Monday, June 15, 2015

Day 18-19- 20 Off to the Bath and a Longleat

Maynard and Marianne check out Robert's studio

Our first day of reunion was a joy of old friends hanging out, laughing, making fun of each other and the world, exploring the house and the yard, and eventually piling onto a bus and making our way into the old town of Bath for a bit of meandering and exploration. It was blustery and cool, which was just fine, with sun bursts that felt great and gave good lighting on the buildings. The yellow Bath stone that many of the buildings are made of reminded me a lot of the Lecce stone we experienced a couple weeks ago in Italy. It was nice to be in a crowd of English speakers again, but still feeling like a foreigner.

Clip Clop!

Bath is pretty commercialized, but there are still corners where you can imagine the sound of horses hooves and carriage wheels, and there was a vegetable vendor whose spiel sounded like something from the 18th century. Took in the pretty Bath Abbey- the first gothic interior I've been into on this trip. 

Gothic revival chandelier in Bath Abbey
Returned to the house for a fine round of croquet on the lawn, naps, and some drawing time. Very relaxing! Whipped up a delicious dinner between several of us, and went to bed entirely satisfied. 

A little tree hugging in the park

Next day brought glorious weather, just lounging about the house, more croquet, visiting the tiny 13th century church next door to the house, stopping in to say hi to the cows (poor fellows- I think their days were numbered!) and doing a bit more drawing. Some of the group took off that afternoon, with hugs and vows of keeping in touch (we all know how that goes!) Repeat of dinner, and satisfaction for a day well done!


Next day I decided to visit Longleat House, which is just 5 miles away from the house, and I got dropped there by Marianne and Heather, who were splitting off to do their own mini tour of sacred sites, starting in Cornwall. 

Longleat from the front side

Longleat is an Elizabethan country house, seat of the Marquess of Bath, set in a 1,000 acre park designed by famous landscape architect Lancelot "Capability" Brown. It also has a wild animal park on the premises since the 1960's, made to create some income for the upkeep of the place. 

Longleat from the back yard

I am so glad I got there in time to take the tour of the private apartments, which have been extravagantly and eccentrically decorated by Alexander Thynn, the 7th Marquess of Bath, who took it upon himself to invent a colorful version of a naive figurative style that encompasses all kinds of thematic elements, from history and politics to erotica, all attached to the walls and ceilings of the paneled interiors of most of one side of the building. I'm sure there are many who object to the non-traditional style of the work, but I found it fascinating and deeply personal. I felt a great affinity for the Marquess, and had to resist the urge to call out to him, as he lives on the top floors still. From his pictures, he looks like he was quite a colorful character, though he is now getting on and is apparently infirm. His son has taken over running the house, and he has removed at least one room's decor (they are all done on panels, so the underneath is still intact, and the work can be preserved as well.) I suspect that in a short time the value of his work will be recognized as a very age appropriate and unique addition to the house. 

The billiard room at Longleat, decorated by Alexander Thynn, 7th Marquess of Bath. (not my photo- it comes from the souvenir book)

After that introduction, the rest of the house was a pleasant tour of more traditional works, with a dense Renaissance Revival interior mostly done in the 19th century, but incorporating older bits of Italian paintings that were bought by the 4th Marquess and installed by John Crace, interior designer who worked on the Royal Pavilion at Bath and numerous other major projects around England.

Decor of the grand rooms incorporates bits of Italian Renaissance art, such as the frieze and the inset panels in the ceiling, with 19th century surroundings. Has a very Venetian feeling overall. 

There were numerous bedrooms and parlors, each with very fine decorations, including a Chinese wallpapered bedroom, and there are over 40,000 books in the library, spread around the house, that included all kinds of droolinducing "elephant" folio (approx 22" x 28") books about architecture and art, which I had to use all my self control not to leap upon and peruse. 

Chinese export wallpaper in a bedroom

After satisfying myself that I had shot about as much as I could possibly shoot there, I made my way outside again and set off to explore part of the garden. "Capability" Brown (1716-1783) was known for designing sweeping gardens at country houses around England that are characterized by their pastoral, naturalistic look, despite being quite artificial. They often include man-made lakes and brooks, meadows, large specimen trees planted for their shape and color, and architectural follies.

 The part I chose to explore was called the "Pleasure Walk" and consisted of large trees, flowers and shrubs chosen for their exotic characteristics, color or scent. It took me up the side of the very large approach to the house, and also to the end of my camera's batteries. Thus I strolled back along several long lakes ringed by fishermen and populated by swans and geese, and was picked up from the animal park by Robert, who listened to me babble excitedly about the house on the way back to his.

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