Recently I went to visit the newly opened Portland Collection at the Welbeck Estate.
I have been meaning to go to Welbeck for quite a while, the house has close ties to Clumber and Hardwick including things like having a portrait of Arbella that I would love to get to see (It is a copy of the one hanging at Hardwick but apparently the face is quite different). The house is not open very often but the Harley Gallery and Portland Collection are open most days.
The house was sold to Charles Cavendish, Bess of Hardwick's son and through this line later came to be the seat of the Duke's of Newcastle before coming into the hands of the Duke's of Portland.
The Harley Gallery contains exhibition spaces predominantly used to display modern art which I'm afraid usually holds little interest for me.
The Portland Collection, however, is a display of the treasures collected by the Duke's of Newcastle and Portland and it is fantastic. The collection has only just been made public, housed in a renovated building just along from the main Harley Gallery, and it is free to visit.
What is on display is just a small sample of what the Duke's collected (the collection totalling 5000 pieces all together) and it is truly magnificent. The paintings are stunning, there are some incredibly important historical artefacts and amazing silverware.
Follow this link to have a look at some of the pieces in the collection.
Some of my favourite pieces included a lovely little portrait of Elizabeth I, a very ornate strong box dating from 1690 and a really beautiful diamond tiara from 1902 (that was once accidentally sat on by the Duke!).
Everything in the exhibition space was displayed very well, shining and sparkling and all looking very well cared for. The rooms were dark but the objects were well lit, and each piece had a good description to accompany it. They have also digitised some of their book and displayed them on touch screens in the same way I saw at the British Library a couple of years ago.
The silver was magnificent, and it has been displayed to really show it at it's best. I particularly liked a candlestick that is part of a much larger dinner service.
It was commissioned by the Duchess of Portland and features insects and plants. The full 178 piece service took over ten years to make, but I bet it was worth the wait to see it gleaming on the dinner table.
The Portland Collection also boasts several items belonging to Charles I, including the pearl earring that he wore to his execution, which is currently on display in the exhibition.
The pieces will be rotated every three years to give the public opportunity to see different items from the collection. I'm already looking forward to heading back and seeing more of this magnificent collection!
I think it is really wonderful that these treasures can now be seen by the public, and in a way that is still clearly focused on caring for the objects. If you are ever in the area and have an hour or so spare I recommend you go and surround your self with a little, well displayed, luxury!