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Monday, 27 January 2014

Outfit(s) of the Day at Waddesdon

Anyone who knows me can vouch for the fact that i'm a super fashionable lady.

Check out my OOTD: 

Spot the Rothschild in this photograph
Hint: it's not me

White is in at the moment. And black. Look, even Vogue says so. Monday to Friday, I turn up to Waddesdon dressed for the catwalk. 'Back' in the monochrome I never left. 

But what are those sneaky purples I'm pulling out, you ask.
'They are thermals' I answer, slightly shivering. 
In the closed season, Waddesdon tends to be a little bit chilly. We keep the heat down to conserve the artworks, and it's not unusual to see curators wandering around the Manor in their coats and scarves.

Unlike the people who work there, the portraits in the house (being inanimate objects) do not change their clothes with the seasons.
Despite their fashion insensitivity, there are some pretty great outfits on display.

Léon Bakst, The Sleeping Beauty: The Good Fairy's Promise, 1913-20; Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection (Rothschild Family Trust)
On loan since 1995; acc. no. 89.1995.2 © The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor

This is one of the seven panels painted by early C20th Russian artist Léon Bakst. Best known for his fantastical theatrical designs, he painted these panels for James and Dorothy Rothschild and included them, their dog and himself in the works. Paris was apparently short on models.

But the focus of these paintings isn't on his patrons and their canines, it's on the textiles. Three panels later, he almost evaporates a looming dragon to concentrate on the drapery of the frightened courtiers.

Equalling Bakst in 'swag', is Callet's diplomatic portrait of Louis XVI, the last Bourbon King of France. The experimental red pigments that were used to paint his cloak are 'fugitive', which means that over time his clothes are going to look bluer and bluer (Lucky for Louis, Glamour Magazine thinks blue is 'refreshing'). 

Unfortunately for the dead King, this is making his rosy cheeks appear to be turning redder. It's as if he's enjoying covert glasses of port when the lights go out. 

Antoine-François Callet, King Louis XVI (1754 - 1793), 1781-82; Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection (Rothschild Family Trusts)
On loan since 2006; acc. no. 57.2006. Photo: Mike Fear © The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor

Perhaps my favourite 'fashion moment' in the house is this little number being modelled by Emerentia von Berensteyn. A portrait to be displayed to potential suitors, a real fash' blog would say that 'her red/gold dress is perfectly accessorised with a cheeky smile'
But I'm most interested in her 'huik'- the Dutch name for the hat and veil she is wearing. The veil could be pulled over the nodule of her hat, and would have covered her very like a burka. In fact, the 'huik' was still being used in Holland as mourning clothing this century, and was used as an argument against the banning of burkas in the Netherlands. Topical stuff, this 'art'. 

Pieter Claesz Soutman, Emerentia von Berensteyn (c1623-1674), c 1634; Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust)
Bequest of James de Rothschild, 1957 © The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor

And there we go. My Waddesdon fashion round-up. 

Apologies for wimping out of bird-watching. More blue tits next week!


Wednesday, 22 January 2014

The Intern Diaries

The question people most often ask when I tell them that I work at Waddesdon Manor is 'but what do you actually do?' And so, despite my surprisingly sociable nature, I thought I'd use this blog to fend off that much repeated enquiry. 

Here, dear readers, are my 'Intern Diaries'

I can only apologise for what is perhaps the least creative name for a blogpost ever written. 

Also, for calling you 'dear readers'.

My official job title  at Waddesdon is 'Collections Assistant', a transitional position set up for recent graduates, allowing an individual to spend a year at the manor learning about curating, museums and how to find a fuse box in the dark.

And you get a badge

I'm tempted to say 'no two days are the same!', but I have a feeling that no two days are the same for anyone in any job, and so will instead tell you that 'what I do varies enormously!' 

Working in a collection like ours you find yourself one day showing students priceless drawings and textiles, and the next assisting with a frames survey of the house. The day after that you might be photocopying auction catalogues. Crazier things have happened.

There are, however, two or three strands that tie the odd-jobs I help with together. The first of these is preparation for the upcoming exhibition of Roubiliac busts of Alexander Pope. The curator is Malcolm Baker, who works at University of California Riverside, and so I get to spend some of my time on the phone to L.A., feeling very transatlantic and glam. 

 Teeny tiny model of the exhibition 

Working with Malcolm and Juliet (Dr Juliet Carey, the Curator of Paintings, Sculpture and Drawings), I have learnt a lot very quickly. Who knew what a socle was? Not me. Have any idea what the average weight of a marble statuette is? No? Neither did I!

I also get to spend a pleasing amount of time learning about, researching and showing people round the house. 

People like Martha! 

I really like looking at art (hence the degree), so this is pretty great. And Waddesdon, as I may have mentioned, is fantastically eclectic (or nuts) both in its design and collection. Decades are quite literally stacked upon one another, and then collaged together. 

Yesterday I was looking at some Roman coins; today I was noting the condition of a resident Freud. 

Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection (Rothschild Family Trusts). On loan since 1995
 © The Lucian Freud Archive / The Bridgeman Art Library

And check it out! I think I even know how to use image copyright properly! Rachel...? (Rachel Jacobs is the head of our photographic library)

Of course, all this hard work requires plenty of emergency tea and (gluten free- wooo) cake. Both are National Trust staples. Join me next week for more on that, and possibly a few naughty pictures of some beautiful birds. 


Thursday, 16 January 2014

Christmas at Waddesdon

Yesterday I posted a link to this blog on Facebook. With a wisdom tooth hammering through my bottom left gum, I threw caution to the wind and decided to detail my un-romantic and romantic new job to my un-romantic and romantic old friends.

To capitalise on the brief, subsequent rise in 'blog' traffic, and to make up for the fact that Waddesdon is now closed and the gardens plunged in to darkness for 100% of my non-working hours, I thought I would have a lil' #tbt.

Waddesdon gets really, really Christmassy

I arrived at Waddesdon just as Autumn began. It was what our historic gardens consultant Sophie Piebenga calls a 'phantom Autumn'; a bit like a phantom pregnancy, only with leaves that turn orange before the cold sets in, rather than a belly that fills with gas before the egg is fertilised. 

Pretty, pretty, pretty

With the stewards hurrying to finish jobs before the house re-opens, the collection department were roped into cleaning the statues in the North Fountain. Dentures' toothbrushes were worn to stubs as we attempted to remove a year's worth of pollution and moss from the marble allegorical figures, imported from the ducal Palace at Colorno, (now a hotel, with some- presumably- rather bare watering holes).

Once cleaned, the garden statues are wrapped in their rather attractive winter coats, ready for the frost. I live in a cottage on the estate, and it was a bit of a surprise wandering into one of these fellas in the dark on the way home from the Manor...


By the end of October, it was pitch black before I left the office at 5.30. I had to invest in a MagLite to stop myself tripping over falling conkers and to  help me investigate rustling pheasants in the bushes.
Luckily the main house had some new lights on show.

It's chriiiiiiiistmaaaaas

Christmas at Waddesdon is a really big deal. This year British artist Bruce Munro set up a field of light in the garden, and the house was decorated as an homage to Austria- with a Sound of Music corridor, Swarovski trees, and an information plinth on Klimt written by yours truly.

Yup, I finally hit the big time.

It is magical the first time you walk in. Strauss booming down the East Gallery, and roaring fires make you want to take someones hand and waltz them to the mistletoe.

It's pretty magical for the subsequent week, too. Enormous Christmas bouquets (I didn't even know what a Christmas bouquet was before Waddesdon), and lots and lots of trees.

But there are certainly downsides to living in a permanent cloud of Christmas cheer.

It's (still) chriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiistmaaaaaaaaaaas

I was stationed in the Sound of Music corridor for three hours one night, standing guard while the press wandered around. No longer can I put the  SoM soundtrack down on my list of 'favourite things' (eh-oh).
The smell of pine trees becomes almost potent by December and the collections department is subject to the same temperature controls as the house, which has a set humidity level to protect the artworks. It gets cold.

This past winter has been magical, and properly full of festive cheer #festivecheer. But having overdosed on twinkly lights and thematic baubles, I was happy to be spending Christmas with my uncle in Africa, where I could keep the tinsel and santa hats at a safe distance.


Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Living at Waddesdon Manor

Last year I finished my degree. I packed my bags and left Christ Church, Oxford. I thought it would be the most beautiful place I would ever live. Or at least, the most striking. Christ Church is a strange conflation of styles. It does "serious" well. It started off as a set of monastic buildings, and even when there are rogue undergraduates setting off homemade flamethrowers it still manages to somehow look frigid. 

Me 'nd my mate Martha just chilling by the fountain

Anyway- I left Christ Church . And I fully expected to return immediately home. Back to the family pad. Back to part-time catering, part-time writing. But I didn't. I was lucky enough to score a year long placement at what must be one of the most extraordinary buildings in England. Waddesdon Manor. Built by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild at the end of the C19th, it looks a little bit like a C16th French Chateau. Inside, though, its stuffed to the brim with the best of Europe, from the C17th to the modern day.

It's a party house, designed for the summer, with paintings of pretty women adorning the walls. On an off day you can fear the unfavourable comparisons. 

The other slightly less dignified header option

I have now been at the manor for almost five months. I work in the collections department- helping to organise exhibitions, decorating christmas trees, showing the Russian embassy around- you get the general idea. Anyway, as much to diarise this experience for myself as anything else (although it is unusual to write to an 'imaginary reader' if that is it's sole purpose), I am going to occasionally blog the experience. 

The odd 'intern update', perhaps.  Insensitively bombard you with Manor based propaganda. 
It's the countryside. What else am I supposed to do? 

I'm a terrible photographer, and this was done on an Iphone. It's just really pretty here.