Showrooms highlights at Knole
Several of Knole’s historic showrooms have reopened, following extensive building and conservation work. The warmer and better-lit spaces display Knole’s outstanding collection of textiles, furniture and paintings, which have all been enriched by recent cleaning and conservation.
The first of Knole’s beautifully restored showrooms to reopen include the Ballroom, Reynolds Room, Cartoon Gallery and King’s Room, which are open alongside the Great Hall and Great Staircase. Work continues in the other showrooms, which will remain closed until spring 2019, as we continue with specialist work to conserve the rooms and precious collections.
In addition to structural building repairs, the re-opened showrooms have new lighting and heating systems to control humidity and ensure the safe preservation of Knole’s unique collections for years to come. Many of the items in the showrooms, including textiles and picture frames, have been conserved and cleaned in Knole’s new conservation studio by our highly specialised team.
What to look out for in the showrooms
The highlight of this ornate and distinctive room is John Wootton’s 1727 masterpiece 'A Prospect of Dover Castle' – one of the largest paintings at Knole, which used to hang above the fireplace in the Great Hall. After careful conservation the painting has now been hung at eye level in its original 18th century location in the Ballroom.
The Wootton painting was cleaned and conserved in London by specialist Sophie Reddington, who removed the thick layers of varnish to reveal an original painting of a much higher quality than originally thought. Reddington’s work has revealed amazing new levels of detail and richer tones.
The painting’s beautiful carved frame was conserved in Knole’s new conservation studio by Gerry Alabone, our specialist frames expert.
Elsewhere in the Ballroom the carpets, upholstery and ceramics have been cleaned and conserved, the ceiling redecorated and the early seventeenth century wall panels cleaned.
New lighting and heating creates a better environment for both visitors and the collection. Look out for the 1904 picture lights, which have been refurbished and fitted with modern LED lights so visitors can better appreciate the wonderful picture collection.
The previously chilly room now has a state-of-the-art heat pad under its enormous 17th century carpet, providing a wonderful diffused heat.
The Reynolds Room
The star attraction in the Reynolds Room is Knole’s recent Thomas Gainsborough acquisition – an elegant portrait of Louis-Pierre Quentin de Richebourg, Marquis de Champcenetz, fils (1754-1822) returned to Knole after an 80-year absence.
The portrait is thought to have been commissioned by John Frederick Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset (1745–99), and hung at Knole until it was sold to an American collector in 1930. It was purchased back by the National Trust at a Sotheby’s auction in New York in 2016 and has now returned to Knole.
Historic picture lights have also been installed in the Reynolds Room to better illuminate the collection, which includes nine paintings by Sir Joshua Reynolds as well as others by Thomas Gainsborough and George Romney.
The Reynolds paintings include a self-portrait in addition to portraits of Samuel Johnson and actor and playwright David Garrick and all have been cleaned and their frames conserved.
Visitors can learn more about the conservation of the Reynolds self-portrait using the interactive iPads in the new conservation studio.
Don’t miss the beautiful gilded pier glass mirror in this room. The ornate gilding was conserved in our own studio and is particularly special as much of it is original, unlike many other gilded surfaces at Knole which have had later layers applied.
The Cartoon Gallery
The Cartoon Gallery takes its name from the set of six large 17th century copies of Raphael’s Cartoons. The originals were painted in the sixteenth century, commissioned by Pope Leo X in 1515, as full scale designs for tapestries made to cover the lower walls of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel.
Knole’s Cartoons were conserved off-site by Bristol-based specialist conservator Bush and Berry and are now back on the walls and looking magnificent. The paintings have been transformed and it is now possible to see the original colours and fine detail previously obscured by the thick yellow varnish.
The Cartoons’ enormous black and gold Sansovino-style frames, dating from the 1630s, have been painstakingly cleaned in our own conservation studio with wonderful results. This was a mammoth task involving many hours of intricate work. The conservators stabilised the frames structurally and removed surface dirt and grime and some layers of later overpaint. Missing areas have been retouched with watercolour paints.
Elsewhere in the gallery, notice the rich red caffoy wall covering (a velvet-like wool fabric with a floral pattern stamped in its pile) which has been carefully cleaned in situ to reveal its original deep crimson colour.
The Grotesque painted panels on the west bay window and the south wall have also been subject to intense restoration and now display their original vibrant colours.
The King’s Room
As you step into the King’s Room, admire the splendour of the 17th century bed from a new glass viewing box. The bed is one of the most spectacular objects in Knole’s collection, with its ornate gold and silver threadwork topped with ostrich feathers. It is one of three state beds at Knole, most likely made for James II when he was still Duke of York.
The previous glass viewing box was installed after the bed was renovated in the 1970s. The room decoration had to be compromised to accommodate it and some of the late 17th century tapestries showing scenes from the life of Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar were moved.
The new viewing box and room arrangement has allowed the beautiful tapestries to be rehung above the dado rail in their original positions. The tapestries were included in the inventory when six wagon loads of goods were transported from Copt Hall in Essex to Knole in 1701.
Look out for the beautiful caffoy curtains and pelmet, which have also been cleaned and conserved off-site, to reveal their stunning deep crimson colour.