Eccentric Owners & Old Masters

21st June 2008

These two phrases have been used to describe the families and the artists of Buscot Park, built in the late 18th century as ‘a noble residence’ for a ‘Gentleman with a large Establishment’.

Alan Jamieson went to Oxfordshire, to see if the Faringdon reputation is true.

Built between 1780 and 1783, Buscot Park is a classic Georgian mansion. Its first owner was the unusually named Edward Loveden Loveden who paid £20,186 for it. His great-grandson, Sir Pryse Pryse (the doubled name habit was evidently catching) sold it to a successful Australian gold prospector by the name of Robert Tertius Campbell, who lavished both money and effort on the Buscot estate, and in particular the farm. By the time he died, however, his elaborate schemes meant that Buscot was heavily in debt, and needed to be sold again.

In 1889, it was bought by Alexander Henderson, a prosperous city financier. Henderson became an MP and after loyal service to his party was created Lord Faringdon. He dedicated his spare time – and money – to acquiring Old Masters… including Rembrandts, van Dykes and Rubens. The 2nd Lord Faringdon, who in the 1920s was one of the ‘Bright Young Things’ of Evelyn Waugh’s set, turned his attention to Victorian and contemporary artists and added substantially to the Buscot Park collection – so much so that the house is packed with treasures, and there’s even an overflow in a mansion in Brompton Square, London, called the Faringdon Collection and also open to the public. The eccentricity of Buscot’s owners hasn’t faded: on our visit the courteous gentleman who, with his lady, directed motorists to the overflow car park turned out to be the genial 3rd Lord Faringdon. The house and grounds are the property of the National Trust, although the Faringdons continue to live there.
In the house there are Old Masters on every wall… portraits of stern Dutchmen by Rembrandt, Bruegel landscapes, van Dycke warrior, Botticelli’s Holy Family, and a Marchesa, in a splendid dress resembling a suit of armour, by Peter Paul Rubens.

Later Masters also proliferate. Sir Joshua Reynolds’s Countess of Coventry gazes sternly at us; there are elegant Gainsborough ladies, Greek goddesses (Venus and Pandora – complete with her box) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and George Watts’s The Wife of Pygmalion. So many treasures to savour.

However, the star of the art show is in the saloon, where there is a series of exquisite dark paintings called The Legend of the Briar Rose by Sir Edward Burne-Jones. When they were first shown, in 1890 at Agnews, these paintings of the Sleeping Beauty attracted agitated crowds to Bond Street ‘with an enthusiasm that amounted to ecstasy’, as an effusive Victorian reviewer put it. Reaction in Bond Street wouldn’t be quite as extreme today (unless it was the first day of a Fenwick’s Sale, possibly), but back at Buscot Park: you can almost smell the flowers that surround the sleeping beauties (male and female) in the four big canvases and ten additional scenes of this masterwork. The viewing crowd is smaller but just as appreciative.

There is, of course, a lot more to Buscot Park than its superb art collections. This golden 18th century house is at Faringdon, near Lechlade, Oxfordshire and as you walk or motor up the drive flanked by lime trees, passing lakes, stables and formal gardens, the house suddenly appears before you, glowing. All around it are extensive gardens and woodlands, neat and well cared-for, ripe for exploration. The ‘pleasure grounds’ include a water garden, a separate walled garden and even a ‘swinging garden’ (though the swings are not for children, but for birds, of which there are many different species to be spotted). The pleasures are all ‘green’ – shrubs, flowers, trees, lawns, pools, bridges and frescos.
As for the house itself, it’s another pleasure. You enter it through the Hall, filled with Regency neo-Egyptian furniture (very exotic). The morning room is Dutch, inasmuch as that’s where the Rembrandt portrait, Pieter Six, hangs, along with works by Rubens and van Dyck. Here and in other rooms the furniture is Chippendale and Sheraton – but that’s to be expected, with the taste so exquisite.

The dining room has vermilion red wallpaper and red leather chairs to match, but – as in every room in the house – it’s the pictures that attract everyone’s attention. The saloon has the Burne-Jones cycle of paintings along with 18th century chairs and settees; the drawing room also groans with pictures on its golden walls and there are pieces of fine furniture and objets d’art. Upstairs are the bedrooms, one with an impressive State Bed – made in 1701, but, as yet, without the evidence of a royal presence to validate it.

Art-lovers can, as indicated earlier, also enjoy the Faringdon Collection in Brompton Square, London, SW3. Work on view here includes pieces by Sickert, Rouault, Derain and moderns such as Oliver Messel, John Piper and Graham Sutherland.

The London Collection is open to the public on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons by appointment only.

Visit www.buscotpark.com to find out more, to check on Buscot Park’s opening days and times, and even to enjoy a ‘virtual tour’.

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