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Sunday, 30 March 2014

Super cool hipster archives

Since I started this blog, all those double digit weeks ago, I have been plagued by the same question.
'But Eliza, where are the Waddesdon archives?'
It seems that people are obsessed with archives, and are desperate to understand the storage capabilities of institutions like Waddesdon for maintaining them.

I'd put that in my archive

You could say that archives are the new short film making. Ask any wickedly dressed Berlin-loving youth what they do in their spare time and you can bet that their answer will either be going to archives or maintaining some sort of archive themselves.

‘I got your snapchat, mate, but why were you up at 3am’

‘Got into some crazy archiving and just couldn’t stop’

(sample conversation)

In light of this, last week I paid a fleeting visit to the Waddesdon Archives, ‘Windmill Hill’, where the architect Stephen Marshall was dropping in for a cup of tea and a natter with the guides.
The atmosphere was (obviously) electric.


Open by appointment and for the odd concert, this incredible building, erupting out of architecture predating the Manor itself, is full of bolshy pieces of modern art. Angus Fairhurst’s A Couple of Differences Between Thinking & Feeling (2000) quite literally ape those that are using the reading room, as they sit seductively lit by Fernando Campana’s Broken Dreams lights (2010).Personally, I like to play a quick game of spot the Kapoor.

See it? See it?

Outside are slated rolling hills designed by Richard Long, and a pair of umbrellas by Michael Craig-Martin (2011), that mock the British weather with their false promise of protection.

Spot the gardener is another classic Windmill Hill game

Of course, we fitted in a few games of ‘Art Historians sitting on chairs’ whilst we were there, before badgering Stephen for more information on his design. He was charming, it was charming, and hopefully we were charming. What a National Trust afternoon….

Spot the Kapoor round 2

Catch you on the flip side!

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Spring has sprung at Waddesdon Manor

Spring has officially (?!) sprung at Waddesdon Manor, and the new Archive Intern Rebecca and I have been out and about in the grounds soaking up the rays! Not much art historical info for you today, just lots of pictures of the beautiful C19th landscape, with us two (and lots of other excited weekenders) clambering around in it!

Perfect spot for a family shot!

Rebecca and daffodils
Standing on a Stephen Cox, giving peacocks a run for their money

The beaaautiful dairy. Unfortunately cowless, but home to some very lovely weddings!

Home farm feeling hot, hot, hot


The gardens are already open, but the manor is reopening on the 26th, so hope to see lots of you then! 
Catch you on the flip side! 

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Mini-me Mini-you; Miniatures at Waddesdon

Everybody loves miniature things- from the Horniman Museum's miniature dogs (feat. in this article I wrote for 1883 Magazine), to miniature food (mini burgers anyone?), to those tiny useless rubbers everyone played with in primary school, it seems that our brains are hard wired to respond to the small and the vulnerable. Tiny objects allow us to be protective, and, reciprocally, make us feel powerful. 

At Waddesdon we have some amazing tiny things; teeny weeny furniture, cups, animals, little men. But the objects I want to throw a spotlight on this week are the collection of miniature paintings, due to go on display for the first time in years at the start of next season (March 26th).

Why, hello there.
Peter Oliver (c.1594-1647), Portrait of an unknown man, 1627, watercolour on vellum © The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor

Whilst studying at Oxford, I was lucky enough to be taught by Hanneke Grootenboer, an Art Historian who has written a flurry of brilliant essays on the miniature. She always talks about the intimacy of these images- little visions of your lover, your queen or your kin, thumbed over, kissed and held. 

I like to think that some of the unknown men in our portraits gave these images to their lovers, who apparently liked the 'pallid, been out all night look'. Check out that ruff! I, for one, am hoping for a revival... 

Who? Me?
Atrributed to Isaac Oliver (c.1565-1617), Anne of Denmark, c.1605, watercolour on vellum© The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor

This attractive lady is Queen Anne of Denmark, who married King James VI of Scotland (later James I of England) when she was just fourteen. History books haven't been too kind to her- she has often been written off as frivolous- but her great patronage of the arts defines our vision of Jacobean England. She also wore some pretty fantastic gear, this flowery concoction included. 

Jared Leto, anyone?
Samuel Cooper (1609-1672), Portrait of a Young Man (Possibly Lord Fauconberg), 1662, watercolour on vellum © The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor

This gentlemen is perhaps a little more to my taste than ol' bug eyes above (although, we're clutching at straws here). Cooper, the artist, was famed for his portraits of Oliver Cromwell, and there's something slightly dictator-esque about this gentlemen, although we think that the sitter could be Lord Fauconberg, who married Cromwell's third daughter, Mary and loved a centre parting. Lord Fauconberg, or J. Leto, it's a toss-up. 

The real mystery isn't 'who is this', but 'what is he leaning on'
After Gerlach Flicke (fl. 1545-1558, Portrait of a Man, 1569, watercolour on vellum © The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor

And then this man- who I'd definitely keep on my chain. The motto written on the armillary sphere reads 'SO.CHE.IO.SONO', which my big sister has kindly translated for me as 'I know I am understood'. Sounds like just my kind of guy.... 

Next week I'll be preparing for opening, so get excited for lots of covers coming off, and secrets being revealed

Catch you on the flip side! 

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

LFW at Waddesdon (feat. The Duchesse de Polignac)

Last week I went to London Fashion Week.

I know- I was as surprised as you are. If you want to see what I was up to you can see the video I made for XXY Magazine here. At the end, I ask people about YOLO and pizza, if that's your sort of thing.

Just having a cHAT

Many of the outfits I saw- especially in the Somerset House Courtyard- were vying to be controversial; almost-naked anime characters brought to life; fox tails; hats that trumped any Ascot headwear.

What does the fox say?

This got me thinking about some of the more ‘risqué’ outfits we have here at Waddesdon- (where I work as the Collections Assistant, if you haven't already picked that up!) and one in particular: the dress belonging to ‘Madame de Polignacin this gorgeous painting by Madame Vigeé-Le Brun.

Elisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrunMartine-Gabrielle-Yoland de Polastron, The duchesse de Polignac (1745-1793), 1783; Waddesdon The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust) Bequest of James de Rothschild, 1957; acc. no. 2154 © The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor

This sweet little white number might not scream of controversy- it’s precisely the type of outfit some Victorian artists would later dress their vunerable virgins in- but in C18th France, this white percale dress, topped with a simple straw hat, caused a bigger stir than any busty corset or meat dress would on the red carpet today.

And here’s why:

Madame de Polignac (1749-1793), as you may know, was one of Queen Marie Antoinette’s favourites. Recently, revolutionary rumours that she was the Queen’s lover have resurfaced, with the release of ‘Farewell, My Queen’ in 2009. But, irrespective of her sexual preferences, she was part of the Queen’s inner circle, and would eventually become governess to Marie Antoinette’s children, spending much of her time indulging in an imagined life of a peasant with the queen at Trianon, pretending to milk cows, running through perfectly pruned fields, and playing on a purpose built carousel.

Trianon's very own working mill

This luxurious faux-poverty, exemplified by the women’s carefree outfits, highly angered the pre-revolutionary French public, showing them just how out of touch their rulers were. Similar images of the Queen herself, also by Vigeé-Le Brun, caused a scandal at the 1783 Salon (a public hanging of artworks a bit like the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition), and had to be taken off the walls.

Oil on canvas, Private collection of Hessische Hausstiftung, Kronberg, Germany

In some ways, it seems that we have become increasingly lax- think Miley or Madonna- but today just as then we have expectations of our state leaders. Imagine if the queen was spotted in a mini-skirt, or David Cameron starting wearing a fox tail! 

Au revoir mon petit choux
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Friday, 14 February 2014

Valentines Shmalentines at Waddesdon Manor

I'm not the biggest fan of Valentine's Day. I love Valentine's Day cards-  this year I wrote an article about my obsession with them for XXY Magazine- but the actual day I can give or take.
Basically, I have spent the last two Valentine's Days in a library, and I'm not sorry. 

Working at Waddesdon, though, I decided to try and get myself out of that Valentine's funk. And it turns out that the art collection here is pretty effective emotional therapy. Unfortunately for you single laydeez/gentlemanz the house is closed until March, but for those who really need a stint on the couch, here's my summary of Waddesdon's least romantic offerings. 

Some day my prince will come? 

Alice de Rothschild (1847-1922), the long suffering sister and live-in companion of Waddesdon's patron Ferdinand, loved flowers, so much so that she was said to walk around the garden with a pair of secateurs to wrench out any weeds that had struggled through the parterre beds.

This week, appropriately, the first snowdrops were spotted peeking through the frozen ground

Birds eye view of snowdrops

Alice's preference for the floral is also evident inside the house, particularly in the State Bedroom, which was used by Queen Victoria when she rested on her visit to Waddesdon. It's a sort of proto Cath Kidston design. As rosy as a box of Cadbury's roses. 

The room's rosy-ness is, in a roundabout way, down to Alice. It was she who imposed a stringent housekeeping regime after her brother's death, known as 'Miss Alice's Rules'. This meant shutters down, even in the presence of royalty: when Edward VII paid a visit to Waddesdon she refused to raise the blinds to let him see the paintings. Pretty badass. 

It is very Victorian

But Miss Alice was not only interested in flowers and housekeeping. A permanent bachelorette, she took over the running of the estate after her brother died, and organised the garden into allotments to feed the less fortunate during WW1.


She was also good friends with Queen Vic herself, who affectionately referred to her as 'The All-Powerful One'. Who needs Valentines, Alice might have said, when you have a collection of pipes and guns to play with in your country mansion? 


Happy Valentine's Day y'all!! 

Friday, 7 February 2014

Châteauesque and other fancy words

This was my view on leaving work today 

Not bad

As I looked up at Waddesdon, finally able to wander around outside in the blistering heat (I kid, I kid), I was reminded that I haven't yet written about the architecture of this crazy place I live and work in.

So here we go. Get ready for the fancy words.

Waddesdon Manor was commissioned by Ferdinand de Rothschild (1839-1898) not long after the death of his wife Evelina (1839-1866). He had been intoxicated by the aesthetic of the châteaux of the Valois kings- buildings like this- and wanted something similar in England, but with all the comforts of modern day life. The architect for the job was Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur, who not only had an impressive name, but also had impressive credentials, having recently adapted the Château de Mouchy. 

Claire's back and she's wearing a snood

The style chosen was 'Châteauesque', or Châtaeu+, as I (and Google) like to call it. Wikipedia calls it 'eclectic' but I prefer to think of it as 'intelligently nuts'. Somewhere between a C19th American hotel and a C16th French castle, it is adorned with sweeping staircases, disney towers, grimacing gargoyles, and accessorised with many, many finials. 

For Ferdinand, comfort meant electricity, French and Italian chefs and central heating. I'm told that Queen Victoria asked for the lights to be turned on and off repeatedly when she visited. She also (apparently) asked for the menu to be sent back to the palace, so impressed was she with its design. There is no mention of her thoughts on the central heating. I imagine they were positive. 

Spot another royal
Hint: it's not me

The entire estate was erected over twenty years on the site of a farming property with a 600-foot malformed cone at its centre. Exotic, fully grown trees were brought in, and gave the impression of woodland. 

Too big for the camera

Both the interior and the exterior are patchworks of old and new. The ancient is uplifted and placed in a new arrangement, in many cases saving it from destruction. Perhaps this is a metaphor for life. But I think not. It does make one cool building though, even if the central heating is Victorian. I suppose if it was good enough for her madge....

It's chilly. Wot ya' gunna do. 

To see more, come and visit. The gardens are open to public at the weekend from now, and the house from 26th March. 

Alternatively, if you are feeling lazy and/or impatient, come back here this friday for some Waddesdon Valentines capers....


Sunday, 2 February 2014

Saturday Soujourn at Waddesdon

This week the 5.30 pm sky turned from black to dark blue, which meant that when I walked home I didn't need a torch to work out if it was a pheasant or a mass murderer running ahead of me on the track (it was a pheasant).

But to be honest, when I wasn't at work, it was still pretty dark, pretty much all the time.
Luckily this weekend, I stayed up at Waddesdon, and despite terrible weather warnings the sun actually shone. 

My friend Claire was visiting, and I was so doubtful of it staying nice that I actually took this picture, to prove to her that the sky had once been blue.

Over there it's actually sunny

Claire has temporarily moved from Paris to London, where she is working at a major auction house. She hadn't packed for England with a weekend in the countryside in mind, and was concerned her outfit wasn't weather-proof enough. 

Her boots were inappropriately nice

Our first stop was the aviary. Commissioned by Ferdinand Rothschild before 1889, it is in the style of a French or German C18th garden pavilion. Think a modern (mini) menagerie at Versailles

Having fallen into disrepair after WW2, it was restored in 2003, and is now the sight of a variety of breeding projects for rare birds, including the Rothschild Mynah, named after Ferdinand's eccentric nephew Walter.

The gardens have once again opened to the public, and so on arrival we were accosted by a three-year-old girl, who had wanted to take a picture of the puddle we were so rudely standing in. 

Puddle features bottom left

I decided to dress as a robber

The birds knew Ferdinand's voice, and apparently used to wander over to the bars when he visited, hoping for food and affection. Claire tried this tactic to tempt them to pose.

Spot the golden urns
Hint: they aren't Claire

A love of exotic birds inspired many of the objects in the Waddesdon collection, notably the vibrant Razumovsky Service. There are also some excellent parrot over-mirrors. The influence of C18th chinoiserie is prevalent throughout the house, sweeping downward lines; exotic animals. Walter Rothschild even rode in a zebra carriage. 

Claire is an artist, and did some slightly more subdued sketches of the illusive birds. I tried to get some pictures, but they were all bars and flashes of blue. Bluddy iPhone. 

She's really good.

Claire is not only an artist. She's also a French person. We briefly visited the (finally open) gift shop, where I attempted to out-do her on this front. 

This is definitely fine, and politically correct

Then we went to the pub for dinner. C'est la vie, oui?