Treasured Possessions: Riches of Polesden Lacey exhibition

Paintings and objets d'art from the exhibition Treasured Possessions

Marking 80 years since Dame Margaret Greville left Polesden Lacey and her collection to the National Trust, we’re showcasing over 100 treasures in a major new exhibition at Polesden Lacey. We’ve reopened rooms that that have been closed since the pandemic especially for the exhibition providing a unique opportunity to view these objects up-close in a gallery setting.

25 April – 30 October 2022 and 1 March – 29 October 2023
(Please note opening times at the bottom of this page)

This major new exhibition showcases one of the National Trust’s most glamorous collections. Society hostess Dame Margaret Greville’s collections were the height of fashion, reflecting her place in early 20th-century high society. Precious objects by Cartier and Fabergé are on show alongside rare ceramics and silver and superb French, Italian and Dutch paintings.

A selection of objets d'art from the exhibition Treasured Possessions

Treasured Possessions: Riches of Polesden Lacey 

Discover some of Polseden Lacey's most significant treasures collected by Mrs Greville including exquisite objects by Fabergé and Cartier, Dutch Old Masters, rare ceramics, silver and more.

Polesden Lacey is home to the largest group of Fabergé objects in the National Trust, and possibly in any country house collection in the UK. The greatest goldsmith of his generation, Peter Carl Fabergé opened a shop in London in 1903. The joyful opulence of the objets de fantaisie he created entranced the British royal family and their courtiers and Mrs Greville made purchases there no fewer than 31 times.

Research for the exhibition confirmed that four Fabergé-attributed objects were by the jeweller. The discovery of scratched and stamped numbers on a further object – a Jasper study of an owl on a perch – revealed for the first time that it too was by Fabergé. 

Mrs Greville’s crowning glory, her Fabergé egg, with a diamond clasp fashioned in the shape of a snowflake
Faberge egg, rhodonite with diamonds
Mrs Greville’s crowning glory, her Fabergé egg, with a diamond clasp fashioned in the shape of a snowflake

The exhibition, Treasured Possessions: Riches of Polesden Lacey, marks 80 years since society hostess Dame Margaret Greville left her extraordinary country home to the National Trust. Between 1907 and 1942 Polesden Lacey was her weekend retreat and the setting for lavish parties attended by guests including King Edward VII, Winston Churchill and bestselling author and ‘Bright Young Thing’ Beverley Nichols.

In the high society circles in which she moved, the giving of small, precious objets d’art was an important social ritual. Among the objets d’art on display will be exquisite jeweled animals by Fabergé and Cartier, including Mrs Greville’s crowning glory, her Fabergé egg, complete with a diamond clasp fashioned in the shape of a snowflake.

Jonathan Marsh, Collections and House Manager at Polesden Lacey, said: “Margaret Greville’s guests here included royalty, politicians, international heads of state and celebrities. Her collection of art and objects is a reflection of her prestige and prominence and we’re excited to be able to tell that story in this major exhibition.”

French bulldog, frosted quartz with ruby and sapphire eyes and dog tags, c.1925. Possibly by Cartier
French bulldogs, made from frosted quartz with ruby and sapphire eyes and dog tags, c.1925. Possibly by Cartier
French bulldog, frosted quartz with ruby and sapphire eyes and dog tags, c.1925. Possibly by Cartier
" Polesden Lacey’s highly evocative collection of Fabergé animal studies and jewelled ornaments provides the perfect lightning conductor to an era now long gone."
- John Benjamin, honorary adviser on jewellery and Fabergé

Royal Connections

In the Platinum Jubilee year, the exhibition will display a number of objects with royal links, including a green snuff box gifted to Mrs Greville by Edward VII and a ruby and diamond brooch worn to his coronation. Edward VII was the guest of honour at Mrs Greville’s first house party in 1909 and is said to have commented that her ‘gift for hospitality’ amounted to a ‘positive genius’.

A gift to Mrs Greville from King Edward VII – given when Margaret Greville hosted her first house party at Polesden Lacey in 1909.
two images of green snuff box,one with lid open showing note from King Edward VII
A gift to Mrs Greville from King Edward VII – given when Margaret Greville hosted her first house party at Polesden Lacey in 1909.

Ceramics and silver ware

With her seemingly unlimited wealth, Mrs Greville collected works which were the height of fashion, particularly ceramics and silver. Important ceramics on show include a pair of pottery horse heads from early Imperial China (circa 3rd-7th centuries AD), alongside pieces by Meissen, rare Renaissance maiolica birds, and Mrs Greville’s treasured Staffordshire porcelain tulips.

a pair of pottery horse heads from early Imperial China (circa 3rd-7th centuries AD)
a pair of pottery horse heads from early Imperial China (circa 3rd-7th centuries AD)
a pair of pottery horse heads from early Imperial China (circa 3rd-7th centuries AD)

She was known to be very proud of the rare silver in her collection, which included English silver objects chased (decorated with linear patterns made with a punch and hammer) in an imitation Asian style. Many such objects have since proved to be fakes but Mrs Greville’s chinoiserie footed salver is a rare and important exception. New research has enabled the Trust to attribute makers to most of the silver pieces for the first time. 

Picture collection

The breadth of her picture collection, assembled with advice from Tancred Borenius, appointed the first professor of art history at University College London in 1922, will also be revealed. She collected superb French and Italian paintings, rare medieval works, the finest miniatures, and masterpieces of the Dutch Golden Age including a self-portrait by Frans van Mieris.

Other portraits include a striking Johann Zoffany portrait of the Viennese dancer Eva Maria Veigel (Mrs David Garrick) in a masquerade costume of shimmering silk, a beautiful portrayal by Henry Bone of the young Mary Queen of Scots – on display for the first time – and The Masters Pattisson by Sir Thomas Lawrence. In the Dining Room, artist Alastair Morrison, whose great-great-grandfather is depicted in The Masters Pattisson, has created a contemporary photograph in response to the painting, exploring the themes of brotherly love and loss.

As part of the exhibition, other treasures of Mrs Greville’s will be highlighted in the lavishly furnished principal rooms, including a magnificent painting by Melchior de Hondecoeter, showing peacocks and other birds in a landscape. This recently returned to the house after an absence of over 50 years to serve once again as the central feature in the richest of all the interiors, the Saloon.

Exhibition curator, Alice Strickland, added: “In assembling her superb collections, Mrs Greville was following the transatlantic fashion of the super-rich, but she was also creating an intimate and inviting atmosphere for her many guests."

" In Mrs Greville's lifetime it was the privileged few who could enjoy the treasures she had amassed, but she intended her bequest to the National Trust ‘to form a Picture and Art Gallery’, ‘for the largest number of people to have enjoyment thereof.’ As custodians of Polesden Lacey estate we hope we have done her justice."
- Alice Strickland, Curator

Visiting to the house and exhibition

The exhibition is open daily from 1pm Monday - Friday and all day (from 11am) at weekends, school holidays and bank holidays.

Unfortunately, at this time the first floor exhibition rooms are not wheelchair accessible, however, an online version of the exhibition can be viewed on the National Trust Collections website.

For a wider insight in the life of Margaret Greville at Polesden Lacey, join a guided tour from 11am – 12.15pm, excluding school/bank holidays, between March and October. To join a tour, pick up a ticket from visitor reception when you arrive.

A selection of objets d'art from the exhibition Treasured Possessions

Treasured Possessions: Riches of Polesden Lacey 

Discover some of Polseden Lacey's most significant treasures collected by Mrs Greville including exquisite objects by Fabergé and Cartier, Dutch Old Masters, rare ceramics, silver and more.