Chiswick HouseLondon's Royal Palaces & Attractions
with Burlington Bertie .
Richard Boyle, third Earl of Burlington, (1694-1753), was the most important influence in the English Palladian movement, (named after the late Renaissance Italian architect Andrea Palladio, 1508-80). As the aristocratic adoption of Roman ideals took hold in English culture, Palladianism superseded the popular English Baroque style created by Wren and his followers Hawksmoor, Archer and Gibbs to establish late Renaissance concepts as the only acceptable architectural norm in 18th century Georgian England.
Sadly, all but two London buildings designed by Burlington himself have been demolished, though his Palladian principles can be seen in the facade of Burlington House in Piccadilly, and his influence is evident in such buildings as Whitehall's Horse Guards designed by his protegee William Kent and built 1750-59 under the supervision of Kent's disciple, John Vardy.
Venue: Chiswick, W4 2RP. Tel: 0208 995 0508|
Access House: House: 10am-5pm; Wed, Thurs, Fri, Sun, Bank Holidays. 10am-2pm Sats. 1April - 31 October. 1 November - 23 December; Pre-booked tours and functions only. Closed Mon, Tues and 24-31 December, 2008.
Access Garden: 7am - Dusk, daily. FREE
Tickets House: £4.20. (Concessions). English Heritage members FREE.
London Transport: Nearest Tube, Turnham Green.
Venue Hire: Tel: Lisa Guestella, 0207 973 3292.
The most important of Burlington's extant designs is Chiswick House. He built this magnificent Thames-side villa and laid out extensive gardens between 1723-29 to house his extensive library and as a Thames-side venue for entertaining royalty and aristocracy, together with the cultural movers and shakers of his time including such writers as Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope. His inspiration for Chiswick was Palladio's Villa Rotunda; a building he admired on his 1719 Palladian pilgrimage to Vicenza in northern Italy to study the Italian's work.
The impressive frontage of Chiswick House, with its six columned portico reached by sweeping balistraded stairway, is dominated by the villa's octagonal dome with its semi-circular windows. This provides a breathtaking envelope for the villa's central saloon and the rich interiors designed by Burlington's friend and protegee William Kent who had met up with him in Vicenza.
Chiswick House is approached by a formal avenue lined with classical busts; a distinguished and noble entrance. The rich interiors, of which the Italianate Blue Velvet Room stands out in the mind, were done by William Kent for his patron and are well worth seeing as the precursor of the Neo-Classicism of Robert Adam's interiors later in the century. Lovingly restored by English Heritage, they form a fine background to the collection of furniture, artifacts and some 40 paintings, including important works by Rubens, (1577-1640), and the Bedingfeld set of paintings by Flemish artist Pieter Andreas Rysbrack (c.1685-1748); so named after Lord Burlington's sister Lady Bedingfeld who commissioned them.
The extensive gardens, in which Kent also had an important hand in designing, are an interesting example of early landscape gardening of the 1730s. Kent and his patron drew inspiration from the supposed Roman landscaping of the time of Emperor Augustus; a vision of temples and statuary in a garden setting designed to create a marriage between architecture and landscape. First formalized by William Kent, this was a dramatic departure from the precise formality and rigid linear layouts of earlier Stuart gardens that took their inspiration from Versailles. It ushered in the English Landscape movement that was to lead to the flowing pastoral grace we see in the landscape gardening of Lancelot 'Capability' Brown whose plans transformed the gardens of England's stately homes in Georgian times.
The Dukes of Devonshire, (the 6th Duke, Burlington's great-grandson inherited the estate in 1812), demolished some of the original temples, removed the great sphinxes that stood guard at the grand entrance, added a conservatory and their own 'Italian Garden' in Victorian times. It is fortunate that a small garden pavilion designed by Burlington survived this Victorian 'modernization'. English Heritage and Hownslow Council have restored the sphinxes and are currently returning Kent's iconic 50 acre gardens to the original pristine glory envisaged by Burlington, while retaining the later, more formal Italianate garden.
Burlington's influence in matters of Taste did not stop at architecture and garden planning. He was the prime sponsor and mover in the foundation of the Royal College of Music and a Fellow of the Royal Society and the Society of Antiquities. His interest in music caused him to give patronage to composer Handel, whom he installed in rooms at Burlington House when he was out of favour at Court and later persuaded the King to take him back into favour. He must surely have performed at his patron's many elegant soirees at Chiswick House.
Music lover and patron Lord Burlington would have approved of Chiswick's small but impressive biennial Grove Park Music Festival which takes place again in June, 2008. Launched in the millennium year, the Festival is the inspired love child of Chiswick residents, soprano Julia Kennard and her husband bass singer Michael George.
One of the Festival venues is Chiswick's historic St. Nicholas church with its 15th century tower overlooking the Thames waterside. William Kent is interred in the church, as may be the decapitated remains of Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell which were disinterred from Westminster Abbey at the Restoration and ignominiously hung at the Tyburn gibbet at Marble Arch, his head piked and displayed at Westminster Bridge. His daughters Lady Fauconberg and Lady Francis Russell worshipped and were buried in a vault here, together with a third significantly shorter coffin. Unfortunately, we shall never know whether Cromwell was finally brought to rest here with his daughters as the vault was concreted over during the Victorian 'restoration' of the church in 1881. Hogarth, famous for his 18th century London scenes, lived on the edge of the Burlington estate from 1749 until his death in 1764. His charming house is now a museum containing the most extensive collection of his life and works on permanent display. He and James McNiell Whistler, the American Tonalist painter are buried in the St. Nicholas churchyard.
Burlington Bertie's Verdict:
Chiswick House is a glorious example of 18th century Palladian architecture designed by England's leading exponent of that style. As such, it is a unique part of Royal London's architectural heritage. Like the other great houses and gardens on this Outer London stretch of the Thames, it is often missed by visitors deterred by the short journey from London's West End and City; an unfortunate omission. 2008 is the 500th anniversary of the birth of Palladio and English Heritage are celebrating 'Palladio 500' with special tour arrangements during the summer, highlighting the architectural and decorative details inspired by the antique and Palladio. The first floor gallery is re-opened after re-painting in its original 18th-century decorative colours. Burlington's villa is essential viewing for all interested in the fashions, art, court lifestyle and gardens of early Hanovarian England. The house and gardens might favourably be seen in conjunction with neighboring stately homes Ham House, Marble Hill House, Syon House and Osterley Park, and George III's Kew Palace.
Chiswick House is available for hire and its lavishly gilded interiors provide an appropriately stylish setting for civil weddings and commitment ceremonies and receptions, and a sumptuous backdrop for corporate and private events.
Chiswick itself has an excellent riverside pub to enliven your visit. This is the famed Bell & Crown. As the pub sign recalls, this was a place where smugglers landed their contraband. They needed to choose their time well, as the Thames drops several metres at low tide to reveal its muddy bed. Smuggling days are long past and today's customers come for the beer and excellent food which is served all day at very reasonable prices. Locals describe this as the best of the waterside pubs on this stretch of the Thames.
Chiswick House and Gardens Trust
Palladio's Villa Rotunda
Grove Park Music Festival
St. Nicholas Church, Chiswick
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