Falling in love with the old art a pair of eccentrics turned their London house into a fantastic “kunstkammer” of curiosities.
For both these gentlemen, the love of antiquity is not a matter of leisure, but of profession. Tim Knox was the chief curator of the National Trust guarding the British sights, then director of Sir John Soane’s Museum, and now heads the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Todd Longstaff-Gowen is a specialist in the history of landscape art, among others, restoring the famous Boboli Gardens in Florence.
“There are purist collectors who respect the purity of the genre,” Todd says. “But we like it when everything is mixed up.” Their four-story dwelling, Malplaquet House, is packed to the top with picturesque piles of antiques, among which you can find, for example, the Vendee portrait, the death mask of Napoleon and the tiled horse from the roof of the imperial palace in Beijing.
The tone is set by the entrance hall, where the faded wall decoration of 250 years ago is barely visible between numerous antiquities and hunting trophies. “Here it is,” Tim points to the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, “an inscription that adorns the foot of the Great Sphinx in Giza.”
In the next dimly lit room, the subject continues with a huge Egyptian sarcophagus, which appeared in the company of a portraits made for Queen Charlotte in 1785, and baroque portraits of aristocratic nuns (Knox, raised in Catholicism, retained an addiction to the corresponding aesthetics). And also a fireplace, the stylized plaster molding of which depicts the owners themselves and their two dachshunds. The skull that adorns the fireplace is real: it was found on ruins after the demolition of the YMCA building on Tottenham Court Road (“We believe that it is the remains of some unpopular trainer,” Todd says).
Further in the same vein: in the next room, for example, skulls of a zebra, a crocodile and an elephant are adorned, and Queen Maria-Anna, the mother of the mad king of Spain Charles l II, looks down from the wall to the collection of architectural models, with the death of which in 1701 the war for the Spanish inheritance.
By the way, one of the battles of this war, the Battle of Malplaquet, gave the name to this London house. Whether because of the fact that in 1744 the widow of the merchant settled here as a “souvenir” of that war, whether because of the next tenant, retired military doctor.
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Some of their acquisitions can be seen in major museums: for example, in the Edinburgh National Gallery, the marble bust of Walter Scott’s work by Bertel Thorvaldsen is on display, which they bought at a flea market for £ 150.
To break down at the house some Mannerist micro-park (that it was possible to expect) did not become. Before the house grow roses, wisteria, olives, fig trees and evergreen shrubs, behind the house – clematis, boxwood and ferns, and vegetation is given complete freedom. Especially ferns, which are also antiques in their own way, only botanical, reminds Todd: “They grew up already with dinosaurs. Well, how can I not love them? ”
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