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The collection at Saltram

A woman looks at old books in the library at Saltram house, in Devon
Visitor exploring Saltram Library | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Ever since the Parker family came to Saltram in the 1740s, it's been known for its fine interiors. Visitors to Saltram can explore many of the gems of this collection, including paintings by well-known artist Joshua Reynolds, Wedgwood ceramics, rare Chinese wallpapers and over 3,000 books.

Sir Joshua Reynolds at Saltram

Many country houses have paintings by the famous portrait artist Joshua Reynolds, but few can claim to have as important a connection to him as Saltram. Not simply patrons, the Parker family were friends with the painter, who was born less than a mile away, in Plympton.

The Parkers' friendship with Reynolds

Reynolds also came to stay at Saltram for at least a month in 1770, and was commissioned to paint the family on many occasions. He acted as an advisor and art dealer, and several paintings in the house were acquired thanks to him.

Account books in the house also record the family dining out with Reynolds, as well as the settling of gambling debts between them.

Reynolds' portraits at Saltram

While there are many portraits by Reynolds at Saltram, there are three must-see items in the collection.

A painting of John Parker, 1st Baron Boringdon leaning on a gate with his gun, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, at Saltram Devon
John Parker, 1st Baron Boringdon, c.1770, by Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA (1723–1792) | © National Trust Images/John Hammond

John Parker, 1st Baron Boringdon (1734/5-1788)

Reynolds painted John Parker II on the Saltram estate. John is pictured enjoying the outdoors and casually leaning against a gate. He loved outdoor pursuits and had a stable full of horses. His relaxed pose and the reduced canvas size create an intimate portrait, demonstrating the familiarity between sitter and painter. This painting is on display in the Morning Room.

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Josiah Wedgwood at Saltram

Pioneering potter Josiah Wedgwood opened his own factory in 1759. An innovative designer, his work became so popular that visiting his London shop was often difficult because the queues were so long.

Wedgwood ceramics at Saltram

The collection at Saltram features several ceramic styles created by Wedgwood. These include black basalt items that emulate ancient Greek and Roman pots – a perfect fit for Saltram’s classically inspired interiors.

A Wedgwood lamp

The lamp with three cast figures inspired by ancient Greek hanging lamps was bought by Theresa Parker. She wrote excitedly to her brother: 'We have just bought a beautiful lamp of the Black Staffordshire ware.’

Creamware at Saltram

Creamware was another Wedgwood invention that became incredibly popular. Looking to the field of engineering, the potter became interested in the lathes used to decorate metalwork and turn ivory.

The results can be seen on a set of vases in the collection at Saltram. With such an innovative application of technology, Wedgwood was ahead of his time.

Pebble garniture

Another example of Wedgwood’s ceramic style is the pebble garniture set found in the Dining Room. Wedgwood often experimented with materials, and his aim in this case was to produce a ceramic resembling stone. The dark granite ‘pebble’ look of these vases was created with a unique type of glaze, mixed from cobalt, iron and manganese.

Three pieces of Wedgwood garniture, from around 1775-80, sat on a mantlepiece in Saltram house, Devon
Three-piece Wedgwood garniture, c.1775-80, on a mantelpiece at Saltram | © National Trust Images/Robert Morris

Chinese wallpaper

Saltram house contains four different types of Chinese wallpaper, all beautiful and extremely rare. Made in China in the 18th century, these wallpapers were exported specifically to Europe and probably put up in Saltram in the 1750s or '60s.

The wallpaper would've been made by printing figures or scenes onto paper in black and white. These would then have been painted by hand. If you look closely, you can see how the wallpaper was cut to fit the room.

Handmade wallpaper designs

Some of the scenes are repeated and different borders have been added. You may also be able to make out that some of the figures and birds have been cut out by hand and pasted on top.

In the Dressing Room, you can spot the tall, swaying figures, often described as ‘long Elizas’, among porcelain vases, birds and flowers.

In the Study – which would then have been a sitting room – some of these figures are pasted together with landscape scenes.

Chinese bedroom wallpaper

The wallpaper in the Chinese Chippendale Bedroom depicts the manufacture of tea. It shows men collecting leaves and packing up crates, while others stamp the tea down with their feet.

Tea drinking in Georgian England

Drinking tea had become very popular in England by the 18th century, though it was very expensive. Only the rich could afford tea, and so tea ‘parties’ were a chance to show off wealth and good taste.

Tea was kept under lock and key in a tea caddy, and only served in the finest china. Chinese wallpaper depicting the manufacturing process would've provided a fitting backdrop.

A close up of details on the wallpaper that decorates the Chinese Chippendale Bedroom in Saltram house, Devon
A detail of the wallpaper decorating the Chinese Chippendale Bedroom at Saltram | © National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Axminster carpet

When visiting Saltram, be sure to explore the Saloon – one of the best and most complete rooms designed by architect Robert Adam.

Finished in 1772, it's a space designed to impress, featuring one of the largest Axminster carpets ever made, along with furniture by Chippendale and paintings by Joshua Reynolds.

Saltram's Tudor Nuremberg Chronicle

The oldest book in the Library is a copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle. Published in 1493, it's a history of the world and, unusually for its time, contains around 1,800 woodcut print illustrations.

This copy originally belonged to a monastery in Bavaria. It came to Saltram in the 19th century, when such texts were purchased to show the wealth and education of the collector.

Metamorphic furniture

As libraries became more popular, so the demand for furniture that was both beautiful and useful grew. Saltram has examples of this so-called ‘metamorphic’ furniture, including ‘Campbell’s newly invented Library Steps’, which neatly pack away into a table.

Also look out for the chair that when turned upside down suddenly becomes a set of steps, useful for reaching the highest books.

The garden room at Saltram with a display cabinet in the centre and paintings on the surrounding walls

Saltram's collections

Explore the objects and works of art we care for at Saltram on the National Trust Collections website.

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