The National Trust’s Curator of Furniture on the importance of Royal Oak’s support and the exciting new opportunities presented by our 2015 National Trust Appeal.
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By Christopher Rowell, National Trust Curator of Furniture
I would like to begin with a vote of thanks. The Royal Oak Foundation’s generous support of the National Trust’s Furniture Research and Publication Project has already been crucial. I am very grateful to the numerous donors and I hope others will come forward to make this project a resounding success.
150 National Trust houses contain some 55,000 pieces or sets of furniture and 19,000 picture frames. It is a collection on the grandest scale, exceptional for remaining in its historic context. It is world-class and deserves to be better known. International in scope, there are considerable holdings of foreign furniture. Waddesdon Manor alone is a shrine to the arts of the French ancien régime. British- made furniture is naturally predominant, in settings at Nostell Priory, Yorkshire, and Saltram, Devon, designed and furnished by Robert Adam and Thomas Chippendale.
In 2018, in anticipation of the 300th Anniversary of Chippendale’s birth, we shall revise the Chippendale entries in the Trust’s online database. This database, which is free to all, was designed in partnership with the Royal Collection Trust, with 830,000 objects already online. Entries will be improved in order to make National Trust Collections online one of the world’s prime sources for furniture studies.
I am writing a book, Furniture in National Trust Houses, which will be published for the National Trust and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art by Yale University Press in 2019. This will be a lavishly illustrated survey, including in-depth descriptions of outstanding pieces, a Gazetteer of 150 collections, a review of picture frames and a comprehensive bibliography. The book is well underway and research has thrown up numerous lines of enquiry.
I am therefore delighted to announce the appointment of Dr. Wolf Burchard as the National Trust’s Mellon/Royal Oak Furniture Research Curator for a three-year period beginning on September 1, 2015. He was Curatorial Assistant at the Royal Collection Trust (2009-14) and has just received his Ph.D. from the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London. Wolf has a broad knowledge of European art, speaks four languages and publishes and lectures widely.
With Wolf’s help, research will be undertaken in archives, both at home and abroad. Here are three examples:
Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire, contains some of the finest pieces of sixteenth-century cabinet furniture in existence. Study and technical analysis will be undertaken initially for the forthcoming book, Hardwick Hall: A Great Old Castle of Romance, published by Yale University Press, for which I am writing a chapter on the furniture with Simon Swynfen Jervis.
At Nostell Priory, Yorkshire, we will study the least known of the architectural ‘Boulle’ marquetry cabinets (c.1675) made in the circle of Louis XIV’s royal craftsmen. We hope that further research will reveal its origins. Funds are needed for paint analysis and to clean and restore this magnificent object of almost royal quality.
At Knole, Kent (already in receipt of generous funding from Royal Oak), we shall be researching the seventeenth-century and later collections, contributing to the major display project that is underway there and – funds permitting – conserving and re-presenting outstanding furniture.
Exhibitions of furniture at National Trust houses are also part of the plan, both during and after conservation. There are many discoveries and improvements to be made. Every donation to the Furniture Research and Publication Appeal ensures that they are made manifest not only to visitors to National Trust houses but also to a world-wide audience.