6 October 2022

Despite complications caused by rail strikes, a small group made it to Mount Stuart, the extraordinary house designed for the 3rd Marquess of Bute by Robert Rowand Anderson, the interiors of which were in fact never completed after the death of the Marquess. The morning was taken up with a tour of the house, with its views across the Clyde although somewhat shrouded in rain clouds, with its myriad interior details such as the door furniture, light fittings and tapestries, as well as a fine display of Scottish eighteenth-century silver in the dining room. The interiors were enhanced at a later date by carefully considered additions to some of the decorative schemes made by 6th Marquess of Bute.

Cover of Lord Bute’s water bottle, London, 1880, by Jess Barkentin and Carl Krall, silver-gilt and enamel

In the afternoon we were given a tour by Jessica Insley, Curator of the collections, of the small but remarkable exhibition Fantasy to Fabrication, 19th century design at Mount Stuart showing pieces from the family collection, designed by William Burges for the 3rd Marquess, such as the remarkable Cat Cup (1867), with its carved rock crystal body, in conjunction with their original design drawings. Other Burges-designed pieces in the exhibition included the key to the house in its original case, and a gem-set brooch made to mark the marriage of the Marquess to Gwendolen Fitzalan-Howard, a figural cruet (1877) by Jess Barkentin and a water flask encased in pierced and engraved silver-gilt (1880) by Barkentin and Krall, with a cover decorated with vivid enamels. It was a rare and wonderful opportunity to see the extraordinary quality of the craftsmanship in conjunction with the meticulously detailed drawings, with their careful annotations and instructions made for one of the most intriguing patrons of the nineteenth century.