Culture notes

Houghton revisited

30 May 2013

1:00 PM

30 May 2013

1:00 PM

When the Marquess of Cholmondeley inherited Houghton Hall, the Palladian palace by Colen Campbell and James Gibbs, he started rootling through the cupboards and drawers.

In one drawer, he found a treasure map — the original picture-hanging plan for the house, as built by his ancestor Sir Robert Walpole, Britain’s first prime minister. The only problem was, he didn’t have the pictures any more — Walpole’s cash-starved grandson had flogged them to Catherine the Great in 1779, in a sale arranged by James Christie, founder of the auction house.

Now the best pictures have been brought back, mostly from the Hermitage, in a show (until 29 September) that is less an exhibition, more a recreation. Rooms, expressly designed for the paintings, have been renovated to welcome back their old friends.

In the most moving reconnection, a portrait of Grinling Gibbons measuring a Bernini bust, by Sir Godfrey Kneller, has returned to the Common Parlour  for the first time in nearly 250 years. Other pictures include a van Dyck of Inigo Jones (above), an unusual Poussin of a near-life-sized Holy Family, and a Velázquez head of Pope Innocent X.

There is a feeling of a great clicking into place. Everything else from Walpole’s house has survived — the sculpture, William Kent’s chairs and the tapestries, their luminous colour preserved by decades when the house was sealed and mothballed. Now the final piece of the jigsaw has returned.

The post Houghton revisited appeared first on The Spectator.

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