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News. A living Chippendale Collection

16th of April, 2018

With the final stages of conservation and restoration complete it was almost time to open the doors of Dumfries House to the public. The last challenge was trying to recreate the rooms exactly as they were in the 5th Earl’s day.

This proved impossible, because the earliest inventory was dated from 1795 – a quarter of a century after his death. “The key document was an entry in the Duchess of Northumberland’s diary from August 1760,” says Rostek. “It listed all the rooms she had been in, the prominent features and the colour schemes. We haven’t taken things completely back to that: the rosewood bookcase, for instance, was originally in the Blue Bedroom, with little room between it and the bed, so it couldn’t be seen to its best advantage. But we have tried to show Chippendale in an 18th-century context.”

For Rostek, watching the restoration of the rosewood bookcase was particularly fascinating. “James Hardie, who undertook the work, felt it would be too risky to take the bookcase out of the house, so it all happened in front of my eyes. It was breathtaking to watch. The real insight was that, with Chippendale, you paid for what you saw: all the expensive material and finesse went into the front of the item, whereas the back was made out of second-rate pinewood and was really quite crude.”

By the same token, says Bowett, house owners tended to spend a lot of money furnishing areas that would be seen by visitors, while economising elsewhere. “So we find the Earl spending with Chippendale for the best rooms, while the others are furnished by Edinburgh makers such as Alexander Peter.”

Contemplating the Chippendale treasures at Dumfries House, it’s extraordinary to think they have survived for three-and-a-half centuries under the same roof. And it’s testament to the Earl’s incredible taste. There may have been bigger spending sprees in history, but few can have given such lasting delight.

Words: Anthony Gardener

Photography:Sophie Gerrard & Simon Brown