Chiswick-HouseAn icon of the Georgian era, Chiswick House in west London is one of the pre-eminent examples of neo-Palladian architecture in Britain and exemplifies the elegance of the time.

Designed by Richard Boyle, the third Earl of Burlington (1694-1753), the two storey, domed villa was inspired by what Lord Burlington had seen of ancient and sixteenth century architecture during his tours of Italy – in particular the work of Andrea Palladio – as well as the work of Palladio admirer, famed English architect Inigo Jones (his statue along with that of Palladio can be seen outside),

Chiswick-House2It was constructed in the 1720s, most likely between 1727 and 1729, on a site which had been purchased by the first Earl of Burlington (his grandfather) in 1682 and which was already occupied by a Jacobean-era house (this property, which the third Earl significantly renovated, was eventually pulled down in 1788). The interiors were designed by William Kent in collaboration with Burlington and feature luxurious rooms with velvet-covered walls such as the magnificently restored Blue Velvet Room.

The exact purpose of the property remains something of a mystery – it’s been suggested it was built to as a pavilion for private contemplation, grand entertainments and to house the Earl’s art collection and the fact it had no kitchen is supportive of such a conclusion. But there is evidence it was also used as a functioning house – the fact Lady Burlington died in her bedchamber in the premises in 1758 and the link which was eventually built by Lord Burlington between it and the older property on the estate are suggestive of this.

Chiswick-House3Whatever its purpose, the architectural and artistic masterpiece was complemented by formal gardens which Lord Burlington, again, along with the aid of Kent, extensively altered to create a highly planned but naturalistic-looking landscape. Known as the “birthplace of the English Landscape Movement”, the gardens have influenced everyone from ‘Capability’ Brown to the design of New York City’s Central Park.

Following Lord Burlington’s death in 1753, the house passed into the hands of his grandson, the fifth Duke of Devonshire (his wife was the rather infamous Duchess Georgiana). He extended the house into a large mansion, adding new wings (these weren’t removed until the 1950s) and improved the gardens, adding the stone bridge (pictured) that still stands over the lake.

Upon the fifth Duke’s death in 1811, the house passed into the hands of the sixth Duke, known as the ‘Bachelor Duke’. He made considerable use of the property and guests included Tsar Alexander I of Russia, King Fredrick William III of Prussia, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and Tsar Nicholas I (again, of Russia). The Bachelor Duke also extended the grounds and brought a range of exotic animals into them, including an elephant, kangaroos and emus.

Upon his death in 1858, he left the property to his sister and after her death only four years later, it was subsequently let to some rather high-brow tenants including the Prince of Wales who received the Shah of Persia there in 1873,

The estate was eventually sold by the ninth Duke to the Middlesex County Council and after the war, gifted to the Minister of Works. In 1984, care for the house was transferred to English Heritage. The gardens are now owned by the London Borough of Hounslow.

Along with the Chiswick House and Gardens Trust, English Heritage recently completed a £12 million restoration of the gardens which, this year will host the fourth annual Camellia Festival next month. But this stunning property is well worth a visit any time of the year.

WHERE: Chiswick House, Burlington Lane, Chiswick (nearest Tube station is Turnham Green/nearest train station is Chiswick);  WHEN: 10am to 4pm Saturday and Sunday (until 31st March); COST: £5.90 adults/£3.50 children (5-15 years)/£5.30 concession/£15.30 family; WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/chiswick-house/ or www.chgt.org.uk.

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The second annual Camellia Festival kicks off in  gardens surrounding the neo-Palladian property, Chiswick House,  in west London this weekend. The month long festival, run by the Chiswick House & Gardens Trust, was kicked off in 2011 with the aim of showcasing Chiswick’s world renowned Camellia Collection, believed to be the largest in the Western world. Following the success of last year’s festival following a £12.1 million garden restoration project, the flowers will once again be on display in the Conservatory (designed by Samuel Ware in 1813). Complementing the display of camellias will be a showcase of early spring flowers planted in the newly restored Italian Garden (originally created for the 6th Duke of Devonshire in 1814, it was, at the time, at the forefront of horticultural fashion). The Camellia Collection, meanwhile, includes rare and historically significant plants featuring pink, red, white and striped blooms, many of which are descended from the original planting in 1828. Among them is the Middlemist’s Red which was originally brought to Britain from China in 1804 by John Middlemist, a nurseryman from Shepherds Bush. It is one of only two in the world known to exist (the other is in Waitangi in New Zealand). The festival runs from the 18th February to the 18th March.  Admission charge applies. For more information, see www.chgt.org.uk. PICTURE:  The Middlemist’s Red Camellia at Chiswick House © Clare Kendall.

• On Now: Picasso and Modern British Art. This exhibition at Tate Britain explores the influence of Spanish artist Pablo Picasso on British art and the role this played in the acceptance of modern art in Britain as well as celebrating the connections Picasso made with Britain following his first London visit in 1919. It features more than 150 works including 60 by Picasso, among them Weeping Woman and The Three Dancers, as well as works by the likes of Duncan Grant, Wyndham Lewis, Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore, Francis Bacon, Graham Sutherland and David Hockney. Runs until 15th July. Admission charge applies. For more information, see www.tate.org.uk

On Now: Mondrian || Nicholson in Parallel. This show at the Courtauld Gallery tells the story of the extraordinary relationship between celebrated 20th century painter Piet Mondrian and Ben Nicholson, one of the UK’s greatest modern artists. The exhibition will follow the parallel artistic paths taken by the two artists in the 1930s and their subsequent creative relationship. Each of the works selected for the exhibition have a particular historical significance and the presentation also includes archival material such as photographs and letters. Admission charge applies. For more information, see www.courtauld.ac.uk.