Unravelling The Vyne
June 28 - 22 December 2013
Unravelling the National Trust is a unique project to offer artists and makers exhibition opportunities in National Trust historic houses. Conceived by arts organisation Unravelled, the artists are invited to evoke histories, stories and a sense of place in a designated National Trust property.The project, which launched in May 2012 at Nymans House and Gardens in Sussex, has selected The Vyne in Hampshire as its venue for 2013. Uppark House and Garden in West Sussex will be the site for 2014.
The Vyne is an exquisite property whose rich story stretches back to the 16th century. The Unravelled artists have referenced the intriguing history of the house, telling tales through their work about its evolution, and the major historical characters that have connections to The Vyne including: King Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Horace Walpole and J.R.R Tolkien.
King Henry VIII visited the house on at least three occasions with two of his six wives. The house was built for Lord Sandys, King Henry’s Lord Chamberlain – a man who remained in the king’s favour throughout his life. The king visited The Vyne once with Anne Boleyn whom it is believed Sandys was later to escort to her imprisonment in the Tower. Chaloner Chute purchased the house from the Sandys in 1683 and the Chute family owned it until 1956 when Sir Charles Chute gave it to the National Trust.
Horace Walpole (1717 – 1797) and John Chute were close friends who met on the Grand Tour in Florence. Together they formed the ‘Committee of Taste’ with Richard Bentley and worked on the gothic development of Strawberry Hill. They both had an unabashed enthusiasm for historic and curious objects displayed in suitably evocative interiors.
JRR Tolkien was reputed to have been inspired by a gold Roman cursed ring that is displayed at the house and dates from around the 4th or 5th century. The ring was discovered in the 18th century. On it is a Latin inscription which reads ‘O Senicianus, may you live prosperously’. Decades after the ring was found a Roman lead tablet was unearthed at the site of a temple in Gloustershire, bearing an inscription referring to the same ring, cursing the person who had stolen it. It has been suggested that the story of this curse came to the attention of Tolkien who had been advising on finds at the temple and that the ring was the initial inspiration for the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
On show at The Vyne are works that will make you look twice and understand the story of the house from a unique perspective. An ostentatious Gift hints at a deeper relationship between two men who were determined to define acceptable taste in their time. Out of a tapestry a tree grows in one room and takes root in another. A steam-bent sculptural whirl bends around where a piano once stood, leaving a visual trace of the dance that ladies’ feet would have trod, the imprints of their heels having pitted the floor.
Charlie Whinney is known for his large-scale sculptural wooden steam-bent forms. For The Vyne he has created a multi-component twisted wooden sculpture worked with embossed footprints that mark out a pattern of traditional Tudor dance across it. The sculptures meander from where the piano once stood, complimenting the existing wooden panelling and create a memory of the swirling dresses of dancing ladies. He terms them ‘the ghosts of the past coming back to life as a faint trace of eras gone by’.
Alec Stevens has referenced the wooden panelling carved to celebrate the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, in which the king was represented by a Tudor Rose and Catherine by a pomegranate. Henry visited The Vyne both before and after his divorce to Catherine. After the divorce the panelling was probably covered up, so as not to offend the king. Alec has carved 49 oak pomegranates, the number of times that Catherine’s symbol appears in the panelling, piled up on the floor of the Oak gallery as though dropping off the walls. The fallen pomegranates convey Catherine’s unsuccessful attempts to produce an heir for the throne.
Maria Rivans has created an installation on a table in the library. She has sourced books that are evocative of the library’s own collection, including enormous dictionaries and bibles, as well as novels and encyclopaedias. The books are arranged on the desk in large piles, some falling open, some half hanging and some having fallen on the floor. These deconstructed books feature paper forms of the beautiful young men John Chute liked to be surrounded. Dandies and ladies appear dancing around a piano, whilst horses from The Vyne run wild across the desk, through reproductions of Italian architecture that highlights Chute’s experiences during the Grand Tour.
Mrs Smith is a textile grafitti artist who is inspired by the Season, the yearly social round of the upper classes of society, which began every June, and in which The Vyne would have played a part. She will be working covertly with the pigeon population to portray the excesses and hedonism of the Season in full flow, and through the medium of textiles and nail varnish.
Matt Smith is intrigued by the relationship of Horace Walpole and John Chute in a complex age of transition for British masculinity. They formed the ‘Committee of Taste’ which helped guide Walpole with the development of Strawberry Hill. Matt’s piece The Gift investigates the changing attitudes towards taste, homosociability and masculinity. The correspondence between Walpole and Chute shows their obsession with interior design and the acquisition of objects for their great houses. John Chute was the older, and was selective about the advice he took from Horace Walpole. Horace seemed to incorporate many of John’s ideas at Strawberry Hill.
Matt’s work comprises two ceramic pieces that Horace has fallen in love with and in turn has presented to John. Unfortunately they don't quite live up to John’s taste and the gift has created tension between the two men. The Gift is a ceramic centrepiece in white and gold embellished with freshwater pearls. It is part candelabra, part monstrance, taking inspiration from the Walpole Cabinet at the V&A and John Chute’s pietradura casket.
Matt is also creating a Dandy, the piece questions the relationships between the unmarried men of the ‘Committee of Taste’, drawing attention to this questionable piece of kitsch which will be shown piled up on some ceramic vases.
Penny Green’s Lady Dacre’s Wedding Gift is inspired by Dorothy, Lady Dacre (of the North family) the second wife of Chaloner Chute (who bought The Vyne from the Sandys family in 1653). After her husband’s death, she sued Chaloner’s heirs and prevented them living at The Vyne for about 25 years, claiming that she was owed much more in assets than her husband had left her in his will. She was able to win the court case with the aid of her influential lawyer nephews. Her own family wrote that she was 'scurvy', foolish and relentlessly vindictive.
Penny was inspired by the story that in 1686 Lady Dorothy Dacre commissioned twelve ceramic dishes as a wedding gift. These plates, displayed in the Dining Parlour, show Lady Dacre’s complex family history, and were perhaps a way of making amends with the Chutes after a tumultuous period of inter-marriages, inter- family feuds and lawsuits, including her own court case against the family. Penny has created twelve ceramic dishes in tin-glazed earthen in a size similar to the majolica dishes in the China Room. Penny has illustrated the feats of women, such as Lady Dacre, who gained wealth, authority and power as they exploited the patronage networks essential to their family’s success.
John Grayson has been inspired by historical events that occurred during The Vyne's long history by researching the objects on display and the archives held there. Using selected historical events that have resonance with current political issues, he has created a series of delicate enamelled boxes and automata in the Georgian style that illustrate how the past is not so different from the present.
Lisa Pettibone references the Vyne’s Tudor history, specifically the portrait of Chaloner Chute (1620) who was born under Elizabethan rule, and the statue of Mary Queen of Scots in the Oak Gallery, wearing a stiff, regal ruff. Lisa’s large glass abstract ruff is a poignant reminder that power is fleeting. Fusing an outlandish display of decoration with extreme fragility, the piece speaks of the brittle, temporary nature of power and tells the story of some of the inhabitants and visitors to The Vyne during the Elizabethan period.
Caitlin Heffernan has drawn inspiration from The Vyne’s Tapestry Room to create a fabric tree with roots that emerge from the fireplace in the room below. With its gnarled tendrils and branches the tree alludes to the slow growth of the house over five centuries and symbolises its longevity.
Like the motifs in the room’s tapestries, birds and figures emerge or remain half hidden within the folds of its branches. The Vyne’s tapestries were made in the Soho Factories and draw inspiration from Persian and Indian imagery and the tree is designed to complement these motifs while alluding to the exotic and the other.
Sharon McElroy’s video projection is of iconic Venetian scenes from John Chute’s collection of Lattimo ware plates that celebrate the city’s famous masked carnivals, which Chute would have probably encountered on his Grand Tour. Using the Commedia dell ‘Arte performances and characters as a starting point, she focuses on similarities between the Macaronis’ challenge to contemporary masculine appearance and behaviour, and the gender flirting and fantasy role-playing that took place during the 1970s glam rock era. Her costumes act as remnants and are situated around the house.
The History of The Vyne
The Vyne was built in the 16thcentury for Lord Sandys, King Henry VIII’s Lord Chamberlain. Originally built as a great Tudor ‘power house’, The Vyne was visited by King Henry VIII on at least three occasions as well as Elizabeth I. It became home to the Chute family for more than 300 years and was remodelled in the 17th century by Chaloner Chute, Speaker of the House of Commons under the Commonwealth, who created a classical portico inspired by Inigo Jones. The Tudor chapel houses Renaissance stained glass, exquisite 16th century Flemish Majolica and an 18th century tomb chamber.
The house has one of the earliest long galleries in England, with stunning linenfold panelling carved with the heraldic devices of Sandys’ contemporaries and patrons. The Vyne is unusual in that the furnishings in the house and the personal affects are indigenous to the house.
John Chute (1701 – 1776) inherited the house in 1754 and refurbished parts of it in the finest style of the times. He commissioned furnishings and brought back treasures from the Grand Tour. His contemporaries considered his taste impeccable. He was a great friend of Horace Walpole and played a significant part in the design of Strawberry Hill, Walpole’s house in Twickenham; the Strawberry Parlour at The Vyne, named after Strawberry Hill, showcases drawings and prints relating to the two friends.
Unravelling the National Trust will run over a three-year period and is funded by Arts Council England, the National Trust, the Headley Trust, The Four Lanes Trust, Basingstoke and Deane and Hampshire County council. Unravelled is organising three exhibitions at different National Trust properties across the South East of England, as well as organising symposia, talks, skill sharing events and trips. The first exhibition took place at Nymans House and Gardens in May 2012. The Vyne is the second exhibition, and the final exhibition will take place at Uppark House and Garden in West Sussex in 2014. www.unravelled.org.uk
Trust New Art
Trust New Art is the National Trust’s art and craft programme, taking place at selected historic houses, countryside and garden properties across England. It connects more people to National Trust places through contemporary art and craft. It has been supported by a three-year partnership with Arts Council England to build links between the National Trust and the contemporary arts and craft sector.
Trust New Art involves a wide programme of events, projects and products developed to make contemporary arts and crafts an integral part of the National Trust's daily offer to visitors, building new audiences and providing commission opportunities to both emerging and established artists. For more information visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/trustnewart
Arts Council England champions, develops and invests in artistic and cultural experiences that enrich people’s lives. We support a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to digital art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better. Between 2011 and 2015, we will invest £1.4 billion of public money from government and an estimated £0.85 billion from the National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country. www.artscouncil.org.uk
Grants for the arts is Arts Council England’s open application funding programme. It supports arts activities that engage people in the arts and helps artists and arts organisations with their work. Grants for the arts invests National Lottery money in the highest quality arts activity and supports innovative and exciting work. Every month hundreds of great arts projects across England will be awarded Grants for the arts funding. http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/funding/grants-arts/grants-arts-awards/
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