I spent the day with a group convened by the Paul Mellon Centre, Tate Britain and York University to ponder the history of the room arrangements at Castle Howard which are very complex, each generation changing the hang, adding more objects, moving the pictures round, and not necessarily keeping a record of what was done.
We started in the Great Hall, which occupies much of the central volume of the house, an extraordinarily and unnecessarily stately entrance to the house with two flanking staircases essentially invisible behind. Below Phaeton in the dome (repainted after the fire) are Pellegrini’s four elements. Earth:-
And the overmantel is by the great Italian stuccadore, Giovanni Bagutti:-
Then down the formal enfilade of the south front:-
Past the fifth Earl who is now the property of Tate:-
Not sitting on the tapestry chairs which are maybe all that remains of the third Earl’s furnishings:-
To the Long Gallery in Thomas Robinson’s wing, as depicted by John Jackson:-
The questions we were being asked were: to what extent should one treat a country house as an aggregate, a set of complex accretions, each generation adding a new layer ? Or should it be treated like a museum with each layer being carefully documented and revealed ? I agreed with those who argued that a country house is not a museum and that its owners have a different set of responsibilities and freedoms to do what they want in terms not of museum-style installation, but more theatrical and aesthetic forms of interior decoration.