Taking Time at Waddesdon Manor – Diderot’s ‘Great Magician’

Blockbuster art exhibitions are all very well but to my mind Small is Beautiful.

Waddesdon Manor is a vast stately pile sitting in acres of grounds atop a hill and overlooking the neighbouring countryside in the county of Buckinghamshire. Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild planned and built Waddesdon during the last decades of the 19th century  as a country retreat  in the style of a Loire château. It was designed for him by French architect Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur.

Our main intention for driving  from Stratford to Waddesdon was to view the recently opened Chardin exhibition: “Taking Time: Chardin’s Boy Building A House Of Cards and other paintings”. Jean-Simeon Chardin (1699-1779) lived and worked in Paris at first painting figures and later still life. He moved back to figure painting later in life. The idea for this particular exhibition came about when the Rothschild Trust recently acquired one of the Boy Building A House Of Cards paintings. That painting (shown in the poster above) is exhibited alongside 3 others on the same theme on loan from the Louvre, The National Gallery of Art, Washington and our own National Gallery in London.

In addition the Trustees and National Trust have assembled several other Chardins including a favourite of mine : Lady Taking Tea (on loan  from The Hunterian in Glasgow):

Photo © The Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, University of Glasgow 2012

and Girl With a Shuttlecock, 2 Cellar Boys and 2 Scullery Maids, plus engravings and etchings in the style of Chardin from The British Museum and private collections. All in all a delightful glimpse at colours, textures and expressions of 18th century French lives. By calling Chardin a great magician Diderot is saying that it is about – the “magic” of seeing the world clearly. Paying attention. Seeing what is there. (From a Guardian article in 2000).

The exhibition is tucked away in one room towards the end of the house tour. We missed much of the art and furnishings as we passed through the house but we did take a bit of time out to study another temporary display Playing, Learning, Flirting: Printed Board Games from 18th Century France. It was striking to note how similar these board games were to games still played today. We were also intrigued by all the Singerie or Monkey Tricks around the house. Dressing monkeys up in human costume was once a very popular and fashionable pastime: there are paintings and sculptures around the house. I was reminded somewhat of another popular theme also unfashionable in today’s enlightened times – the Blackamoor or Negro slave.

We enjoyed a delicious late light lunch in the lovely Manor Restaurant and visited the shop and wine shop (well there would be one here of course, Rothschilds!).

Later that evening after a pre-theatre supper in the Rooftop Restaurant we attended an RSC company performance in the Swan Theatre of Shakespeare’s Richard III. Part of a series of plays on the theme Nations at War that will include Shakespeare’s King John and Mexican playwright Luis Mario Moncado’s A Soldier in Every Son – the Rise of the Aztecs. What a day to remember!


4 comments on “Taking Time at Waddesdon Manor – Diderot’s ‘Great Magician’

  1. dovegreyreader says:

    Hooray, it was open! It is a bit of a standing joke here that the day we stopped by en route home after going to a friend’s gong presentation in Abingdon, it was closed! My several greats grandfather had been an ostler at Waddesdon so I felt an affinity. Lovely to see inside vicariously at last, and please always take pics of the shop..I LOVE the shops at these places 🙂

    • You must check your NT Handbook next time. The stables are a sight to behold although we spent no time at them as we needed to get back to Stratford for our next meal!

  2. […] were booked for supper at The Rooftop Restaurant followed by a performance of Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part Two by the Royal Shakespeare […]

  3. […] the beautiful Singer Sargents; Mary Cassatts and I came across some of my favourite Chardins (and here) and Liotards just as we were […]

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