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Royal Hospital Chelsea + Treasure House Fair London 2023

Back to Life

A menagerie of larger than life size bronze animals from Sladmore, some standing on the David Hockney swimming pool blue entrance floor, greets visitors to this inaugural show.

“London is the city of Europe, even the city of the world. It is still the second most important global art market and it needs a great interdisciplinary art fair.” Harry Van der Hoorn should know. He and Thomas Woodham-Smith co founded Masterpiece, the world renowned fair that ran for 13 years starting in 2010. Masterpiece almost immediately became a firm fixture of The Season. But at the beginning of this year Swiss owners MCH Group, who had secured a controlling stake in 2017, determined the fair wasn’t commercially viable. That created the unimaginable scenario that The Season – while still hosting gardening, cricket, racing, rowing, tennis and opera – would be missing art.

Deep sighs of relief could be heard echoing through the gilded postcodes when the duo launched Treasure House. Like Masterpiece, it’s in a temporary pavilion in the parkland setting of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. Unlike Masterpiece, its orientation and circulation correctly face the 17th century brick building rather than the Embankment. Thomas explains, “Our choice of title reflects the wide range of disciplines and masterpieces of the fair, each piece a treasure in its own right. From my perspective as a Dutchman, ‘Treasure’ is a word that is understood throughout the world and ‘House’ is a mark of respect to the Grosvenor House Fair, a fair that inspired so many of us over the years.”

Out of the 55 exhibitors occupying 2,500 square metres of floorspace, 43 previously appeared at Masterpiece. There are 10 overseas dealers plus four that are only partly based in London. Comfortingly familiar sights include the Ventura Riva yacht this year fitted out by Gucci. The Ballyfin style transport of golf buggies through the hospital grounds has gone but the more direct pedestrian route is easy on the Louboutins. Timing has been pulled forward to the penultimate week in June which does mean the preview clashes with Glyndebourne and Ascot Ladies’ Day. Petertide is a busy time for everyone. Next year, Treasure House is programmed to go back to the last week of June.

In place of Le Caprice restaurant and two Scott’s bars is Table and Candle restaurant, Robuchon Deli and Oysters and Champagne Bar. Different operators, equally good offer, same buzzy guests. Everyone is fabulously sociable, nobody is sartorially challenged. To quote the 20th century photographer Slim Aarons, it’s all about “attractive people doing attractive things in attractive places”. Life is rosé at the Whispering Angel Bar. The restaurant overlooks the courtyard. The bar (Irish Ostra Regal, Jersey and Madlon oysters; Laurent-Perrier Champagne) is half indoors half in the courtyard to accommodate both the alabaster and sallow skinned.Oil on canvas is represented from Post Impressionism (Sir Stanley Cursiter at Richard Green) to Expressionistic figurative art (Frank Auerbach at Osborne Samuel). A masterpiece from the Emerald Isle is the silver gilt sideboard dish for sale by Koopman. Made by James Fray of Dublin in 1828, it was presented to Thomas 1st Baron Manners, Lord Chancellor of Ireland, by the Officers of the Court of Chancery. At 69 centimetres diameter, the sideboard dish has plenty of space for canapés.

Fine art dealer Charles Plante has been involved in the fair world for over three decades, from stalls at Chelsea Town Hall to full room displays at Grosvenor House and Olympia Fairs. He has mounted exhibitions at Stair and Co in London and Mallett’s in London and New York. Last year he held a major sale at Dreweatts featuring many items from his townhouse and country house. Star pieces included architectural drawings by Henry Holland and Thomas Sandby. Charles’ bestselling publications are Inside Out: Interiors and Exteriors 1770 to 1870 (2000), Gilt Bronze Objects 1814 to 1830 (2002) and Tools of the Trade (2006). He has since relocated his business to the US concentrating on San Francisco, selling to “upper class Americans” who buy half a dozen of his drawings or paintings at a time to create French style salons.

“I am astonished how my friend Thomas along with Harry put this fair together in four months,” comments Charles. “They have really pulled if off! I like how the pavilion faces the most famous Wren building after St Paul’s Cathedral. There’s such attention to detail: the walls suspended to a few centimetres off the floor to give the illusion of skirting boards, space age canted ceilings and uplighting set in columns. The decorative approach is avant garde and progressive. There are dealers I love here like Wartski the royal jewellers.”

Treasure House may be smaller than Masterpiece but it is a refined version with a more curatorial vision, and like its forerunner is still larger than life.

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Lee Manor House + Garden Lewisham London

Banking on Success­­­­

Vitruvius’ desirable virtues of “firmness, commodity and delight” spring to mind. “There are so many moments of true quality within and outside this villa,” believes heritage architect John O’Connell. “An inspection of the exterior would suggest that there were once small wings. This is such a clever and compact plan. The vaulted lobby on the first floor is so accomplished and structurally brave. The first floor central room with its closets has a bed alcove.” Lee Manor House and its remaining three hectares of grounds form one of the thrills of southeast London. The house has been repurposed as a crèche, a library and a doctors’ surgery with reception rooms for hire. The garden is open to the public.

In the late 20th century a glass lift was inserted in the middle of the staircase hall. “I used to be disturbed when I saw alterations like this super lift, but now am more understanding,” remarks John. “But one is always encouraged to place the lift on the exterior of an historic building. The best example I know, apart from Montalto in County Down, is Palazzo Spinola di Pellicceria in Genoa. An astounding museum, and a must. Indeed Genoa is a city of palaces and many are accessible. This city is the Liverpool of Italy: rough in parts!” Another successful example is the Office of Public Works’ elegant full height glass and steel shaft abutting the rear of the Irish Architectural Archive on Merrion Square, Dublin.

Architectural historian Dr Roderick O’Donnell summarises, “Stylistically the Manor House is quite conservative – Taylorian rather than Chambersian.” Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner’s entry in their Buildings of England South London, 1983, reads: “The Manor House (Lee Public Library), probably built for Thomas Lucas in 1771 to 1772, by Richard Jupp, is an elegant five by three bay structure of brick on a rusticated stone basement, and with a stone entablature. Projecting taller three bay centre. Four column one storey porch, now glazed; a full height bow in the centre of the garden side. Inside, the original staircase was removed circa 1932, but the large staircase hall still has a screen of columns to the left, and on the landing above a smaller screen carrying groin vaults. Medallions with putti. Pretty plasterwork in other rooms, especially a ceiling of Adamish design in the ground floor room with the bow window.”

At the end of the 18th century the house and estate were sold to Francis Baring, director of the East India Company and founder of Baring’s Bank. The better known architect Sir Robert Taylor designed villas for several of the East India Company directors. “Lee Manor House is extremely well handled,” John remarks, “and exhibits a lovely, almost James Gandon, flow. Moving around, it has at least three lovely elevations. The brickwork is very accomplished but the basement rustication has been crudely handled of late. The original high execution elsewhere displays the architect’s ability to bring a design forward to fruition.”

Marcus Binney provides this summary in Sir Robert Taylor From Rococo to Neoclassicism, 1984, “Taylor’s major contribution to English architecture is his ingenious and original development of the Palladian villa. The first generation of Palladian villas in BritainChiswick, Mereworth and Stourhead are three leading examples – had all been based purposely very closely on Palladio’s designs. They were square or rectangular in plan with pedimented porticoes, and a one-three-one arrangement of windows on the principal elevations. Taylor broke with this format. First of all his villas (like his townhouses) were astylar: classical in proportion but without an order; that is, without columns or pilasters and with a simple cornice instead of a full entablature.” Lee Manor House does have Taylorian features such as the semi elliptical full height bay on the garden front but is missing others such as his trademark Venetian window. In that sense, Richard Jupp is even more conservative than Sir Robert Taylor.

Lee Manor House conforms to the House of Raphael formula: a basement carrying a piano nobile with a lower floor of bedrooms under the parapet. “This is very interesting as it sits within the gentleman’s villa format. Pray how did you find it?” enquires John. “Lee Manor House is a very fine villa. On the ground floor, I would expect the large apse or exedra to the saloon contains or contained a fireplace. It reminds me of the first floor back room of Taylor’s 4 Grafton Street in Mayfair. This large apse is of added interest, as it would be taken up by Robert Adam in the arresting hall at Osterley Park, Isleworth, and again by our hero James Wyatt for his first and most daring scheme at Abbey Leix, County Laois, and again at Portman House on Mayfair’s Portman Square. The latter is now a smart club.”

John continues, “Another villa that comes to mind is Asgill House, in Richmond, circa 1770, which is both fine and intact. This villa was restored with the advice of Donald Insall and can be seen from the railway line. One can even go back to Marble Hill House in Twickenham, and on to James Gibbs at the exquisite Petersham Lodge – a knockout villa – which is now the clubhouse for Richmond Park Golf Course. Petersham Lodge is really worth a visit too; even the ‘landscape’ and bevelled edged mirrors over the fireplace are still in position!”

“Finally, there is the equally arresting Parkstead House designed for the 2nd Earl of Bessborough by Sir William Chambers with its very heroic portico. Lord Bessborough was an Anglo Irish peer. This can be visited. Indeed there is a good publication by English Heritage on this very subject. The original wings have vanished but the garden front and saloon are intact. There is mention of the remains of a garden temple in the grounds.” Joan Alcock writes in Sir William Chambers and the Building of Parkstead House Roehampton, 1980, “The design of Parkstead is based on the Palladian villa.” John O’Connell postscripts, “Richard Jupp was chief architect to the East India Company. His successor was Henry Holland. Lee Manor House fits into a form that one can see emerge in the 1770s.”

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Belair House + Park Dulwich London

Season of The Unexpected

Belair House West Dulwich London Lake © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

A little along Gallery Road, opposite Lovers’ Lane, stands a distinguished villa. Belair, whether two words, hyphenated or a portmanteau is a class signifier from Los Angeles to Wicklow to Dulwich. Pure class. Belair House in the picturesque perfect postcard pretty prestigiously pristine village of Dulwich in southeast London was built in 1785. That’s a fact. Or at least it’s the date proudly painted on the pediment over the entrance door. But all is not how it seems. What is rather more certain is the original name of house was College Place and the client, John Willes. A wealthy corn trader from Whitechapel, he first leased 20 hectares known as Home Farm from Dulwich College some 14 years earlier. The house would be renamed Belair by a later owner, solicitor Charles Rankin, in 1829.

Belair House West Dulwich London Ducks © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Local shopkeeper and historian Brian Green records in his 2002 book Dulwich: A History, “Belair is a fine example of an Adam style Georgian house. For many years it had a model farm in its 48 acres of grounds… In the lodge, still standing at the front entrance, lived the under-gardener who was responsible for looking after the grapevine hothouse, the cactus hothouse and three other large greenhouses. The coachman lived next door in the coach house… After the death of Sir Evan Spencer, the last occupant, in 1937, the contents were auctioned and the house fell into some decay. During World War II it was first used by the Royal Army Service Corps as a depot and later by the Free French forces. The grounds were used by the local platoon of the Home Guard for grenade practice.”

Belair House West Dulwich London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Over to Ian McInnes, Chair of the Dulwich Society, “No one knows who the original architect was for Belair. Despite many articles suggesting it was the Adam brothers, there is no information in the Dulwich Estate archives to support that. We have quite detailed background on the owners in the 19th century but nothing on the original architect(s) – what you see today is of course an early 1960s ‘impression’ of what a late 18th century house in a park ought to look like.” So it is “Adam style” as Brian Green points out but probably not Robert, James or William Adam. And what an impression!

Belair House West Dulwich London Front Elevation © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

In 1961, under the ownership of Southwark Council, Belair was radically stripped back to its original form, more or less. A villa reborn. A vision reimagined. A variation on a theme recomposed. Rationalised single storey bow ended wings were added either side. Behind a blind bow window, the north facing wing is actually hollow and conceals a staircase winding up to a first floor terrace which embraces the mother of all views. In the distance, a serpentine lake nestled in the pleasure grounds radiates in the early summer heat, red mace, yellow flag and purple loosestrife erupting in a blaze of colour.

Belair House West Dulwich London Facade © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belair House West Dulwich London Entrance Front © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belair House West Dulwich London Entrance © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belair House West Dulwich London Pediment © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belair House West Dulwich London Date © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belair House West Dulwich London Park © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belair House West Dulwich London Staircase Bow © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belair House West Dulwich London Garden © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belair House West Dulwich London Garden Front © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belair House West Dulwich London Parkland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belair House West Dulwich London Side View © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belair House West Dulwich London Bow Front © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belair House West Dulwich London Ionic Column © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belair House West Dulwich London Balustrade © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belair House West Dulwich London Side Elevation © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belair House West Dulwich London Staircase © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“The architects for this reconstruction,” explains Ian, “were Austin Vernon + Partners, most probably Malcolm Pringle, but the elderly Austin Vernon may have also had a hand in it as he had done quite a bit of good neo Georgian in his career. All of the practice’s records were destroyed in the 1990s.” Returning to the identity of the original architect, Henry Holland is sometimes mentioned. “The Henry Holland connection comes from Thurlow House in West Norwood, also southeast London,” Ian says, “which he did design and was built roughly at the same time. But that’s supposition and there is no proof he was the architect of Belair.”

Belair House West Dulwich London Blind Bow © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The period between 1785 and 1961 saw Belair House swell and deflate like bagpipes. In the 19th century the building was transmogrified under the direction of then owner Charles Hutton, Deputy Lieutenant for London. W­­ings and glasshouses and attics and grandeur were added to accommodate the Huttons and their 11 children and 10 servants. In 1980, the Dulwich Society Journal declared, rightly so, “One has a better idea now of the simple elegance of the original Georgian design than would have been the case a century ago, when it was obscured by Victorian wings and outbuildings.” Belair is now a restaurant and wedding venue. Mark Fairhurst Architects were responsible for sensitively extending and converting the former late 18th century stables building and early 19th century gatelodge into fully residential use.

Belair House West Dulwich London Former Stables © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“The brief,” explains Mark, “was to restore the existing stables building, which had been poorly converted into flats, and create a modern, flexible living space suitable for a young family.” An enticing blend of old and new architecture was the result. “The concept was to create an open, fluid ground floor living area by introducing a linear glass and steel pavilion linking the rooms created within the narrow existing building, and visually linking the accommodation with the surrounding landscape. Random outbuildings were replaced by a new single storey guest wing linked to the listed building via a glazed winter garden in the entrance courtyard.” The gatelodge is used as a studio linked to the house.

Belair House West Dulwich London Gatelodge Sign © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Dulwich Society Journal concludes, “Belair was the first of many imposing mansions to be built in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the only one to have survived in anything like its original form.” Mireille Galinou records in The Dulwich Notebook, “The architectural historian John Harris referred to the ‘exceptional survival of Belair, a house of 1785 in a designed landscape, in his 1990 essay on London’s 18th century gardens.” She continues, “Survival is the right word. Local historian Patrick Darby discovered in the Minutes of the Dulwich Estate’s Governors’ Meetings a ‘serious proposal to demolish Belair, fill in the lake, and cover it with 200 small villas – a proposal only thwarted by the Charity Commissioners!” Further down Gallery Road, as its name would suggest, lies Dulwich Picture Gallery. A fading banner clinging to the railings advertises a British Surrealism exhibition. The gallery is closed due to a pandemic. The name of the exhibition? ‘Season of The Unexpected’. Surreal, indeed.

Belair House West Dulwich London Gatelodge Chimney © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley