Four historical UK properties which stand out as having exceptional collections of art and antiques.
Well-known as one of the richest and most powerful families in Europe in the 19th century, the Rothschilds are also famous as patrons of the arts to this present day. Despite some bequests to the British Museum, Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire is still full of exceptional art, furniture, textiles and silverware. Works include French 18th century decorative arts, Dutch 17th century paintings, British portraits by Reynolds, Gainsborough and Romney and a silver service made for George III. Baron Edmond created a collection rich in works by French 18th century artists in Paris and his collection of drawings and engravings was one of the largest ever made. These days, Waddesdon houses mainly the collections of Baron Ferdinand and his sister Alice and the art in the manor is constantly being added to, as Lord Rothschild continues to collect today. He is very interested in contemporary art and has added sculptures by Stephen Cox, Angus Fairhurst and Sarah Lucas to the collection, as well as a contemporary chandelier by Ingo Maurer.
In 2013, treasures from the ecclesiastical textiles collection will be on display, and in the dining room, Spanish artist Joan Salas will be producing some astonishing recreations of 17th and 18th century table sculptures using only folded linen. Due to popular demand, the ‘Fantasy from the Fire’ Maiolica exhibition will also remain in place for another season. Waddesdon Manor welcomes group visits. It is recommended to book in advance, particularly for visits to the house where entry is by timed ticket. Group tickets are offered at discounted rates and an exciting range of talks, garden walks and wine cellar tours with tasting are also available. There is designated coach parking, a coach drop-off point at the front of the house and the coach driver receives a refreshment voucher.
Telephone: (01296) 653226
The gorgeous Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye has a truly stunning setting and estate, but the beauty is not confined to outdoors. As the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland, it is full of priceless heirlooms. The ancestral home of the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod for 800 years, some of these heirlooms have passed down through the clan since medieval times.
On display are many fine oil paintings and clan treasures, the most famous of which is the Fairy Flag. Legend has it that this sacred banner has miraculous powers and when unfurled in battle, the clan MacLeod will defeat their enemies. Another of the castle’s great treasures is the Dunvegan Cup, a unique ‘mazer’ dating back to the Middle Ages. It was gifted by the O’Neils of Ulster as a token of thanks to one of the clan’s most celebrated Chiefs, Sir Rory Mor, for his support of their cause against the marauding forces of Queen Elizabeth I of England in 1596.
Dunvegan Castle offers free guided tours for pre-booked groups and a free lunch for coach drivers and group organisers. Tickets cost just £7 per person in a group.
Telephone: (01470) 521206
HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT
The Houses of Parliament look after some of the nation’s greatest works of art and architectural designs from the Victorian period up to the present day. Following a successful launch in 2012, two art and architecture tours return for spring and summer 2013: ‘Royalty and Splendour in the House of Lords’ and ‘Contemporary Portraiture in Portcullis House’. These tours are ideal for groups wanting to find out a bit more about Westminster’s collections.
The finest British architects and artists of the early Victorian age, including Charles Barry, Augustus Pugin and Daniel Maclise, designed the wonderful frescos, portraits, statues, thrones, fireplaces and furniture that are explored in ‘Royalty and Splendour in the House of Lords’. This ‘premium’ 75 minute guided tour runs on selected Friday evenings between March and July and offers an exclusive VIP experience after the doors close to the public. Each tour finishes with a glass of champagne in one of the Palace of Westminster’s private rooms and costs £30 per person.
The stunning contemporary architecture of Portcullis House and the unique art collection hung on its walls are highlights of a second guided tour, ‘Contemporary Portraiture in Portcullis House’. Opened in 2001, Portcullis House was itself designed by leading British architect Sir Michael Hopkins. This unique collection of art records leading Parliamentarians, including Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and David Cameron, in paintings, works on paper and photographs. The works of art reflect a diversity of styles and approaches by leading UK-based artists working over the last 50 years. This 75 minute tour runs on selected Fridays between March and July and costs £13 per person for groups of ten or more.
Regular guided tours of the Houses of Parliament, which include access to the Royal Apartments, Lords and Commons Chambers and Westminster Hall, continue to run most Saturdays, and Tuesday to Saturday during the summer opening period. Group rates start from £9 per person.
Telephone: 0844 847 2498
The walls and ramparts of Warwick Castle reveal much to explore within the central courtyard. Groups should not fail to ensure they actually go inside the rooms as well, however, as the castle houses some wonderful paintings, furniture and antiques in the grand and lavish interiors.
The Great Hall as it stands today was first constructed in the 14th century, rebuilt in the 17th century and then restored in 1871 after it had been badly damaged by fire. Set against the wall is the magnificent Kenilworth buffet, made in oak by local craftsmen for the Great Exhibition of 1851. Other artefacts include a display of various suits of armour, including a miniature suit of armour which is believed to have been made for the fouryear- old son of Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester.
The State Rooms have been extended, altered and embellished during virtually every century, to provide the best possible environment to entertain the noblest of guests and to display the family’s most prestigious possessions. They include the State Dining Room, which has a famous portrait of Charles I on horseback by Sir Anthony Van Dyck’s studio hanging on the far wall.More famous paintings of Ambrosio Spinola and Sir Phillip Sidney line the walls of the Red Drawing Room, as well as the main painting in this room which is of Jeanne d’Aragon, the granddaughter of King Ferdinand IV of Naples. Often regarded as the most beautiful woman in 16th century Europe, she was also considered clever, witty and powerful.
The most eye-catching element of the Green Drawing Room is the numerous paintings hanging from the walls here too. The key theme across the paintings is a snapshot of life during the English Civil War. Either side of the fireplace are pictures of King Charles I and his wife, Henrietta Maria, as well as portraits of Charles I nephew, Prince Rupert of the Rhine.
If textile art and soft furnishings are more appealing, the next two rooms have some exceptional examples. The Queen Anne Bedroom has walls covered with beautiful Delft tapestries dating from 1604 and depicting palace gardens. According to tradition, Queen Anne was to have visited Warwick Castle in 1704 and, by way of preparation, her state bed was sent on in advance from Windsor where she predominantly resided. Although the planned visit was cancelled, the magnificent royal bed stayed on. The bed hangings are of crimson velvet with sea green panels.
The Blue Boudoir was a dressing room. In the 19th century, the walls were redecorated with silk from Lyon. A beautiful duck-egg blue, with gold woven decorations, the silk has survived well and is very appealing even to modern tastes. The most dominant aspect of the room is a portrait of King Henry VIII, from the studio of Hans Holbein, which shows the king in his early forties.
Warwick Castle has won many group travel awards and welcomes coaches. Discounted group rates are available, and pre-booked groups also have the option to print tickets at home for faster entry. Groups are given special free fact sheets and can opt for bespoke tours and lunch packages.
Telephone: 0871 222 6688