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    30 Portland Place: London’s Guggenheim Museum that never was

    By the Survey of London, on 26 February 2016

    In the summer of 1939 plans were almost complete for the wealthy American heiress and socialite Peggy Guggenheim to open an Institute of Modern Art in London, in a house at 30 Portland Place specially rented for the purpose from Sir Kenneth Clark, who had been living there for some years with his family and his own remarkable collection of paintings and furnishings. The art historian and critic Herbert Read was already lined up as museum director on a five-year contract and Ms Guggenheim had left for Paris to acquire more artworks, with a list of desiderata drawn up by Read. But then war broke out…

    30 Portland Place, view from the north-west (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave).

    30 Portland Place, view from the north-west (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). If you are having trouble viewing images, please click here.

    No. 30 was one of a block of fashionable terraced houses, built in the 1770s–90s as part of the Adam brothers’ development at Portland Place. With the neighbouring properties to its south at Nos 26 and 28 it forms an elegant trio of period houses, all with good Adam interiors. In plan the house was straightforward, though typical of the care Robert Adam took in varying room shapes, with partitioning used to introduce curves at the far end of the rear ground-floor breakfast parlour and at both ends of the second drawing room, echoed by other shallow curves in the rear closet wing – features that are still traceable in the house today. Several Adam office designs for chimneypieces, friezes and ceilings for No. 30 survive in the collection at Sir John Soane’s Museum, but only the drawing-room ceilings remain in situ. [1] Much of the eighteenth-century décor was lost during a comprehensive refit in 1901 for the Liberal politician and merchant banker William Charles Heaton-Armstrong, who lived there with his family from 1898 until around 1911, when the failure of his bank forced him to move. His successor in 1911, Lady Margaret Jenkins, spent heavily reversing much of this, reintroducing ‘correct’ Georgian panelling and mantelpieces and stone hall flooring which she thought more in keeping with the date of the house. [2]

    In 1934 No. 30 was taken by Sir Kenneth Clark, then newly appointed as Director of the National Galley and Surveyor of the King’s Pictures, and his wife Jane. Clark remembered the house as being ‘far too big’, and the piano nobile of Adam rooms as ‘completely unnecessary’, but he and his wife made use of the space to display artworks and to entertain on a grand scale. Photographs now in the RIBA show the house during their residence, with curtains, rugs and other fittings that the Clarks commissioned from contemporary artists and friends like Marion Dorn, Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell; the painter Graham Bell lived for a while in an upstairs room. [3]

    Kenneth Clark by Howard Coster, 1934 (© National Portrait Gallery, London)

    Kenneth Clark by Howard Coster, 1934 (© National Portrait Gallery, London).

    30PP Kenneth Clark's house RIBA72130

    The dining room at 30 Portland Place in 1938, during Kenneth Clark’s residence, with curtains designed by Duncan Grant, and George Seurat’s Le Bec du Hoc, Grandcamp (now in the National Gallery) above the chimneypiece. (Photograph by Alfred Cracknell, © RIBA)

    30PP Kenneth Clark's house RIBA72131

    The sitting room at 30 Portland Place in 1938, with a rug designed by Marion Dorn, and what appears to be one of Paul Cézanne’s studies of Château Noir above the chimneypiece. (Photograph by Alfred Cracknell, © RIBA)

    But by the summer of 1939, with war looming, the Clarks were keen to move their children out of London, and Sir Kenneth informed the Howard de Walden Estate that a ‘Mrs Goggenheim’ [sic] had expressed an interest in taking his house on a five-year lease to establish an Institute of Modern Art. By this date Peggy Guggenheim had closed her short-lived commercial gallery in Cork Street, Guggenheim Jeune, and was turning her attention to establishing a museum of modern art in Europe, preferably in London. [4]

    The choice of Herbert Read as museum director was a canny one. As editor of the leading art magazine Burlington Review, he was at the time probably Britain’s best-known advocate of modern art. But it took the offer of a five-year contract from Ms Guggenheim to persuade him to relinquish his editorship. With such a large house intended for what, initially, would be a small museum, the plan was for Read and his family to reside on one upper floor, Guggenheim on another, though apparently they quarrelled about who should have which floor. There seems to have been genuine affection in their relationship: she regarded Read as a bit of a father figure, later reminiscing: ‘he treated me the way Disraeli treated Queen Victoria’. For his part, Read often signed letters to Ms Guggenheim as ‘Papa’. [5]

    Herbert Read by Howard Coster, half-plate film negative, 1934 (© National Portrait Gallery, London).

    Herbert Read by Howard Coster, 1934 (© National Portrait Gallery, London).

    With everything decided, towards the end of July 1939 Peggy Guggenheim began to make plans for a trip to Paris to buy suitable works for the new museum. Read gave her a list of possible loans and acquisitions, and had already told the press that the opening show would trace the development of modern art since 1910, beginning with Matisse. The collector and gallery owner Roland Penrose, later a co-founder of the ICA, offered to lend some of his Picassos for the first show. The exact content of Read’s list is not known, but Matisse was one of the names that Peggy Guggenheim crossed off as being not ‘modern’ enough for her tastes; others to suffer the same fate included Cézanne and Rousseau.

    But the outbreak of war early in September put paid to the project, even though the lease to the Portland Place house had been agreed (but not signed). Sir Kenneth Clark later suggested letting it rent-free as a centre for artists to meet and exhibit their work, but it was requisitioned in 1940 and damaged by bombing in 1941, since when it has seen a variety of commercial uses. Herbert Read was dismissed, never having held office. Once the dust had settled, Read rather ungenerously wrote to the artist Ben Nicholson about the Guggenheim affair: ‘Never in business matters rely on a single patron particularly if that patron is a woman and an American’ – this despite the fact that he had already been paid and allowed to keep an advance of £2,500, half his five-year salary.

    The aborted Portland Place museum did, however, have one lasting legacy. Peggy Guggenheim held on to Read’s ‘shopping list’, which she later revised with the aid of artist friends such as Marcel Duchamp and Theo van Doesburg’s widow, Nellie; and the works that she then acquired – including masterpieces by Georges Braque, Salvador Dalí, Piet Mondrian and Man Ray, were to form the basis for her now world-famous private collection of abstract and Surrealist art.

    References

    [1] Sir John Soane’s Museum, Adam drawings, vol. 13/122–3; vol. 24/139–44; vol. 53/64

    [2] Much of this and the succeeding paragraphs is based on correspondence files belonging to the Howard de Walden Estate Archive

    [3] Kenneth Clark, Another Part of the Wood. A Self Portrait, 1985 edn, pp. 238–9, 251, 276

    [4] Howard de Walden Estate Archive, property files for 30 Portland Place

    [5] This and the succeeding paragraphs are largely based on Mary V. Dearborn, Mistress of Modernism: The Life of Peggy Guggenheim, pp. 158–63: Peggy Guggenheim: A Celebration, exhibition catalogue, 1998/1999, pp. 47–9: http://www.guggenheim-venice.it/inglese/museum/peggy.html

    Cavendish Square 3: Nos 15 and 16 (with 2–14 Harley Street)

    By the Survey of London, on 19 February 2016

    This is the third in an occasional series of posts about Cavendish Square. At the corner of Cavendish Square and Harley Street is ‘les 110 de Taillevent’, a recently opened branch of a Parisian restaurant. This is the latest twist in the convoluted history of a building that despite serial alterations stands as a remnant of the square’s aristocratic origins.

    16 Cavendish Square, Marylebone, Greater London. View from the south west. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    Nos 15 and 16 Cavendish Square on the corner with Harley Street, from the south-west in 2014 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). If you are having trouble viewing images, please click here.

    After Cavendish Square was laid out in 1717–18, the Duke of Chandos intended to build himself a palace across the whole of its north side. He was obliged to back-pedal after the South Sea Bubble burst, and in 1724–5 began building a pair of houses at either end of the frontage, to designs by Edward Shepherd. Dilatory and indecisive, Chandos left the carcasses incomplete. He eventually decided to take that to the west for himself, and returned to complete it in 1733–5. Entered from Harley Street, the house had a painted imperial staircase, expensively decorated by Gaetano Brunetti and Jacopo Amigoni.

    by Herman van der Myn, oil on canvas, 1725 or before

    James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos, by Herman van der Myn, c.1725 (Reproduced by kind permission of the National Portrait Gallery, London).

    by Philip Mercier, oil on canvas, 1733

    ‘The Music Party’ by Philip Mercier, 1733, depicting (from left to right) Princess Anne, Princess Caroline, Prince Frederick and Princess Amelia reading from Milton. In the background is a depiction of the Kew Palace, or the Dutch House at Kew Gardens (Reproduced by kind permission of the National Potrait Gallery, London).

    From 1762 Princess Amelia, George II’s second daughter, lived here and there was it seems a decline from Chandos’s opulence. After she died in 1786, The Times (21 Feb 1787, p.3) reported, ‘Of all the ill-furnished houses – perhaps that of the late Princess Amelia was the worst. With the exception of one large glass, it was much of the same sort as might have been expected at a plain Esquire’s in the country.’ James Hope, the 3rd Earl of Hopetoun, then undertook substantial improvements with Robert Adam as his architect. The entrance moved northwards within a tetrastyle stone porch (now gone) and under a pedimented aedicule (extant) and the north wing was much enlarged. In 1795 in moved Henry Hope, a distant cousin, Europe’s pre-eminent merchant banker, a great art collector and a refugee from Amsterdam. Poussins faced the front door and the front drawing room was graced by a Titian, two Veroneses and several Van Dycks. The last occupant of the whole house from 1816 to 1824 was George Watson Taylor MP, another art collector and, as an heir to a Jamaican fortune, a defender of Caribbean vested interests in Parliament.

    by Charles Howard Hodges, published by John Boydell, published by Josiah Boydell, after Sir Joshua Reynolds, mezzotint, published 1 January 1788 (1787)

    Henry Hope by Charles Howard Hodges, after Sir Joshua Reynolds, c.1787 (Reproduced by kind permission of the National Portrait Gallery, London).

    by Pieter Christoffel Wonder, oil on canvas, 1826-1830

    Study for ‘Patrons and Lovers of Art’ by Pieter Christoffel Wonder, 1826-1830, depicting George Watson Taylor kneeling in front of Titian’s ‘Bacchus and Ariadne’ (Reproduced by kind permission of the National Portrait Gallery, London).

    Such a vast house in this location was no longer tenable and in the later 1820s Thomas Hardwick oversaw the separation of the capital mansion from its back parts with remodelling that included a top-lit staircase that is still extant. Hardwick added what is now 15 Cavendish Square and, on the garden, 6–14 Harley Street. The largest dwelling, on the corner, was taken by William Carr Beresford, Viscount Beresford, a hero of the Peninsular campaign. Dr Henry Herbert Southey, an eminent physician and younger brother of the poet Robert, took what became 4 Harley Street. Further division and alterations followed in 1863 and further eminent doctors and merchants moved in. The last private resident of the corner property was Edward Berman, a German button importer. No. 15 saw Beaux Arts alterations for the Jockey Club in 1913 and the corner block was converted with ground-floor rustication in 1926–7 to be a branch of Coutts Bank that closed in 2012.

    (© Survey of London, Helen Jones)

    Phase plans of Nos 15 and 16 Cavendish Square and 2-4 Harley Street. Please click on the picture to expand (© Survey of London, Helen Jones).

    Mews Views

    By the Survey of London, on 5 February 2016

    Back in Marylebone, the subject of today’s post is the numerous mews that are significant hyphenations of the great regular grid of streets that is bracketed by Wigmore Street, Marylebone High Street, the Marylebone Road and Portland Place – the core, that is, of the Howard De Walden Estate. It is an irony that the latter-day charm of these places, which were designed in effect for the parking of coaches and horses, rests largely in their residential calm and relative freedom from vehicles.

    Laid out with the streets in the later decades of the eighteenth century, they were characteristically sett-paved and originally lined by low (almost invariably two-storey and plain stock brick) rows of stables and coach-houses with living space above for associated servants. If there was architectural finesse, it faced the gardens of the houses, not the mews. There were piecemeal early rebuilds, but change appears to have been humble and in keeping until the 1890s (Thomas Woolner’s studio of 1862 in Marylebone Mews being an interesting exception). Around then a new type appeared, a variation where access to the upper living space was made separate by virtue of external stairs across the front, facilitating occupancy by those who had nothing to do with the horses. Soon after, motor garages appeared, as conversions and in some cases as purposeful rebuilds.

    The early and middle decades of the twentieth century saw increasingly ambitious and concerted interventions, more expressly residential if always above parking. A good deal of this was due to two property developers, William Willett and Henry Brandon, who insinuated stronger elements of architectural style, ranging from variations on the Neo-Georgian to the Neo-Tudor.

    After the Second World War residential and gentrifying conversions that began to diminish ground-floor vehicle cover led to gradual prettification through paint, stucco, glazing bars, carriage lamps and window boxes. Through the same post-war decades there were a few substantial Modernist redevelopments, occasionally for office or institutional use. Residential use remains the rule and basements are being excavated. The most recent replacement buildings are yet more self-consciously architectural than any of their predecessors.

    (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    Devonshire Mews West, Nos 27 to 36 on the east side from the south, showing a frontage that has its origins in the 1820s, the London Clinic beyond (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). If you are having trouble viewing images, please click here.

    (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    29 Devonshire Mews West, a rare unreconstructed garage (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave).

    (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    37-38 Devonshire Mews West, 1956–7, Basil Hughes and Bonfield, architects, garages under two flats for the Howard De Walden Estate (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave).

    (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    39 Devonshire Mews West, 1908–9, with independent access to an upper-storey flat by means of an external staircase (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave).

    (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    Devonshire Close, showing Neo-Georgian brick at No. 15 (left), 1924 for William Willett with Amos Faulkner, architect, and Neo-Tudor black-and-white at Nos 12 and 14, 1935-9 for Henry Brandon with Alfred and Vincent Burr, architects (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave).

    (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    30-35 Devonshire Close, rebuilt for clients ranging from Major H. A. Wernher at No. 30 in 1922-3 (right) to Vincent Gluckstein in 1926 at No. 34. Willett and Faulkner were responsible for the gabled profiles of Nos 33 (1910-12) and 32 (1920), Moore-Smith & Colbeck, architects, for No. 31 in 1930-1 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave).

    (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    Devonshire Mews South, sett paving and two-storey rows that have their origins in the 1780s, with the London Clinic again looming up to the north (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave).

    (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    107 Devonshire Mews South, a 1900ish rebuild with external stairs, altered in 1954 and since (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave).

    (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    34 Devonshire Place Mews, another stabling rebuild with a former forage-store opening to an attic that has been converted. Mansard roofs are fairly ubiquitous (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave).

    (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    Wimpole Mews, the east side from the south, showing No. 6 (right) of 1904 with shaped parapet, built for Walter Hamilton Hylton Jessop, an opthalmic surgeon of 73 Harley Street, with William Henry White as architect. For No. 8 beyond, see below (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    No. 8 Wimpole Mews,  rebuilt in 2011–12 for the Howard De Walden Estate to plans by Urban Mesh Design Ltd (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave).

    (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    33 Weymouth Mews, 1898, by and for Waterhouse & Son, the architects Alfred, then elderly, and his son and partner, Paul, who were based in an adjacent New Cavendish Street property (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave).

    Cavendish Square 2: Nos 11-14

    By the Survey of London, on 8 January 2016

    This is the second in what will be an occasional series of posts about Cavendish Square. The north side of Cavendish Square has symmetry about its centre. This reflects the prominence of the elevation in relation to the square’s common axis along Holles Street to Hanover Square, a coherent piece of town-planning across two landholdings that is unusual for early eighteenth-century London. But the axis was the extent of the coherence then achieved. The Duke of Chandos’s plans for a full-width palace across Cavendish Square’s north side fell by the wayside when much of his fortune evaporated. Instead he built two big houses at either end and left the middle of the square’s show frontage empty save for use as a rubbish dump. This failure was excoriated by James Ralph in the Critical Review in an account of the square in 1734:

    ‘… there we shall see the folly of attempting great things, before we are sure we can accomplish little ones. Here ’tis, the modern plague of building was first stayed, and I think the rude, unfinish’d figure of this project should deter others from a like infatuation. When we see any thing like grandeur or beauty going forward, we are uneasy till ’tis finish’d, but when we see it interrupted, or intirely laid aside, we are not only angry with the disappointment, but the author too: I am morally assur’d that more people are displeas’d at seeing this square lie in its present neglected condition, than are entertain’d with what was meant for elegance or ornament in it.’ [1]

    Howard de Walden Project. General view of Cavendish Square, Marylebone, Greater London. View from south.

    Cavendish Square in 2013, with a view through the trees to Nos 11-14 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). If you are having trouble viewing images, please click here.

    Extract from the Ordnance Survey First Edition map of Middlesex XVII, showing Cavendish Square and Hanover Square c. 1870 (Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland)

    Extract from the Ordnance Survey First Edition map of Middlesex XVII, showing Cavendish Square and its environs, including Hanover Square, c. 1870 (Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland)

    So things rested until the Society of Dilettanti acquired the site. Famously bibulous but seriously antiquarian, the Dilettanti began here in 1753 to build an academy for the improvement of painting, sculpture and architecture, shipping in Portland stone for what would have been an important public building and an early essay in neo-classicism, based on the Temple of Rome and Augustus at Pola in Istria, and designed by a sub-committee, Robert Dingley, Sir Francis Dashwood and Col. George Gray. Competition and want of money caused the project to be abandoned and the stone was sold to John Spencer. The columns on the Green Park front of Spencer House of 1755–9 are those intended for Cavendish Square in recycled and cut-down form.

    (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    The north side of Cavendish Square in 2014, showing Nos 11-14 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    Detail

    Detail of the Corinthian portico at Nos 13-14 Cavendish Square, photographed in 2012 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    Cavendish Square’s embarrassing gap mouldered and it was not until 1768–70 that the present buildings went up. Their Portland stone fronts with what Sir John Summerson called ‘magnificent Corinthian porticos’ appear to be a conscious if somewhat mysterious reflection of the abandoned Dilettanti project. [2] This was no academy, merely two pairs of semi-detached houses, a speculation for an MP, George Forster Tufnell, whose family gave its name to Tufnell Park – that’s another story.

    11-14 Cavendish Square from the LCC GLC Historic Building Survey drawings collection (© Survey of London, Helen Jones)

    Plans of 11-14 Cavendish Square, adapted from a Greater London Council survey of 1966 (© Survey of London, Helen Jones)

    The inner houses were entered from a central dividing roadway that led to a stable yard to the rear. At the end of the nineteenth century three of the houses were adapted for the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, a Roman Catholic institution, to be a convent school. After war damage, repairs that included a linking bridge over the road were topped off with Jacob Epstein’s Madonna and Child, erected in 1953. The buildings are now the headquarters of the King’s Fund health charity.

    (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    Jacob Epstein’s Madonna and Child of 1953, commissioned by the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, a Roman Catholic institution. The Society moved to and took the freehold of No. 11 in 1888-9, added No. 12 in 1891, and then No. 13 in 1898. Photographed in 2014 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    For a fuller account of the eighteenth-century history of this site, see: Peter Guillery, ‘Cavendish Square and Spencer House: Neo-classicism, opportunity and nostalgia’, in The Georgian Group Journal, vol. 23, pp. 75-96.

    References

    [1] James Ralph, A Critical Review of the Publick Buildings, Statues and Ornaments in and around London and Westminster, 1734, p. 106

    [2] John Summerson, ‘The Society’s House: an architectural study’, Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, vol. 102, Oct 1954, p. 924

    Cavendish Square 1: No. 1A

    By the Survey of London, on 27 November 2015

    This is the first in a short series of posts about hidden or obscure features from the early years of Cavendish Square, a place that has more than its share of surprises for those with an interest in eighteenth-century architectural and art history.

    Cavendish Square was laid out in 1717–18 with palatial aristocratic habitation a primary intention. As landowners, the Harley family sought to capitalize on top-echelon contacts to give development of its Marylebone estate the lustre of wealth. Plans were set tolerably fair, but went awry with the bursting of the South Sea Bubble in 1720. Money vanished and so did most of the aristocrats. By 1730 only two aristocratic town houses had been completed; one (Bingley House, to the west) has wholly gone, the other survives in forgotten part at the south end of the square’s east side, as No. 1a or Flanders House, where the Flemish representation of the Belgian Embassy has been housed since 2003.

    No. 1A Cavendish Square in 2013 (Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    No. 1A Cavendish Square in 2013 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). If you are having difficulty viewing images, please click here.

    This building is the southern third of what went up in almost cubic form in 1720–6 as Harcourt House, for Simon Harcourt, 1st Viscount Harcourt and a former Tory Lord Chancellor, who, suffering cataracts, was all but blind. This fact as much as short money might explain why richly Baroque first designs by Thomas Archer [1] were pared down by Harcourt’s first executant architect, Edward Wilcox; he died and in 1721 was succeeded by Francis Smith of Warwick. In 1724 Harcourt was three months a widower before marrying Elizabeth, née Vernon, the widow of a former friend, Sir John Walter. Lavish furnishing of the house, including Genoese damasks patterned with leopards, suns and elephants, was attributed to her influence. The internal fit-out was overseen by George I’s cabinet-maker James Moore. Harcourt did not enjoy the house long, dying in 1727.

    3D Reconstruction of Harcourt House

    Reconstruction of the former Harcourt House, as in 1827 (© Survey of London, Helen Jones)

    His grandson, Simon, 1st Earl Harcourt, enlarged a middle back parlour with a canted bay in 1758 and gave it an interior by James ‘Athenian’ Stuart. This was Stuart’s first London commission and an important early ‘Greek’ neoclassical work. It was not universally liked – ‘God Damn my Blood My Lord is this your Grecian Architecture what villainy what absurdity If this be Grecian, Give me Chinese give me Gothick, Any thing is better than this, For Shame My Lord Pull it down & Burn it . . . not to expose your own ignorance for it is the most Wretched miserable affair ever was seen by Mortal.’ [2] This round deprecation by Lord Delaware was famously relished by Robert Adam and Paul Sandby. The more stolid Stiff Leadbetter was responsible for plainer alterations in the early 1760s, including the addition of a room to the south-east along Margaret Street.

    Detail from plan of Cavendish Square, showing Nos 1-2

    Detail from plan of Cavendish Square showing Nos 1 and 2, c.1810 (© Survey of London, Helen Jones)

    The house was divided into two dwellings in 1825–7 and remodelled with new stucco facing by Sir Jeffry Wyatville. Sir Claude Scott, who had made a fortune as a wartime government grain contractor, bought the southern section and enlarged the Margaret Street room to be a banking hall, which, extended again in 1873, survives as a NatWest branch. Further works in 1928 that were overseen by Wimperis, Simpson and Guthrie gave the surviving part of the building its current appearance. The last aristocrats departed from the five-bay northern dwelling during the First World War. In came Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild and then, in the 1920s, the Mixed Arbitral Tribunals set up by the Treaty of Versailles to settle disputes arising from the war. Demolition and replacement with an explicitly commercial building followed in 1933–4.

    Sources

    1. In the British Library – King’s Maps xxvii.6
    2. As quoted by Richard Hewlings in ed. Susan W. Soros, James ‘Athenian’ Stuart 1713–1788: the rediscovery of antiquity, 2006, pp.195–7