Houghton Hall: Portrait of an English Country House

Aug 5, 2014

Legion of Honor \ October 18, 2014–January 18, 2015

SAN FRANCISCO (August 5, 2014)—The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco present Houghton Hall: Portrait of an English Country House, an exhibition drawn from the collections of a quintessential English country house. Built in Norfolk in the 1720s for England’s first prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole, Houghton Hall features suites of grand rooms conceived by architect William Kent as settings for Walpole’s old master paintings, furniture, tapestries and Roman antiquities.

Houghton Hall brings to San Francisco a wonderful array of objects from one of Britain’s great country houses, and reflects the history of this magnificent estate across nearly 300 years, from the 18th century to the present day. It is particularly fitting that this exhibition is being displayed at the Legion of Honor, complementing our recently reinstalled collection of British paintings and decorative arts,” said Colin B. Bailey, director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Houghton Hall: Portrait of an English Country House tells the story of the structure and its inhabitants through displays that convey key architectural spaces, such as the impressive double-height Stone Hall of marble, stucco and silver limestone; the grand state Saloon, upholstered in red velvet; and the more restrained wood-paneled library, which served as Walpole’s office away from London. Kent’s architectural drawings, also on view, will reveal the geneses of these interiors, which were inspired by both Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio and the style of Baroque-era Rome.

William Kent was the first British architect to design furnishings in concert with architectural interiors, and a selection of pieces that he created specifically for Houghton Hall will be exhibited. In addition there will be porcelain and silver objects and family portraits and other pictures by notable English painters such as William Hogarth, Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds that reflect the aesthetic and historical significance of the house. Other works of art on view will include portraits by Pompeo Batoni, an Italian artist popular among British travelers on the Grand Tour (the traditional journey through Europe undertaken by members of the upper classes), and old master paintings, such as Sir Anthony van Dyck’s Philip, Lord Wharton (1632) and Carlo Maratta’s The Rest on the Flight to Egypt (circa 1650).

Walpole’s death, in 1745, preceded a sharp decline in family fortunes. Houghton became occupied intermittently, and many of its old master paintings were sold in 1779 to Catherine the Great of Russia. The Walpole inheritance passed to the Cholmondeley family and Houghton was rarely used. The house came alive again in the early 20th century when Sybil Sassoon, Marchioness of Cholmondeley, took charge of Houghton in 1919, and worked to restore the house to its former splendor. Sassoon had connections with many artists, most notably the American painter John Singer Sargent, whose paintings she added to the collection along with art works and furniture inherited from her brother, Philip, and pieces of Sèvres porcelain collected by her husband, George Cholmondeley. More recently, the current inhabitants of Houghton have added further works of art such as Edward Burne-Jones’s The Prince Enters the Briar Wood (1869), from the Legend of the Briar Rose series.

The Cholmondeleys’ hereditary role as Lord Great Chamberlain, the officer of state in charge of the Palace of Westminster, is shown through several objects, including the gold-embroidered uniform of the marquess, dating from 1900, and the gilded throne of the Prince of Wales, designed by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, the architect who created the great Gothic Revival interiors of the Palace of Westminster. These objects, along with others featured in the exhibition, afford a rare glimpse into the ceremonial traditions that have survived in Britain and remain part of the culture reflected in great English country houses such as Houghton Hall.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for audiences in the United States to experience the delights of Houghton Hall,” says Martin Chapman, curator in charge of European Decorative Arts and Sculpture at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “Here the visitor can see the early work of the groundbreaking designer, painter and architect William Kent, as well as the art treasures that fill this great English house.”

Exhibition Organization
This exhibition is organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in collaboration with Houghton Hall. An indemnity has been granted by the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. Director’s Circle: The Buena Vista Fund of Horizons Foundation, The Michael Taylor Trust, and Diane B. Wilsey. Conservator’s Circle: Mr. and Mrs. Carl F. Pascarella. Patron’s Circle: Mr. and Mrs. Adolphus Andrews, Jr., Giselle Parry-Farris and Ray K. Farris, and Mr. and Mrs. William Hamilton. Media Sponsors: KQED and San Francisco Cottages & Gardens.

Visiting \ Legion of Honor
Lincoln Park, 34th Avenue & Clement Street, San Francisco, CA 94121. Open 9:30 a.m.–5:15 p.m. Tuesdays–Sundays; open select holidays; closed most Mondays.

Admission Tickets
Tickets range in price from $10–$18, with general admission included. Members and children five and under are admitted free. Prices subject to change. Tickets are available at legionofhonor.org.

About the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, comprising the de Young museum in Golden Gate Park and the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park, are the largest public arts institution in San Francisco.

The de Young originated from the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition and was established as the Memorial Museum. Thirty years later, it was renamed in honor of Michael H. de Young, a longtime champion of the museum. The present copper-clad landmark building, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, opened in October 2005. It showcases the institution’s significant collections of American painting, sculpture, and decorative arts from the 17th to the 21st centuries; art from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas; costume and textile arts; and international modern and contemporary art.

The Legion of Honor was inspired by the French pavilion, a replica of the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris, at San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915. The museum opened in 1924 in the Beaux Arts–style building designed by George Applegarth on a bluff overlooking the Golden Gate. Its holdings span 4,000 years and include European painting, sculpture, and decorative arts; ancient art from the Mediterranean basin; and the largest collection of works on paper in the American West.

Images from all exhibitions and museums available upon request.

Media Contacts
Erin Garcia \ egarcia@famsf.org

Arlo Crawford \ acrawford@famsf.org