31.03.2015
14:12

Kenwood House (English Heritage)

Address:

Hampstead Lane, NW3 7JR

Phone:

020-8348 1286

Website:

www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/kenwood

Opening times:

End March–end Oct daily 11:00–17:00; Nov–end March daily 11:00–16:00

How to get there:

Tube/Station: none. Take bus 210 from Golders Green or Highgate

Entry fee:

Free

Additional information:

Disabled access ground floor only. Restaurant and shop

Kenwood, an elegant mansion set on a ridge of land with a magnificent prospect over Hampstead Heath towards London, is one of the principal properties of English Heritage. The former house of c. 1700 was remodelled and redecorated in 1764–79 by the Adam brothers, Robert and James, for William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, Lord Chief Justice, who lived here from 1754. The resulting elegant and imposing villa is a major piece of 18th-century Neoclassical architecture and interior decoration, which the Adam brothers regarded as one of their major commissions. Their designs for Kenwood, including furniture, are preserved at the Soane Museum, and were published in their 1774 Works in Architecture. The most magnificent of the new ground floor reception rooms created for Mansfield is without doubt the Library, or ‘Great Room’, regarded by many as Robert Adam’s finest achievement.

The Adam brothers’ alterations included the building of a third storey and a new wing, on the east side, to house the Library. Externally, the entire house was encased in white stucco and on the south front embellished with pilasters and panels of ornamental detail, carried out by the skilled plasterer Joseph Rose in ‘Liardet’, an oil cement. Entrance is via the north side portico, an Adam addition, but the flanking wings were added by George Saunders after 1793 for the 2nd Earl of Mansfield, for a Dining Room to the east, and a Music Room to the west. The 1st Earl began the landscaping of the park, which was continued by the 2nd Earl aided by the great landscape gardener Humphrey Repton, who was probably responsible for the ornamental flowerbeds of the west garden and the looped foliage passage near the front of the house. The grounds today are a beautiful combination of lawns, a lake, winding rhododendron walks among woodland (recorded here by 1806), an avenue of limes (a favourite resort of the poet Pope), the whole surrounded by Hampstead Heath. Dr Johnson’s summer house from Thrale Place was brought here in 1968.

Kenwood today has none of its original contents, save for a few Adam pieces of furniture which have fortuitously returned following the house contents sale of 1922. It is, however, home to the Iveagh Bequest, a major collection of paintings left to the nation in 1927, along with the house, by Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh. He had purchased Kenwood from the Mansfield family in 1925, who had ceased to use it. In 1922 the Kenwood Preservation Committee purchased 100 acres of the park, and in 1925 Lord Iveagh purchased the house and a further 80 acres, which were about to be sold as building plots. His bequest to the nation thus saved the house, which has been open to the public since 1928.

 

Tour of the House

The Hall was the last major room designed by Robert Adam for Kenwood (James Adam seems to have had an initial involvement at Kenwood, but the work is largely Robert’s), in 1773. Originally it had Adam-designed Hall furniture (the two Neoclassical stools are after 1768 Adam designs for the Earl of Shelburne), but the ceiling survives, with its central painting, Bacchus and Ceres, by Antonio Zucchi. To the left is the next space of Adam’s new reception suite, the Grand Staircase, relatively modest with a wrought iron balustrade, with anthemion (honeysuckle) motifs of cast brass. Visitors would pass through to the Antechamber beyond, a handsome vestibule preparatory to the visual climax of the Library. Designed by James Adam in 1764, it has Ionic columns, niches for sculpture and a grand Venetian window facing south, with views over the picturesque landscape. The Library itself, or ‘Great Room’, is an impressive Neoclassical space and one of the finest Adam rooms in the country. A double cube, with apsidal ends, it was completed in 1770. The original vast pier glasses and carved curtain cornices remain in situ. The coved ceiling, the room’s crowning glory, has ornament inspired in part by the Mausoleum of the Palace of Diocletian at Split on the Dalmatian coast. The intricate gilded stucco work is by Rose, offset by a background of white, pale pink and blue. The paintings, with Hercules between Glory and the Passions in the centre, is by Zucchi, painted on paper applied directly to the plaster. Two screens of Corinthian columns divide the apses from the main body of the room and either side of the chimneypiece are mirrored and highly decorated recesses (modern restorations) offering, in Adam’s words, ‘a singular and beautiful effect’. The original silvered plate glass was provided by Thomas Chippendale.

Retracing one’s steps and turning left from the Grand Staircase, one enters the east wing addition of the 1790s, which provided a Dining Room Lobby, with a lofty coffered ceiling, and the Dining Room, with appropriate Bacchic decoration (Bacchus himself appears on the chimneypiece, and the leopards—his companion animals—on the frieze below the ceiling). Returning to the Antechamber and turning right, one enters the original core of the house. Lord Mansfield had his private apartments here, beginning with the Breakfast Room, which was originally two rooms, Mansfield’s Drawing Room and Parlour. The dividing wall was removed in 1815 but Adam’s chimneypiece remains.

From the Orangery, which was filled with exotic plants and trees in the 1780s, one can exit to the grounds, or turn left into the west wing extension. The Green Room has Ionic columns carrying entablatures, inspired by Adam’s Library, and leads into the second most important reception room in the house, the Music Room. Originally it had terracotta coloured panels with scrollwork containing cupids and musical instruments by Julius Caesar Ibbetson. The main room on the upper floor is the Upper Hall, above the entrance Hall. It has a magnificent Adam chinoiserie chimneypiece, completed in 1773, with mermen and flying griffins carved and gilded by Sefferin Nelson, and Chinese painted marble tiles. These upper rooms are occasionally used for loan exhibitions.

 

The Iveagh Bequest

Lord Iveagh, Chairman of Guinness Breweries—and on his death in 1927 reputedly the second richest man in the country—amassed an extraordinary collection of pictures between 1887 and 1891, purchased through the Bond Street dealer Agnew’s. Reflecting a taste typical of connoisseurs of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the collection is particularly rich in British portraiture of the second half of the 18th century, and 17th-century Dutch and Flemish works. The pictures are now displayed throughout Kenwood’s historic interiors. They include some world-famous masterpieces, such as Rembrandt’s Self Portrait of c. 1663, and Vermeer’s Guitar Player, probably a very late work and known to have been in the collection of his widow in 1676. Hals’s Pieter van der Broecke (1633) wears a gold chain valued at 1,200 guilders, a reward for 17 years’ service in the Dutch East India Company. Seventeenth-century works painted in Britain include de Jongh’s early topographical view of Old London Bridge (1630s) and van Dyck’s Henrietta of Lorraine (1634), a noble full-length which belonged to Charles I. The succession of late 18th-century British works, by Gainsborough, Reynolds, Romney, Hoppner and others, is extraordinary. Gainsborough’s Mary, Countess Howe (c.1763–64), one of Kenwood’s treasures, dates from the artist’s Bath period and is one of his loveliest portraits. His important Greyhounds coursing a Fox is a very late, sketch-like work. The lyrical conversation piece Going to Market is a charming mid-period landscape. There are many portraits by Reynolds, including the celebrated beauty Mrs Musters as Hebe, and Kitty Fisher as Cleopatra; Kitty Fisher was a notorious courtesan who died young, apparently of lead poisoning from cosmetics. There are two Romneys of Lady Hamilton, wife of Sir William Hamilton and mistress of Nelson, and Romney’s favourite muse. Lady Hamilton at the Spinning Wheel shows her demure, in the guise of a simple country girl. The celebrated comedienne Mrs Jordan appears as Viola in Twelfth Night, painted by Hoppner. Turner’s ‘Iveagh Sea-Piece’, 1802, is one of the earliest of his important marine paintings.

 

The Suffolk Collection

The Suffolk Collection of pictures, formed by the Howard family, Earls of Suffolk, at Charlton Park, Wiltshire, was originally donated to Ranger’s House by Mrs Greville Howard but, following rearrangements there, was relatively recently transferred to Kenwood. The most outstanding items are the full-length portraits by William Larkin (d. 1619) which make up the ‘Berkshire Marriage Set’, a group of family portraits possibly commissioned to commemorate the 1614 marriage of Elizabeth Cecil to Thomas Howard, later Earl of Berkshire. They are notable for their brilliant colouring, painstaking delineation of the richly elaborate costumes, the swagged curtains in the background and the oriental carpets on which the sitters stand.

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MUSEUMS & GALLERIES OF LONDON

Details below are taken from our Blue Guide Museums and Galleries of London.  This is a 2005 title, here generally updated for website address and opening times, with useful comments from some of the museums themselves.  More recent information is given in Emily Barber's magisterial new Blue Guide London, "Exceptional update to a classic and useful guide to this amazing city" (Amazon reader review).

FULL LISTING of CURRENT EXHIBITIONS in London from Apollo Magazine »

Emily Barber recommends five major London museums »

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