The Fred Packard Museum & Galleries of British Sporting Art at Palace House
Dr Cicely Robinson played a key role in the transformation of Palace House. Last October, she completed her three-year term as the Assistant Curator of British Sporting Art. Now settled in her new job as the Assistant Curator at the Watts Gallery - Artists’ Village in Surrey we asked Cicely for her thoughts about the development, now the home of the British Sporting Art Trust.
What can you tell me about the location of the gallery?
The Fred Packard Museum and Galleries of Sporting Art is a newly opened art gallery, situated in the remaining portion of Charles II’s Newmarket palace. The King was a passionate sportsman. Throughout his reign he would regularly travel to Newmarket with the royal court to enjoy the racing and rural pursuits. His royal residence, which was designed by the gentleman architect William Samwell in 1668-1671, was specifically built to accommodate the King and his court on these outings. Today, all that remains of this sporting palace is the King’s Lodgings. Now better known as Palace House, this Stuart palace provides the most unique setting for an art gallery dedicated to British Sporting Art.
How long has it taken to create the opening display in Palace House?
It has taken about three years to develop the first hang in Palace House. However, the overall idea to create a permanent home for British sporting art is something that the British Sporting Art Trust has been working towards for nearly 40 years.
What can visitors expect to see?
Palace House is a celebration of British sporting art and visual culture through the ages. This begins with the seventeenth century and the early origins of the genre. The rest of the first floor explores the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries - a golden age for rural sports in Britain. Visitors can see works by leading sporting artists like John Wootton and George Stubbs, who spearheaded the development of a thoroughly British school of sporting art. However, it’s not just about fine art. From sporting prints to decorative art and even furniture, the gallery explores how sporting imagery impacted on all levels of British visual culture.
The second floor of the palace begins in the later nineteenth century with the growth of leisure in Victorian times and the fashion for new garden games like croquet and tennis. Big sporting events also provide a great source of artistic inspiration.
By the early twentieth century, in response to periods of war and endless industrialisation, artists like Lionel Edwards and Sir Alfred Munnings present a nostalgic vision of rural sporting England. The final gallery moves into the twenty-first century to explore the many ways in which contemporary artists continue to be inspired by sport.
Where are all the paintings from?
As a truly national celebration of the genre, the opening hang exhibits works on loan from public and private collections from across the UK. This includes works from Tate, V&A, National Galleries Scotland, Manchester City Galleries, MCC and the British Council to name just a few. In addition, Palace House also provides a new home for the entirety of the British Sporting Art Trust’s fine and decorative art collection.
What sort of challenges did you encounter when working with this historic building?
As an historic building, Palace House has presented a number of challenges. On a very basic level, the small doorways and narrow access routes have made the installation of art works more than a little challenging at times. From the outset, size has been a major consideration when selecting works of art. However, we’ve been able to
overcome this with the help of a team of professional art handlers and the occasional installation of a scaffold or two!
On the first floor, the walls are covered
with historic wooden panelling which
has meant that we can’t attach anything directly to the walls. This is why works are hung on chains like in a country house. One advantage of the chain system however is that it has allowed us to create a double hang (with works hung one on top of the other). This heritage-style arrangement is much more in keeping with the way in which works would once have lined the walls of this royal palace. It’s also made it possible to display many more works across the first floor of the gallery.
Finding a way to fit these works together in this jigsaw-like display was one of the greatest challenges, especially when so many of the paintings are on loan from public and private collections. I would like to tell you that we used some sophisticated hi-tech solution to overcome this challenge but at the end of the day it actually boiled down to a paper model, lots of scaled-down cut-out
paintings and an inordinate amount of blu tac! It may be low-tech but it’s effective.
What aids are available when visiting the galleries?
Two audio tours are on offer in Palace House. The general tour explores the wealth of history associated with the building itself. It also takes a more in-depth look at the picture hang. Alternatively, in the Family Tour you can join Charles II and his horse Blew Capp on an adventure around the remains of this royal residence.
Do you have a favourite work and why?
It’s too difficult to choose just one work. The early sporting weapons that are on
display in the Rothschild Room (on loan from the Fitzwilliam Museum) are really interesting objects.
Lucy Kemp Welch’s Colt Hunting in the New Forest (Tate) which hangs at the top of the main staircase is certainly a personal highlight. The dynamic way in which Kemp-Welch captures the movement of horses on such a large scale is quite remarkable.
Any final thoughts?
The creation of an art gallery within the remains of a royal palace is an extremely rare and unique project and I am thrilled to have been a part of it. I am so pleased that British Sporting Art Trust has finally realised its long-standing ambition to create a permanent home for British sporting art.
I would like to take this opportunity thank all those involved in the development of the art gallery for their support and guidance over the last three years. Specifically, thanks to all my colleagues at the NHRM, our dedicated team of volunteers, the Palace House Hang Committee and the British Sporting Art Trust. I would also like to thank the Arts Council and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art for funding the Assistant Curator post.
We would like to thank Cicely for making this blog possible.
For more information on joining the BSAT visit the website.