Maud Russell at Mottisfont

A black and white photograph of Mottisfont's last owner, Maud Russell

The spirit of Maud Russell can still be felt here today. She transformed the house and made it the centre of a fashionable, artistic circle.

Well respected for her knowledge of the contemporary art scene, Maud supported the work of many artists, and some became her very intimate acquaintances. She enjoyed the company of creative people, entertaining artists such as Rex Whistler and Ian Fleming here. 

As the Russell’s weekend retreat, Mottisfont was never grand but it was always comfortable. Maud ensured her guests were able to relax and enjoy themselves with lazy breakfasts and cocktail parties.

Maud’s eye for design

Maud came here with her husband Gilbert Russell and their two sons in 1934. She used her keen eye for aesthetics to oversee the reconfiguring and redecoration of the house, which had fallen into disrepair.

She was inspired by the existing historic décor, developing and enhancing it where she could. Complementing this is her love of neo-classical design which created the luxurious, classical feel that’s still on show today.

The Whistler Room

In 1939, she commissioned Rex Whistler to transform the original entrance hall into a large saloon. The results were his spectacular trompe l’oeil murals, painted in a gothick style, light-heartedly reflecting the building’s origins as a mediaeval priory. 

Rex Whistler was commissioned to create murals at Mottisfont
A black and white photograph of the artist Rex Whistler at Mottisfont
Rex Whistler was commissioned to create murals at Mottisfont

This extraordinary room was his last and finest piece before he was killed on active service in France.

The Second World War

Mottisfont’s restoration was completed just as the Second World War was declared and the house requisitioned. The Long Gallery became a hospital ward for non-critical war casualties and children, evacuated from London, lived in the Stable Block.

During the war, Mottisfont was requisitioned as a hospital
An old photograph of soldiers and nurses standing outside Mottisfont, Hampshire
During the war, Mottisfont was requisitioned as a hospital

When Gilbert died in 1942 Maud moved to London to work for the Admiralty, travelling down to Mottisfont at weekends. Most of her war work has remained secret, but it’s thought that she provided translations for the Intelligence services. She never forgot her German-Jewish ancestry and, in the years leading up to the Second World War, helped several Jewish families escape from Nazi Germany.

Maud gave the house and 2,080-acre estate at Mottisfont to the National Trust in 1957, anxious that it should be preserved. She continued to live here for another fifteen years, taking an active interest in estate and village life.