Lansdowne House Drawing Room

A drawing room was not just for drawing.  During the late Georgian period and beyond, when socializing was made easier with more efficient transportation, great houses utilized their spaces in new and creative ways to enhance the party experience.

Lansdowne House Rear Drawing Room – Philadelphia Museum of Art

And you thought your living room was just wasted space.

In Notorious Match, the Lansdowne Ball featured dancing and gaming.  After arriving, Diana found herself at a game of faro that was set up in the famous Adam drawing room.  Her luck at the game was indifferent at best.  The last time she played she lost her mother’s pearls.  To her disappointment, the banker refused to accept her voucher to play.  So she staked something else that Lord Harcourt would be unable to resist.  Irresponsible?  Perhaps.  Did she do it to provoke Griffin?  For once, no.

Unknown to anyone, she was desperate to extinguish a little girl’s anguish, enough to pledge something very dear.

Diana unclasped the heirloom about her neck and tossed them on the table toward Harcourt.  “For my mother’s pearls.”

Harcourt’s eyes fastened on the jewels.  “Those are the Northam emeralds, are they not?  You must be very certain of your luck to stake them.”  He lifted the necklace to the light.  “They’re worth ten times your mama’s baubles.”

“A sentimental whim,” she responded.  “Indulge me, my lord.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Diana saw Griffin fold his arms.  She suspected he was trying very hard to look unconcerned.  Serves him right for playing governess.  Griffin knew she did not like any hand on her bridle—whether her uncle’s or Vivien’s.  But least of all his.

“Be advised, my lady, that I shall not be lenient,” Harcourt warned.  “Not even your lord uncle will be able to redeem these from me.”

The emeralds were so fine they made the diamond setting holding them look insipid.  They were the dowry of some long ago heiress who brought them to Northam when she married its earl, one of many sets of jewels Diana had in her strongbox at herLondontown house.  Harcourt laid them beside bank notes, property titles and a variety of coins wagered by other players.  Seeing them in that light gave Diana pause.

They, like anything else belonging to Northam, were her responsibility.

“Deal the cards,” she commanded nevertheless, determined not to reveal her fear of losing them.

Robert Adam ceiling

The drawing room used for faro and baccarat games that evening was the famous Back Drawing Room, designed by Robert Adam in about 1763 along with the original plan commissioned by the 3rd Earl of Bute.  It is considered the most elaborately decorated of the entire suite of reception rooms in Lansdowne House before its mutilation in 1930.  Its primary feature is a great bay that was originally designed to contain Lord Bute’s elaborate mechanical organ.

The ceiling is Adam’s design but he used artists with special gifts to enrich the design, such as the great Italian painters Cipriani and Zucchi, the latter the husband of the famous bluestocking painter, Angelica Kauffman.  From the 1903 edition of Nash’s Pall Mall Magazine, volume 31, we have a description of the room filled with an incredible array of treasures, all long since dispersed:

“…some lovely old Sevres, in yet another a very beautiful pair of rose-coloured marble vases mounted in ormolu of the finest workmanship, while around all in serene beauty hang the works of Reynolds, Romney, Van der Helst and others of the greatest.”

It took nearly twelve years to install the room at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, once it was removed just prior to demolition at Lansdowne House.  Funding was short in the thirties and forties and it took time to amass enough funds to present the Adam room in its new location.  The museum’s director at the time, Fiske Kimball, remarked that the new exhibit, christened the Lansdowne Room:
 “crowns the series, coming as it does from the moment when England, fresh from her greatest conquests, seized for a moment also the artistic mastery of the world.”

Lansdowne House – dining with a nude

Lansdowne House Dining Room pre-demolition

“I wish you would not go in there.”

“Whyever not?” Diana asked.  “I’ve heard all about Lansdowne House’s new acquisition and would like to have a look.”

Louisa, Lady Lansdowne, was mortified.  Her husband’s new Canova sculpture was the talk of London.  “Ever since that dreadful Payne Knight was here for dinner everyone wants to look at it.”

“Good heavens,” Diana exclaimed.  “You had that man over for dinner?  The one who wrote A Discourse on the Worship of Priapus?”

“The very one.  But I am persuaded he is exaggerating.”  Louisa felt herself flush under Diana’s amused glance.  “She is not at all what they say she is.”

“Then there can be no objection to having a look.  Just to be sure.”

Reluctantly, Louisa followed the countess into the famous Adam dining room.  Grim grey statues in their wall-bound niches stared down in disapproval at the female nude who reclined, in all white marble, on her couch.

Louisa grew alarmed at Diana’s prolonged inspection.  “This is all so very distressing.  Do tell me she is not an, er, hermaphrodite?”

Diana folded her arms.  “That fellow Knight may have to reexamine his theory of pagan culture.  Your naiad is missing a most important piece if she’s to be what he says she is.”

Louisa nearly sagged against the sculpture’s buttocks in relief.  Then she caught a gleam of mischief in Diana’s glance.

“Stay–did you say a naiad?  Is that bad?”

Diana shrugged.  “Oh, most decidedly.”

Metropolitan Museum of Art - Lansdowne Dining Room

The dining room at Lansdowne House was executed under the brilliant design of the great Scottish architect Robert Adam.  His neoclassical creation was located in a part of the house that was demolished to make way for a street and additional buildings today known as Fitzmaurice Place.  This mutilation deprived the house of its historic design.  A design that gave the great London mansion “movement.”

The dining room was a part of the south wing–to the left of the old photograph in last week’s post.

Word got round in 1930 that the sculptures and other contents of Lansdowne House were to be put up for sale.  This was to be followed by demolition of the two wings.  Fisk Kimball, director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, was very interested in the house’s role as the venue for the negotiations of a Nation’s independence.  He tipped off the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York of the pending destruction and the institution was emboldened to Act.

The dining room was dismantled and shipped over the Atlantic to its new home where it can be seen today, sans the Canova.  From the Met’s website, we have this marvelous description:

…the design of the ceiling…was carried out in plaster by Joseph Rose. The carving for the wooden doors and door frames, shutters and window frames, columns, baseboard, and chair rail, executed by John Gilbert, was finished in December 1768. The marble chimneypiece was supplied by John Devall & Co., chief masons for the royal palaces, the Tower of London, and the Royal Mews. The oak floor of the room is original. The niches originally held nine ancient marble statues acquired by Lord Shelburne in Italy from the artist Gavin Hamilton, which were dispersed at the Lansdowne sale of 1930. Now, the niches have been filled with plaster casts.  The original furniture, designed by Robert Adam and executed by John Linnell, no longer survives.

Thanks to this reconstruction, we can note several prominent features that would not be out of place in any Regency gathering.  Celadon green is the term for a particular jade coloring that is an enduring part of neoclassical design.  The fireplace is white marble, matching the large frame above it which often stood empty back in its London home.  The Lansdowne family had a vast collection of paintings, but no one individual work was large enough to fill the space Adam designed for it.

Sleeping Nymph - Antonio Canova

What of the reclining nude?  She is now in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.  Lord Lansdowne commissioned her in 1820 from the great Italian sculptor, Antonio Canova.  An earlier post describes his work, but in the case of the reclining naiad, the sculptor had died before her completion and his assistants were relied upon to finish it.

Canova is thought to have been greatly influenced by a famous “marble” unearthed in Italy and presented to the Cardinal Borghese in the seventeenth century.   Known as the Borghese Hermaphroditus, the discovery electrified Western Europe.

Many copies were made of this reclining figure who lay on his (her?) stomach, not quite concealing the object of such amazement.

Lansdowne House – Regency Centre of London

The opening chapters in Notorious Match take place in a London mansion that still stands today.

In my manuscript, the fictional hostess, Lady Louisa Lansdowne, has the privilege of holding the inaugural event of the Season.  Louisa has little regard for the house’s political history even though it witnessed the final negotations that confirmed a Nation’s independence.  She is more concerned that her balls are well-attended and therefore is thrilled when Lord Griffin Montgomery arrives at her party.  Now she is assured her ball will be the premiere event for every eligible, unmarried female for many Seasons to come.

Lord Griffin Montgomery rarely attends ton parties, you see.

Lansdowne House – before alteration

This post is the beginning of several in a series that tours this magnificent home.

Lansdowne House was built upon real estate sold off by Lord Berkeley’s widow in the eighteenth century.  The third Earl of Bute purchased the south side of the square that took her husband’s name.  Lansdowne House was built according to Robert Adam’s 1761 design and was largely completed by 1768.  By then Lord Bute had thrown in the towel and the house was finished under the ownership of another British prime minister, Lord Shelburne, whose name graced the house for a time until his lordship was granted the marquisate of Lansdowne.

Lansdowne House was built according to Adam’s predeliction for ‘movement,’ a term which refers to the diversity of form throughout the building, inside and out.  One can see from the black and white photograph several elements:  the rusticated (dare we say, Tuscan?) ground floor topped by the classical coolness of the Palladian pediment and the portico with its Ionic pillars.  The pavilions on either side were placed forward, giving the mansion an assertive, yet graceful presentation:

“This august edifice…unites at once the gay, the elegant and the grand.”

—James Ralph, A Critical Review of the Publick Bulidings:  Statues and Ornaments in, and about London and Westminster

Berkeley Square – 1830

The odd thing about Lansdowne House is its placement.  It does not face Berkeley Square (note the arrow in the adjacent map and the circular front drive), having been situated in such a way as to present its side to the park.   This configuration was to allow the Dukes of Devonshire to have an unobstructed view of the square from their London mansion situated to the south-east (in red).  Lansdowne House was therefore allowed a massive front garden, an advantage few others in the great metropolis had.  Indeed, walkers in Berkeley Square were excused from assuming they were in the country when walking past Lansdowne House, peering through the iron gates at a drive that disappeared into carefully tended landscape.  The only evidence of a building beyond was its exquisite pediment rising above the trees.

This quality was also very nearly the downfall of Lansdowne House.

In the Great Depression, the London council with authority over Berkeley Square determined that a road linking Curzon Street to the square was sorely needed.  The line of houses known as Bolton Row, where Henry James’ sister and other intellectual luminaries had resided, was demolished.  But this was not enough.  The road was extended through Lansdowne’s front garden and Fitzmaurice Place was created in front of the mansion.  To accommodate the new street and buildings, Lansdowne House had to be moved back forty feet.  The only solution, short of destroying the house, was to remove all the front rooms and reconstruct the facade on the truncated building.

Lansdowne House – post truncation

Some of these front rooms were among the finest designs of Robert Adams in England.  The mutilation of Lansdowne House meant that they must go.  And so they went–to far-flung places.

Now that’s cutting off your nose to spite your face.

No one likes Twelfth Night cake

Birch & Birch, London Confectioners

Vivien climbed the great Adams staircase at Northam House.  She had scarcely reached the top step when she met Diana, preparing to descend.  She was pulling on her York tan gloves with something like irritation, her bonnet jammed onto her curls as if it were to blame for some upset.  Margaret was behind her, trying to coax her mistress into putting on a pelisse.

Diana obliged, hunching down to accept her dresser’s assistance.  The shoulders and armholes of the garment had been carefully tailored by her modiste to fit the countess closely.  The modish pelisse was difficult to put on but the end result was worth it—the sleeves clung to Diana’s slim arms with no wrinkling, the back setting off her elegant shoulders to perfection.

“Surely you’re not thinking of going out,” Vivien remonstrated.

“I’m off to Cornhill,” Diana said, nodding her thanks to the maid.  Her green eyes dared Vivien to gainsay her.  “To get a Twelfth Night cake.  Birch’s makes the best in London, I’m told.”

Vivien quirked an eyebrow.  “You hate Twelfth Night cakes.  You never eat them at other people’s parties and you give your servants a week’s wages instead of their customary slice so you don’t have to bring one in the house.”

“Quite.  I despise the nasty things they put in them.”  Diana passed her, going down the stairs rapidly.  “But it’s not for me,” she called over her shoulder.  “It’s for Griffin.”

Vivien followed, her slippered feet making what sounded like a silly patter on the stone steps, hastening after the sound of Diana’s leather half boots.  She tried to keep her voice even although it echoed in the stairwell chasm topped by a decorative dome high above.

“You amaze me,” she said to Diana’s back that was by now far below.  “I’m his cousin and have never known him to have a penchant for it.”

The sound of male laughter rose from the foyer at the bottom of the stairway and filled its monumental space.  Vivien could see that Diana had stopped at the landing where she was confronted by her uncle and Griffin.  As she came to stand beside her friend, Vivien noted the exceptionally large box they had, bearing the stamp of Birch & Birch, Confectioners.

“Go ahead, my dear,” Russell said to Diana, winking at Vivien.  “See what Griffin has brought you.”

Diana opened the box and even Ingle, the housekeeper, was moved to express her astonishment.  Inside was a confection exquisitely decorated with delicate icing that was sculpted into swags and bunches of fruit.  In the center, there was no coat of arms nor earl’s coronet as one might expect would crown an offering for a countess.

The Twelfth Night cake was topped, very simply, with the name DIANA.

Griffin cleared his throat in the awkward silence.  “I don’t care for Twelfth Night cakes myself, but I was persuaded you might like this one.”

Vivien, not knowing whether he would receive thanks or a face full of iced confection, stepped into the breach.  “How very thoughtful of you, Griffin.”

She should have known Russell had no such compunction.

“Well, Niece,” he teased, “will you despise this Twelfth Night cake as you have all the others I’ve tried to bring home?”

“I think not.” Diana replied, looking directly at Griffin.  “Thank you for the cake, Sir.”

Vivien wondered at the undefined warmth filling the cold foyer.

Wedding cake of HRH Diana, Princess of Wales

The Chambers’ Book of Days of 1869 reports that Birch’s is one of London’s most celebrated confectioners–the shop being quite old by the the time its proprieter, Samuel Birch, served as Lord Mayor in 1815, the year of Griffin’s gift to Diana.  The shop was in Cornhill, a part of London’s City Center that crowns one of that metropolis’ three hills, the others being Tower Hill and Ludgate Hill.

The picture of another “Diana” cake seemed appropriate.  A slice given by the Queen Mother to her servant sold recently for almost two thousand pounds sterling.  Quite a bit more than a week’s wages, I’ll warrant.

Calennig – A Welsh New Year

Vivien peered into the grand salon, sometimes called the saloon, at Northam Park.  The riotous interior that was a masterpiece of Rococco decoration was clearly at odds with its lone occupant.  The Countess of Northam stood pale and solitary, her tall figure slim as ever, outlined in sharp relief against a soaring Palladian window.  She sifted rapidly, as though unseeing, through a trove of invitations to attend various country pursuits afternoon teas, shooting lunches and hunting balls.

Diana was grieving.

HM Queen Elizabeth's mare Burmese

Vivien knew this because they had been bosom bows for over twenty years.  In that time she had come to recognize the signs of emotional turmoil in her beloved friend.  Signs that included a brittle laugh, sparkling green eyes, fluid, quicksilver movements.

Yet the mistress of Northam Park exhibited none of these now.  The only thing that betrayed her grief was the manner in which her long, elegant fingers rapidly sorted through the embossed cards, as if each one represented an irritation.

Diana looked up.  “Oh, my dear.  How good of you to come and relieve the tedium of my company.”

“I’ve come to give you a gift.”

“Good God.  I’ve been saving mine to give to you on Twelfth Night.  ‘Tis only New Year’s.”

“You’re forgetting I’m Welsh.”  Vivien joined her at the window and offered a polished wooden box.  “This is your Calennig, my dear.”

Diana put the cards down.  She took the box, her long, elegant fingers moving over the gift before opening it.

Inside was a highly polished, copper bit.

Diana snapped the box shut, a violent, angry motion.

“You’ve grieved long enough,” Vivien said, her own voice unexpectedly angry.  “Garnet has been gone for months.”

Diana met her eyes and looked away quickly, her mouth lifted up in one corner as if self-revulsion.  Vivien knew she despised showing any sign of weakness.

“How was the Boxing Day hunt?” she asked, her voice derisive.  “Did your new nag refuse any of the fences?”

“It would never occur to Bandula that she might ever refuse a fence,” Vivien replied.  “She’s as close to being my dear Thor reincarnated as I should ever like to see.  Even down to her grey coat.”

Diana set the box down on the window’s marble sill.  She crossed her arms over her chest, her long fingers clenching against the expensive silk that made up her sleeves.  “Do not bother to cozen me, Vivien.  I’m blue-devilled and shall be miserable company for anyone.  For a long time.”

“It’s the New Year.  What better time to look about for a new horse?”  Vivien insisted.

“Aye, you hardly gave a thought to poor old Thor, so fast did you seize upon your new pet. ”

It was a wounding thing to say, but Vivien did not mind.  She knew that it must come from a pain so terrible that it was positively eating Diana alive.   And so she leaned against her friend, even though her own head scarcely reached Diana’s shoulder.

“Oh, Vivien,” Diana groaned, her words wracked by the suspicion of a sniff, “I can’t seem to right myself.  Garnet must have been the most wretched mare alive.  I think she must have thrown me a dozen times or more.  Griffin never liked her, although I used to catch him giving her scraps from the kitchen.  Good God, she would eat anything, even roast beef if you offered it to her.  And do you remember the time, Vivien, when we first met and Thor put her in her place with that well-bred glance of his?”

Their glances locked, each remembering their horses now gone.  Predictably, Vivien felt her face crumple in a sob and it was Diana who was holding her close for comfort.

“I think I needed to see you grieve, Vivien, in order for me to get over mine.”

“You wretched creature,” Vivien replied, hugging her friend even closer.

The Calennig is the Welsh New Year’s gift.  Vivien, a marchioness, chose to give the Countess of Northam something rather more meaningful than jewels or fabric to demonstrate her love for her old friend.  A copper bit, brand new, was a gentle reminder we must all move on from the pain of the past year.

Vivien’s mother was born in Wales and converted to Methodism.  She had always schooled her daughter with a tenet remembered from a long remembered preacher.  “You must forgive the past year to live in the new.”

Christmas at Windsor Castle

Lighted Christmas Tree - Octagon Dining Room at Windsor Castle

In 1844, long after the events in Notorious Vow and Notorious Match, Diana and Vivien attended the young Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, at Windsor Castle.  The countess and marchioness were astonished to see a tree suspended from the ceiling of the Octagon Dining Room, where the chandelier is normally hung.

A Christmas tree, the Prince Consort explained.

This is from the Royal Collection’s website at :

In the German tradition, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert exchanged gifts on Christmas Eve and presents were laid out on tables, each of which had a Christmas tree at its centre.  Two gift tables will be recreated with presents exchanged by Victoria and Albert.  Among the highlights is a painting by Sir Charles Eastlake commissioned by Victoria in 1844 as a gift for Albert, and a sculpture of Princess Beatrice as a baby lying in a shell, given to the Queen by Prince Albert for Christmas 1858.

In the Castle’s State Dining Room, the table will be laid for a Victorian Christmas feast with a magnificent porcelain dessert service by Minton of Staffordshire.  Known as the Victoria Service, the set was purchased by the Queen at the Great Exhibition in 1851 and includes four porcelain figures of the four seasons, ice pails, cream and bon-bon dishes, and a pair of silver-gilt sauceboats shaped like sleighs.

This special display has been recreated for the public’s viewing and ends on January 8th.

Porcelain Dessert Service - State Dining Room at Windsor Castle

Sweet Science

           “Move aside, you fools,” Nigel shouted.

Diana jolted awake.  A cacophony of shouts and neighs sounded just outside the coach, made by what must be an inordinate amount of horses and men calling their greetings to one another.  The coach had stopped, presumably in the ostlers’ yard at the Maiden’s Crown, but the racketing around by jingling harnesses and stomping hooves did not call to mind the exclusive inn’s normally quiet order.

Diana told Selby and Margaret to remain where they were while she investigated.  As soon as she stepped outside, it seemed as though she were the only female left on earth amid males of every description from country yokels to London dandies.  Nigel had all six sets of reins bunched in one fist while directing the Northam outriders to hold the excited team.

Nigel called to her from his box.   “’Tis a blasted—begging your pardon, my lady—there’s a mill going on between the Black and Quentin Fosonby less than a mile from here.  Every inn and hostelry is crammed full with gawkers to watch the match.”

Selby and Margaret alighted, the former fixing an icy stare on one unfortunate  who gaped at them with a straw hanging out of his mouth.  At the dresser’s glare, the man took himself off.

“No matter,” Diana replied, “our rooms were bespoken in advance.  Have the horses seen too and I shall sort this out.”

She thought briefly of Griffin.  If he were here, it would be his province to deal with travelling upsets.  But as he was not, she would.  God knows she had enough experience.  She briefly wondered if he might have stopped to watch the boxing match, leaving his horses with some boy to look after for a guinea.  Men liked that sort of thing, the blood and violence of a good fistfight.  They also liked to ride their horses or curricles on the open road, without female companionship.

Poor Diana, my heroine in Notorious Match, had run smack-dab into the middle of a sport that was all the rage in the Regency.  Called the “sweet science” by noted sportswriter Pierce Egan, pugilism seemed a Godsend to males everywhere in the early nineteenth century.  .

The Jane Austen Centre does a lovely overview of the sport as it is confined to the early eighteenth century, including a nice excerpt from the movie Becoming Jane.

More specifically, pugilism, along with men’s only clubs, are examples of male homosociality during the Regency.

Homosociality.  Like the more recent term bromance.  A distinction, mind you, from those relationships that are of a romantic, or sexual nature.

One of the things my heroine wrestles with is the prodigious desire on the part of men to socialize with other men.

Why should it matter that men do things together?

Because Diana was curious.  As am I.