Wednesday, July 22, 2015

London museum report 3 -- Kenwood House

I had the pleasure of visiting Margaret Cooter when we were in London, and she took me to Hampstead Heath, a huge park, almost as big as Central Park in New York, now surrounded by city in every direction.  It was lovely to walk across the heath on a beautiful spring day, but the best part of the expedition was Kenwood House, a 17th century "country house" on the heath, which has a magnificent collection of paintings and other stuff, displayed almost casually, without the uniformed guards and solemnity of the big museums.  People wander in and out from picnics outside on the lawn, or shlep toddlers in strollers in for a five-minute visit on their way to the parking lot.

The house had been owned by the Earls of Mansfield for centuries, but after World War I the family had to sell it -- to Lord Iveagh, the Guinness brewing heir, the second richest man in England (after the King).  He thought it needed some art on the walls, so he bought paintings by the truckload.

Here's a Vermeer!!  The Guitar Player

A Constable!!

A Turner!! Coast Scene With Fishermen

Many of the paintings depict royalty and court figures from the past, and I was intrigued to see that even rich aristocrats had to be frugal with their clothing.  I surmise that these two ladies are mother and daughter, maybe sisters, but they're definitely wearing the same dress!

Diana Cecil, Countess of Oxford (by William Larkin, 1615)

Anne Cecil, Countess of Stamford (by William Larkin, 1615)

And check out the dress -- apparently it's slashed to reveal an underlayer of white silk, and draped and tacked for a stunning 3-D effect.  Wouldn't be surprised to see that technique on a runway today.


  1. One of my favourite things to do in England (or other European countries) is visit the stately homes and gardens. Thank you for sharing your visit to Kenwood House and the close ups of that amazing dress. x

  2. Oh my, imagine living with those paintings!

  3. Hi Kathy - often the painter would use the same clothing for the models...or paint the clothing and add the face and personal effects.

    Also, yes - slashing on the runway...ripped jeans anyone? and back to Versace and 'That Dress' held together with safety pins.

  4. Ah, that dress - the patterning amid the slashing looks rather like handwriting, something I didn't notice at the time.
    As for the painter - he was known as "the curtain master" until Roy Strong identified him as William Larkin in 1969.
    He would have had assistants painting the repetitive details, even the hands and certainly the clothing.