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Northumberland Room:


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
It is believed that this room came from Stanwick Park (pronounced "Stannick") one of the country homes of the Dukes of Northumberland, which stood on ground close to the town of Stanwick St. John in the North Riding of Yorkshire.

We are still unsure of whether our room comes from Stanwick Park, and if so, where in the house it came from. The original south side of the manor was built in 1682. The house was "modernized" and a west wing added in about 1740 when Hugh Smithson, fourth baronet, married Lady Elizabeth Seymour. The MIA's room may have come from the west wing.

The new addition was added as was the fashion of the time to provide rooms in which the family in their new-found status could entertain in comfort, elegance, and style. Further additions were made to the home in 1892, and in 1921, Stanwick Park, along with 4,000 acres of land, was sold. By the early 20th century, the house was little used. Subsequently, in 1923, the mansion house was demolished.

The year 1714 marked the beginning of the Georgian era by the accession to the throne of George I of Hanover, a German who spoke no English. He came at a time when 18th-century England was prospering from growing trade with the East and the colonies of the New World. England imported raw materials and exported finished products. Europe was fairly stable at this time, and it was common for young members of the upper classes to go on the Grand Tour of Europe to complete their education. They saw the sights of European capitals and the ruins of Greece and Rome. The ruins of Herculaneum had begun to be excavated in 1709, exciting new interest in classical architecture. Vicenza, with the buildings of Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) was another highlight of the tour.
Inigo Jones introduced Palladio's style into England in the 17th century and the amateur architect Lord Burlington and the interior designer William Kent developed the Palladian revival style in England. This style held great appeal for the English upper classes with their classical education. Lord Burlington's houses were often recognized by the Venetian window, heavy pediments over doors, windows framed by moldings and columns carrying a large centrally placed pediment. The overall impression of a Palladian country house was typified by the clear, balanced and widely spaced alternation between plain wall and openings and by the adaptation of the Italian "piano-nobile" (the principal story, usually the second, in Renaissance buildings). Palladio esteemed "harmonic proportion" where everything balanced perfectly. It is known that Sir Hugh Smithson had been to Italy and was extremely interested in the classical revival. It is likely that the architects of the West Wing were Daniel Garrett and William Kent, friends of Lord Burlington.

During this period houses were built of gray or light sandstone brick instead of the red bricks used during the reign of Queen Anne.

The original location and use of this room is uncertain. We have chosen to interpret the room as an intimate reception area ("drawing room") and to decorate it with some of the objects the owner might have brought home from a grand tour of Europe. We are also not sure what the ceiling looked like originally. However, based on an 1819 lithograph of the dining room at Stanwick Park, we surmise that the room probably had an elaborate plaster ceiling.
The fir paneling was imported from Scandinavia. It has been painted "pea green" between the dado and the entablature because this was a fashionable color of the period. Although this paint was available in London ready mixed, it was more likely to have been mixed on site.1 It was very expensive. The window recesses, moldings, recessed cupboard, and door surrounds are painted off-white.2 The dark skirting and doors are painted a rich mahogany.3
The overmantel is boldly carved with drapery and fruit garlands which are flanked by two fluted columns with Ionic capitals. The latter have been marbleized in white with gray veining to simulate those seen in Italy and in Holkham Hall in England. The classical theme has been continued in the decorative motifs used on the cornice, chair rail, and skirting, and includes the key pattern, egg and tongue molding, and acanthus leaves. The overdoors are carved with laurel and acanthus leaves.
At present, the windows are architecturally incorrect. They should be six panes over six panes. They would have had inside shutters, which here are simulated with a knob. The sash windows were a new invention and could be opened up and down with the aid of a weighted sash cord.
The floor has been sanded to a very smooth finish. When this was built, it would have been treated with a solution of lye at least twice a year. This practice continued well into the 19th century and would deodorize, kill any bacteria, and give a very fine pale lustre to the wood.
Coal gradually replaced wood and peat, and a new fixture was placed in the hearth to hold the coal. The depth of the indentation at present is a little shallow.
This niche was probably part of another room in Stanwick Park, as another room from the same house sold in 1944 shows two, one on either side of the fireplace. Ours holds a collection of Chinese blue and white porcelain mainly from the K'ang Hsi Period (1662-1722), and illustrates the Georgian passion for collecting Chinese porcelain.
This chandelier, from the second quarter of the 18th century, is made of a carved fruitwood (probably boxwood), a finely grained and relatively strong wood which takes carving well. Like the original which would have hung in this room, it has been gilded.
Gambling was another Georgian passion, and is best illustrated here by the two card tables. They, like the rest of the furniture, would have been placed against the walls when not in use. This was the custom as furniture was made to harmonize and balance with the proportions of the room in which it was placed. (Ladies also had very wide and elaborate dresses, necessitating a great deal of maneuvering around chairs and tables, especially if set up for a game of loo, whist, or hazard.)

Card Table, 1720
Mahogany; secondary wood
Gift of Mrs. Eugene J. Carpenter in Memory of Eugene J. Carpenter 31.93

Made of mahogany with ball and claw feet in front and pad feet behind. (It was a little cheaper to have only two carved feet instead of four.) When opened up, the table is covered with green baize and the indentations are oval and called "fish ponds," as the chips used in gambling were called "fishes."

Card Table, 1730
Mahogany and mahogany veneers
Gift of Mrs. Eugene J. Carpenter in Memory of Eugene J. Carpenter 31.95

Made of mahogany with ball and claw feet back and front.

Pair of Side Chairs, 1710
Walnut and walnut veneer
Gift of Mrs. Eugene J. Carpenter in Memory of Eugene J. Carpenter 31.90.1,2

These are in the Queen Anne Style, when attention was paid to harmonious proportions and shape, and the selection of wood with a pleasing grain became of primary importance. Veneers were also used on the backs and rails of seat furniture. The subtle curves or lines were later called "lines of beauty" by Hogarth. The cabriole leg comes into force at this time, and the feet on the chairs are transitional modified pads, the precursor of the ball and claw foot of the Georgian era. The chairs are made of walnut, the most popular wood throughout Queen Anne's reign. The seats are covered with needlepoint (called tapestry work in England).

Pair of Side Chairs, 1730
Gift of Mrs. Eugene J. Carpenter in Memory of Eugene J. Carpenter 31.100.1, 2

These are early Georgian and made of walnut. Furniture continued to be made in a similar style after the death of Queen Anne in 1714. However, there was a tendency for it to become heavier and more elaborately decorated, mainly with carving. This can be seen in comparison with other pairs of chairs. For example, note the carved imitation ruffled fabric and tassels on the head rail. Acanthus leaves decorate the cabriole legs, ending in ball and claw feet in front and pad feet in the rear. The seat is covered with damask fabric. The original probably would have been imported from France.

Pole Screen, 1730-35
Mahogany with tapestry fragment
Gift of Mrs. Eugene J. Carpenter in Memory of Eugene J. Carpenter 31.91

The frame is made of mahogany, ending in tripod legs with acanthus leaves, which themselves end in richly carved ball and claw feet. The finial represents a rather bushy flame; the covering is worked in petit point-a very fine form of needlepoint. These screens were used:

  • for protecting a lady's face from the heat of the fire so that it did not become too red (makeup at this time quite often contained wax which would melt when overheated)
  • to protect a person or a candle from a draft

    The screen itself may be adjusted up and down on the pole to the required height.

View of the Roman Forum, mid-1650s
Italian, Viviano Codazzi and Michelangelo Cerquozzi
Oil on canvas
Gift of Dr. Alfred Bader 66.6

This is the largest painting in the room and is done in oil on canvas. Paintings like this would have been brought back by Sir Hugh Smithson from his Grand Tour of Europe.

Other paintings represent the type of people who might have lived in this room.

A Portrait of a Lady, 1744
Alan Ramsey, British, 1713-1784

A Portrait of a Gentleman, 1745
Alan Ramsey, British, 1713-1784

Portrait of Mrs. George Bell
Sir Henry Raeburn, Scottish, 1756-1823
Oil on canvas

Portrait of Lady Penelope Spencer
Sir Peter Lely, Dutch, 1618-1680
Oil on linen

These adorn the walls as reminders that portraits of Hugh
Smithson and Lady Elizabeth Seymour would have hung in this room. These paintings reveal the type of clothing they wore and the type of portrait they would have commissioned for their new home.

The Edward Walpole Children, 1747
Stephen Slaughter, English, 1690/95-1765
Oil on canvas
Gift of Mrs. Eugene J. Carpenter and Olivia Carpenter Coan in Memory of Eugene J. Carpenter

This depicts Walpole's four children by his mistress. They are Edward, Charlotte, Laura, and Marie. Marie, the eldest, is dressed in a "best" dress with bows down the front, while Laura and Charlotte are wearing a more simple day variety. Edward looks very grown up in knee breeches. Marie later married Queen Charlotte's grandson.

Mirror, about 1730
English, Walnut
Gift of Mrs. Eugene J. Carpenter in Memory of Eugene J. Carpenter 31.85

Mirror, about 1720
English, Walnut
(Brackets were added during the 20th century.)
Gift of Mrs. Eugene J. Carpenter in Memory of Eugene J. Carpenter 31.86

Both mirrors have gilt moldings and are decorated with acanthus leaves that correspond with the door surrounds. The gilt would have been applied on a gessoed surface on top of the carving. The broken pediment of each contains a gilt scrolled cartouche. Had the brackets been in situ in 1720, the candles they would have contained would have given additional reflected light.

This room epitomizes the grace and elegance of the Georgian period. The influence of the classics, seen in the Neo-Palladian style of architecture and interior design, is illustrated by the formality and beautifully proportioned architecture and the furniture that was designed to harmonize with it. If it seems a little bare, remember that furniture was pushed back against the wall when not in use. The museum is a little short of furniture for this room at this time. There would probably be at least eight chairs lining the sides of the room. It was a time of wealth when money was used for improving estates, gambling, importing expensive objets d'art and employing some of the finest craftsmen to make suitable homes and furniture to accommodate the acquisitions and pastimes of the wealthy.
Alnwick Castle, English Life Publications, Ltd., 1980.

Ashton, John, Social Life in the Reign of Queen Anne.

Botsford, Jay Barrett, English Society in the 18th Century.

Gainsborough, Time Life Series.

Girouard, Mark, Life in the English Country House, Penguin Books, 1976.

Melville, Lewis, Lady Mary Wortley Montague, 1687-1762, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston and New York.

Owen, John B., The 18th Century, 1714-1815, Norton Library, 1976.

Ramsey, Ralph L. G. G., editor, "Early Georgian, 1714-1760," The Connoisseur Period Guide.

Richardson, A. E., Georgian England (1720-1820), Charles Schrubner & Son, 1931.

Syon House, English Life Publications Ltd., Derby, 1983.

Tomlin, Maurice, English Furniture, Faber and Faber.

Waterhouse, Ellis, Painting in Britain 1530-1790, Pelican History of Art.

In addition to the general tour tips on pages 221-222, use this room on the following tours:
  • Highlights of the Collection
  • How Was it Made? (furniture making, needlework)
  • British Literature and Art to amplify contemporary works like Alexander Pope's "The Rape of the Lock."
A People and Places tour with a portraits and personalities focus.
Compare Portrait of a Lady with Mrs. Nathaniel Allen or the children of Edward Walpole with the children depicted in Peace Concluded.

Architecture in Art
Compare the columns of the room with the design of Paul Revere's tea service and the columns in the Fountain Court.

A tour of Asian Art
Finish in the Northumberland Room, looking at what the Europeans collected and how it was displayed.

  1. By 1730, it was made by mixing a dilute solution of ten parts mars yellow and two parts Prussian blue, and then adding these to a pre-mixed off-white base.
  2. This is made by the addition of small amounts of mars yellow and lamp black pigments to a raw white base. The information in this paragraph was found in notes from Bill Puig's letter to Mrs. Coan, June 23, 1983.
  3. This was achieved by mixing lamp black and Indian red pigments in boiled linseed oil. Both this and the green are applied over a gray undercoat which gives greater depth to the colors.
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Source: Docent Manual entry for <i>Northumberland Room,</i> The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Education Division (1998).
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009