All Things British from Houghton Hall

People / Places / January 27, 2015

The American appetite for all things British seems to know no bounds.

And with the opening of Houghton Hall: Portrait of an English Country House, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville feeds that desire sumptuously.

Houghton Hall was the early 18th-century estate of Sir Robert Walpole, the first prime minister of Great Britain. Designed by George Gibbs and Colin Campbell, its Palladian design –   with Campbell’s distinctive domes – is complemented with interiors by William Kent

Among the objects on display in the exhibition – the first time they’ve traveled outside of England – are paintings by John Singer Sargent, William Gainsborough and William Hogarth. Also included are silver, textiles, Sevres porcelain, and costumes worn at coronations.

“There’s one for Edward VII, another for George VI, and a throne for the Prince of Wales from the mid-19th century, for him to sit on every year at the opening of Parliament,” says Katie Delmez, Frist Center curator.

The six Sargent paintings are family portraits. “He stopped commissioning portraits in 1906, but would do them for family and friends,” she says.

Also included: three Old Master paintings, sold to Russia’s Catherine the Great in 1779, which Josef Stalin in the 1930s sold to Andrew Mellon, who in turn bequeathed them to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Then there’s the furniture designed by Kent, with original upholstery of his design, alongside 17th-century tapestries and wallpaper.

“It’s a Chinese brilliant blue wallpaper that’s phenomenal,” she says. “They found three extra rolls in a cabinet in the house.

There is, in this exhibition, something for everyone, whether historian, architecture buff or decorative arts fan.

Or just a die-hard Downton Abbey aficionado.

The exhibition opens on Friday, Feb. 13.


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Michael Welton




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