Waddesdon Manor

4 December 2009

Wait, what is this? A French château? Alas, no. It is Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire, England, which used to be a residence of one of the Francophile Rothschild brothers but is now one of the jewels in the National Trust crown.

The mansion was built between 1874 and 1889 and there is definitely more than a hint of Fontainebleau and Chambord in its architectural styling. Queen Victoria came to visit shortly after it was completed and one can only imagine what she thought of it.

It’s hard to imagine that this amazing mansion was once under threat of being demolished (the fate of several great houses in the lean years after WWII when their owners struggled with their upkeep and some noble families had died out altogether) until the National Trust saved the day, conserving both the house and its beautiful contents for posterity.

Among the treasures that lie within there is this beautiful portrait of the Duc de Choiseul by Adélaïde Labille-Guiard in 1785.

There is also this portrait of Yolande-Gabrielle de Polastron, Duchesse de Polignac by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun. I felt so overwhelmed when I first found myself standing in front of it, unable to believe that wow, I was in the presence of such an iconic painting. Even after the years and years of studying Art History, it still gets me every time: that sense of awe and privilege.

Hanging elsewhere there is this charming painting, one of my all time favourites. It is a portrait of the infant Philippe, Duc de Chartres by Boucher. Philippe was to become Duc d’Orléans and would later change his name to Philippe Égalité and shock everyone, even the most hardened Republicans by voting for the execution of his cousin Louis XVI.

It was this work that we travelled there to see: a huge, grand state portrait of Louis XVI by Callet. Sadly, when we got there it turned out to be roped off in a room that had been prepared for a private dinner party so I only caught a very tiny glimpse from around a corner! I later met my old university tutor, Desmond Shawe-Taylor (now Keeper of the Queen’s Pictures) and he gently mocked me a little as he got to see it in all of its glory. I think that being an established and rather famous art historian is more likely to open doors than being a mere blogger!

I think that I prefer this view though, of its counterpart at Versailles as shot by Robert Polidori when it was in storage.