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Treasured Possessions: Riches of Polesden Lacey exhibition

Portrait painting by Johann Zoffany
Painting of Eva Maria Veigel by Johann Zoffany, at Polesden Lacey | © National Trust Images/John Hammond

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 exhibition.

1 March – 29 October 2023
11am - 4pm (last entry at 3.30pm)

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. This exhibition showcases one of the National Trust’s most glamorous collections.

Fabergé Collection

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. Mrs Greville made purchases there no fewer than 31 times.

Research for the exhibition confirmed that four Fabergé-attributed objects were by the jeweller, including a new find - the discovery of a Jasper study of an owl on a perch.

"Polesden Lacey’s highly evocative collection of Fabergé animal studies and jewelled ornaments provides the perfect lightning conductor to an era now long gone."

A quote by John BenjaminNational Trust Honorary adviser on jewellery and Fabergé

High society gift giving

Polesden Lacey was Margaret Greville's weekend retreat and the setting for lavish parties attended by guests including King Edward VII and Winston Churchill.

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.

Talk: Mrs Greville and the art of gift giving

Thu 4 May, 1pm

Join Richard Ashbourne for a free talk to hear more on the fascinating stories behind the treasures Mrs Greville and her friends bought each other. Book your place here.

French bulldog, 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 | © National Trust/David Brunetti

Ceramics and silver ware

With her seemingly unlimited wealth, Mrs Greville collected works which were the height of fashion, particularly ceramics and silver. 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.

She was known to be very proud of the rare silver in her collection, which includes 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.

Talk: Mrs Greville's rare silver collection

Wed 19 Apr, 1pm

Join James Rothwell (National Trust Curator and decorative arts specialist), to discover more about Mrs Greville's rare silver collection. Book your place here.

Picture collection

The breadth of her substansive picture collection 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.

This includes 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.

Many 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.

Talk: Paintings of the National Trust

Wed 7 Jun, 1pm

Join John Chu (Senior National Curator of Paintings and Sculpture) to discover more about Polesden Lacey's and the National Trust's fascinating collection of paintings. Book your place here.

“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."

A quote by Alice StricklandNational Trust Exhibition curator

Royal Connections

In the year of the new King's coronation, 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’.

Visiting the house and exhibition

The exhibition is open daily 11am - 3pm.

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.