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VENETIAN SCHOOL, LATE 18TH CENTURY
Eight views of Venice
Venetian School, late 18th Century
Eight views of Venice
S. 15½ x 22 in. (39.5 x 56 cm.) (8)
Stephane Boudin at 5 Belgrave Square:
Property of a Lady, a descendant of the late Sir Henry "Chips" Channon (1897-1958)
"Among the commissions that gave Maison Jansen its status as the world's greatest decorating house, the dining room of 5 Belgrave Square has no rival"
These ambitious superlatives are the opening words with which James Archer Abbott, the historian of the Parisian decorating firm Maison Jansen, began his description of the interiors of 5 Belgrave Square. They were created in 1935-36 by the legendary French decorator Stéphane Boudin for the Anglo-American politician and diarist Sir Henry 'Chips' Channon (1897-1958) and his heiress wife, Lady Honor Guinness. Their extraordinary rococo dining room was inspired by the Amalienburg, a hunting lodge in the park of Nymphenburg Palace, near Munich. Although the interiors of 5 Belgrave Square are now chiefly remembered for this dining room, the remainder of the house was decorated in a very fashionable combination of Regency and Empire style, with furniture and objects of a most suitable type, some of it offered here.
The Channons had married in July 1933 and at first lived at 21 St. James's Place, near her parents in St. James's Square. They decided to buy 5 Belgrave Square on 23 March 1935 and in his diary for that day Chips described it as having 'a distinguished air and we will make it comfortable'. They bought it from Mr. Victor Hanbury, possibly the British film producer, and only six days later Chips spent much of the day at the house 'buying bibelots, etc., from the collection of the dotty bankrupt present owner'. James Archer Abbott suggests that Chips may already have had the inspiration for the Amalienburg room while writing his successful royal biography The Ludwigs of Bavaria, published in 1933 (op.cit., p. 98). This seems plausible, given that by 17 June, only three months after the decision to buy the house, Chips was able to write that they hoped to do their dining room in that style. However, Boudin had already installed salvaged Viennese rococo paneling in Sir Philip Sassoon's London house in 1934, so he may have had the idea himself. Whatever the original conception, Chips was absolutely delighted with the decoration of the house and his descriptions of dinner parties in 1936-1938 make it clear that the room itself was a frequent part of the conversation within it.
Undoubtedly the most important of dinner parties was that given in honour of King Edward VIII on the 11 June 1936. The minutiae of the royal party are recorded in some detail:
"Dinner was perfect, we began with Blinis and caviar then Sole Muscat followed by Bouef Provençal. It was served so speedily that we had finished before eleven...I then moved over to the King and we talked à trois, he, Duff and I, about the Amalienburg dining room which he was in ectasies over. He and Honor had got on very well together at dinner, and she liked him and happened to show him her 'map' cigarette case which I made for her, and the King produced his saying 'I must confess mine is a copy of yours'. They were almost identical. The room was full of glamour and candlelight, everybody was gay and a little elated...
At last the two musicians from the Ritz appeared and they began to play Austrian music and eventually Jazz. The King asked Mrs Simpson to dance, but she politely refused....
I was sad when it was over, it was the very peak, the summit I suppose. The King of England dining with me!"
King Edward VIII was not the only royal visitor to the Channons at Belgrave Square - the 17 July of the same year saw Queen Mary take tea:
"We came into the Morning Room...then began a minute detailed examination of the house, the Queen at once revealing her very great knowledge and flair for pictures, furniture and bibelots...
There was not a piece of furniture, not a rug or chair which she failed to notice and comment on...I have never known such praise".
Boudin created two somewhat related rooms that acted as ante-rooms to the dining room itself but the remainder of the house was a supreme example of the Regency taste that had been popularised in the years after the First World War by an elite group of collectors led by the playwright Edward Knoblock (1874-1945). Knoblock was from 1897 a pioneer in reviving the taste for Regency furniture and he bought extensively at the Thomas Hope sale in 1917. The taste became more widespread after 1918 and of a slightly younger generation was the architect Lord Gerald Wellesley (1885-1972), Surveyor of the King's Works of Art from 1936-43. By the mid-1930s the taste for Regency and Empire style was fairly well-established. In the hands of Stéphane Boudin and the Channons in Belgrave Square it reached a high point for the period. The first floor of the house was opened into one great room but with subtly distinct styles in each. The Library front, overlooking the square itself, contained bookcases designed by Lord Gerald and Trenwith Wills, an architectural partnership that also worked at the Channons' country house in 1937-38. The neo-classical panels by Michael Gibbon (lot 33) were arranged over the bookcases and also inset into the overmantel of this part of the room. The original 19th century ceiling was picked out in gold and two shades of pale blue, and the already pale effect must have been strengthened by white silk curtains, of a pattern copied from some in red silk at Clandon Park, Surrey. This last detail was an act of family piety, a nod to Lady Honor's grandparents' home. Divided from the Library by nothing more substantial than a R/aecamier chaise longue was the back Drawing Room. It contained an astonishing overmantel painting of a classical figure by Rex Whistler, flanked by the cabinets, lot 50. The original design for Whistler's overmantel surfaced at Christie's in the 1980s (Private Collection) and its quite substantial differences with the executed painting reveal a process that perhaps involved both artist and patron. The Country Life photographs of the other rooms in the house, some unpublished at the time, show that the clean Regency or Empire theme continued throughout, particularly in Lady Honor's bedroom.
The house was damaged by bombing in 1944, with the dining room apparently suffering particularly. It was restored in time for Harold Nicolson to attend a VE night party there in May 1945. It was sold after the war and had the dismal fate perhaps typical of houses of its type and size, the home successively of the Institute of Directors and the British Plastics Federation. It was restored to private use in the 1990s. Its Channon contents have embellished successive family houses and have been augmented from other Guinness houses.
Private Collections & Country House Sales