An Antiquarian's Tale, Issue 89

Clinton Howell Antiques - August 10, 2020 - Issue 89
An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture
A semi biographical journey of my life in the English Decorative Arts
For me, it is always about the furniture except that sometimes, I visit a place that is a little different. Castle Drogo is the last castle that was built in Britain and sits on the northeast corner of Dartmoor, the site for the Conan Doyle tale, "The Hound of the Baskervilles". (On the western side of Dartmoor was the famous restaurant, "The Horn of Plenty", which I dined at once about forty years ago. Don't know if it still exists, but clotted cream was in everything.) The castle was designed by Edwin Lutyens and took close to twenty years to be completed. I remember repairs in progress when I was there in the 1980's and, according to Wikipedia, was under restoration from 2013-18. Lutyens is arguably Britain's greatest 20th century architect, but I suspect he was somewhat flummoxed by his client's desire. This is not to say that he failed in any respect. If you read the Wikipedia reviews, Christopher Hussey, the architectural editor for "Country Life", calls the castle, a castle, which is high praise when you think of all the armories that have been created in the United States that are all supposed to look castle-like and which fail miserably. (Hussey, by the way, grew up in a castle.) Every American structure I have seen that tries to look like a castle usually fails, so making a castle look like a castle is not so easy.

As noted, I did not visit Drogo for the furniture and was not expecting much, but there is some. The Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington, in London, must have some sort of arrangement to lend furniture to houses that are short on that end. Hence, there is 18th century furniture dotted here and there, none of it that memorable, but all of it quite suitable, somehow. But Lutyens is worthwhile looking at. He was a versatile architect having built in the Arts and Crafts style (I don't know, but I suspect he influenced Frank Lloyd Wright) and yet also creating monuments in a variety of architectural styles including the Cenotaph in Whitehall (which in an earlier article I placed in Fleet St.) which is Soanean in its classicism as well as a memorial to the Missing of the Somme, called the Thiepval Memorial which has a somewhat Romanesque quality. And, of course, he designed the government buildings in India in a style that is known as "Lutyens Delhi". He was versatile and I regret that when I was in Delhi several years ago, the smog prevented me from seeing his buildings clearly. In fact, I barely saw them at all.

Lutyens is often linked in his country house designs to Gertrude Jekyll, the English horticulturalist whose "painterly" approach to gardens was considered bold and new. Her work at Drogo is limited to a selection of plants leading to the castle, but Lutyens and Jekyll worked on many sites together, linking their names in history. Both designers extended their reach into three dimensional objects, Jekyll designing glass flower vases and Lutyens both indoor and outdoor furniture as well as lighting. As it happens, I purchased a table a while back that was based on a Lutyens design. I learned this because Lutyens' granddaughter, who reproduces his designs, caught sight of the table and suggested that it might be by her grandfather. There are many people who like Lutyens designed furniture, but it isn't on the same playing field as Chippendale, for example, so it was of interest, but did not affect value. However, I would suggest that  this is just a matter of time. Fortunately, I am still learning.