Houghton Hall Sketches

A few weeks ago I spent several hours at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, walking around their recreation of Houghton Hall. The exhibit was marketed as a real-life Downton Abbey ("If you like Downton Abbey, you'll love Houghton Hall!") or at least as real as it can get without actually going to England and poking around the cellars of a country estate. I do not like Downton Abbey, but I did enjoy Houghton Hall. h1_blog

Each of the exhibit areas was arranged as closely as possible to a real room in Houghton Hall, with huge photographs of the interior covering the walls. There was not much opportunity for sketching-- nowhere to sit, and nowhere to stand for long unless I wanted to block someone else's view. So I mostly took notes.

Sir Robert Walpole, who constructed the hall in the 1720's, had a passion for buying art. Judging from what I saw, I wouldn't say his taste was good, so much as it was expensive. He was Prime Minister for twenty years, and "liked to think of himself as a modern Roman senator." He had a stone bust of himself made, wearing a toga, with close-cropped Romanesque hair, and put the bust on the mantel so everyone would be sure to see it. (And support him in his next bid for office, I assume.)

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There was also some horrendously ornate Sèvres china. One bowl had CAMEOS around the inside rim, and a ring of what looked like garnets and pearls at the bowl's bottom, circling a miniature painting of doves, which I sketched above. I don't know if the bowl was meant to be decorative only, or if Lord Walpole regularly swallowed pearls and garnets with his soup.

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At the end of the exhibit was a collection of the family's paintings. Again, I had no time to sketch, so I made notes of a few paintings I really liked so that I could look them up later. It's overwhelming to stand in the midst of so many works of art. I can't give each one the attention it deserves. My brain starts buzzing. If I spend a minute gaping at a painting-- the result of hours of work and a lifetime of skill-- I feel like I'm insulting the artist.

I spent a long time (though not as long as the painting deserved) in front of The Prince Enters the Briar Wood by Sir Edward Burne-Jones:

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Beside the painting was this quote from Burne-Jones:

I mean by a picture a beautiful romantic dream, of something that never was, never will be-- in a light better than any that ever shone-- in a land no one can define or remember, only desire-- and the forms divinely beautiful.

I think I just became a Pre-Raphaelite, if I wasn't one already.

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Image of The Prince Enters the Briar Wood from The Art Renewal Center.