Thursday, 16 February 2017

Taste and decay

We visited Hardwick Hall yesterday, one of our local stately homes. It's an interesting enough place but as with so many National Trust properties the life of it has long gone and its absence seems to permeate every aspect of the place. Acres of worn and faded tapestry teeming with obsolete allegory do nothing to bring the place back to life. Just the opposite.

As ever with such buildings, there is a sense of cans being kicked down the road. How long will Hardwick be maintained and for how long will the National Trust keep at bay those relentless processes of decay? Centuries? Currently work is being done to repair part of the roof. After that it will be something else, then something else.

There is still a touch of life in the rooms occupied up until the mid twentieth century by Evelyn, Duchess of Devonshire, but apart from that there are few echoes of Hardwick's long history.

Among its treasures is the so-called Sea-Dog Table above.

This elaborate table, supported by four finely carved winged dogs with fishes' tails, was one of the original acquisitions for Hardwick Hall made by Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury.

A marble-inlaid walnut 'drawing table', or draw-leaf table, France, probably Paris, circa 1575, of extremely fine quality and one of the most important pieces of sixteenth century furniture to survive in England.

How anyone ever saw merit in such a hideous piece of furniture I don't know. To my mind this is what Hardwick suggests most strongly, the astounding ugliness of elite Tudor taste.


Sam Vega said...

I'm fascinated by the National Trust. It's a really odd organisation. They are making huge amounts of money by turning themselves into a sort of cultural repository for the middle-brow middle classes. It's now about "the experience"; how wonderful a day out you can have in a carefully-managed historical or natural setting. So much emphasis on yummy wholesome locally-sourced ethical food, for God's sake! The emphasis seems to have changed from the places themselves, to the aesthetic buzz that can be wrung out of them. And the problem is, of course, that this process leaves the places looking more like bland homogenised theme parks. The difference between a Trust property and a privately-run stately home which opens its doors to the public is quite shocking. Still, the Trust does have these huge houses to maintain, and their marketeers have pointed them in the direction of the greatest revenue...

And yes, lots of rich people in the past had awful taste. I wouldn't pay to look at the Beckham's house, and the aesthetic taste evinced by the property of a drunken slave-trading farmer is often no better.

Thud said...

The preservation of our historic houses is a wonderful thing but the absence of life as you point out weighs heavy on the places that once where homes...what to do?

Woodsy42 said...

I agree with the previous comments. I'm delighted that the Trust exists and is keeping these bits of history looked after, the volunteers are often fascinating to talk to if you visit at quiet times. But there is also an increasing sameness and 'brand consistency' to their presentation, and for me an increasing irritation with the 'artwork' they insist on sponsoring and dumping around the places, often quite out of character.
English Heritage properties, although specialising in ruins, are more varied and a tour of French chateaux shows what can be done, some being amusingly individual.

wiggiatlarge said...

Many years ago I was in conversation with a landscaper whom I knew well we were talking about NT gardens and how when they took over a property the "restoration" of the gardens always followed the same route, with very few exceptions.

It coined the phrase a "National Trussed Garden" this was to denote the trust had done nothing of note, just that the latest renovation was almost identical to the last, a sort of renovation by numbers, whether this still applies I have no idea as I have not visited a NT property for the expensive experience for years as everything now even for members is an extra due for payment.

Plus it along with so many charities? relies on unpaid volunteers whilst paying ever higher salaries to the executives who run it.

Demetrius said...

Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall. Conspicuous consumption at its most obvious level. It is why England went bust at the time and had to rely on piracy etc.

Anonymous said...

I always call it 'the National Socialist Trust'. If the 'Memsahib' insists on visiting one of their mausoleums I usually sit in the garden - or the tearoom!

A K Haart said...

Sam - "The difference between a Trust property and a privately-run stately home which opens its doors to the public is quite shocking." I agree. We recently visited Burton Agnes which was very different.

Thud - I would look at making the whole experience more adult by providing much more information, perhaps in some kind of electronic format.

Woodsy - we prefer English Heritage and particularly like their audio guides.

Wiggia - I'm not much of a gardener, but now you mention it they are rather similar - to the untutored eye at least.

Demetrius - yet now the windows are draped with curtains to cut down the effects of sunlight on the interior, so the original effect is lost.

David - you could always go round and ask awkward questions.