Last week we held our first open book afternoon of the season, in total we hope to run 4 of these events this year. They give visitors the opportunity to get to see some of the books open and give them the chance to peruse the contents and see that not all the collection was bought by the yard.
This week we decided to focus on Mrs Greville’s passion for Art. In the library, tucked away in the east corner, is a beautiful set of books all about Dutch masters, British Portrait artists, miniatures, the National Gallery collection and much much more. These books are beautiful to behold and any book geek (like myself) will get excited by these leather beauties. Several of the volumes are so huge you need a book support to be able to read them comfortably, others are smaller and wouldn’t look out of place on your bookshelves at home. Each one is cleaned and condition checked every year by our wonderful volunteer book team (see my post about the library here).
What is really remarkable about these books is whats inside. These books were obviously important to Mrs G, as inside many of them we find her handwriting marking important pages with wonderful snippets of information.
There are volumes dedicated to lots of very well know artists including Sir Joshua Reynolds, Raeburn, Lawrence, Gainsborough, Rembrant and Turner. These volumes give an excellent overview of the artists work. The books contain prints of each of the works and even lists of who owned each painting. The open book afternoon is not just an opportunity for visitors to look at the books but our volunteers are all also fascinated. We ourselves had not realised that inside the Raeburn volume Mrs Greville had written “purchased by Margaret Greville” on the page with a print of the Patterson children, which still hangs on the dining room wall at Polesden Lacey. At the time the volume was written in 1903 the painting was still in the hands of the Patterson family. We know that Mrs Greville bought “the Patterson Family” in 1918 and have a record of the amount she paid.
Mrs Greville recorded each of her purchases in a stunning little leather notenook by Smythson. This “my pictures” book was obviously part of a set aimed at the upper echelons of society with other notebooks available called “my jewels” “royal court diary” and “servants wages”. Last year we had this book digitized and we were able to have a digital copy available for visitors to flick through, something we just couldn’t do with the original. As you can see above Mrs Greville paid £23,000 for the Patterson Children which is over £1.4 million in today’s money and was her most expensive purchase next to the estate itself.
Its lovely to see Mrs Greville’s own handwriting as she proudly notes down her purchases in both the smythson notebook and within her books. As time goes on we discover more and more fascinating things when cleaning the books in the library and we aim to continue sharing those with you during open book afternoons.
The next Open Book afternoon will be on July 16 where we hope to explore Mrs Greville and her connections to the great and the good including the Royal Family.