West Wycombe Park – Architects & Collectors

The remit of the architect is inseparable from the character of the collector, which they sought to accommodate. Indeed, the architecture of the country house was used to house great works of art and the purpose of the setting was to complement this accordingly. West Wycombe’s entrance hall is particularly theatrical in this case, taking the form of an inner court or atrium within which Dashwood was able to grandly display further emblems of classical Rome characterised by antique statuary. Extensive travel[1] enabled Dashwood to accumulate objects from the further reaches of the globe and he followed the fashion of high society to install their souvenirs from Italy in the English country retreats that served as their own form of villa.

A late 19th-century artist’s reimagining of an atrium in a Pompeian domus

Country house architecture worked to house the sculptural groups of notaries, be they originals or faithful copies. On West Wycombe, Knox notes how ‘taken as a whole, the pieces at West Wycombe form an important group of eighteenth-century plaster casts, reflecting the taste of one collector’ and that these were ‘deployed throughout the state rooms (…) taking their place alongside antique and modern statuary, costly marble table tops, Old Master pictures, giltwoood-framed mirrors, and Oriental porcelain’[2]. Such a global reach of decorative objects chart the broadening connections of Georgian Britain – another critical influence on the architect when designing spaces.

West Wycombe Park Entrance Hall, showing Sculptural Portrait Busts on Console Brackets.

In character, West Wycombe’s hall resembles a sculpture gallery, one within which Dashwood could honour historical and contemporary worthies. The practise of decorative architecture and elements could be used to denote the pleasure in association and exactitude; with literal quotations and sources at play for comment and recognition. For example, Dashwood’s ‘group of 18th-century English portrait busts’[3] carried elaborate diplomatic and political associations, so chosen to mirror the Roman senators and emperors by which they were placed on Palladian console brackets.

In order to elaborate on ‘archaeological’[4] decoration and planning within the remit of the architect, West Wycombe’s Palmyra Room (listed as the ‘First Hall’ in the 1781 inventory) is believed to be the work of Nicholas Revett (1721 – 1804) and the execution of this scheme denotes a further manifestation of the Classical. Nicholas Revett came from wealth but was obliged to take on a profession as the second son given the manner of inheritance.

West Wycombe Park, Dining Room.

An ideal study in the scholarly activity of gentleman, Revett took on the role of amateur architect, heading the British ‘Greek Revivalist’[5] period in architecture. Revett’s Greek treatment of the country house was notable given that he received patronage from owners within the Society of Dilettanti membership. This circle of patrons truly embraced the Antique and Classical styles, seeking them out in their purest forms. However, this purity of vision did not deter the amalgamation of different stylistic elements. The walls of the Palmyra Room use a frescoed technique to take on the appearance of ancient stone jasper and the ceiling is a painted reproduction of plate 42 from Wood’s Palmyra, recalling the decoration of a ‘Sepulchre’[6]. The busts and portraits of Divan and Hell-Fire Club patrons serve as a reminder of its member’s principal aims – these being to steer taste and the arts in the 18th century by example.

Cellini’s famed salt cellar here…
Marie Antoinette at Versailles here…
The development of the Picturesque  here…

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Sources Used: 

[1] National Trust, ‘Introducing the Dashwood Baronets’, The National Trust Online, https:// 20 http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/introducing-the-dashwood-baronets [accessed 25 September, 2018]

[2] T. Knox, ‘Sir Francis Dashwood of West Wycombe Park, Buckinghamshire, as a Collector of Antique and Modern Sculpture’, Studies in the History of Art, Vol. 70, Symposium Papers XLVII, 2008, p. 404

[3] T. Knox, West Wycombe Park Buckinghamshire (The National Trust, 2001), p. 12.

[4] Wedgewood Museum, ‘Neo-classicism in the 18th century’ [n.d.], http://www.wedgwoodmuseum.org.uk/ 23 learning/discovery_packs/pack/classical/chapter/neo-classicism-in-the-18th-century

[5] J. Curl, A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (OUP Oxford, 2006), p. 636.

[6] B. Prescot, Remarks on the Architecture, Sculpture, and Zodiac of Palmyra: With a Key to the Inscriptions (C.J.G. & F. Rivington, 1830), p. 19.

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