L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Carved Room at Petworth House, West Sussex, by Charles Robert Leslie, circa 1856

Petworth House is a late 17th-century mansion, rebuilt in 1688 by Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset. The site was previously occupied by a fortified manor house founded by Henry de Percy; the 13th-century chapel and undercroft still survive. The building houses an important collection of art, including paintings by Turner - a regular visitor to Petworth - and Van Dyck, carvings by Grinling Gibbons, classical and neoclassical sculptures, including ones by John Flaxman, and wall and ceiling paintings by Louis Laguerre. 

The house stands in a 700-acre landscaped park designed by "Capability" Brown, and is one of the more famous in England, largely on account of a number of pictures of it which were painted by Turner, and is inhabited by the largest herd of fallow deer in England. For the past two-hundred and fifty years the estate has been in the hands of the Wyndham family, but the house and deer park were handed over to the nation in 1947, and are now managed by the National Trust. 

The Carved Room, named for the celebrated limewood carvings of  Grinling Gibbons which were completed in the early 1690s, has been much altered over the centuries, and looks very different today. But I adore the state presented here. And this painting, with its great swathe of sun-drenched red silk curtain trailing on the floor, is a wonderful balance of quietude and drama. It's just the kind of painting I'd like to paint, myself; it's really more me than me!


Charles Robert Leslie RA (19 October 1794, London – 5 May 1859), English genre painter. The son of American parents, he and his family returned to the Untied States and settled in Philadelphia. He was educated there and eventually apprenticed to a bookseller, but his real interests were painting and the theatre. After his great promise in the former was discovered, a fund was raised to enable him to study in Europe. In 1811, at the age of seventeen, he returned to London bearing important letters of introduction and was admitted as a student of the Royal Academy, where he would win two silver medals. At first he seemed destined to join the ranks of history painters, but soon discovered his real talent was as a painter of cabinet pictures, most often illustrating the great works of literature. He also painted portraits and completed several important commissions for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Leslie married in 1825 and he and his wife had six children. In 1826 he was elected a full member of the Royal Academy, and the following year he was elected to the new National Academy of Design in New York as an honorary academician. In 1833, he returned to America to assume the position of teacher of drawing at  the West Point military academy but, unhappy there, only six months later he returned to England, where he would remain until his death at the age of sixty-four.


  1. Odd that such a grand room could seem so charming! All in how the artist captures it.

  2. There's nothing so enticing in a painting or photo as an open doorway—suggesting possibility.

  3. JMW Turner who was a sort of unofficial artist in residence at Petworth painted the Carved Room too, but it was almost impressionistic compared with Charles Robert Leslie's approach.

    I was in that room a few years ago, enthralled by the Grinling Gibbons carvings, but slightly repelled, and shall I tell you why?
    Those 'starved' wood carvings gave off a very, very strange smell! 'Musty' wouldn't begin to describe it. So that whenever I see the room, even in this charming painting ,that is ALL I can think of….

  4. Oh dear, and I have a very sensitive nose...!

    As I understand it, a lot of the carvings are by another, lesser hand, added after Gibbons' death to give the room more oomph. Also, as you know, not only did Turner paint the room, there are nineteen or so of his paintings - in - the room. Which necessitated even more carving to frame them in the paneling. From what I've seen of more recent views of the room, it now looks nothing at all like it does in Leslie's painting; more's the pity...!