The house at Mottisfont
An 18th-century building with a medieval priory at its heart, this beautiful house was transformed into a comfortable, neo-classical home in the 1930s.
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.
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.
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.
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.