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FROM CAPESTHORNE HALL, CHESHIRE
by Professor Sir John Boardman
Capesthorne Hall in Cheshire is one of Britain's great country houses and, as such, had acquired the type of Classical antiquities' collection which was a product of the Grand Tour of Europe, indulged in by most English noblemen in the 18th and early 19th Centuries. Here it came relatively late, and was the enterprise especially of Edward 'Ned' Davies Davenport (1778-1847), liberal and intellectual, who took himself on a tour which included an interview with Napoleon on Elba. He remodelled Capesthorne radically, including neo-classical libraries to house antiquities and books, while his nephew (William Bromley-Davenport) brought to it later in the century the formidable collection of Italian paintings collected by his father for Wootton Hall.
Capesthorne retains much of its collections, for public display and enjoyment. The antiquities offered here will allow others to enjoy part of that legacy of Classical art which the Grand Tour bestowed on Britain. The Greek vases may, many of them, have come from Lucien Bonaparte's estates at Canino, near Vulci, the most prolific source in Italy for Athenian vases of the 6th and 5th Centuries B.C. The examples here (lots 146-150) are among the best of the years around and before about 500 B.C., for their style and for the interest of the mythological scenes upon them. In antiquity such vases found a ready market in Etruria and represent a time of experiment and almost fevered activity in the Athens potters' quarter, with the new technique of red figure painting being practised beside the old black figure. The Italian finds remain a major resource for us for knowledge of this important period in the development of the craft.
In European collections such vases well and appropriately decorated libraries; sculpture enjoyed a domestic setting in house and garden. The Roman sculpture here include the portraits of an imperial lady with a breathtaking hairstyle (lot 144) and a man (lot 142) whose dress marks him as a "man of Greek origin or a Roman intellectual fond of Greek customs and dress" (Vermeule), and a Greek philosopher (lot 143), reminding us that the Roman aristocracy, no less than our own, had been deeply taken by all things Greek, just as their predecessors in Italy, the Etruscans, had been with Greek art - the vases.
John Boardman, Oxford
Edward Davies Davenport (1778-1847)
"... a great benefactor to the country at large by the introduction and advocacy of many measures which happily now form part of our laws ... He constantly upheld the interests of the working classes, and well merited the eulogium ... Patriam et libertatem dilexit."
(A Whitsuntide Ramble to Capesthorne Park, 1850)
THE STORY OF THE ANTIQUITIES AT CAPESTHORNE HALL, CHESHIRE
Capesthorne Hall, the imposing and provocative neo-Jacobean seat of the Davenports with its immense façade can, as Lenette Bromley-Davenport wrote in its recent guidebook, "repel violently, or attract irrevocably", but "great and mysterious, carries within its heart the secrets and dreams of many families". First mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086, it was not until the marriage in 1721 of the Capesthorne heiress Penelope Ward with Davies I, the son of Monk Davenport and Elizabeth Davies, that the estate came into the Davenport family.
It was from the extensive travels of their great grandsons, Edward 'Ned' Davies Davenport (1778-1847) and his younger brother Rev. Walter Davenport Bromley (1787-1862), that Capesthorne became filled with many of its treasures.
Edward 'Ned' Davies Davenport was born into 'the Age of Enlightenment' which, with its mantra 'Man is the measure of all things', informed many of his ideas. A rebel by nature, he was against dogma, but for learning through observation and experiment. In opposition to his Tory father, Edward became a Whig M.P. and attracted a wide circle of liberal-loving and radical intellectuals, including Harriet Martineau, Lord John Russell, Thomas Attwood, Lord Holland, Richard Cobden, Sydney Smith, Francis Burdett and others. His intellectual curiosity took him to Elba and an interview with Napoleon, who deeply impressed him with his "candour, naiveté and wonderful knowledge of the world". Subsequently he toured Italy, where he acquired his collection of ancient sculpture, Etruscan terracottas, and vases, some of the latter said to have come from Lucien Bonaparte's excavations. This attribution arose from the note in the Bassegio sale, London 1838, where they were said to be "principally found at Vulci", and hence linked to the necropolis on the estates of Lucien Bonaparte (made prince of Canino by Pope Pius VII).
As soon as Edward inherited Capesthorne in 1837 he invited Edward Blore, architect to William IV and Queen Victoria, to remodel and enlarge the 18th Century Palladian-style house so that it made both an impact on the flat Cheshire plain and opened up spacious interiors. The neo-classical library for displaying his books and antiquities are among the interior views that survive in the watercolours of the joiner, James Johnson. In 1843 Edward commissioned Joseph Paxton to design a heated glass conservatory, an innovation in its time and a forerunner of the design for the Crystal Palace Great Exhibition in 1851. In the 1890s it was used to serve refreshments to theatre-goers - a lifestyle which came to an abrupt end with the onset of the First World War, along with the enchanted world of Chinese lanterns, huge house parties and amateur theatricals.
William, the son of the Rev. Walter Davenport Bromley, inherited Capesthorne Hall on the death of his cousin in 1867 (Capesthorne being reconstructed by Anthony Salvin, following a devastating fire in 1861). Thus he was able to unite the early Italian paintings and art treasures of his father who had lived at Wootton Hall, and the antiquities of his uncle. Subsequently many of the paintings found their way into museums around the world including the National Gallery, London, the Metropolitan Museum, New York, Cleveland, Turin, Milan, Budapest, Berlin and Melbourne. The fine portrait of Charlotte Davenport (the mother of Edward Davies Davenport) by Romney was sold at Christie's in 1926 for a record sum and now hangs in the Mellon collection in the National Gallery in Washington.
In the 20th Century Capesthorne Hall was visited by leading academics including Professor Sir John Beazley, Dr. Dietrich von Bothmer, Professor Cornelius Vermeule and Professor J.M.T. Charlton (whose extensive notes and photographs remain among the private papers of Lenette Bromley-Davenport at Capesthorne). Through publication and exhibition the collection became known to a wider audience on both sides of the Atlantic.
Today these antiquities provide an eloquent insight into the ideals of the Age of Enlightenment - the pursuit of wisdom and beauty through Classical models, as well as its expression through the building and furnishing of the Country House in the late 18th/early 19th Century - Capesthorne being the fine exemplar.
THE PROPERTY OF THE BROMLEY-DAVENPORT FAMILY