The Mansion is open again! However, this is a season unlike any other and the Picture Gallery will be at the centre of our next year’s plans. After weeks of preparation and working to get the Picture Gallery ready, the doors have opened and we have welcomed back our volunteers and visitors.
For most people this is the first time they will have seen the Picture Gallery in its scaffolded state and it has been fascinating to see everyone’s reactions as they walk through the newly constructed door which marks the transition from the show rooms to the Through the Roof Project.
The scaffolding has been lit by our hardworking and talented electricians and is looking very atmospheric!
The larger paintings are in position at eye level for the first time…
Projected arrows point the way through the Gallery and up the Nash Stairs and information on the project is provided by a film, but also by our wonderful volunteers and Roof Guides.
Seeing people’s reactions as they walk into this remarkable space is a reminder that visiting a country house to see something new and special is not unique to our time. Country houses like Attingham were built for display; from their exterior setting in the landscape to the treasures they housed within, they were meant to be seen and appreciated. In the novel Pride and Prejudice Elizabeth Bennet famously visits Pemberley as a country house tourist to see its beauty (but also to be a bit nosy perhaps).
Thomas, 2nd Lord Berwick may have had these ideas of display in mind when he commissioned the Picture Gallery in the early 1800s. He had just returned from his Grand Tour where he had spent lavishly on sculpture, paintings and books. Thomas commissioned John Nash, a flashy Regency architect, to design his gallery to display his collection, which was done in lavish style. The curved gilded cast iron ceiling must have been an amazing sight to see in Regency Shropshire!
Katherine Plymley was one visitor to Attingham in 1808, and she described the gallery just after its completion…
“…Lord Berwick has at great expense built a noble gallery for his
pictures, the Architect’s bill for this room & a new staircase is £7000
independent of gilding & other decorations – It is lighted by a window
running entirely around the top of the room, above the cornice, & coving to
the ceiling – it was supposed this light would be favourable to the
pictures, but my Brother doubts it – the walls are dark red, of a
composition that takes a very high polish, the mouldings are all gilded, &
the cornice very rich, deep & gilded – the window frames gilded – it is
lighted at night by a glass chandelier of uncommon elegance – as much of the
floor as appears is richly inlaid, the rest is covered by a carpet
resembling crimson velvet…”
Katherine’s experience of Nash’s newly built Picture Gallery is echoed by those of people who have come to the see the room as it is today, as we begin the Through the Roof Project. This Regency space has been temporarily transformed into an exciting and interesting space in itself whilst we conserve and protect the “noble gallery” that Katherine Plymley knew.
It may look different but the Picture Gallery once again has that feeling of excitement, and of being something new and different to see!