Thursday 19th July 2012
The BBC’s Antiques Roadshow has been running since 1979 and is coming to Stowe House for the first time this summer.
Hopefully lots of long lost Stowe treasures will come to light during the course of the day.
Last year a pair of carved ivory letter racks from China and believed to have been sold from Stowe in 1848 were seen at the Roadshow and later sold at Sotheby’s for £22,500.
The owner revealed to the valuer a sticker on the back of one the racks with the word ‘Stowe’ written on it. Together with the story of how her family came to own these items and a likely description in the 1848 auction catalogue from Stowe, a Duke of Buckingham & Chandos/Stowe provenance was formed.
If you think you have something from Stowe, do bring it along to the Antiques Roadshow. If you are in a queue to see a specialist by 4.30pm you are guaranteed to have your item seen. For more information, visit: www.bbc.co.uk/antiquesroadshow
Not sure if your antique is from Stowe, but think it might be? We’d be happy to help. Using a collection of auction catalogues, inventories and period photographs, we are well equipped to do some digging and may even be able to tell you on the day that you do indeed own a little piece of Stowe history.
Admission to the Roadshow is FREE, as is entrance to the house and gardens on the day.
Throughout the summer the Stowe House Preservation Trust are restoring the remaining two-thirds of the State Music Room. But why hasn’t the room survived as a whole?
In 1922 Harry Shaw, who had bought the house the year before, completely gutted the interiors of anything that could be detached: fireplaces, chandeliers, doors, and artworks that were imbedded into the wall and ceilings. The State Music Room lost its original Valdre-designed fireplace, the original 1770s painting depicting the Dance of the Hours that was imbedded into the ceiling and from which hung the chandelier. Even the plastered niche was listed in the auction catalogue! Thankfully, however, there was no way it could have been removed and the room has retained one of its central features.
The location of the ceiling canvas is not known: it can be traced up until 1978, when it was sold at auction by Christie’s from a house in Kent and almost certainly left the country. We are desperate to know its fate:
Do you know where it is now?
All is not completely lost in the Music Room, though. The original fireplace left Stowe for a number of years before it was recovered from Benham Valence in Berkshire and returned to the house in the 1980s. During its time away from Stowe the fireplace survived a collapsed roof and attacks by vandals.
Only this week features that were thought lost were rediscovered in the Music Room itself. The photo below shows a painted panel with arabesques underneath the niche:
For as long as anyone can remember this panel has been painted the same light green colour as the walls. As part of the restoration conservators removed the panel to consolidate the gilded mouldings around it, only to discover that the original panel painted by Vincenzo Valdre (the room’s designer) in the 1770s had been tucked behind the modern panel in the building void behind.
The State Music Room remains open for visitors to see during the restoration – hopefully we will make many more discoveries over the summer.
Many of the items in Stowe’s former collection was gathered by the 1st Marquess and the first two Dukes whilst they were in Europe undertaking their Grand Tour, essentially a jolly around the Continent that was justified as part of a young gentleman’s education.
The 1st Duke kept a detailed diary of his time in Europe, illustrated with vibrant sketches.
Whilst George Grenville, nephew of Stowe’s great builder, Earl Temple, was in Italy and Austria in 1774 he was under strict instructions to send back furniture and art works to fill the new rooms in Stowe House. Bearing in my Grenville knew he was sure to inherit soon, no doubt the items he brought back reflected his personal taste.
Amongst the things he brought back were two pier tables from Rome:
These tables are now in the Wallace Collection, where they remain on public display, together with several other items from Stowe.
Another item of note brought back from the Continent by the young men in the family was the famous Marine Venus.
This antique statue was excavated at the Baths of Agrippa in Rome by the young future 3rd Duke whilst Marquess of Chandos. Queen Victoria admired this statue so much when she was at Stowe in 1845 that she sent an agent to buy it for Prince Albert as a birthday present from his wife. It now survives at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.
Although some of the more famous souvenirs from the various Grand Tours undertaken by the young men in the Temple-Grenville family have survived in the custody of various museum collections, the vast majority of the items once in the collection at Stowe have disappeared into private collections or overseas.
Do you know where to find any of these souvenirs?
Tourism at Stowe is not a modern phenomena: tourists have been visiting the gardens since the 1740s, and the house since the 1760s.
For such occasions, the Temple-Grenville family commissioned Buckingham publisher Benton Seeley to write a series of guide books, of which there is nearly a full collection at Stowe House. They were sold in London and Buckingham, and also at New Inn – the visitor entrance to the estate (and recently home to the National Trust team).
These books are crucial in mapping out the developments in the house and gardens, as well as tracing the movement of art work and furniture around the state rooms. We have also used the course described in these books to develop an authentic visitor route around the house: the same route walked today was walked by visitors 200 years ago. Book in hand, visitors were able to fully appreciate Stowe’s splendour.
Each guide book had a fold-out map of the gardens, with later editions including floor plans of the piano nobile, or main floor, of the house.
The guide books can be found in libraries and archives across the country (indeed, the world) and also online. They are an incredibly useful tool for the Lost Treasures of Stowe project as art works are listed and furniture described in each of the state rooms. Their authenticity was verified a few years ago with the discovery of an annotated copy of a late edition complete with handwritten alterations in the hand of the Marquess of Buckingham.
And as if we needed any more proof that tourists enjoyed Stowe in the mid-seventeenth century, Jacques Rigaud, a French engraver, produced a series of images depicting the tourists doing what they do best: pointing.
Ah, a question so often asked!
The entire archive belonging to the Stowe estate and also the various collections of family papers that were accumulated have found their way to the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. They were sold along with everything else in 1921/22 and were eventually acquired by Henry E. Huntington, who emigrated to America and founded his eponymous library. Consequently, Stowe does not have the documents so many other properties rely on for research.
The hundreds of thousands of pieces in the Huntington that make up the Stowe Papers are largely uncatalogued, making research (once one has acquired funding and been granted permission, that is!) a massive undertaking.
We’re doing quite well considering, however. The restoration of the state rooms has been based largely on a series on transcripts that have been sent over by a researcher in California, and other sources are being located all the time to help the Lost Treasures project. With your continued help we can build up a new archive at Stowe House for generations to come.
So all is not lost without our archive!
Yes, you read that correctly! The Roman sarcophagus in which the 1st Duke’s beloved pug was interred has been rediscovered in a private collection in New York. It originally sat in the Museum Garden at Stowe (behind the Menagerie) and was sold in 1848 for £8. The pug in question can be seen in the above portrait, which is hung in the North Hall.