Or, the art of British country house interiors

April 29, 2013

Last Remarks

The collecting of art became a key feature of British country houses in the early 17th century [1]. Connected to this very earliest accumulation of paintings is the development of the long gallery, originally simply a place to exercise in bad weather, but eventually a space tacitly understood to be a display area for portraits. As country house owners, family members, and visitors would view these works, they would put each portrait to the ultimate test: whether or not it genuinely conveyed the individual represented [2]. This evaluation of portraiture and its success in showing the spirit of a person is a practice that continues still today.

The display of portraits in country houses greatly developed over the centuries, but their connotations remained very much the same. Art collections took on a more public face as visitors toured country houses; family portraits represented the dynastic status of the house, as well as the artistic taste of the owner [3]. Portraits played a significant role in visually representing the illustrious history of the country house and the long lineage of the family [4]. Whether displayed in long galleries or entrance halls, dining rooms or saloons, family portraits remain a ubiquitous part of country house art collections.

Despite the importance of the display of portraiture in country houses, it is often difficult to find images of the interior decoration of these houses; even more seldom is there information about specific portraits that is easily accessible. Period films are an invaluable resource for those who want to experience the interiors of country houses but are unable to visit the houses themselves. In these films, country house family portraits work to establish an atmosphere that connects the fictional country house owner with the actual house and its renowned history. Through the viewing of period pieces, the display of portraiture in British country houses can be better understood and truly appreciated. 


[1] McBride, Kari Boyd. Country House Discourse in Early Modern England: a Cultural Study of Landscape and 
              Legitimacy. Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2001.
[2] Kerslake, J.F. “Pictures as Documents: The Chatham House Collection.” International Affairs 33.4 (1957): 453-459.
[3] Miers, Mary. The English Country House: from the Archives of Country Life. New York: Rizzoli International 
               Publications, 2009.
[4] Musson, Jeremy. How to Read a Country House. London: Ebury Press, 2005.

Squerryes Court

Squerryes Court, an early Georgian style country house in Kent, was the home of the de Squerie family in the 13th century, after which it had many different owners; John Warde bought the property in 1731, and his descendants still live there [1]. The present house dates from the late 17th century, although it has undergone much remodeling and restoration since then [2]. Squerryes Court represented Hartfield in the 2009 verison of Emma, and can also be seen in Pirate Radio and Foyle's War: Series One, Episode One (The German Woman).

Jane Austen gives us no detailed description of the Woodhouse country home, Hartfield, in the text of Emma; we are to gather that it is quite fine indeed, as Emma is of very high social status. Hartfield is the center of Emma's world, and the decision to use Squerryes Court, with its warm and inviting interiors, is perfect for the setting of the mini series. Squerryes Court contains an impressive collection of English, Italian 18th century, and Dutch 17th century paintings, as well as many family portraits which are displayed throughout the house [3].

Highclere Castle

Highclere Castle, a "Jacobethan" country house in Hampshire, has been the home of the Carnarvon family since 1679 [1]. The original Elizabethan house was built on the site of a medieval palace and was later rebuilt in the classic Georgian style; the present day house was designed by famed architect Sir Charles Barry in 1842 [2]. Highclere Castle is most well-known as the Earl of Grantham's grand home in Downton Abbey, but was also used in Marple: 4:40 from Paddington, Jeeves and Wooster: Series Two, Episode One (Jeeves Saves the Cow Creamer); Series Two, Episode Two (A Plan for Gussie); and Series Four, Episode Five (Trouble at Totleigh Towers).

Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes in fact had Highclere Castle in mind as he wrote the story and screenplay for the show; his longstanding friendship with the Carnarvon family enabled him to make his vision a reality [3]. As architect Sir Charles Barry said of his design for Highclere Castle, the house was based on three qualities: love of extravagance, love of the past, and love of ancestry [4]. It is easy to understand Fellowes vision and see how it fits into Barry's plan for the house, as Highclere Castle's splendid interiors and extensive art collection provide the perfect setting for Downton Abbey

April 28, 2013

Loseley Park

Loseley Park is an Elizabethan country house in Surrey, built in the mid-16th century by Sir William More expressly to entertain Queen Elizabeth I [1]. It remains the home of the now More-Molyneux family, and has been left remarkably little changed since it was constructed. The house represents Donwell Abbey in the 2009 version of Emma, and can also be seen in Marple: 4:50 from Paddington, and 2008's Sense and Sensibility.

Jane Austen's descriptions of the country houses which form the setting for many of her novels are few and far between. On the interiors of these great houses, such as Kellynch, Pemberley, and Norland, we are told even less. The descriptions with the most extensive detail primarily refer to older houses, such as Northanger Abbey and Donwell Abbey, and even then Austen is never very explicit [2]. The Tudor interiors and many portraits in Loseley Park make it a very fitting location for filming Donwell Abbey.

Sudbury Hall

Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire was inherited by Sir John Vernon in 1513 and remained the Vernon country home until 1967 when it was transferred to the National Trust [1]. The house as seen today is mainly the creation of George Vernon who rebuilt Sudbury Hall in the mid-17th century [2]. With rooms that are "lofty and handsome, neither gaudy nor uselessly fine; with less of splendour, and more real elegance [3]", Sudbury Hall is famed as the interior location of Pemberley in the 1995 production of Pride and Prejudice.

Sudbury Hall

It was planned that Lyme Park would represent both the exterior and interior of Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice, however, a change of management at Lyme Park meant the interior was no longer available; Sudbury Hall was miles away, but was chosen because of its elegant interiors and impressive long gallery [4]. Said Pride and Prejudice Location Manager Sam Breckman, “Houses on the scale of Pemberley are few and far between. It is supposed to be in Derbyshire which would give it a distinctive northern look, and it has to be very big and set in stunning scenery” [4]. The interior of Sudbury Hall, with its many family portraits, effectively establishes the Darcys as members of the established gentry.

April 27, 2013

Dorney Court

Dorney Court near Windsor has been the Palmer family home for over 450 years and is an excellent example of Tudor architecture [1]. 'Dorney' is the ancient word for 'island of bees,' and Dorney Court well-known for its honey which is still produced there today; additionally, the very first pineapple in England was grown at Dorney Court [2]. The house contains a large collection of family portraits, many of which can be seen in Sense and SensibilityJeeves and Wooster: Series Three, Episode Six (Comrade Bingo)Marple: The Body in the Library, and Marple: The Sittaford Mystery.

The paneled rooms and galleried hall of Dorney Court provide a fitting backdrop for period pieces looking for a country house with a more serious tone. Although the dining room and great hall of Dorney Court feel dark and somber, the presence of many family portraits adds a personal touch and livens up the space.

April 26, 2013

Wrotham Park: Part Two

This discussion of Wrotham Park is continued from Wrotham Part: Part One. The art collection of Wrotham Park was built up considerably from the late 18th to the mid-19th century, with works by old masters as well as leading painters of the day [1]. Portraits by van Dyck, Kneller, Reynolds, Lawrence, de Laszlo, and Sargent decorate the house, in particular the Staircase Hall. The staircase at Wrotham Park, visible in a number of period films, is quite simply marvelous. Through movie stills from Poirot: Series One, Episode Three (The Adventure of Johnnie Waverly), Jeeves and Wooster: Series One, Episode Four (The Hunger Strike), Series One, Episode Five (Brinkley Manor), Series Two, Episode Four (Jeeves in the Country)Series Two, Episode Five (Kidnapped!), Series Four, Episode Four (The Delayed Arrival); Gosford ParkDaniel Deronda, and Bridget Jones's Diary, we can better experience and appreciate the portrait covered walls.

The Staircase Hall at Wrotham Park functions as a kind of vertical long gallery; family portraits are hung on either side of the staircase, with a central tapestry that was part of the decoration of Westminster Abbey for the coronation of King George VI in 1937 [1]. These portraits provide insight into the family history of the owners of Wrotham Park, and also serve as a vivid, eye-catching backdrop for many movies. 

Wrotham Park: Part One

Wrotham Park is a stately Palladian country house in Hertfordshire, built in the mid-18th century for Admiral John Byng; although it was badly damaged by a devastating fire in 1883, the house was rebuilt and the still impressive interiors have been used for many period films, most notably Gosford Park [1]. Daniel DerondaJeeves and Wooster: Series One, Episode Four (The Hunger Strike)Sense and Sensibility, and  Poirot: Series One, Episode Three (The Adventure of Johnnie Waverly) all utilized various rooms of Wrotham Park for their sets as well.

Wrotham Park

The 1883 fire at Wrotham Park broke out in the top room of the house, and the fire brigade pumps did not have enough power to reach higher than the portico [2]. The house was gutted, but the fire spread slowly enough that all important contents, including the painting collection, were saved; Wrotham Park was rebuilt in the same style, but using more solid, structurally sound Victorian techniques [2]. Through the frequent use of the house in period films, the viewer can gain access to many rooms of the house including the saloon, library, entrance hall, hallways, sitting room, and dining room.

April 24, 2013

Wentworth Woodhouse

Wentworth Woodhouse is an enormous country house in South Yorkshire with 365 rooms, 1000 windows, and five miles of underground passageways [1]. It was originally the home of the Wentworths in the 13th through 17th centuries, and then passed to the wealthy Fitzwilliam family in the 18th century [2]. For the Fitzwilliams, Wentworth Woodhouse exhibited their great wealth and status, and was frequently used as a venue for entertaining. The house features an acclaimed art collection, with rooms dedicated to its display including the Van Dyck Room and the Long Gallery. Wentworth Woodhouse was used when filming the grandiose Cumnor Towers in Wives and Daughters.

Paintings in Wentworth Woodhouse include works by Van Dyck, Lawrence, Reynolds, Lely, Lorraine, and many others. These works stand as examples of taste, discernment, and wealth for all visitors and guests to marvel at [3]. Additionally, the Palladian style of the facade continues in the interior of the house, which features Neoclassical architectural elements and an elaborate gold ornamentation throughout.

April 23, 2013

Syon House

Syon House, located just outside of London, was built on the site of a 15th century abbey and was remodeled substantially in the mid-16th century and then again in the mid-18th century [1]. The estate has passed from generation to generation of the Northumberland family, each owner putting their own mark on the house and grounds. The interior as seen today was designed by the well-known Neoclassical architect Robert Adam in the 1760s, and the renowned Red Drawing Room has been the site of filming for both the 1996 version of Emma and briefly for the 2008 biopic Miss Austen Regrets.

Both the House of Tudor and the House of Stuart have connections to Syon House. Tudor queens Lady Jane Grey, Catherine Howard, and Catherine of Aragorn all spent time at the house, as well as Stuart king Charles I and his children. These illustrious royal connections are reflected in the impressive collection of royal portraits which decorate the interior of the house.

April 21, 2013

Brocket Hall

Brocket Hall in Hertfordshire is a large Neoclassical red brick house built for the Lamb family in 1760-1780 [1]. A short 22 miles from London, Brocket Hall has all the charm of a country house while still retaining accessibility to a big city. The illustrious ballroom represented Netherfield Park in the wonderful 1995 miniseries of Pride and Prejudice.

The ballroom at Brocket Hall, also called the dining room or the saloon in various sources, is lined with impressive full-length royal and family portraits. From depictions of Charles I to representations of the Prince Regent with his horse, these works provide a fitting backdrop for Netherfield Park and its much anticipated ball.

Levens Hall

Levens Hall is located on the edge of the Lake District, in Cumbria. The estate is best known for its beautiful topiary gardens developed in the late 17th/early 18th century, but the large Elizabethan house is also of considerable note. Levens Hall dates back to the 14th century, but was refurbished in the late 16th century, resulting in the house we see today [1]. Many of its room can be seen in the BBC miniseries Wives and Daughters as Hamley Hall.

Levens Hall's interiors feature original oak panelling from the Elizabethan period throughout the house, on which many paintings are displayed. Its art collection includes works by Rubens and Lely, as well as many family portraits [2]. There is no one main painting gallery at Levens Hall, so their collection of portraits can be seen in many various rooms of the house including a bedroom and the drawing room.

Wilton House

Wilton House in Wiltshire was finished in the mid-16th century, and then rebuilt a century later under the supervision of popular architect Inigo Jones after a devastating fire [1]. This Palladian country house has been the residence of the Herbert family (Earls of Pembroke) for over 400 years. While Chatsworth House was used for the exterior of Pemberley in 2005's Pride and Prejudice, Wilton House represented its magnificent interior.

The art collection at Wilton House is vast and impressive, containing over 230 works by renowned artists such as Rembrandt, Holbein, Hals, Rubens, Reynolds, and Brueghel [2]. The collection is particularly rich in its holding of works by van Dyck; family portraits he painted are displayed on the walls of the ornate Single and Double Cube Rooms.

April 20, 2013

Powderham Castle

Powderham Castle in Devon was completed at the beginning of the 15th century for the long-standing Courtenay family [1]. Victorian renovations resulted in the house we see today; the exterior is a recreation of an idealized medieval castle, while the interiors are purely Georgian in style [2]. Part of the 18th century remodeling in the house included the impressive Music Room and Staircase Hall. These rooms among others were used to represent Darlington Hall in the filming of Remains of the Day

Courtenay family portraits are displayed throughout the house, including some works dating back to the 16th century [2]. Portraits came to be treated as heimlooms, intended to be passed down from generation to generation as part of the contents of the house [3]; this is particularly true with the long shared history of Powderham Castle and the family who owns it.

April 17, 2013

Newby Hall

Although the estate dates back to the 13th century, Newby Hall in North Yorkshire was built in the late 17th century partially based on designs by the architect Sir Christopher Wren [1]. While Newby Hall is noted for its excellent collection of tapestries, classical sculpture, and furniture, there are also some very impressive portraits visible in the house.  This country house represented the titular residence in the filming of 2007's Mansfield Park.

Jane Austen's descriptions of the houses at the center of many of her novels are sparse; on the interiors we are told even less [2]. This then leaves much room for creative interpretation on the part of film makers. In Mansfield Park, we are able to see portraits in the entrance hall, sitting room, and, most importantly, the dining room. These paintings create a visual legacy for the Bertram family and exhibit a stark contrast with young Fanny Price, their niece, who comes from a much poorer family.

April 16, 2013

West Wycombe Park

West Wycombe Park is an early 18th century Palladian villa in Buckinghamshire, now owned by the National Trust but still the residence of the Dashwood family . The grounds of West Wycombe Park are notable for their Neoclassical garden buildings inspired by Grecian archaeological finds [1]. The house, particularly its impressive yellow saloon, has been used in many period films including Daniel Deronda, Foyle's War: Series 5, Episode 2 (Casualties of War), and Cranford.

While there is much information available about the interior decoration of the rooms of West Wycombe Park, greatly inspired by Roman and Greek mythology and Italian architecture, there is virtually nothing about the many portraits that hang in the saloon. 

April 14, 2013

Nether Winchendon House

Nether Winchendon House, a Medieval and Tudor house in Buckinghamshire, was originally in monastic ownership [1]. In the late 18th century, a number of changes were made to the house in the Strawberry Hill Gothic style, as was popular during the Regency era. The house has been used for the filming of numerous movies and TV series including 2007's Marple: Ordeal by Innocence.

In the episode of Marple, portraits can be seen in a small entrance hall as well as what looks to be a sitting room, all backed by wood panelling that decorates the walls. Although there is no accessible listing of the identities of those individuals represented in the many portraits throughout the house, we can imagine them all to be members of the family that has lived at Nether Winchendon House for over 400 years [2].

April 13, 2013

Englefield House

Englefield House in West Berkshire has a long and involved history. While there is much information available about this Elizabethan house's origin in the 12th century, connection to Queen Elizabeth I, and and 18th/19th century alterations, there are few reports of its actual contents [1]. Several movies have used the interiors of Englefield House, including Jeeves and Wooster: Series 1, Episode 1 (Jeeves Takes Charge) and Match Point.

It seems that the upstairs hall functioned as a kind of picture gallery for Englefield House. There existed a long gallery elsewhere in the house where perhaps the older family portraits were displayed. 

Knebworth House

Knebworth House in Hertfordshire is an early 16th century Tudor country house with dramatic 18th century Gothic additions [1]. It has been featured in a number of films, especially its impressive turreted exterior; the 1996 made-for-TV movie The Canterville Ghost made particularly good use of Knebworth's ornate rooms.

Although this house dates back to the 16th century, the collecting of art did not become a feature of country houses until the early 17th century [2]. There is an upsetting lack of information available about the art decorating the walls of Knebworth House, but each work doubtless has its own significance and history to the family.

April 11, 2013

Corsham Court

Corsham Court in Wiltshire was originally constructed in 1582, with extensive building improvements in the 18th century [1]. Several of its rooms, including it impressive Picture Gallery, were used in the film Remains of the Day.

Lancelot "Capability" Brown was the architect in charge of enlarging the house in the 1760s, and he was responsible for the construction of the Picture Gallery, which was integrated into his Elizabethan-style architectural plan [2]. 

April 7, 2013

Athelhampton House

Athelhampton House in Dorset dates back to the 15th century. Although it was seriously damaged by a fire in 1992 [1], the house was used for the 2009 movie From Time to Time in which it represented the country estate, Green Knowe. 

The Great Hall at Athelhampton figured prominently in the film, with an impressive fireplace and tapestry particularly eye-catching. In very grand country houses, the hall was continually a symbol of high status and a location of splendid entertaining [2]; doubtless the artworks displayed there were very carefully selected.