A Lord Northwick Alphabet: B for bookplate

The Second Lord Northwick’s bookplate (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

I’ve always had a light, airy sort of desire for a bookplate but before ever thought became action, desire seemed to have dissolved away. A bookplate in today’s world seems a bit vain and self important and after all if you lend anybody a book the best thing you can do is just write your name in it (and, even more importantly make a note of to whom you’ve lent it … and the date lent is probably a good idea too). However, if you were Lord Northwick and had a library full of books hand bound in moroccan leather, a bookplate was undoubtedly an excellent idea, especially if along with your title comes a family crest just waiting for you to add your own individuating twiddles and flourishes. There is of course the further result – of no benefit to Lord Northwick at all – that when you die and your library is sold, books so embellished sell for oodles more than the equivalent unembellished – that little slip of pasted in paper providing just the sort of gold plated provenance second hand dealers drool over.

Book plate belonging to John Rushout, Second Lord Northwick

In pursuit of finding the exact origin of a well known story about a dinner in Lord Northwick’s Cheltenham house, I have been reading W.P.Frith’s Memoirs. Frith was a great painter of enormous canvases  – you’ll probably recognise them when you see them  – Derby Day (1856-7) Private View of the Royal Academy  (1881), Paddington Station (1862) and The Marriage of their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Princess Alexandra of Denmark (1863). Frith doesn’t always sound like a very nice man (and the anecdote I’m looking for show him not being very nice towards a fellow painter) but when he writes about the difficulty he has in trying to get sketches of both people and their clothes for his 10 footer picture of the royal wedding he has my complete sympathy and admiration. Although royal weddings are rather longer than ordinary ones, they are still very much too short for an artist’s sketching needs. Frith therefore had to ask guests to come to sit for him (bringing their dresses, dress uniforms, jewels, honours, orders, helmets sashes, etc). At first he forgot to say that the painting was painted for and by command of the queen; accordingly some answers came but there was mostly silence. An amended request was more successful – at least with the English. Foreign guests to the wedding, however, nearly had him beat, The Duchess of Brabant (later Queen of the Belgians) had worn a magnificent dress of moiré silk in purple (then a very new colour). A handsome woman, with a voluminous crinoline she had a prominent position at the front of the painting but both she and the dress had disappeared quickly after the wedding.  Frith grieved over this with kindly Lady  Augusta Bruce (afterwards wife of the Dean of  Westminster) and she determined that as she was shortly to be going to Coburg, she would see what see could do. Lady Augusta was successful but only after getting the queen herself to intercede. The robes duly arrived but Frith had to swear neither to smoke nor drink beer when he had the mountainous silken confection before him. Then, Frith couldn’t get the Grecian king to come at all, so had to hijack his brother to sit for him when the latter came to visit Windsor. While Prince Frederick of Greece (or is it Denmark?)  sat for Frith, the Crown Prince of Prussia came along to keep him company  but when they came to leave the chamber neither would concede precedence to the other. In the end the Crown Prince backed out of the door while Prince Frederick followed, face to face.  The next time they were to meet face to face was on opposite sides on one of the battlefields of Schleswig-Holstein!

Bookplate belonging to John Rushout, Second Lord Northwick

It seems that Lord Northwick had two bookplates. The one he used most and which probably superseded thee other slightly more crudely drawn version is the one I’ve had a go at copying. Interesting details to note:

The Baron’s coronet which has 6 pearls (some say silver balls).

Two angel supporters (seen since the C15th on the French kings’ coat of arms; the Rushout family – later the Lords Northwick – were Huguenots who came to England from Flanders in the C17th but it seems likely they were French originally.)

A shield with 2 lions (Interestingly the English king Henry I had a single lion and added a second when he married Adeliza of Louvain. Henry  II the added a third lion when he married Eleanor of Aquitaine. Richard the Lionheart chose to keep the shield of 3 lions and of course it is these “3 lions on our shirts” which identify our national soccer teams.   Confusingly, until the late C12th the animals were usually referred to as leopards!

The motto – Par Ternis Suppar: a pair is almost equal to three pairs – is either self evident or utterly inscrutable.

And tomorrow I shall be supporting the lionesses in their own quest for the European Football Cup. I’ve surprised myself by finding the women’s game fascinating – balletic, even elegant, pony tails flying and faces shining.

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A Lord Northwick Alphabet: A for Acanthus

A Northwick Alphabet: A for Acanthus (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

John Rushout spent nearly 10 years on a  protracted Grand Tour, returning home for his father’s death in 1800 when he succeeded to the titles of 6th Baronet Rushout of Milnst and 2nd Baron Northwick (1770-18590.  He then spent the rest of his life building up one of the most important art collections in England-  Europe even –  and built galleries to match. Just like so many young men fortunate enough to have been on the C18th version of the gap year (or 10 years in Lord Northwick’s case!) he came back with a passion for neoclassical classicism  (I may have just made that up but I mean neoclassicism that’s a bit more based on documented classical models than the more obviously decorative neoclassicism of say, the Adams brothers.)

A Northwick Alphabet: A for Acanthus (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

In 1832 he built a gallery for his collection at Northwick Park, near Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire, while also filling his London house in  Connaught Place, London, with paintings. Finding he needed more space for his various collections, in  1838 he bought Thirlestaine House in Cheltenham and sold his London house. Thirlestaine House too he enlarged considerably with the addition of one large picture gallery and many smaller ones. At both Northwick Park and at Thirlestaine House there are acanthus leaf mouldings, and plaster cornices, though these are probably stock mouldings found in grand and even not  so grand houses across England; they may also predate our Lord Northwick’s building activity but he kept them when he might have replaced them with something else.

Plate 21 (Handbook of Ornament by Franz Sales Meyer 1888; Dover Publications)

Plate 21: The Akanthos and Artificial LeafAkanthus mollis

1,2,3, Akanthos Mollis; 4. Akanthus Spinosus; 5. Greek stele; 6. Roman candelabrum, Vatican; 7. Greek; 8. Roman, capital of a column from the Pantheon in Rome.

But then again, the Acanthus Leaf motif has a great pedigree and of all the decorative devices deriving from plants, it is the most popular, probably in no small measure  because it has never been burdened with any symbolic importance, but has relied upon the sheer exuberance and ornamental possibility of those impressive leaves. It used to be considered a plant of southern Europe but for decades now it has flourished in British gardens too. In fact Daughter No 1 planted it almost 10 years ago now and already it is dominating other plants in the same bed.  When I first saw acanthus growing, it wasn’t the leaves that attracted my attention but the exceptionally large snapdragon-like flowers. I had assumed – as I had never seem acanthus flowers depicted in stone – that if there were flowers, they were probably little and inconsequential and thus not worth depicting  – now I know otherwise.

Plate 22 (Handbook of Ornament by Franz Sales Meyer 1888; Dover)

Plate 22 The Artificial Leaf

  1. Roman capital; 2. Leaf often found on Roman reliefs. More richly developed see, the so-called Florentine Pilaster, Uffizi,  Florence. 3. Byzantine, Sta Sofia, Constantinople. 4. Romanesque, St Denis;  5. Romanesque, monastery of St Trophimus, Arles, C12th; 6.Gothic.

Throughout history most decorative styles have made use of the acanthus, tinkering with the degree of pointedness of the lobes and the strength of the central rib to suit the parent style. Greek acanthus motifs have pronounced leaf tips and multiple ribs while under the Romans, the leaf tips become rounded with a more vigorous curve and while there are fewer ribs ( see figures 7 and 8 of plate 21). Byzantine and Romanesque styles tend to be more stylised, chunky and less delicate (Plate 22, figures 3 & 4 while in general the Gothic versions became longer and more softly leafy (plate 22 figure 6). The Renaissance, which tended to look back to the antique originals couldn’t, however, resist the pull towards a tendril (Plate 23, figure 4 is going that way) until the tendril morphed into that purely artistic invention, the scroll (and its formal alter ego, Hogarth’s line of beauty).  Scrolls and tendrils I admit to having a weakness for.

Plate 23 (Handbook of Ornament by Franz Sales Meyer 1888; Dover)

Plate 23 the Artificial Leaf

  1. French Renascence, St Eustache, Paris; 2. Style of Louis XVI; 3. French Renascence, church, Epernay; 4. French Renascence; 5. Late C19th; 6.Late C19th, Theatre Monte Carlo.

My blackwork acanthus leaf is based on Plate 23 figure 2, in the style of Louis XVI – which I picked before ever I found the below threes plates  in Dover’s Handbook of Ornament (compiled by Franz Sales Meyer in 1888). Northwick’s acanthus cornices look to have more work-a-day sort of leaves but I can’t believe there weren’t others in a house full of all ornate picture frames, curios and objets d’art. The acanthus is a gentle start to the alphabet, there will be more challenging letters ahead.

Northwick Park Gloucestershire: grand staircase before the house was renovated and split up into apartments (The Georgian Group Journal XVI)

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