo being of a temple on the lake at Stourhead. Stourhead Park is, in my opinion, the epitome of the English desire to have it all, to outstrip the neighbors and to show them how it is done. The Park is simply stupendous with all the architectural touches you can possibly have from Gothic to classical, from rustic to medieval and then there are the gardens. One of the times I went there, the spring had been extremely cold and the azaleas had been very slow to come out and were almost on the same time line as the rhododendrons. It was color on a scale I have never seen although I am reminded of a trip on Rte. 80 through Pennsylvania and seeing the mountain laurel in bloom under the canopy of, I think, pines, but it might also have been something deciduous. In any case, Stourhead Park is breathtaking and when I headed off to go and tour the house, I knew a little of what was there, but then once again, I was surprised by the volume of wonderful things to see.
There are what I would call a couple of really famous pieces at Stourhead which I knew about before visiting. The foremost, from my point of view, is the card table invoiced by William Linnell, the father and partner to his much more famous son, John. I believe it is the only known piece that is directly attributable to William, but I may be wrong about that. The other is the suite of furniture supplied for the library by Thomas Chippendale, Jr. Chippendale the Younger's work is at the same high standard as his father's, but the designs, while somewhat innovative, lack the stylistic zing of Chippendale's work. However, the elder Chippendale worked at Stourhead starting the late 1760's so there are items that reflect his finesse including a rather wonderful commode of unknown pedigree in that there are no records, there isn't a pair to it and there is no mirror that would pair it in the house. Fret not, however, as Chippendale is not the only name at the house to celebrate. Sixtus, in reference to Sixtus V (a conundrum all its own that is suitable to a religious cabinet) was Pope from 1585-90, long enough to have a great Roman cabinet made for him which is mounted on a later English base. For those of you who get tired of hearing how great Florence pietra dure is, this cabinet proves that the Romans were no slouches in the fine art of stone inlay. Believe me, as much as I like the Linnell card table, the cabinet just blows one away. Given that the English were scraping up money (at the time the cabinet was made) to defend themselves against Spanish incursion, it is quite remarkable that such a Catholic piece of the era would end up in an English country house. Conundrums abound! And of course there is more--walnut and parcel gilt chairs which are among the most copied models of chair that are very hard to find as original models. This house proves that there are some. Nice to have proof every once in a while. Believe me, this is a house to spend time at, in and around, and if you go in spring, the rhodos are more fun than the azaleas.
I have given a ton of links below to some of the things I have talked about. The Sixtus cabinet and the Linnell card table are included and you can see the Chippendale library, as well.