The showrooms at Knole

The Ballroom at Knole

Several of Knole’s historic showrooms will reopen on Tuesday 27 March, following extensive cleaning over the winter. The showrooms display Knole’s outstanding collection of textiles, furniture and paintings, which have all been enriched by recent cleaning and conservation.

The showrooms open to visitors in 2018 are the Great Hall, Great Staircase, Ballroom, Reynolds Room, Cartoon Gallery and King’s Room. 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.

What to look out for in the showrooms

The Great Hall

The Great Hall has been completely redecorated over the winter. Inspiration has been taken from watercolours, images and inventories from the early 20th century to reflect a previous decoration scheme and picture hang.

Paint sampling and analysis have been used to find an exact match for the walls, which are now cloaked in a deep Pomeiian red, while the ceiling is a delicate blend of pale blue and white. During the late 19th century or early 20th century, red curtains and blinds were hung and antler trophies and mounted deer heads decorated the walls – all of which have now been reinstated.

Knole's Great Hall in 2016 before work began. Watch this space for its 20th century redecoration!
The Great Hall at Knole has been redecorated to reflect a 20th century decoration scheme and picture hang.
Knole's Great Hall in 2016 before work began. Watch this space for its 20th century redecoration!

The portraits decorating the walls reflect a 1904 picture hang and are hung using the locations of the original fixings. The canvas and frames have all been conserved, either onsite in the Knole Studio or at external studios. The frames of the three large ambassadorial paintings – of George III, Queen Charlotte and George IV – have had bronze paint removed and the frames returned to their original gilded appearance, which is now set off beautifully by the red walls.


The Ballroom

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. It used to hang above the fireplace in the Great Hall but, after careful conservation, the painting has been rehung 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. 

'A Prospect of Dover Castle' by John Wootton (1727)
'A Prospect of Dover Castle' by John Wootton (1727) in the Ballroom at Knole, Kent.
'A Prospect of Dover Castle' by John Wootton (1727)

The painting’s beautiful carved frame was conserved in Knole’s 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 and the early 17th 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 Reynolds Room

The star attraction in the Reynolds Room is Knole’s latest Thomas Gainsborough acquisition – an elegant portrait of Louis-Pierre Quentin de Richebourg, Marquis de Champcenetz (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 illuminate the collection of nine paintings by Sir Joshua Reynolds in the Reynolds Room
The Reynolds Room at Knole
Historic picture lights illuminate the collection of nine paintings by Sir Joshua Reynolds in the Reynolds Room

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.

Don’t miss the beautiful gilded pier glass mirror in this room. The ornate gilding was conserved in our 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 16th 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 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 Cartoon Gallery houses the set of six large 17th century copies of Raphael’s Cartoons
The Cartoon Gallery at Knole
The Cartoon Gallery houses the set of six large 17th century copies of Raphael’s Cartoons

The Cartoons’ enormous black and gold Sansovino-style frames, dating from the 1630s, have been painstakingly cleaned in our 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 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 King's Bed shines under upgraded lighting
The King's Bed shines following conservation, at Knole in Kent.
The King's Bed shines under upgraded lighting

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 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.