Chiswick House (English Heritage)


Burlington Lane, Chiswick W4 2RD


020-8995 0508



Opening times:

Sun-Wed 10:00-18:00

How to get there:

Station: Chiswick (from Clapham Junction)

Entry fee:

Admission charge

Additional information:

Ground floor disabled access; phone first for access to main floor. Shop. Café nearby in park

Chiswick House is the greatest architectural statement of Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington (1694–1753), the early 18th-century ‘Apollo of the Arts’ and the chief promoter of Palladianism. Heavily influenced by the architecture of ancient Rome and that of Palladio, which he had witnessed on his tours of Italy (returning from the second trip in 1719), as well as the architecture of the great Inigo Jones, Burlington conceived Chiswick as an embodiment of his architectural ideals. The jewel-like villa, with ornate interiors and Jonesian ceilings painted by Burlington’s protégé William Kent, was originally attached to the estate’s Jacobean mansion and was used as a temple of the arts, an intellectual retreat where Burlington displayed his fine pictures and sculptures and entertained friends, including the poet Alexander Pope. On Burlington’s death the estate passed via his daughter to Lord Hartington, later 4th Duke of Devonshire, and in 1788, under the 5th Duke, the Jacobean house was demolished and wings added to the villa north and south. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries the house was a centre of English social life. In 1809 Charles James Fox died here and Edward VII, as Prince of Wales, spent time here, as did the Tsars of Russia. The Chiswick estate remained with the Dukes of Devonshire until 1929. In 1956–57 the Ministry of Works restored the villa, demolished the wings which were obscuring Burlington’s design, but retained the Link Building which had attached the villa to the old Jacobean house. Burlington’s pictures and much of the furniture designed for the house by Kent have either been dispersed or are in the Devonshire collection at Chatsworth. Several loans from the latter, however, and the odd chance purchase of important pieces original to the house, give a sense of the villa as it was in its 1730s heyday.

The approach to the house is from the gateway on Burlington Lane, which opens on to a courtyard enclosed by a box hedge. Burlington’s extraordinary creation, built in 1727–29, is directly ahead. Palladio’s Villa Rotonda is usually cited as the main inspirational source, but in fact the villa is Burlington’s own unique interpretation of several. The central octagonal dome is flanked by four chimney stacks in the shape of obelisks, while an elaborate double staircase rises to the first floor entrance, under a Corinthian portico of great richness, the carving crisp and pure. At the foot of the staircase, to either side, are statues by J.M. Rysbrack (c. 1730) of Burlington’s architectural heroes, Palladio and Inigo Jones.

The Interior

Visitors enter at ground level through the doors under the staircase. The symmetrical room layout, around the central octagon, or Lower Tribune, echoes the arrangement on the upper floor, but these basement rooms are of a deliberate austerity, rich grandeur retained for the principal rooms above. Burlington’s private rooms and library were down here, but now the rooms are given over to an architectural introduction to the house and gardens. The Library occupied three rooms, through which access is gained to the lower floor of the Link Building and, beyond it, the Summer Parlour with its fine ceiling. Below the Lower Tribune is the octagonal wine cellar. A concealed spiral staircase leads up to the main floor. A sequence of nine rooms of a studied, intellectual magnificence is arranged around the octagonal domed Tribune, or Saloon, with light flooding in from its Diocletian windows, its walls punctuated by four pedimented doorways, based on Jones designs. Classical busts sit on gilded brackets and above them hang large pictures from Burlington’s collection at Burlington House, Piccadilly, but which were brought to Chiswick in 1733. They include Charles I and his Family, after van Dyck; Liberality and Modesty, after Veronese; Louis XIII and Anne of Austria, by Poussin’s master Ferdinand Elle; and Kneller’s The Moroccan Ambassador (1684), an equestrian portrait of Mohammed Ohadu, famous for his displays of horsemanship in Hyde Park. The Gallery runs the full length of the garden front and is one of the most important rooms in the house. A tripartite space with a rectangular, apsed centre, with flanking circular and octagonal cabinets, it is a rigorously controlled architectural enfilade. The actual dimensions are small but an effect of grandeur is achieved through the skilfully judged proportions and the richly carved and ornamented surfaces, decorated in white and gold. The ceiling painting is a copy of Veronese’s Defence of Smyrna, attributed to Sebastiano Ricci, who also decorated Burlington House (now the Royal Academy. The surrounding ceiling panels, within compartments with ornamentation derived from Jones, are by Kent. The magnificent carved and gilded marble-topped tables, designed by Kent, were made for the house in 1730 and returned in 1996. The Red Velvet Room was originally filled with paintings. Another rich compartmented ceiling, again based on Jones, has Kent’s Mercury Presiding over the Arts in the centre, surrounded by signs of the zodiac. The marble chimneypieces are based on Jones designs and the ornate, gilded overmantels contain paintings by Ricci: Bacchus and Ariadne and Venus and Cupid. The Blue Velvet Room has an elaborate ceiling design with console brackets with Kent’s Architecture in the centre. The carved and gilded pedimented doorways are surmounted by portraits, held by putti, including Inigo Jones by William Dobson and Pope by Kent. The Red Closet beyond it showed prized, smaller scale pictures.

The Gardens

Burlington and Kent’s interior, a fusion of classical, 16th-century Italian and 17th-century Jonesian taste, was augmented by a similarly carefully designed garden. The garden had been evolving from 1716 onwards, but in the early 1730s Kent was brought in to complete for Burlington a Roman suburban retreat. Many of the features can still be seen, including the broad avenue lined with urns and sphinxes, culminating in a semi-circular exedra, originally of myrtle but now of yew, framing busts of Caesar, Pompey and Cicero. Radiating paths once terminated in garden buildings of which the Rustic House still survives. The bridge over the Canal was built by James Wyatt in 1788. At the Canal’s south end is the recently restored Cascade, two triple arched storeys of rough masonry down which water flows. To the southwest extremity of the estate is a tall obelisk, and elsewhere a turfed amphitheatre with a small Ionic temple with an obelisk and a sheet of water in front of it. The gardens at Chiswick are important in marking a departure from the intricate, formal designs of the Baroque age and the introduction of a more natural landscape, with semi-contrived wildernesses and expansive vistas. They are in a neglected state, however, and vandalism has been a significant problem (e.g. the beheading of a sphinx).

The grounds are the responsibility of the local borough council (English Heritage manages the house only), but the two authorities have united in a campaign of restoration, with work due to begin towards the end of 2005.

North of the house is the Inigo Jones Gateway, brought to Chiswick from Beaufort House, Chelsea in 1736, a gift of Sir Hans Sloane and the subject of a poem by Pope:

Passenger: O Gate! how cam’st thou here?
Gate: I was brought from Chelsea last year,
Battered with wind and weather;
Inigo Jones put me together,
Sir Hans Sloane let me alone,
Burlington brought me hither.

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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).

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