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Houghton Hall


After my dermatology appointment in Houston, I spent a lovely afternoon in the Museum for Fine Arts. Today’s special exhibit was Houghton Hall, the estate of Sir Walpole. For those who are interested in Downtown Abbey, this show highlighted some of the fabulous furniture, china, silver, and paintings of the 1700’s. Sir Walpole was evidently a very large man, requiring special furniture to be built to hold him. Some of the chairs were upholstered in a red plush velvet that matched the designs of the carved wooden back chairs. There were two japanned (lacquered) card tables with matching chairs. The tables had four little bowl like depressions at each place—I suppose for the betting chips.

There was a mockup of the marble dining room and the library–both of which were absolutely immense–easily 25 feet or more in height. It was reminiscent of the giant redwoods –you had to crane your head up to see the top—and all the people touring looked like miniature people.

Drawings of the house design, inventory lists of house contents—plus some interesting books from the library. One book was written by a physician on a trip to Jamaica where he catalogued and drew plants and animals of the area. I suppose he was the only scientist on the voyage and since there couldn’t have been a lot of medical things to do–he occupied himself with observing the world around him.

Most of the paintings were sold to Russia–I think it was to pay off the heavy mortgage. However, there were pieces by Artemisia, Gericault ( a grouping of horses that had no back legs), and Sargent. I always thought that the portraits of people were of them wearing their Sunday best—but it turns out, that like Van Gogh, the draperies were frequently provided by the painter. One painting of Sybil Turner-a family friend–included a shawl which he gifted to her upon completion of the painting. They took breaks from the sitting and painting by playing piano duets.

An interesting exhibit–monumental in size.

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