Pollok House, Glasgow
The house and surrounds has been the seat of the Maxwell family since the 13th century. Most of the Baronets have been politicians so it’s likely that the house would have been frequently used for entertaining. The house projects a very grand and sensible impression from the exterior. This continues in the entrance hall with its imposing double staircase to the landing in front of the original front door.
From the entrance door at the top of the stairs you enter into the “Corridor” with huge Ionic columns. The classical aspects of the architecture are typical of the Georgian period that the house was built. Honour and Fleming refer to the Scottish architect Colen Campbell who advocated a return to Classical principles (2). This house with it austere frontage and classical features is typical of the Neo-Palladian style which gave an impression of “robust self-assurance, unaffected good manners and very solid prosperity” (2). Off this corridor, are the public rooms.
The decorative style of Rococo is evident in the interiors and furniture. Many of the rooms have ornate stucco plasterwork, particularly the original dining room which has been decorated with a hunting motif and fruits of the sea and land. The designs were from a Design Pattern Book written in Paris in 1740, the source for many Scottish country houses. The Business room in which Sir John would have managed the estate and perhaps met with important business colleagues, has some of the finest stucco work, such as the trompe-l’oeil bust over the fireplace. Interestingly this decoration is missing from the Morning room which is altogether more simple and would have been used as a private sitting room. This highlights the exhibitionist nature of the decoration. This is exemplified by the very simple plasterwork and furniture in the bedrooms upstairs. The trustees have however recovered magnificent Chinese wallpaper from c1800, from another family house and installed it in one of the bedrooms.
The bold red colour of the original drawing room is a Victorian addition but several items are much older such as the pier tables and centre light. These two public rooms are much more elaborately decorated than the smaller private rooms.
Mahogany and marble feature throughout the house with much of the furniture in the Chippendale style, attributed to Whytock and Ried. The extensions have also been furnished with replica pieces such as the copies of the original walnut Chippendale Gothick dining chairs from Charles Taylor of Dalkieth and the Adam-style sideboard both in the new dining room (1).
Works of Art
The house is packed full of works of art predominantly collected by Sit William Stirling Maxwell in the 19th century. It hold one of the finest collections of Spanish art including El Greco, Cano, Murillo, Goya, Sanchez Coello, and high quality workshop versions of pictures by Velázquez and Ribera (5). Sir William was one of the first to introduce the artists Goya and El Greco to Britain. I noticed that Sir William’s collection is actually quite traditional in style, many were centuries old when he acquired them. The lack of contemporary artists perhaps indicates his traditional character, necessary for a politician.
Many of the paintings are large and they cover the walls of the house. In some of the smaller rooms this is quite overpowering and they are perhaps more suited to larger walls. I think this has been done because of the size of his collection (only half of which survives and not all is displayed).
In some rooms it is possible to see how decoration has been done to complement the paintings e.g. the Billiard room with its Dutch hunting scenes surrounded by moulded plaster frames and the Cedar room with the William Blake’s inset into the wall with the wooden cladding serving as a frame. Many of the portraits are very dark and gloomy with murky faces peering out from dark background. I put this down to their age and perhaps some are in need of cleaning. The more important works however seemed well maintained and remained clear and bright despite the often darkness of the subject.
There are many royal portraits around the house, particularly featuring the Spanish royal family. Despite this deep interest in Spanish art, this struck me as quite interesting. Normally you would expect family portraits in someone’s house, of which there are many, but to have so many royal portraits seemed strange, as if Sir William was trying to elevate his position by associating himself with royalty.
Also in the corridor are two fascinating propaganda paintings by Goya of children playing. One of the employees was very kind to explain these works to me. In one ” Boys playing at see-saw” he depicts a seemingly innocent moment of play but if you look closer you see that two of the boys are dressed as priests and they are watching another two on the see-saw, the one in the air dressed as a friar. The other boys wrestle and fight and perhaps represent soldiers, The see-saw represents the ups and downs of war and the monkey in the top right looking over the priests, represents the mischievous nature of the the Catholic church in war.
Sadly, one of the most important paintings in the collection, The Lady in a Fur Wrap by El Greco was on loan to Toledo, celebrating 400 years since his death. It shows an enigmatic woman emerging from the shadows who would quite easily fit in any century since then. Its location in the library, the grandest room, reflects its importance within the collection.
The Music room hosts some of the oldest works. There is a 16th century version of Titian’s Christ carrying the Cross which was held at the Escorial, a magnificent royal palace in Madrid. There is no doubt that Sir William bought this version because of the link with the Escorial and further proves his fascination with the Spanish Royalty and their choice of art. Also in this room is Cano’s The Labours of Adam and Eve and An Allegory of Repentance by Salgado. The latter is very baroque not only in subject and style but in the strong lighting and technique. It was in reality much darker and dirtier looking than the image below, perhaps this was due to only being able to view it from a distance in quite a dim room.
The Cedar room is a new addition, and has been devoted to the numerous William Blake paintings that the collection holds, acquired in 1853 interestingly at a time when the artists works were not popular (1) This shows Sir William’s insight and lack of interest in fashion. These are the most unorthodox of the collection and this is perhaps why they were placed in this small private room. The room is named because of the cedar panelling which together with Blake’s odd style make the room seem quite claustrophobic.
Other works of art
There are numerous sculptures and ceramics around the house. Of note are the Chinese vases included two huge ones set in seemingly purpose built niches in the walls of the staircase. One of my favourite pieces is the astronomical grandfather clock from 1764 which has the Maxwell family crest engraved on the silver dial and shows the phases of the moon (4).
This house has been converted into a museum and while some attempt has been made to recreate how the house would have been originally, I wondered if there would have been so many paintings on the walls then. The most important paintings are situated in the grandest rooms such as the library, music room and (most recent) dining room, which would have been used by visitors. Undoubtedly the architecture has been maintained well however and even the newer additions have been done in the original Georgian style.
Revisions have been made following receipt of Tutor Report – 07/04/14
My tutor recommended that I look further into Sir William Stirling’s Annals of the Artists of Spain.
An area to explore: The first photographically illustrated book on art was William Stirling’s (Sir William Stirling Maxwell’s) Annals of the Artists of Spain (1848).
As you noted, many of the paintings Stirling collected reflected his art historical interests in royal patronage (his Annals were arranged around this topic and he had a fascination for Charles V and Don John of Austria). Stirling’s acquisition of works such as Martinezde Gradilla’s Portrait of Philip IV, epitomises his interest in the historical, rather than necessarily the artistic value of works of art. (Stirling bought the painting in 1851 and few, if any, other collectors in Britain at the time would have recognised that this rather strange Spanish picture had any importance at all.)
Stirling was also concerned with the social status of artists in Spain and their attempts to increase this through the setting up of academies. He was particularly interested in the portraits of artists, such as Vicente Carducho’s Self Portrait.
Stirling’s collecting of Goya shows that he was also a connoisseur with modern tastes and ideas. As you observed, he greatly admired Goya as a satirist of monks, the Holy Office and the Court, and as “an inventor of horrible monsters, cloudy shapes suggestive of deeper horrors, or malicious frisking devilkins” (Stirling, Annals).
I was able to find a version of this as an ebook on the internet at – https://archive.org/details/annalsartistssp02maxwgoog but unfortunately it didn’t seem to contain the entire book, only half. Flicking through shows a thorough and extensive list of information regarding the Hapsburg dynasty and a great number of artists. This is split into sections depending on the reigning Royal. The contents pages are incredibly detailed allowing one to answer specific questions very easily. This demonstrated to be an intensely organised mind with a huge amount of information that he wanted to impart. His knowledge of the history of the area and the related artists is quite remarkable when seen like this.
My tutor has mentioned the reason that Stirling collected these paintings as being less about the artistic value and more about the historical value. This is something that the very nice lady who worked at Pollock House mentioned at my visit. She said that Stirling had brought these pieces back to Britain at a time when Spanish artists were not well known. She also mentioned that he had a great interest in the relationship between the artist and the sitter for a portrait and how these portraits were used for propaganda reasons to create a particular image of the sitter.
The painting above is very different from the rest, as mentioned by my tutor. The putti around the portrait represent The Art of Painting. One holds a palette and the other an anatomical drawing. The painting is further embellished by two winged putti at the top who are announcing the fame of art, blowing trumpets and holding books that must be painting treatises (6). Thus this portrait appears linking King Philip IV to the arts, and indeed he is known for his patronage of artists, notably Velasquez was one of his court painters. Unfortunately the part of the book related to this artist was at the end and was not available on line. This untraditional format with such a small portrait in relation to the size of the canvas would indeed have been an odd addition to his collection and shows that he was willing to take risks in order to have unique works in his ownership. One could argue that his knowledge of art would have given him a very forward thinking attitude towards collection and he recognised its potential importance in the future for the very fact of its quirkiness. He also recognised the importance of recording the connection between the arts and Philip IV.
There was a DVD playing in one of the upper rooms of the house on my visit. The DVD concentrated mainly on the history of the Spanish Habsburg Royaly that feature so highly in Sir Stirlings collection and their 200 year reign. Interestingly it mentions that the family had the unfortunate hereditary problem with an oversized jaw which resulted in problems with chewing. This can be seen in many of the portraits around the house. Charles II suffered greatly from this and perhaps other conditions and was said to be feeble in mind and body. Due to his condition his life was recorded in a series of yearly portraits one of which hangs in the Morning Room. Despite being married he was infertile and the dynasty died with him.
The family history chart below shows the complex intermarriage that occurred with nieces and nephews and cousins that has probably resulted in this. Sir Stirling has taken great care to record a great number of the Hapsburgs over the entire reign.
Information gained from the information sheets around the house or from the NTS staff unless otherwise stated
1. Ferguson, R. (2012) Pollock House Guide Book, National Trust for Scotland, Edinburgh
2. Honour H and Fleming J (2009) A World History of Art. 7th Edition, Laurence King Publishing Ltd, London
3. http://www.glasgowguide.co.uk/ta_pollok.html, March 2014
4. http://canmore.rcahms.gov.uk/en/details/799812, March 2014
5. Wenley, R (2008) Collection Significance Report: European Art: Spanish Art, Glasgow Museums,
online at: http://collections.glasgowmuseums.com/media/spanish_art_significance_report.pdf, last
6. http://www.vads.ac.uk/large.php?uid=87659 18/05/14
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