Osterley Park: Elizabethan Meets Neoclassical

On Friday we went to see – oh! the palace of palaces! and yet a palace sans crown, sans coronet – but such expense! such taste! such profusion! ... The old house I have often seen, which was built by Thomas Gresham; but it so improved and enriched, that all the Percies and Seymours must die of envy…

Horace Walpole to Lady Ossory, 21 June 1773.

Osterley was completed in 1576 for banker Sir Thomas Gresham, who purchased the manor of Osterley in 1562.However, it wasn't until the late 18th century, when the old structure fallen into disrepair was extensively rebuilt by an emerging fashionable Scottish architect and designer Robert Adam for the Child family to entertain and impress their friends and clients. Sir Francis Child, the head of Child's Bank, employed Robert Adam to remodel the house in 1761. When Sir Francis died in 1763, the project was taken up by his brother and heir Robert Child, for whom the interiors were created.

Osterley Park, the Entrance Hall. With antique marble statues in niches, large vases on pedestals and elaborate wall and ceiling panels influenced by themes from the Classical world, the overall effect is one of restrained elegance.

Osterley Park, the Entrance Hall. The oval motif of the red and white inlaid Portland sandstone floor is echoed in the grey and white plaster ceiling.

Osterley Park, the Entrance Hall. View of the doorway and of the red and white inlaid Portland sandstone floor.

Osterley Park, the Entrance Hall. A most unusual painted bench, combining Adam's traditional ornamentation with Kentian-style legs, adorned with ram masks and hairy paw feet.

Osterley Park, the Entrance Hall. Adam's ceiling detail.

Osterley Park, the Entrance Hall. Adam's ceiling detail.

Osterley Park, the Grand Staircase. The magnificent Adam's smoke bell lanterns, with their huge tassels and just a touch of colour — the ruby band and emerald glass — to make everything pop. Note the pattern of the wrought iron balustrade, identical to the one in Kenwood House.

Osterley Park, the Eating Room.

Osterley Park, the Eating Room. Detail of Adam's marble fireplace.

Osterley Park, the Eating Room. Detail of Adam's magnificent dining chair, one of a set, apparently still retaining their original leather upholstery.

Osterley Park, the Long Gallery. Designed in the 1750's not by Robert Adam but by one Matthew Hillyard. Others later added their own distinctive touches to the Long Gallery: William Chambers designed the fine white marble fireplaces and Robert Adams chose the pea-green wallpaper and designed the pier glass mirrors on the wall. With the restrained frieze work of stylised marigolds, the emblem of the Child family, the subtle colour of the wallpaper and the unadorned ceiling and uncarpeted floor, attention is inevitably drawn to the collection of paintings and the oriental artefacts, such as the tall Chinese vases and models of a pagoda and Chinese junks.

Osterley Park, the Long Gallery.

Osterley Park, the Long Gallery. Detail of Adam's carved marble fireplace. The decoration of the pillars echoes the ornament on the legs of the armchair above and the grill below.

Osterley Park, the Long Gallery. Detail of Adam's fireplace,

Osterley Park, the Long Gallery. Detail of Adam's carved marble fireplace, combining decorative elements of three different styles: baroque, rococo and neoclassical.

Detail of a magnificent Adam's "Diana" demi-lune commode veneered with satinwood and harewood. Designed by Robert Adam for the drawing room at Osterley Park.

Osterley Park. Detail of a magnificent Adam's "Diana" commode.

Osterley Park, The Drawing Room. A view of the magnificent ornate doorway and Adam's neoclassical giltwood torchere.

Osterley Park, The Drawing Room. Robert Adam's ceiling detail. For the design of the ceiling Adam modified an illustration he had found of a sunburst decorating the marble soffits in the ancient Temple of the Sun at Palmyra. The illustration came from Robert Wood’s book “The ruins of Palmyra” in which the author meticulously documented the ruins from the Classical world in modern day Syria.

Osterley Park, The Drawing Room. Robert Adam's fireplace detail.

Osterley Park, The Tapestry Room. Detail of a magnificent Adam's sideboard.

Osterley Park, The Tapestry Room. Detail of a door pediment.

Osterley Park, The Tapestry Room with Boucher Medallion Tapestries and matching suite of seat furniture. Horace Walpole, writing to a friend in 1778, described it as “...the most superb and beautiful that can be conceived, and hung with Gobelin tapestry, and enriched by Adam in his best taste..."

Osterley Park, the State Bedchamber. Detail of a carved mahogany door.

Osterley Park, the State Bedchamber. This State Bed, inspired by ancient Greek temples, was conceived as a Temple of Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty.

Horace Walpole describes the room and contents thus: “The next is a light plain green velvet bedchamber. The bed is of green satin richly embroidered with colours, and with eight columns; too theatric, and too like a modern head-dress, for round the outside of the dome are festoons of artificial flowers. What would Vitruvius think of a dome decorated by a milliner?”

Osterley Park, the State Bedchamber. Detail of Robert Adam's domed State Bed and view of the ceiling. The central roundel depicts Aglaia, one of the Three Graces, after Kauffmann.

Osterley Park, the State Bedchamber. An outstanding giltwood armchair, attributable to Thomas Chippendale, who supplied other furniture to Osterley.

Osterley Park, the State Bedchamber. A magnificent chinoiserie commode attributed to Chippendale, one of a suite, comprising the commode and secretaire form the Etuscan dressin room. Adam often used Chippendale as a supplier of furniture and furnishings.

Osterley Park, the State Bedchamber. Detail of a chinoiserie commode attributed to Chippendale, one of three, originally at Osterley.

Osterley Park, the State Bedchamber. Detail of a door pediment.

Osterley Park, The Etruscan dressing room. Detail of a door pediment.

Osterley Park, The Etruscan dressing room. Detail of wall decoration.

Osterley Park, The Etruscan dressing room. Detail of a door-handle in typical Adam's style.

Commode attributed to Chippendale in the Etruscan Dressing Room at Osterley.

Detail of a commode attributed to Chippendale in the Etruscan Dressing Room at Osterley.

Osterley Park, The Etruscan dressing room. View of a superb Adam's fireplace and wall, decorated in the 'Antique' style. Robert Adam drew the designs for the Etruscan Room and had the artist Pietro Maria Borgnis copy them onto paper which was then placed on a canvas before being attached to the walls and ceiling.

Detail of Adam's magnificent ceiling of the Etruscan Dressing Room at Osterley Park.

Osterley Park, The Etruscan dressing room. Adam said it was inspired by the Etruscan vases in Sir William Hamilton's collection, illustrations of which had recently been published.

Osterley Park, The Etruscan dressing room. Detail of a superb Adam's fireplace and wall decoration in the 'Antique' style. Horace Walpole was most disparaging about the Etruscan Room claiming that it “chills you: it is called the Etruscan, and is painted all over like Wedgwood's ware, with black and yellow small grotesques. Even the chairs are of painted wood. It would be a pretty waiting-room in a garden. I never saw such a profound tumble into the Bathos. It is [like] going out of a palace into a potter's field.”

Osterley Park, The Etruscan dressing room. Detail of a polychrome-decorated neoclassical pole-screen.

Osterley Park, The Etruscan dressing room. Detail of a polychrome-decorated neoclassical pole-screen.

Osterley Park, The Etruscan dressing room. Secretaire attributed to Thomas Chippendale, c. 1773, with Chinese lacquer panels and English japanning. It seems to have left Osterley at some point between 1922 and 1949. The paterae and guilloche motifs on the secretaire are echoed by similar painted decoration in the Etruscan Dressing Room.

Osterley Park, a detail of an unusual Hepplewhite chair back.

Osterley Park, a detail of the staircase at the south elevation. We love the fabulous verdi gris on the rail.

Osterley Park, a detail of the fanlight at the south elevation.

Osterley Park, a detail of the staircase at the south elevation. Simple and elegant design provides a wonderful sense of movement.

View of the south and west elevations at Osterley Park, Middlesex.

Acquired by Thomas Gresham (1519-79) in 1562, the Osterley estate was a simple farmhouse before it was converted into a grand mansion. The high profile status of Osterley Park in this period was cemented through Gresham’s own reputation as a financial adviser to Queen Elizabeth I. It is known that the Queen paid ten visits to Thomas Gresham’s manor at Osterley. Nearly two centuries later, Osterley Park’s architectural and interior redesign as a classical home by Adam brought it into line with current fashion once again.

When Horace Walpole visited Osterley Park in 1773 he was struck by the transformation of the House effected by the renowned architect Robert Adam in the 1760s, a major redevelopment that had changed the character of this “botched Elizabethan pile” into a fashionable neo-classical country mansion whose interiors were “…worthy of Eve before the Fall.”

Sources: National Trust, East India Company at Home

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