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Museum Room Redecoration
By Curator Blogger // Mon 8th April 2024
museum room, curator, house restoration
Pietra Dura Cabinet in front of the burgundy and gilt Japanese wallpaper
The Museum Room is a transitional space, being the literal turning point between the Baroque house and Palladian west wing, which has this winter had its own transformation.
Design for the Museum Room by C.H. Tatham
With the building of the West Wing between 1753-58 Sir Thomas Robinson demolished Sir John Vanbrugh and Nicholas Hawksmoor’s Grand Cabinet. This had been at the westernmost end of the south front and was the final, and most important, room in the baroque State Apartment. Visitor accounts record the rich architectural details fashioned from Derbyshire Marble and the frescoed ceiling, and early views of the House show the west facing bow window and double-domed roof.

In its place Robinson built the room we see today, a Palladian cube of 25ft, intended as an Ante Room to the Long Gallery. The room became known as the Museum in the late eighteenth-century, when antiquities and objects of interest started to migrate there, but it was not completed until 1802 when the 5th Earl of Carlisle employed Charles Tatham to decorate it and the adjacent Long Gallery. The plans for the room survive, showing sculpture and furniture placed against marbled walls beneath an ornately gilded coved ceiling.

How accurately these plans depict the room as completed is uncertain, as Tatham’s scheme was removed in the late 19th century. The 9th Countess of Carlisle then applied a heavy burgundy and gilt Japanese wallpaper, designed to imitate embossed leather wall hangings, which she had purchased from Maples in 1886 at a cost of £41. When Castle Howard opened to the public in the second half of the twentieth century, this Victorian decoration lent itself to the room being a gallery of works by the 9th Earl, who was a noted artist, and his mentor Giovanni Costa.
New Museum Room design by Alec Cobbe
Within more recent years the Museum Room has once again been used to display antiquities and objects of interest, including the Delft Tulip Pagoda and a pair of Pietra Dura Cabinets purchased by the 4th Earl on his second Grand Tour. But for many the wallpaper remains the star attraction, with its rich tonality and highlighted patches from picture hangs past.

This winter, as part of the ongoing House Masterplan, we implemented a transformative decorative scheme in the Museum Room, which was designed by the esteemed country house decorator Alec Cobbe. This scheme both enhances the wallpaper and brings cohesion to the collections in the room. The woodwork, cornice, and ceiling have all been repainted, and gilding has been applied to enhance details such as the 72 rosettes in the frieze and oakleaf garland in the ceiling. Most strikingly, the Ionic Columns which bound the windows have been painstakingly painted to emulate Lapis Lazuli, a semi-precious stone which can be found on the front of the two Pietra Dura Cabinets. This is part of a long tradition of imitating stone at Castle Howard, with the Great Hall containing examples of the earliest Scagliola in Britain.

These changes are the latest transformation in the history of this transitional space, and we can’t wait to show you when the House opens again!