The Treasure Houses of Britain: 500 Years of Private Patronage and Art Collecting
November 3, 1985 – April 13, 1986
East Building, Upper Level and Mezzanine (35,000 sq. ft.)
This exhibition is no longer on view at the National Gallery.
Overview: 700 art objects from more than 200 country houses in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland illustrated 500 years of British collecting from the 15th century to the present. 17 period rooms were constructed to display the objects. This was the largest and most complicated exhibition undertaken to date by the National Gallery. Gervase Jackson-Stops, architectural advisor to the National Trust of Great Britain, chose paintings by Peter Paul Rubens, Diego Velázquez, Anthony van Dyck, Canaletto, and John Singer Sargent; sculpture by Praxiteles, Canova, and Henry Moore; furniture by Kent and Chippendale; Meissen, Sèvres, Chelsea, and Oriental porcelain; and drawings, tapestries, jewelry, armor, silver, and other decorative arts.
Organization: Jackson-Stops structured and selected the exhibition with Gaillard Ravenel and Mark Leithauser. Ravenel, Leithauser, and Jackson-Stops designed the exhibition to reflect each period of collecting, and Gordon Anson designed the lighting.
Sponsor: The exhibition, organized in conjunction with the British Council after 6 years of preparation, was made possible by a grant from Ford Motor Company, special funding from the 98th Congress, indemnities from Her Majesty's Treasury and the United States Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities, and by British Airways.
Catalog: The Treasure Houses of Britain: Five Hundred Years of Private Patronage and Art Collecting, edited by Gervase Jackson-Stops. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985.
Brochure: The Treasure Houses of Britain: Five Hundred Years of Private Patronage and Art Collecting, by Gervase Jackson-Stops, edited by William J. Williams. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1985.
A GALA FOR 'TREASURE HOUSES OF BRITAIN'
By BARBARA GAMAREKIAN, Special to the New York Times
Published: October 31, 1985
Members of the British aristocracy are here by the score to celebrate the largest exhibition ever held by the National Gallery of Art: ''The Treasure Houses of Britain.''
An extravagant start for almost two weeks of festivities surrounding the show, which opens to the public Sunday, took place tonight in the new Georgian-style ballroom of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Given by the hotel's owner, John B. Coleman and his wife, Virginia, the black-tie dinner dance honored the owners of ''The Magnificent Seven,'' the most-visited stately homes in England.
The owners and their houses are the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough of Blenheim Palace; Lord Montagu of Beaulieu; the Marquess and Marchioness of Tavistock of Woburn Abbey; Simon and Annette Howard of Castle Howard; Lord and Lady Romsey of Broadlands; the Earl and Countess of Harewood of Harewood House, and Michael and Vibeke Herbert. Mr. Herbert is the chief executive of Madame Tussaud's Ltd., owner of Warwick Castle.
The occasion, said Mr. Coleman, was ''a thank you'' to the lenders for their support of the National Gallery exhibition. For the gala, Mrs. Coleman wore a strapless scarlet Scaasi ball gown, and she, Mr. Coleman and Lord Montagu received the guests, announced by one of England's renowned toastmasters, Ivor Spencer. The menu for dinner was all-American: pumpkin soup, roast loin of veal stuffed with oyster dressing and cranberry and apple brown betty.
Among the guests were an assortment of American ambassadors, Cabinet officers and members of Congress as well as Susan and David Brinkley, Carolyn and Michael K. Deaver, Buffy and William Cafritz, Kathleen and Henry Ford 2d, and Jo Anne and Donald E. Petersen. Mr. Petersen is chairman of the Ford Motor Company, corporate sponsor of the ''Treasure Houses'' show.
Other guests included Evangeline Bruce in black velvet; her houseguest, the Duchess of Devonshire, in gray-green watered silk, and Bonnie Swearingen in an emerald Ungaro dress, worn with an emerald choker and earrings.
''It's an incredible schedule,'' the Duchess said. ''They have us running and busing.''
The idea of maintaining and insuring the future of privately owned country houses by opening them to the public - ''the stately home business,'' as the Marquess of Tavistock phrased it - was originated by the 13th Duke of Bedford in 1955. ''It was my father who took up the idea of opening up these homes to paying visitors,'' Lord Tavistock said.
The appellation ''The Magnificent Seven'' was ''thought up'' by the seven families ''as a marketing device,'' said the Duke of Marlborough, whose ancestral home, Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, was visited by 380,000 people last year.
''We pool our ideas and our resources and use a joint leaflet,'' the Duke said. ''Every cent goes back into the business. It is a real challenge these days to keep these large homes going for the future. We consider ourselves to be custodians of the national heritage.''
But much of the talk was of the exhibition itself, which had been visited earlier in the day by a number of the lenders.
''I had expected a marvelous show, but it's beyond anything that I had anticipated,'' said Simon Howard, whose Castle Howard in Yorkshire starred in the televised dramatization of ''Brideshead Revisited.''
Lord Montagu, who called the exhibition ''a dream come true,'' said: ''I've been talking with Carter about this for more than seven years.'' He was referring to J. Carter Brown, director of the National Gallery.
Jerome Zipkin said, ''You need about a half-dozen trips to see it all.'' Mr. Zipkin, who was returning to New York on Thursday morning, added, ''I'm coming back for the big number,'' referring to the White House dinner on Nov. 9 for the Prince and Princess of Wales, patrons of the exhibition.
Lord Tavistock, who has lent several dozen objects to the show, including Antonio Canova's marble ''The Three Graces,'' said: ''It is an amazing experience to go around and see things that belong to you in the middle of a collection of works of art that is second to none in the world. We British have been magpies for centuries, and we are still at it - my wife and I just bought a painting in Tennessee, so we brought over 33 objects for the show, and we are going home with 34.''
Mr. Brown had suggested to a number of the British guests that tiaras might be appropriate for the American festivities. But Lady Tavistock arrived in Washington tiara-less.
''It is all because of my crazy idea,'' said her husband. ''I thought a case of tiaras would look unusual in the exhibition and suggested it to Carter, and he said, 'What a great idea -can I borrow a couple of yours?' So Henrietta's tiaras are locked up in a case at the National Gallery.''
No matter, said the Marchioness: ''Traveling with a tiara is such a performance. Your hair has to be woven into them, and I wouldn't think you would be able to find a hairdresser here who knows how.''