- 1 February to 8 May 2015
- Deadline 5:00 pm
- A conference organised by the Paul Mellon Centre, the National Gallery, and Birkbeck College, University of London
Eighteenth-century country houses loom large in the British national consciousness. Yet, for every great country house from this period, there was usually also a town house. Wilton is much visited and discussed, but we know so much less about its counterpart in London: Pembroke House. Chatsworth has officially been recognised as one of the country's favourite national treasures, but most of its visitors know little of Devonshire House, which the family once owned in the capital. In part, this is because town houses were often leased, rather than being passed down through generations as country estates were. But, most crucially, many London town houses, including both Pembroke House and Devonshire House, no longer exist, having been demolished in the early twentieth century.
Following on from the 'Animating the Eighteenth-Century Country House' conference in March 2015, this related event will seek to resurrect the lost town houses of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, exploring the position they once occupied in the lives of families and the nation as a whole. Some - such as Spencer House - have survived; others have left fragmentary traces; others have been completely destroyed and can only be recreated on the basis of inventories and descriptive accounts. There is much still to be uncovered about the collections of paintings, sculpture and decorative arts which these buildings once housed as well as about their furnishing, their architecture and gardens, and what refashioning occurred over time.
What was the significance of the town house for families such as the Devonshires and Pembrokes? How much time did they spend in London, relative to their sojourns in the country, and was one home considered more important? How did this vary between families? How did owners arrange their possessions between their houses? London town houses were often the setting for elite socialising, so is it the case that they would house their owners' most impressive works of art? Was Joshua Reynolds right to bemoan in 1787, on learning that the Duke of Rutland was to keep Poussin's Seven Sacraments at Belvoir Castle, that 'the great works of art which this nation possesses are not (as in other nations) collected together in the capital, but dispersed about the country'? When and why were items moved between town and country, and are there discernable patterns over the period? Were London town houses opened to the public in the same way as country houses, and what did visitors say about what they encountered?
As well as mapping the relationship between the town house and the country house, this conference will also explore the geography of London: the location of these properties (especially within the West End), the most important estates (such as the Bedford or Grosvenor estates), and the reputations which various areas accrued. How did these houses position their owners in the complex social and political milieu of Georgian London, and what roles did they play in the lives and activities of those who owned, leased and inhabited them? How was this different for men and for women? And what was the significance of owning a town house freehold, leasehold - or just renting one for a season
Proposals for contributions are welcomed from art historians and historians working on all aspects of eighteenth and early nineteenth-century town houses, including architecture, painting, sculpture, the decorative arts and garden history.
Abstracts for 25 minute conference papers should be no longer than 300 words in length, and should be accompanied by a short biography (of no more than 100 words) detailing any work or recent publications of particular relevance.
Please send abstracts and biographies by FRIDAY 8th MAY 2015 to Ella Fleming at the Paul Mellon Centre: [email protected]