The Dog of Alcibiades, and me, at Petworth Park
At the end of the Chawton conference, Barbara, a friend from the Dove Grey reading group, and a travel blogger of note, most kindly collected me. Soon we were driving through the green and gentle roads of Hampshire, to the pretty village of Godalming in Surrey. There we had a sweet walk with her son's sweet pug Oliver.
I also met a very lovely cat on a fence. I never cease to marvel at how happy and natural outdoor cats do look in the English countryside...and wish it was safe for our cats to live likewise.
On the walk we had a glimpse of Munstead Wood, Gertrude Jekyll's home, with its famous garden.
The next morning, after a fabulous sleep in a 16th century bedroom with a large soft bed, I was collected by Barbara and whisked to our destination - Petworth. Originally we'd planned to climb Box Hill, of Emma fame, but were seized with a desire to see Petworth instead. This is the great house in West Sussex which John Constable called "That house of art." It holds the National Trust's most important art collection, and is especially famed for its association with JMW Turner.
Lovely English breakfast at High Edser
And Petworth has its own link with Jane Austen. James Stanier Clarke, the Prince Regent's librarian and chaplain, wrote to her in 1815, at the time she was being asked to dedicate Emma to the Prince. He mentioned that he was visiting Petworth "where your praises have long been sounded as they ought to be." So I have long wondered about the place...but somehow I doubt Clarke told her of the famous prank pulled on him there. Living at Court, Clarke had frequent invitations to visit Petworth, home of Lord Egremont, where the Prince Regent and his brothers often stayed. One night in 1813 he was summoned downstairs to celebrate the victory of the Allies at Leipzig, only to return to his bed to discover that a young donkey had been tied there. (Story from "The Divine and the Donkey" by Chris Viveash, published in Persuasions 16.)
This engraving, "Petworth Frolicks" (1814, "after Gilray") depicts "a drunken parson being put to bed with an ass-foal wrapped in a petticoat, a prank after celebrations of the battle of Leipzig. The parson is identified...as James Stanier Clarke: he was being 'punished' for setting up an assignation with a servant-girl." One of the pranksters jokes that "there will be a rare duet of snoring & Braying." Another laughs, holding his sides: "Oh dear! - I shall die with laughing, what will the Parson say when he finds what a strange bedfellow he has got!" I imagine that Jane Austen did know the story, though!
One of Petworth's rooms of art
I take the liberty of borrowing from Barbara her picture of me in the Marble Hall at Petworth.
Barbara, in her blog "Milady's Boudoir," writes about her interesting travels in England and farther abroad, and she has written two posts on our visit to Petworth, which I will link here.
Petworth is a huge house, and the richness of its art collection is almost too much to take in, but I'll show a few of my favorites, though it was the Turners I loved most. Lord Egremont was the great patron of Turner, and the twenty Turners in the collection are the largest group outside the Tate. So we had the joy of seeing these beautiful paintings in their own setting - for Turner stayed in the house, and many of the paintings reflect the views all around.
The first picture to fascinate was "The Archduke Leopold's Gallery" by David Teniers the Younger (1651), a fabulous depiction of a rich 17th century art collection.
This lovely portrait of a woman is thought to be Mary Queen of Scots
This 18th century portrait of Anne Boleyn forms a pendant beneath the magnificently overbearing full length painting of Henry VIII.
Then the Turners...this one is Petworth Lake at Sunset, Bucks Fighting
And this is Petworth Lake at Sunset, Buck Drinking
I particularly liked the haunting "Hulks on the Tamar." It recalled to me the song "The Fields of Athenry," about a young woman whose young husband is sent to Botany Bay for stealing food for their child. When we got out into the grounds I sang the song for Barbara, and she shared it on her blog, which I will too. The Dubliners, Paddy Reilly:
By this time, Barbara and I were much in need of sustenance, which we got in the form of a really bang-up first class dish of bangers and mash with cabbage!
It was good!
Then we went to explore the grounds, which are not the least of Petworth's treasures. Designed by Capability Brown, they are breathtaking for their own beauty, but also for the way they are so perfectly reflected in the Turner landscapes in the house. To see the Turners, and this landscape, alone, was to have an almost overwhelmingly rapturous experience, all in one day!
Outside, you're struck by the sheer size of the house
This is the view from the house, looking down the smooth green fields to the lake
The light always changing
As the house recedes in the distance, we approach the lake
Plutarch's life of Alcibiades relates that the statesman cut off the tail of his large, handsome dog so as to invoke pity from the Athenians, and distract them from his worse deeds.
As Barbara has described, in my picture-taking I kept trying to avoid the groups of picnickers and walkers, but then suddenly realized that this was all part of the scene, and historically correct...doubtless people were doing this in Turner's time, and only their clothing was different!
The 1835 version, a similar scene: "Fete in Petworth Park" by William Frederick Witherington.
After such a day, what was there left to do but shop; and while Barbara was collecting the car, I nipped into an antique store in Petworth village (the only one open on Sunday) and bought this pretty red Venetian glass beaded necklace (1940s).
It will always remind me of Petworth, and this lovely day - and of Barbara's great kindness and hospitality in making me part of her wonderful English travels, which I have always wished to enter!