The Houghton Revisited Exhibition ended on the 24th November. Those, like me, who were privileged and very lucky to have seen the exhibit will remember it, I am certain, for many a year.
Houghton Hall in North Norfolk is a beautiful survivor, a treasure-house of the 18th century. Built for Sir Robert Walpole in the 1702s, it is a magnificent Palladian mansion, designed by Colen Campbell with sumptuous interiors by William Kent. The Hall is set in a beautiful sporting estate, perfect for political entertaining on a grand scale. Sir Robert’s collection of paintings was, quite simply, magnificent, with items in it by Murillo,Poussin, Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyke and Velázquez. And the interior of the Hall was designed to house it.
So the decorating schemes are really only truly complete when the original artworks are in situ. Sadly, at the end of the 18th century, the collection was sold to Catherine the Great of Russia, and eventually it formed the basis of the Hermitage Museum Collection. This summer, in an example of the grandest “installation” that I can think of, the painting were returned to Houghton, to the care of its current owner, The Marquess Of Cholmondeley, to be re-hung as they were during Sir Robert’s lifetime. Some rooms in the Hall were even redecorated to bring them back to their original Palladian splendour.
So, I can hear you cry, why tell us of this now, when the exhibit is ended and what does it have to do with Jane Austen? Though the exhibition has ended, the website is still available to visit, here and the exhibition catalogue is also available to purchase( a paperback version will soon be available). But, quite wonderfully, there is an iTunes App available for iPhone and iPad. This allows you to virtually visit the exhibit, and, in a way, Houghton Hall too.
It is a wonderful, free resource and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I had, at one point, despaired of getting to see the exhibit and thought this would be as close as I could get to the exhibit, despite living within 30 minutes of the Hall. It is a very good approximation of a visit, and I was very happy to “visit it” this way before I could get to the Hall. I think it is a magnificent and totally generous gift to anyone interested in architecture and art. Well done to all concerned.
And the link to Jane Austen? This type of wonderful art collection might, I think, have been the type that could have been emulated by the fabulously rich and well-established Darcy family at Pemberley. When Elizabeth wanders around the House, to a certain extent cluelessly looking at the works of art on the walls of the rooms and gallery, these, if she was lucky, might have been the type of art she might have seen:
The picture-gallery, and two or three of the principal bedrooms, were all that remained to be shewn. In the former were many good paintings; but Elizabeth knew nothing of the art; and from such as had been already visible below, she had willingly turned to look at some drawings of Miss Darcy’s in crayons, whose subjects were usually more interesting, and also more intelligible.
Chapter 43 , Pride and Prejudice.
To conclude, here is a short, beautifully shot You Tube video which introduces the concept behind the exhibition, and describes some of the truly stupendous works within it.