English Country House life is famous the world over – from Jane Austen to Downton Abbey and Brideshead Revisited, everyone has their own idea of what it is like to live in a huge house on a country estate.
The fact is that in England this is not just history – hundreds of great houses still survive, lived in by the same families that built them, hundreds of years ago. They contain the amassed treasures of generations, reflecting the changing tastes of the super-rich aristocracy of England.
Now, for the very first time, it will be possible to understand, and experience, English country houses in China. Ten of the world’s grandest aristocratic houses, castles and palaces – The Treasure Houses – have come together to lend some of their most important and valuable treasures for a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition.
The exhibition draws back the curtain to show life, past and present, in England’s greatest aristocratic homes through the magnificent works of art they contain.
Paintings and drawings by Rembrandt, Raphael, Lucian Freud and Poussin will be shown with Flemish and English tapestries and masterpieces of French and English furniture and silver. Chinese export porcelain will be on show alongside rare Sèvres and Meissen porcelain, lacquer and gold boxes and objets de vertu.
An important feature of the exhibition is that, because it tells the story of everyday life in the great houses of England, it includes, not only great art, but important costume and jewellery, garden statuary, rare historic vehicles, antique sporting guns and a range of exhibits from ‘below stairs’.
The ten great houses in the Treasure Houses partnership were founded hundreds of years ago but remain in the ownership of the same families today. These families, still live in their ancestral homes, farm their estates and run successful businesses. Each year, together, the Treasure Houses welcome 4 million visitors from all over the world.
“Ten of the world’s greatest aristocratic houses, castles and palaces have come together for a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition.”
The Treasure Houses of England Exhibition sets out to tell a remarkable story, about amazing places lived in by extraordinary families. It is both an historical tale and a chronicle of contemporary aristocratic life; for these are not just museums, the Treasure Houses are a thriving part of contemporary British life.
It opens by introducing the families of the ten Treasure Houses. These dynasties were not just super-rich aristocrats but produced courtiers, painters, architects, Olympic medal-winning athletes, agriculturalists, Prime Ministers and, of course, scholars, connoisseurs and collectors.
Today the owners are both custodians of great national treasures but also, like their forebears, hugely successful businessmen and entrepreneurs.
The show introduces the vast landscapes owned by the families and managed for beauty, recreation and profit. These are still the economic engines of the great estates and exhibits mix contemporary digital realisations with historical artefacts including many objects never before seen, from the owners’ private collections and archives.
These introductory sections culminate with the exhibition-goer’s ‘arrival’ at a great house with a 1923 Rolls Royce car from the collection at Beaulieu.
The main part of the exhibition is arranged in a series of ‘rooms’ each covering the art and social life of the great houses. The great hall, the dining room, the drawing room and the bedroom are the great state spaces, filled with furniture and paintings dating from the middle ages to the present day. The gallery comes next, and contains the cream of the paintings and sculpture – with world famous master-works from Rembrandt, Canaletto and Poussin amongst many others.
Smaller rooms, the library and cabinet, contain manuscripts, books, Renaissance drawings and bronzes and more intimate works of art.
Other rooms include the nursery, chapel and gun room and the show ends with a large section showing unique treasures from ‘below stairs’, the engine-rooms of the great houses.
The rooms are not reconstructions of historical spaces, although the dining room section does include a complete fully-laid table with carpets, tapestries and dress worn by both the servants and the diners. Instead the ‘rooms’ are a way of explaining how people lived in the Treasure Houses and how their collections were used and enjoyed on a daily basis.
The range of exhibits is truly comprehensive and covers jewels and tiaras worn by the owners and their families, valuable antique firearms used for sport, the extraordinary Venetian state cradle from Blenheim Palace, spectacular candelabra and silver-gilt table wares, and many items from the Duke of Devonshire’s personal collection of contemporary art from Chatsworth.
In all, the Treasure Houses of England Exhibition contains over 200 priceless items, the most ambitious and comprehensive exhibition of its type ever assembled. It will be ready to tour the world from 2018.
Chief CURATOR AND CHIEF Executive
Professor Simon Thurley
CBE, PhD, FSA, FRHistS, FRIBAContact
Chief CURATOR AND CHIEF Executive
Simon Thurley is a leading historian of English architecture, a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research in London and Gresham Professor of the Built Environment. For 13 years he was chief executive of English Heritage, the national heritage agency responsible for heritage protection and the management of England’s National Heritage Collection of 420 sites and monuments including Stonehenge. Before that he was director of the Museum of London. He has written twelve books and made many television programmes about historic buildings.
Deputy Chief Executive
Deputy Chief Executive
Alexandra Warr is a Senior Advisor on international policy at Historic England. In this role she works with International and European bodies such as the Council of Europe, the European Commission, UNESCO, ICOMOS. She was a Council member of Europa Nostra 2007-‐2012. Alex has a huge experience in international cultural relations and diplomacy and represents Historic England and DCMS on a number of important committees. She was part of the P2P delegation to China in December 2016.
BA, M.Phil, FdAContact
Until 2016 Tori Reeve was Chief Curator at Leeds Castle, Kent one of the Treasure Houses of England. Before that she was the Principal of Interior Design and Furnishing at the Palace of Westminster and Curator of Collections and Special projects at English Heritage. As well as masterminding new displays at Leeds Castle Tori led the major Charles Darwin Exhibition at Down House and a ground-breaking presentation project at Kenilworth castle.
Rose Kerr was, for many years, Keeper of the Far Eastern Department at the Victoria & Albert Museum and is now Honorary Associate of the Needham Research Institute in Cambridge. She is Chairman of the Great Britain-China Education Trust, Trustee of the Sir Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art and Museum Expert Advisor for Hong Kong. In 2015 she was created an Honorary Citizen of Jingdezhen. Author and contributor to 20 books on Asian art, she is a regular contributor to journals and magazines.
Treasure Houses Asia
Mrs Miranda Rock
His Grace the Duke of Bedford, Her Grace The Duchess of Bedford, The Earl of Leicester, The Earl of Burlington, Mrs Victoria Howard, Mr Orlando Rock
Treasure Houses Exhibition Asia Limited,
Company Number: 10373420
Registered address: 61 High Street, St Martin’s, Stamford, Lincs, PE9 2LQ