The Cock & Lion: French Design in British Historic Houses

Enemies for centuries, the British and French frequently found common ground on art. French art, that is! Even during the most ferocious wars against France, the British were buying French art and furniture for their homes. During the French Revolution the British aristocracy, shocked at the horror of the fate of the French nobility, acquired their possessions for sentimental, as well as aesthetic and opportunistic, reasons.

There was no more enthusiastic member of the British Francophile Club than the Prince Regent, later King George IV. In the early 19th century, in the middle of the Napoleonic Wars, when the security of Europe hung by a thread, George was buying immense quantities of Sèvres and French furniture, paintings, and decorative arts for his homes: Carlton House, Windsor Castle, and Buckingham Palace. These royal residences, the creations of George IV, were filled with enormous amounts of French art. Windsor, in particular (within its castle shell), is a glittering French palace with a collection of Gallic art that would be the envy of any king of France.

But this love of all things French wasn’t confined to the king. Members of the aristocracy, from the 1st Duke of Montagu, four times British ambassador to the Court of Louis XIV, to the 3rd Duke of Richmond at Goodwood House, to the 10th Duke of Hamilton at Hamilton Palace, voraciously collected all things French. It wasn’t just the old aristocracy that caught this French zeal, however; the new rich, like the English Rothschilds, created country houses that were a paean to French art and design. This passion spread to the capital, where many of the greatest London townhouses, filled with breathtaking collections of French art, were modeled on the sumptuous hôtels particuliers of Paris.

All of these intriguing threads are woven together by historian Curt DiCamillo to showcase a unique, and ongoing, collaboration borne of emulation, competition, and a shared love of beauty.

 

“As a classicist, I often find history after 330 AD tedious. What a glorious discovery to find Curt’s programs and his approach to history. He combines the grainy details with the big picture…never forgetting context. He’s also extremely funny and I love his cat!”