West Wycombe Park – State & Drawing Rooms

State Rooms

The principal or state rooms of West Wycombe are identifiable by the monumental chimneypieces and door cases which were installed during the period of renovation. The coloured marbles used here would’ve been of great expense and, combined with the rich carving, attest to the status of the room as a showpiece and social hub. For example, the centrality of the Saloon denotes its importance in the scheme of the plan and is conceived as the principal reception room of the house. Knox writes how ‘the first phase of the remodelling of West Wycombe Park created interiors that with their painted ceilings and monumental marble architectural elements, evoked the Roman palaces Dashwood had seen on his grand tours’[1]. To this end, the Saloon reads as an imposing and grandiose room amounting to that of an Italian palace; indeed, the columned door case and chimneypiece are composed of white and sienna marble, with columns of Sicilian jasper. Evidently these fixtures were supplied by Sir Henry Cheere, whilst the reliefs were carved by Thomas Carter[2]. Emblems of grandeur run throughout, including the lion-mask frieze, central tablet depiction of Androcles and the lion and the ‘console table borne by eagles’[3].

Image result for Fig. 8: Details of chimneypieces, West Wycombe Park, Henry Cheere (1703-1781).
Image result for Fig. 8: Details of chimneypieces, West Wycombe Park, Henry Cheere (1703-1781).
Details of chimneypieces, West Wycombe Park, Henry Cheere (1703-1781).

Such symbols of imperial power were popular with Neo-classical motifs and the style of Empire. It is also in this room which Dashwood chooses to display exquisite marble groups: the Seasons are signed by Laurent Delvaux and are shown on pedestals whilst The Three Graces were acquired by British Consul Isaac Jamineau in Naples. The palatial allusions are furthered by the ceiling painting, which, at the hand of Giuseppe Borgnis are taken from a scene in cycle at the Villa Farnesina in Rome[4]. The Music Room, too, participates in the Classical theme as the grandest of Donowell’s visions and demonstrates ambition in realising Raphael’s Banquet of the Gods on Borgnis’s ceiling and Carracci fresco cycles.

Image result for West Wycombe Park, Room plan of the ground floor (Key: A Hall; B Saloon; C Red Drawing room; D Study; E Music room; F Blue Drawing Room; G Staircase; H Dining Room; J Tapestry Room; K King's Room (former principal bedroom); L West Portico; M South Front and colonnade; N East Portico; O North Front; P service wing.).
West Wycombe Park, Room plan of the ground floor (Key: A Hall; B Saloon; C Red Drawing room; D Study; E Music room; F Blue Drawing Room; G Staircase; H Dining Room; J Tapestry Room; K King’s Room (former principal bedroom); L West Portico; M South Front and colonnade; N East Portico; O North Front; P service wing.).
West Wycombe Park, Grand saloon.

As a ballroom and therefore the setting for festivity and gaiety, this room abounds with putti, Venus and Cupid and merry-making, steeping it in allusions which would have been enjoyed by parties. A highly decorative plasterwork frieze features the attributes of hunting and gathering in the spirit of the harvest, for example, festoons of flowers, stags’ heads and bows and arrows. By displaying busts of great men of the arts and humanities, Dashwood’s interiors are telling in their attempt for theatrics and shows of taste. Whilst Knox argues that there isn’t ‘any clear iconographic program to the display of the sculpture at West Wycombe’[5] I would respond that they correspond to the program of a country house in the 18th century as a pleasurable retreat and remnant of the Grand Tour.

Drawing Rooms

Typically more private in character, the Red and Blue Drawing rooms are at the service of hospitality and hosting, providing sumptuous decoration and richness in a more comfortable setting. To demonstrate this, the Blue Drawing room is dedicated to Bacchus, a god who was free in his generosity and kept the wine flowing, something which Dashwood was particularly fond of. Further trophies from the grand tour are kept in these rooms with the purpose of being conversation pieces and this gives us an insight into the sociable nature of the dilettanti[6].

West Wycombe Park, Music Room and ceiling detail, Giuseppe Borgnis, based on The Banquet of the Gods at the Villa Farnesina.

I would argue that any idiosyncrasies in the decorative scheme of the interiors occur most profoundly in the Tapestry Room. As this was once a dressing room or antechamber to the adjoining state bedroom, its character resembles that of a closet or sitting room. Whilst the ceiling follows the classical scheme of decoration, this time taken from ancient frescoes excavated at Hadrian’s Villa, the decision to hang Northern tapestries on the walls is an exception to the rule. The choice to decorate using tapestries stems from a more heraldic and medieval interior, enabling a degree of warmth and intimacy.

West Wycombe Park, Tapestry Room.

The interiors of West Wycombe are particularly notable for charting the development which led on from the Baroque. In terms of design, it became favourable for rooms in plan to become ever more purposeful for various activities: the lower floor consists of public-facing and reception rooms, separated for withdrawing, dining, music, dancing and so on whilst the newfound Rococo and Regency ideal of domestic intimacy alongside the needs of entertaining[7] comes through in the bedrooms and rooms reserved for privacy which were arranged above. West Wycombe therefore makes for a fascinating study in the elaboration of country houses for display and living.

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

You can tweet me @she_noted, gain little insights in pictures from @she.noted or find my blog’s facebook page @shenoted – it’s always so lovely to hear from you!


Sources Used: 

[1] Knox, ‘Antique and Modern Sculpture’.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Knox, West Wycombe.

[4] Knox, West Wycombe, p. 18.

[5] Knox ‘Antique and Modern Sculpture’.

[6] B. Redford, Dillettanti: The Antic and the Antique in Eighteenth-Century England (Getty Publications, 2008), p. 2.

[7] M. Miers, The English Country House: from the Archives of Country Life (New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 2009), p. n/a.

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