Friday, 14 December 2012

An evening dress by Norman Hartnell

Last time I wrote about festive party frocks of early 20th century, and promised to continue on the subject. Recently I came across a lovely evening dress from 1930s, designed by Norman Hartnell, and I just had to write about it.

Norman Hartnell (1901-1979) was one of the most prominent British designers of the 20th century, and also dressmaker for Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, and Queen Elizabeth II. He started his own company in 1923, after leaving Cambridge without a degree and working with other designers, such as Lady Duff-Gordon, better known as Lucile.

Hartnell’s style was opulent and decorative and he specialised in lavish embroideries employing an in-house embroidery workroom. He offered British haute couture for both domestic and foreign clientele, specializing in creating ethereal and alluring evening gowns and afternoon dresses for the elite, but he also produced variety of ready-to-wear, shoe, perfume, jewellery, bridal and menswear collections over the decades.
However, he is best remembered for dressing the royals. Hartnell gained the favour of the court when he designed the wedding dress and trousseau for Lady Alice Montagu-Douglas-Scott, marrying Duke of Gloucester in 1935. After that, both Queen Mary and Duchess of York, future Queen Elizabeth, became clients, and especially following the abdication crisis Hartnell became responsible for Queen Elizabeth’s wardrobe. She was so taken by Hartnell’s designs that she commissioned him to design the wedding and coronation gowns for Queen Elizabeth II and a wedding dress for Princess Margaret. In 1940 Hartnell received a Royal Warrant for his accomplishments and in 1977 he was appointed Knight Commander of the Royal Victoria Order.

The dress in the museum’s collection is from the 1930s when Hartnell was a praised and very sought-after designer. It is a full length silver lame evening dress with a train, and it also has a matching coronet and an underdress that goes with it. We do not know who the dress belonged to, but behind the dress label there is another label saying “Lady M oraan”.

The dress is sleeveless and it has shirring at the bust and an open back with imitation belt on the back side. As is common with dresses of this era, it is bias-cut to accentuate the body lines and drape more softly. The cut of the dress is very interesting in other respects too, since the back side seams are very cleverly cut in zig zag pattern also helping to accentuate the body lines.

The dress closes on the left side seam with hooks and eyes and the side of the hooks changes on the waist seam, creating more secure closure. There is also an egg blue waist tape inside. Narrow straps with press stud closure are sewn inside the shoulders to secure the straps of the underdress in place.

The matching coronet is made of same silver lame as the dress and it has an elastic band sewn on it. Metal wire is twined inside the silver lame braids to form a plait.

The underdress worn with the dress is of egg blue silk with silk chiffon hem and cream shoulder straps. There is a label inside revealing it was bought from Marie Thérèse Gowns, 47 Conduit Street, London. Conduit Street is situated just next to Bruton Street in Mayfair, where Norman Hartnell had his salon throughout his life. The owner of the dress has probably first had the dress done at Hartnell and then bought the underdress from a nearby shop.

For more information on Norman Hartnell, visit

Piia Lempiäinen

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Stichting Ebenist conference, "Reproduction and Reconstruction in Furniture Conservation

The conferences organised by Stichting Ebenist in the Netherlands, in the field of furniture and wooden object conservation, attract an international audience, and the latest conference, 8-9 November 2012, has been the most successful to date, with something like 250 delegates from over 35 countries. In the picture above all the speakers have been gathered at the end of the conference to receive the thanks of the Stichting Ebenist committee, and a small gift, this time a kit with which one can build, in miniature, a famous chair designed by Gerrit Rietveld. Temple Newsam House was well represented with the first two papers of the conference. Retired senior curator Anthony Wells-Cole talked about the research he and I have been doing in respect of the original appearance of the Japanese lacquer columns and mouldings made in the 17th century for a bed chamber in Huis ten Bosch in the Hague. After being broken up and sold in the Napoleonic Wars the columns etc. turn up in the furniture trades in Paris and London and get built into and added to pieces of furniture, including items supplied to Temple Newsam House. I gave the second paper, on the re-construction of the Queen Anne state bed at Temple Newsam. There are previous blogs about this project. It was a great privilege to be invited to stand before my peers, but an even greater privilege to tell everybody what a great museum Temple Newsam is, and support my colleagues, present, retired, moved on, and no more, in particular the late Christopher Gilbert, to whom, along with Anthony Wells-Cole, I owe my career. Christopher was one of the UK's most eminent furniture historians, and also the Director of Leeds City Art Galleries, based at Temple Newsam. There has been a long history of excellence in research, acquisitions, exhibitions and conservation at Temple Newsam, led by knowledgable and dynamic curators. There has been something of an inter-regnum as all the curator posts at Temple Newsam are vacant, but hopefully soon there will be some appointments.

Stichting Ebenist

Posted by Ian Fraser

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Re-upholstery of a Regency day-bed

A very fine early 19th century daybed, supplied to Newby Hall, North Yorkshire, probably by Thomas Chippendale the Younger, was acquired by my retired colleague James Lomax, in the early 1980s, when he was working for Manchester Art Galleries, at Heaton Hall. The upholstery was mostly missing, and no work had been done on the daybed since its acquisition for Heaton Hall. Recently Manchester City Council took the decision to close Heaton Hall and dispose of its furniture collection and the daybed was offered for display at Temple Newsam House. Its reupholstery is underway, duplicating the techniques and materials of early 19th century upholstery. Further updates in due course.

Finished! And on display in the Terrace Room.

Posted by Ian Fraser

John Harrison display at Leeds City Museum

Picture by Jeff Darken

The incalculable contribution John Harrison made to navigation science, by proving that precision timekeeping was the most practical method of determining longitude, has been written about in earlier blogs, under History of Science. The plans to display the John Harrison clock in the Leeds collections, the clock on which Harrison began his precision timekeeping research in response to the Longitude Act of 1714, are moving forward. Appropriately this new permanent display will be adjacent to the World View gallery. One of the features of the display, recently commissioned, and its manufacture under way, is a circular tablet, one metre in diameter that will be let flush into the floor adjacent to the showcase. It has been designed by the project team and it is being made in the marquetry technique by Jack Metcalfe. It will mark the longitude and latitude of its location, and the points of the compass. The line of longitude, or meridian, will be formed of a bar of brass and steel, like a bimetallic strip, one of Harrison's most significant inventions.
The grain of the oak veneer is aligned radially, like the oak cogs of Harrison's early clocks. The centre will be a disc of lignum vitae, a wood he used for friction reduction. The points of the compass will be formed in a black-coloured wood, as will be the longitude and latitude numbers. The font is called Caslon and was in common usage during the 18th century. The meridian line and line of latitude will, of course, run through the centre of the disc. The entire disc will be protected by toughed glass, and be flush to the floor.
Floor tablet completed, awaiting the stage of display development
when it can be installed.


Floor tablet installation

Showcase installation

Installations continue, LMG's Harrison precision pendulum
clock No. 2 due for installation shortly, to the left of copy movement
borrowed from the National Maritime Museum.
Leeds Harrison clock to be installed shortly,
watch this space!

Posted by Ian Fraser

Temple Newsam House, Old Testament Prophets from the Jacobean Chapel

Display development in the Red Corridor at Temple Newsam House is about displaying artefacts and features of the very old house, Elizabethan and Jacobean eras. In the 17th century there was a chapel in the basement featuring a pulpit made by Thomas Ventris of York, and several larger-than-life depictions of Old Testament prophets, painted on wood, by John Carleton, in 1636. Incredibly much of this material survived despite the room's being turned into kitchens in the late 18th century. Six of these Old Testament prophets will be going on display soon in the Red Corridor. Remedial works to the wood and painted surfaces have been underway. A framing and mounting system is being devised in the woodwork studio, something that will give a sense of how they were displayed in the first place. Further update after final installations! A little more history about the chapel and Carleton panels via the link below:

Posted by Ian Fraser

Moa Lisa going on display at Leeds City Museum

The skills set within the conservation team also includes design and sometimes manufacture of specialist mounts. These sorts of projects can present interesting technical challenges, designing a mount that will support the object correctly, for long term display. In addition to being well made, a mount should also look good, but not so much that it draws the eye from the centrepiece of the display itself. The big-footed moa is an extinct, large, flightless bird from New Zealand. There are not many specimens of their remains in existence, and we have in the collections at Leeds a pretty much intact specimen. The mount is in two parts. The armatures holding the skeleton were made by a specialist contractor, someone who specialises in mounts for natural history specimens. The elliptical base from which the metal armatures emerge was designed and made by the conservation service. The timber used is North American cherry.

Posted by Ian Fraser

The Temple Newsam Christmas Tree Star

Temple Newsam House is a bit special, so accordingly it has a special star for its Christmas Tree. The link with collections objects, is that the same decorative technique seen on many kinds of object around the house, picture frames, furniture etc. was used to gild this star. The technique is called water gilding, and the link takes you to a video about water gilding, on the website of the Victoria and Albert Museum. This star is a recent creation provided by Temple Newsam's conservation staff, not an historic object, though I guess in time it will be.

Technique of water gilding video

Posted by Ian Fraser

Friday, 30 November 2012

Golden Balls from Zermansky's pawnbrokers

Having decided to create a pawnbroker's shop within the Victorian streets when the museum was refurbished in 2001, we did not at the time have a genuine pawnbroker sign within the collections and the iconic golden balls emblem was recreated by the designers.  We were delighted then this year to be offered the real thing by Stewart and Michael Manning, sons of the last owner of Zermansky's pawnbrokers on North Street.  These were officially unveiled in their new position at Abbey House museum on Sunday 25th November, together with a plaque acknowledging the donation in memory of Pearl and Cyril Manning.

Finding the most appropriate wording for the plaque and our press release has been a very careful exercise in trying to avoid innuendo, with many references to balls and pawn shops!

As a museum it is always our aim to display genuine objects and it was interesting to find that the replica ones we have just replaced turned out to have been made from plastic toilet ballcocks. 
Zermansky's pawnbrokers business was set up by the donor's grandfather, Mark Zermansky in about 1920 and was a fixture on North Street for most of the last century.  The 1974 Consumer Credit Act put an end to the pawnbroking side of the business (it involved too much extra paperwork), but they continued as jewellers until 1981.  Both Stewart and Michael Manning remember helping out in the shop.

The museum has decided not to change the name of the pawnbroker's shop display at Abbey House to Zermansky's because the streets are displayed to represent the 1890s, and Zermansky's only opened in the 1920s.  T.A. Sowry & Son was a pawnbroking business with branches in Holbeck, New Wortley and Armley in the late 19th century.  Pawnbrokers offered short-term loans against the value of any object and this helped many Victorians get through the week until pay day.  Some were reputed to be in the habit of pawning their Sunday suit on Monday and redeeming it on Friday when the wages came in.  There has been a recent resurgence in the pawnbrokers on the high street which reflects the current economic climate.

The symbolism of the pawnbroker's three golden balls is shrouded in mystery and speculation.  It seems to have originally been based on a heraldic emblem of three money bags which was used by the Medici banking family in Florence.  There is also an unproven seasonal link to Christmas!  St Nicholas (who has mutated into Santa Claus) is said in one legend to have persuaded a family not to sell their three daughters into prostitution by posting three bags of gold down their chimney. Because of this, St Nicholas is the patron saint of pawnbrokers. This is also the suggested origin to the notion that Santa Claus brings gifts down the chimney at Christmas.
Shop on North Street, 1980

 Kitty Ross, 30th November 2012

Monday, 26 November 2012

Festive Frocks

As the holiday season is drawing near, it is the perfect time to take a look at some of the stunning party dresses in the museum’s collection. Especially nowadays, when vintage and retro styles are in vogue, it is very inspiring to gaze the fashions of the past decades.

The 1920s was of course the epitome of chic sparkly dresses, and the museum has quite a vast collection of these beaded beauties. The first dress here is a black silk chiffon evening dress with clear glass beading and a band of marabou feathers at the hem.

However, elaborate beadwork is not the only way of achieving the festive look, as is evident from this fire red devore velvet dress from second half of the 1920s. It is probably home-sewn and the cut is very simple, but the real eyecatcher here is the fabric. Caustic solution is used to dissolve parts of the velvet pile and to create an intrigue pattern resulting in a dress which is simple, but impressive.

The 1930s saw the return of the natural form emphasizing the waist and bust as well as comeback of long evening dresses. The dress below is an excellent example of the dramatic but simple style that took influence specifically from American film industry.

The striking mauve colour is combined with simple lines, low v-shaped back and huge balloon sleeves, that are supported from the inside with tulle.

The dress is decorated with sewn-on dress clips which are fitted with rhinestones set in star shapes. Dress clips were widely used to add an extra sparkle to eveningwear, and they were easy to change from one dress to another.

Another lovely example of elegant eveningwear is this green velvet dress donated by Mrs. Joyce Tetley, who had bought the dress from Madame Arthur, a dressmaker from Leeds, and worn it at receptions and other formal parties at Leeds University, during the pro-chancellorship of Brigadier J. Noel Tetley from 1956-1964.

The dress has a gorgeous embroidered bodice and open back, as well as a panel at back lined with champagne satin.

Interesting detail here are the two light pink tulle rosettes inside the dress that work as an extra padding for the bust. It is alluring to think that even the details that no-one ever saw were conducted in such meticulous and beautiful way.

This is only a small sample of all the lovely dresses in the collection so look out for more blog posts about eveningwear!

Piia Lempiäinen

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Lotherton Hall’s Oriental Gallery is being de-installed to make way for new interpretation on the history of the house.

The gallery opened on October 14 1975, as a conversion of the servant’s quarters (which included a housekeeper’s room, servants hall and gun room) in the north wing. Now, 37 years later, the plan is to reinstate these rooms, or at least an impression of them, and provide more space for informal education and a more detailed history of the house. In 1975 Lady Gascoigne, and the then director of Leeds Art Galleries, Robert Rowe, were keen to display the Frank Savery bequest of early Chinese ceramics, given to Temple Newsam in 1966, as well as the Gascoigne’s own Oriental treasures. The latter were few in number, but quite stunning to view.

The best known is the Tang period Chinese camel which “commanded the entrance” to the new gallery, and the pair of Japanese screens. The foyer before the gallery included a shop, which in early 2012 moved out of Lotherton Hall itself to the stable yard, as part of the development of a single entrance fee and more integrated offer for the whole estate.

Robert Rowe described the 1975 Oriental Gallery plans thus: ‘A great deal of thought has gone into the display units and lighting systems with the result, we hope, that the objects will be seen under conditions worthy of them. Flexibility has been a major consideration as well: to show off the beauties of a Neolithic pot, for example, it should be possible to show it in different lights and against a variety of backgrounds’ (Leeds Art Calendar 1974). A gallery view in the 1975 guide book shows a mainly cream and beige colour scheme, with contemporary low tables set against a deep red carpet, whose red was picked up by the plinths of two large island cases. The case surrounds were of polished steel or aluminium.

Two black and white photographs of the Oriental Gallery from 1975 survive, one of the same view as the colour image in the brochure, and this second one, giving a view looking back to the entrance way.

In the 1990s the colour scheme was changed by Daru Rooke, to be more sympathetic to the period interiors of the house, and to an ‘antique’ Chinese feel, using green, red and blue paint on the walls. Gilt framed paintings of boats on rivers and lovers beside lakes, by European influenced Chinese painters, were hung against the blue, and mahogany toned wood facings covered over the white metallic case edgings. Lighter grained wooden bases inside the cases improved the ambience of the chronological Chinese ceramics display.

In the last 37 years the Oriental Gallery has also hosted some major exhibitions. In the early 1980s there was an exhibition on Armorial porcelains, in the 1990s the Legacy of William Morris’ Art Pottery, in 2001 Tales from Japan, and in 2008 Chinese Treasures. 

In 1998, after several years of preparation and a donation of her own funds as seed-money, Hanna Sutcliffe wrote her booklet ‘Chinese Ceramics at Lotherton Hall, Leeds’, which was published by Leeds Museums and Galleries and has been on sale ever since. On Friday 2 November 2012 we invited her to revisit the Oriental Gallery to be filmed for our records, just before the de-install. She remains as enthusiastic in her appreciation of the collection, and talked on film about the Central or South Asian dancing boy tomb figure, the green lead glazed Han dynasty jars, a celadon tripod offering bowl and water vessel, and the cizhou ware painted pillow with the scene of the three scholars and the inscribed stele. We hope to edit this film over the next few months and publish extracts from it on the web next year.

Meanwhile a new intern with Leeds Museums and Galleries, Rane Qiaoqian (now Rane Pike), will be reviewing the Frank Savery collection, and helping us to select a range of early pieces, Sancai wares, Song tea bowls, celadons, and other stunning technical virtuosities, from his 300 plus donation for show in the Collector’s gallery at Leeds City Museum in 2013. The study alcove at the far end of what is now the Lotherton Hall Oriental Gallery will remain dedicated to Chinese ceramics, when the gallery space re-opens in its new guise later the same year.

By Antonia Lovelace, Curator (World Cultures) November 2012