The coach was due to leave our usual pick-up point at 8:30 this morning. It arrived early, so we were all aboard and seated by 8:30. This was just as well, as the journey to Compton Verney took just over 2½ hours.
Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park
The mansion house at Compton Verney has been turned into an art gallery. We were all shown into the Adam Hall by one of the volunteer guides and given tea and coffee. The guide then handed us all our tickets (paid for in advance) and talked about the house and its galleries.
The house and its extensive grounds were owned by the Verney family from the late 15th century to the early 20th century. It then passed into other ownership and was requisitioned by the army during World War II. The soldiers billeted there used the sphinxes on the estate bridge for target practice! (Whatever damage they suffered seems to have been restored. You can see one in the photograph on the left.)
The house became derelict in the 1980s. Sir Peter Moores acquired it in 1993 through his Peter Moores Foundation and set about restoring the building and turning it into an art gallery for others to enjoy.
I started off in the Neapolitan Gallery on the ground floor. I was very impressed by many of the paintings, which are well worth a close-up look. Those that show larger scenes often have tiny figures pursuing various activities in the distant parts of the landscape.
Then it was up to the Chinese gallery, where you are greeted by two half-size brass figures representing two of the “kings” believed to protect China from the four compass directions. This gallery has many fascinating artefacts in jade or bronze, a lot of them dating from eras well before China’s unification. I was struck by a statue of a horse (pictured on the right). Apparently horses were particularly valued.
After that I went into the current exhibition, on images of childhood. There were paintings by different artists, each in a different section. One had painted pictures of herself and her daughter, from the time the daughter was born until she was about fourteen. Another, who had been brought up in India, had painted various scenes involving his brother and himself as young boys. My favourite paintings were by another artist who displayed paintings of his two young sons; these were almost photographic in quality.
The next floor up housed British folk art, although the “art” included a number of everyday objects, such as a small tub and a ladle. It also included a number of traditional shop signs, such as a large pig that would have been outside a butcher’s and a large outline of a clog bearing the words “Clog Shop”. There were weather vanes on display as well. I asked the volunteer guide in that room about some of the metal items on the shelf above the windows, as I wasn’t sure whether these were weather vanes or purely decorative. She told me they had been made by a modern artist based on items in the gallery and were designed to throw interesting shadows on the wall behind.
The attic gallery housed British paintings and some household items, such as tables and chairs. The paintings were from the seventeenth century onward. Among the paintings is one of Daniel Lambert, the fattest man in the country in the early 18th century. When he died at the age of 39 he weighed 52 stone and it took twenty men to get his casket into the grave.
We had just under 3½ hours in Compton Verney but it wasn’t really enough to do the place full justice. I gave myself some time to look at part of the grounds on my way back to the coach.
West Wycombe Village
Our next stop was West Wycombe. The coach stopped at the entrance to the drive up to West Wycombe Hall so those who wanted to visit the village could get off. (Today the National Trust owns some 90% of the village’s buildings, which are rented out.) The rest of us were taken up to the house.
The house was owned for hundreds of years by the Dashwood family before being given to the National Trust in the 1940s on the condition that the family could continue to live there in perpetuity. Since it is still a family home, the opening times are more restricted than is normal for a National Trust property. Visitors only have access to certain rooms on the ground floor.
My wife and I visited each room in turn. They were all furnished and they all had numerous paintings on the walls, many of them of members of the family over the centuries. One shows one of an 18th century male head of the family dressed as an eastern potentate and another shows his wife also in eastern dress. One painted in 1966 shows the then family relaxing in the grounds.
The paintings of family members in eastern dress reflects at the time in exotic places. One family member established a “Divan Club”, whose membership was restricted to those who had visited the Ottoman Empire (which then included Greece).
More notorious was the Hellfire Club established by Sir Francis Dashwood. A painting showing a man dressed as a Franciscan friar is thought to be of a member of this club. A few of the paintings in the house could well have appealed to members of that club and are certainly not the sort of thing I would want to reproduce on this website!
After we had finished in the house my wife and I took a leisurely stroll round the lake before meeting up with the rest of the group to get on the coach for the journey back home. The coach driver dropped us back in Chelmsford at 7:35 pm.