Historic Houghton mansion in spotlight at Legion of Honor

COURTESY PHOTOJohn Singer Sargent’s portrait of Lady Sybil Sassoon is on view at "Houghton Hall: Portrait of an English Country House” at the Legion of Honor.

He introduces himself as David, but should be addressed properly as 7th Marquess of Cholmondeley, Lord Great Chamberlain of the United Kingdom.

A friendly, informal man, who looks younger than 54, Cholmondeley recently spent the day at the Legion of Honor, speaking enthusiastically of his family's home, which has an illustrious history of its own.

“I am glad to have some of Houghton here,” he said, “to be seen in San Francisco, and perhaps prompt people to visit the hall itself.”

“Houghton Hall: Portrait of an English Country House,” curated by Martin Chapman, is a rich collection of art, furniture, porcelain and silver from Houghton, one of England's grand mansions, which may remind TV viewers of Highclere Castle, of “Downton Abbey” fame.

In the exhibition, separate galleries showcase contents from Houghton's reception room, picture gallery, library and dining room. Of special interest is the gallery representing the salon; its walls are covered with a deceptively real photo reproduction of the dark crimson cut velvet in Houghton.

The great country house in Norfolk was built in the 1720s for Sir Robert Walpole (1676-1745), Britain’s first prime minister, who was a passionate collector of classical and then-contemporary paintings, tapestries and antiquities. The tradition continued when the Cholmondeley family inherited the estate in 1789.

Paintings and sculptures in the show reveal the family’s long, complex, fascinating history, including John Singer Sargent's portrait of David Cholmondeley's grandmother, Lady Sybil Sassoon, Marchioness of Cholmondeley (1894-1989).

She was born in London, to the prominent Sassoon and Rothschild families. During World War II, she became Superintendent of the Women's Royal Naval Service, and received the title Commander of the British Empire. When she married George Cholmondeley in 1913, she took notice of the condition of long neglected Houghton Hall, and soon began a grand project to restore it to its former splendor, and add significant new art.

Some of these pieces – including her commissioned Sargent portrait as well as paintings by John Wootton, William Hogarth and Thomas Gainsborough – are on view at the Legion. Also notable is Edward Burne-Jones' striking “The Prince Enters the Briar Wood,” from the Legend of the Briar Rose series.

The Sybil Sassoon gardens at Houghton, developed and dedicated by the current marquess in honor of his grandmother, were opened to the public in 1996.

IF YOU GO

Houghton Hall: Portrait of an English Country House

Where: Legion of Honor, 34th Avenue and Clement Street, S.F.

When: 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays; closes Jan. 18

Tickets: $10 to $18

Contact: (415) 750-3600, www.legionofhonor.org

Art & MuseumsartsDavid CholmondeleyHoughton Hall: Portrait of an English Country HouseLegion of Honor

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