We had always wanted to visit Carlyle’s House in Cheyne Row Chelsea and this summer we finally got there. When Thomas Carlyle and his wife Jane moved there it was in an undesirable part of Chelsea. They paid the princely sum of £35 per year. The house is now owned by the National Trust and is open to the public. https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/carlyles-house It has been kept much as it was during his time – very Victorian. Virtually anybody of importance in 1830/40 visited him and his wife, including Dickens, Robert Browning and John Ruskin His books are very rarely read today, but he was the founder of the London Library and instrumental in the establishment of the National Portrait Gallery.
Today this is one of the most expensive parts of London but many of the houses are simply investments, not homes and a large number stay dark and uninhabited from one year to the next. When I first moved to London I lived in the next road, Lawrence Street, in a very similar house. I loved this part of London.
One of the pleasures for me of London is the unexpected meeting with someone of interest. We were upstairs in the house when the warden came into the room. She lives in the house and I asked her if she felt haunted by the presence of such an influential man and his equally important wife. She said she did feel their influence. We went on to talk about the area. She remembered the wine merchant’s in Justice Walk and the Cross Keys Public House before it became a gastro pub. The houses were all occupied; a mixture of young and old, city lawyers and bohemian artists. The nearby Kings Road the place to be for fashion. We reminisced for a while, before leaving one of my favourite places.
I recent trip to Buckland Abbey, the home of Sir Francis Drake, left me asking about the nature of experts and just how qualified they really are to offer their opinions. The National Trust, who own Buckland Abbey inherited the painting as one of a group of five from the estate of the late Lady Samuel of Wych Cross. The portrait is clearly that of Rembrandt, his features are instantly recognisable, but it was thought that it was by one of his pupils, such as Govaert Flinck, rather than
by the master himself. I assume that attribution was made by experts in the field. However further inspection by the Rembrandt expert and former chair of the Rembrandt Research project led to the NT allowing the painting to be subject by the Hamilton Kerr Institute. They used the latest scientific techniques to establish the painting was contemporary with the artist, and the panel was made of a wood available to him, as well as the paint comprising pigments he worked with. But does that point to anything more than the portrait coming from the studio of Rembrandt. Further work on the painting involved taking it out of its frame and careful cleaning allowed the expert, Professor Ernst van de Wetering to examine it closely. He now says and no one is disagreeing with him that he believes the painting is by the master. What has changed. Certainly cleaning has enhanced the painting. The use of light coming over the shoulder is skilful. Shadows concentrate the viewer’s gaze onto the eyes of the subject, and they look out at the observer with real intelligence. The velvet cloak looks as if it would be so soft to touch. But why didn’t previous examination of the painting see the quality of the work? Surely experts would know the effect the process of ageing would have on any painting, wouldn’t they? I don’t understand why the change of heart in less than four years. Still it is a wonderful portrait whoever painted it, and well worth the visit to Buckland Abbey.