Monday 23 April 2012

Edmund de Waal at Waddesdon - (or come dine with me)

 Who would have the chutzpah to take on a Rothschild ‘chateau’ in Berkshire? Why an Ephrussi of course! Or a potter. Edmund de Waal is still a potter although many now know him as a writer and, oh the romance, a descendent of an outrageously exciting family of bankers and art collectors who competed with the Rothschilds and knew everyone who was anyone. Now he has quietly infiltrated the very inner sanctum of the competition and sneaked his own work in among their fabulous collections.

Breezing through the first of a trail of rooms, blazing with gold twirls and red velvet, and feeling a strong sense of belonging in a matter of seconds – self delusion is encouraged in these houses – I just kept going until I was brought up short in what was, by now, my dining room. I was expecting guests apparently. The table was bristling with red and pink roses, there were marble cherubs clinging to the mantelpiece, gorgeous embroidered curtains and mirrors stretching up to the ceiling, topped off with paintings of naked beauties, just in case there was any doubt about what sort of dinner party this would be. The reds and gold of the carpet glowed warm in the gloom. Turning to check all was as it should be, I noticed the plates piled up on a side table backed by another vast mirror which reflected itself a thousand times with all its plates in the mirror opposite. A great many guest were coming then. There was a rogue gold plate in the pile I noticed. Someone important was expected.

Returning to the breakfast room, I looked again at the small vitrines of rather delicate porcelain cylinders regarding a weighty nanny-goat, suckling her kid. On the other side of the room was a similarly solid looking peacock, heavily built in porcelain. It had a slight tear among the carefully moulded feathers which seemed to bring it alive. The animals are MINE by the way, NOT de Waal’s.

These interloping vitrines, beautifully constructed and unyieldingly rectangular with fine, straight lines, were dispersed among the rooms as though silently commenting on the situation in which they found themselves. One of my favourite desks in the Grey drawing room, a drop-front with gorgeous blue Sevres roundels inlaid, had acquired a set of inky pots, dark and mottled gold. They glimmered faintly in the dim light. I noticed two more of these on the desks on the other side of the room. Writing paraphernalia in the form of trays of shallow inky dishes were also placed on the mighty, Russian imperial writing desk, and four more had been secreted into its shelves. Eat yer heart out Putin! You’ll never know true greatness -Pah! Couldn’t even sit at a desk like this.

There are more, many more visiting vitrines. Frosted secrets, still untold, a collection of promises, doubtless unmet, are scattered among the collection of magnificent French furniture, Dutch paintings and Venetian glass. And of course there’s a riot of porcelain of the opulent kind as well the kind in vitrines.  Once there, you wont want to leave, and it shouldn’t be too hard to find a place to hide, should you wish to stay.