‘Expect the Unexpected’, Croome Court, near High Green, Worcester, Worcestershire, WR8 9DW
What a lovely co-incidence that in this ‘Capability’ Brown’s 300th Anniversary year I am fortunate enough to be able to write about Croome Court which as well as being Brown’s first major commission was a complete project due to the fact that he was asked in 1751 by the 6th Earl of Coventry to create a house and estate that would be the dernier cri. The photographs show the resulting building and landscape. Although the outside design and some of the interiors are Brown’s work the Earl later commissioned Robert Adam to design some of the rooms – the Long Gallery, the Library and Tapestry Room.
The Tapestry Room, now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, featured a specially commissioned set of Gobelins tapestries and seat covers. Coventry was one of the great 18th century English collectors of Vincennes and Sèvres porcelains and he asked Adam to design a tripod stand to hold a Sevres jug and basin whose colours reflected those of the room.
In1948 the family disposed of the house and many of its contents were sold by auction and thus nowadays only about twenty percent of the collection remains. There are plans to bring these pieces back to the house later this year. The National Trust bought the park in 1996 and started on its restoration and in 2007 the house was purchased by the Croome Heritage Trust and they have granted a long lease to the National Trust.
Contemporary art installations have been placed in the house to evoke the idea of ‘expect the unexpected’ but are inspired by and use pieces that were originally in the house. Upon entering the building one sees the artist Will Datson’s original take on the idea of hall chairs through his 2.5 metre high installation. He says of it “It was my task to display the original hall chairs in a new way. We all see chairs every day, and usually ignore them, so I’ve attempted to create something out-of-the-ordinary, dramatic and playful, that’s hard to ignore.”
In the dining room, whose plasterwork was painted by members of the Hare Krishna Movement who used the house as their headquarters (1979-84), visitors are confronted by a 2 metre high golden box which contains beautiful examples of Meissen, Worcester and Sèvres porcelains from Croome’s remarkable collection which have been installed by the noted artist Bouke de Vries to form a dazzling ceramics treasury. He simply sums it up saying “It’s been extraordinary to work on this project with the amazing team at Croome”.
In the Lord’s Dressing Room you will discover two 18th century Adam-style commodes made for the house by the celebrated firm of Mayhew & Ince who also supplied the seat furniture for the Tapestry Room. It is worth remembering that the 6th Earl also bought French furniture for Croome in Paris from A la Couronne d’Or, the shop of the renowned marchand-mercier Simon-Philippe Poirier. There is also a portrait of Barbara St John, the Earl’s second wife.
While Croome’s Tapestry Room is now bare of its glorious contents it inspired the idea of bringing Grayson Perry’s tapestries ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’ to Croome (until 11th September 2016). The six large-scale works, inspired by Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress, tell the story of Tim Rakewell and many of the people and things depicted reflect events that Perry encountered in his life. A 1994 earthenware vase by Perry, entitled Spirit Jar is also on show.
‘Capability’ Brown and the Earl had become friends and thirty years after he started his transformation at Croome he still visited there and indeed Croome was described as his ‘first and most favourite child’.
In 1783 Brown died while on his way home from dining with the Earl at his London residence. The Earl had a monument erected in Brown’s memory and it bears the inscription:
“To the Memory of Lancelot Brown
Who by the powers of his inimitable and creative genius formed this garden scene out of a morass.”
For those of you interested in learning more about the 6th Earls collection Sèvres I recommend:
THE SIXTH EARL OF COVENTRY’S PURCHASES OF SÈVRES PORCELAIN IN PARIS AND LONDON IN THE 1760s by Rosalind Savill in the French Porcelain Society Journal, Volume V 2015