The house at Mottisfont

Armchairs and sofas before a fireplace in the Morning Room inside Mottisfont, Hampshire

Discover stories of creativity, conflict, love and loss in a house full of surprises. Originally founded as an Augustinian priory in 1201, the house has seen a number of transformations over the last 800 years, shaped by its many and varied owners. Now it reflects the life and passions of Mottisfont’s fascinating last owner, society hostess and arts patron Maud Russell.

Visit the lower ground floor of the house to find out how and why Mottisfont developed from a priory into a country home over the years. From here you can step into the vaulted cellarium, the giant ‘larder’ of the 13th-century priory.

While much of the original priory is now hidden, this atmospheric space offers a glimpse into the lives of Augustinian canons.

The Cellarium offers a glimpse of Mottisfont's priory past
The Cellarium at Mottisfont, Hampshire
The Cellarium offers a glimpse of Mottisfont's priory past

Maud Russell's influence

Maud Russell and her husband Gilbert purchased Mottisfont in 1934. She was the daughter of German immigrants, who settled in England in the late nineteenth century. Lively and beautiful, Maud was greatly drawn to both the work and the company of creative people, and invited many contemporary artists, writers and designers here for weekend retreats.

This year, we're telling the story of Maud's youngest son, Raymond.

An old photograph of Raymond Russell at the harpsichord

Raymond Russell's story at Mottisfont 

This year, we're exploring the life of Raymond Russell, youngest son of Maud and Gilbert, through installations around the house. Raymond was a talented musician, with a keen interest in collecting; among other curious objects, he eventually amassed an important collection of early keyboard instruments.

Modernising Mottisfont

When the Russells first purchased Mottisfont, the buildings were in a state of disrepair. They modernised the house and estate, and it became a place for extravagant house parties held for their literary and artistic friends.

Under Maud's guidance, rooms were reconfigured and redecorated. The overall look was Neo-classical and luxurious, with faux marbling and pastel shades. While much of her furniture and personal possessions are now gone from the house, Mrs Russell's spirit is undeniably present in the look and feel of the house today.

It's a playful house, with lots of secrets to discover. Look out for:

  • Two mosaics by Russian artist Boris Anrep: a small panel above the doorway in the Red Room representing the Holy Trinity, and one on the south elevation of the house, which depicts the figure of an angel bearing a very strong resemblance to Mrs Russell.

  • A ‘secret’ panel in the Yellow Room which reveals a hidden part of the old priory building

The Whistler Room

Just before war broke out in 1939, Maud Russell transformed the original entrance hall into a large saloon. Rex Whistler was commissioned to create a unique backdrop for Mottisfont’s glamorous guests. The results were his spectacular trompe l’oeil murals, light-heartedly reflecting Mottisfont’s medieval origins.

Rex Whistler's detailed, deceptive murals are one of Mottisfont's most fascinating sights
A detail of Rex Whistler's murals in the saloon at Mottisfont, Hampshire
Rex Whistler's detailed, deceptive murals are one of Mottisfont's most fascinating sights

Despite appearances, there are no columns, ledges or moulded plasterwork in this room, the walls of which are so cunningly painted that they appear to have all these gothic decorations. Take time to look closely at these finely detailed paintings and see what you can spot.

This extraordinary room was his last and finest piece before he was killed in active service in France. Tucked high in one wall is a poignant, secret message from the artist, painted just before he left – ask one of our room guides to show you when you visit.

Painted trompe l'oeil murals and decorative curtains in the Whistler Room at Mottisfont, Hampshire

Restoring the Whistler Room curtains 

The curtains in our celebrated Whistler Room are of great historical significance: Rex Whistler was painting the mock ermine lining when the Second World War broke out. But these original furnishings are deteriorating rapidly. They will need to be taken down for an intensive programme of repair and restoration, which will take up to five years to complete. Your donations will help us complete this vital task.

The Derek Hill Collection

An oil painting of Lake Como by the artist Derek Hill

The Derek Hill Collection 

Mottisfont houses a permanent collection of 20th-century art, amassed by the artist Derek Hill. This inspiring collection includes artists such as L.S. Lowry, Barbara Hepworth and Graham Sutherland. You can see many of these works in the Morning Room. There are also smaller, focused displays in the West Corridor, where this year we’re highlighting works by the St Ives School.