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Stately home to open its doors to art history students

Thu, 17 Jan 2013

A unique opportunity to study - and stay at - one of England's finest stately homes is being offered to art history students at the University of East Anglia as part of a new collaboration.

The Stone Hall at Houghton Hall, Norfolk (Photo: The Houghton Estates 2012)

The Stone Hall at Houghton Hall, Norfolk (Photo: The Houghton Estates 2012)

The School of Art History and World Art Studies at UEA is working with The Attingham Trust for the study of historic houses and collections to offer a new Masters degree option focusing on country houses and their collections.

This will include a week of intensive residential study based at Houghton Hall in Norfolk, which was built by Britain’s first Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole and is now the home of David Cholmondeley, the 7thMarquess of Cholmondeley. During their stay students will be encouraged to explore the house and its contents and will visit other country houses in the county, where they will hear from visiting experts and curators from major London museums, such as the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Entitled At Close Quarters: The English Country House and its Collections, the new option will be offered to those applying for the History of Art MA, starting in September.

The week at Houghton Hall will be led by Dr Andrew Moore, director of the internationally-renowned Attingham Trust Summer School. The Attingham Trust is an educational charitable trust which has been offering specialised residential study courses for people working in the arts and heritage sector, such as curators, conservationists, academics and architectural historians, since 1952. Now, for the first time, this opportunity and expert guidance is being offered as part of a postgraduate degree, providing an insight into the issues encountered by owners, curators and property managers of country houses in Britain.

As well as the week at Houghton, topics addressed in At Close Quarters will include the history of British portraiture, Grand Tour collecting and the taste for Old Master paintings, the history of gardens, and the presentation and display of the country house as a visitor attraction.

Prof Bronwen Wilson, head of the School of Art History and World Art Studies, said: “This is a new and exciting collaboration that no other art department in the UK is able to offer its students. It is an unrivalled opportunity for graduates to immerse themselves in studying country houses and their collections in depth and on site, and will enable them to benefit from ‘the Attingham experience’.

“They will learn about the history, collections and management of country houses in Britain with the resources provided by UEA and the Trust, two organisations renowned for academic excellence in the study of art history and cultural heritage.”

Dr Moore said: “I am delighted to be leading The Attingham Trust’s contribution towards this new collaboration. The double module will prioritize time spent in situ in order to encourage participants to go deeper into the aspect of country house studies that attracts them most. We shall visit a number of houses in the locality in order to strengthen understanding of collections in context, encompassing works of international fine and decorative art, libraries and archives as well as landscape design. Our guest lecturers will be especially chosen for their expertise in these aspects.” 

Designed by James Gibbs and Colen Campbell and built in the 1720s, Houghton Hall is one of England’s finest Palladian houses. William Kent took charge of the interiors and each room was lavishly decorated using the finest craftsmen of the time.  It was to become a place for political entertaining on a grand scale as well as family living.

Commenting on the new collaboration, Lord Cholmondeley said: “We at Houghton are delighted to welcome Attingham once again, and hope that the week's course will be of interest and benefit to those wishing to further their knowledge of the great Norfolk houses. It is important to encourage appreciation among contemporary students of the value of learning about issues of display and presentation as well as undertaking in depth historical research and discussion in situ for their studies, especially if they are considering a future career in the heritage sector.'’

This year Houghton will be hosting a display of Old Master paintings from the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, which were sold from the house in 1779 to Catherine the Great. They will be hung in their original positions in the State Rooms, recreating how the house would have looked in Sir Robert’s time.

The School and Trust are offering four £1,000 scholarships towards the cost of the fees for students enrolled on At Close Quarters, which is an option for two of the MA’s four modules. Places are limited and further information on how to apply can be found at www.uea.ac.uk/art-history, or contact Dr Daniel Rycroft at d.rycroft@uea.ac.uk or Dr Sarah Monks at s.monks@uea.ac.uk.

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