Houghton At Last At Last – for Once in A Lifetime Experience

28th September 2013

You’ve heard about the great Return to Houghton of the pictures from the Hermitage? Sir Robert Walpole, creator of this great house, or his descendants, sold most of the paintings to Catherine the Great. Money trouble. Now, just until the end of October, you can see them returned and hung in their original places as conceived by William Kent, architect of the mansion.

All summer I’ve been trying to arrive at Houghton but not as an ordinary member of the public. Joshua Baring was guided personally by Lord Linley. Worst of all, Blue Roland and Santon de Belvoir lightening-ed for two nights from New Orleans, one spent in the State Bed at Houghton and the other with Nicky Haslam and Bryan Ferry. Their tour was led by David Cholmondeley, whom they described as ‘this big-deal aristo’. His sister had visited New Orleans on a lecture tour and invited them.


I had to buy a ticket and mill with the general. This great house I visited years ago with Robert Nevil – he incidentally gave a private talk in the gardens there to members of the Pony Club. ‘My husband’s just died,’ one of them said. ‘More time for the important things then,’ was the response, characteristic of the Pony Club. Unfortunately the widow kicked the other one really hard who had to be taken to Causality. Other members made little of it though.

But Houghton is one of my favourite houses. I’m not quite sure why since really I prefer the sparer style of the late 18th century. Houghton is a palace and unbelievably palatial. But William Kent judged so perfectly even though his client, Sir Walpole, about whom I know nothing and never will, no doubt aimed for grandeur and ‘me, me,me’. Normally, when the pictures from the Hermitage are not there, your experience of the house acquires another dimension from the exquisite items collected by Sybil Chomondeley, grandmother of the present Marquis, who had acres of money, superbly spent.

But they’ve all been cleared away for the returned pictures from the Hermitage.

Of course, one had to go. Once-in-a-lifetime experience. Truth to tell, the pictures appeared to have been chosen mainly as an enhancement to the decor. ┬áThe huge red saloon,now hung with vast religious and mythological canvases, made an unforgettable decorative impact. But few of the paintings stood up on their own merit. There was one good Rembrandt, one fab Van Dyck of man full-length in an incredible outfit of sky-blue and cacca de Dauphin, some good Knollys and a small Rubens. Bruce MacBain admired a Poussin over a bed. There was just the one Poussin. Unfortunately I don’t remember it now.

In the basement, other returned items were shown, but returned from America. One piece of silver now belongs to Oscar de la Renta, the frockist.

Houghton: the Rembrandt Returned from the Hermitage for the Season

Silver Piece Returned to Houghton from America for the Season, now Belonging to Oscar de la Renta, the Frockist

Houghton: Not Homely but Great

Posted Saturday, September 28, 2013 under Adrian Edge day by day.

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