Organised by the Paul Mellon Centre, the National Gallery, and Birkbeck, University of London
5-6 March 2015
When we visit a Georgian country house, wander through its interiors, and stop to look across a rope at a particular arrangement of pictures and furniture, it is common to experience the sense we are looking at a snapshot of the past, a frozen moment of time. This impression of the country house as a static, unchanging environment belies a crucial aspect of such properties: the fact that, during the eighteenth century itself, they were continually in flux and being fashioned and experienced anew. Recent research encourages us to think afresh about such issues. Sources such as diaries, letters, inventories, catalogues and account books show country-house objects being inherited, gifted, purchased, removed and relocated, and provide evidence that the spaces in which such objects were located were subject to constant development and reconceptualization. Accordingly, this conference will focus on the Georgian country house as an environment that was always evolving, and that was animated by the interaction between objects and people.
This conference will look at the ways in which objects, when placed on display within a particular space – a room, a corridor, a garden – entered into different kinds of dialogue with the contents, decoration and associations of that environment, all of which were subject to change and adaptation. It will also explore the ways in which the evolving spaces of the country house, and the forms of display found within them, were experienced – by those who lived in the house, by those who visited as tourists or invited guests, and by those who engaged vicariously through the process of ‘armchair travel’, reading guidebooks and other contemporary accounts.
This two-day event, which will include a half-day visit to a local property, aims to bring together scholars from a variety of fields with the objective of animating the eighteenth-century country house. Proposals for contributions are welcomed from art historians and historians working on all aspects of the eighteenth-century country house, including architecture, painting, sculpture, the decorative arts and garden history.
We particularly welcome proposals for papers exploring the following topics:
- Acquisition: the purchase, commissioning, inheritance, gifting of works of art, furniture, books and other materials.
- Display: picture hangs; room arrangements and decorative schemes; the organisation of art collections within and between different properties owned by the same family; garden design and layout.
- The country house as lived environment: the lived experience of the country house as a family home; as a site of hospitality; as a space in which artists may have worked.
- The country house as tourist destination: country house tourism; visitor experience; the multifarious literature related to country houses, including guidebooks, regional guidebooks, and periodical articles.
Abstracts for 25 minute conference papers should be no longer than 300 words in length, and should be accompanied by a short biography (of no more than 100 words) detailing any work or recent publications of particular relevance. Please send abstracts and biographies by Monday 14 July to:
Amelia Smith, The National Gallery/Birkbeck, University of London