The Whig Dining Room

img_0282 British architect Robert Adam designed the Lansdowne House for Prime Minister John Stuart in the 1760s. Stuart sold it before completion around 1768 to William Petty-Fizmaurice, Earl of Shelburne, who used his new home as a gathering place for Whig politicians. When Landsowne was converted into a club in 1930, the dining room was sold and transported to the Met in 1931, where it was rebuilt as a mirror image of its original self, due, according to explanatory text, “to the exigencies of space.”

As it stands now, the room is a grand hyper-Classical space with fluted columns and period (though not original) furniture of mahogany and leather. This is one of a very few spaces in the museum with columns, and the Met’s floor plan renders them as tiny dark blue dots. It’s a place where I can imagine mustachioed men of power complaining about the burden of being very, very rich, while servants roll their eyes and wonder just how difficult it would be to fatally poison a member of Parliament.

A dinner table sits beneath an overwrought chandelier; classical statuary flanks diners. The bluish gray walls and ceiling are beautifully decorated with ornate vegetal and nautical molding. Rigid griffins preen and fluted fans and egg-and-dart motifs cover the surfaces like lichen. A grisaille over-mantel painting momentarily fools you into thinking it’s bas-relief carving.

The Met does reassembled architecture well, but these resituated places always feel off to me. Landsowne shares a west wall with Central Park; on its north side, black fabric covers a floor-to-ceiling window, obscuring what would otherwise be a surreal view of the American Wing Café.

The Dining Room from the Landsowne House

Highlight: The wine cooler made of old-growth hardwood, not high-fructose corn syrup and malt liquor.

Memorable quote: “Lansdowne House, designed by Robert Adam and situated in the Southwest corner of Berkeley Square, London, was begun for Prime Minster John Stuart, third Earl of Bute, who sold it, unfinished, about 1765 to William Petty-Fitzmaurice (1737-1805), Earl of Shelburne, later first Marquess of Lansdowne and a leading Whig statesman of the period.” From the text for 32.12

Next Week: Cubism! Cubism! Cubism!

Here is a sad griffin I saw walking to the Museum. I was. I was walking to the museum. The griffin, who’d just been abandoned by the love of his life, was lying there in pieces.

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