It’s impossible not to be amazed by Waddesdon Manor. Leaving behind the picturesque Buckinghamshire village that shares its name, you travel along a drive that crosses parkland and spirals up a densely wooded hill. Then suddenly, there it is, in all its extravagantly pinnacled and turreted glory: a French Renaissance-style chateau, improbably perched on a Home Counties hill.
The surprise visitors feel at Waddesdon’s sudden emergence is exactly what its creator Ferdinand de Rothschild intended. ‘It’s all an amazing piece of theatre,’ explains Rachel Jacobs, curator at Waddesdon. ‘The house was never built to be lived in, just for weekend house parties during the summer months. If you were a guest here, you would experience the collection, visit the Renaissance Museum, then the novelties in the grounds, such as the Glasshouses, Aviary and the German-themed Dairy, where you might try your hand at milking cows that had Meissen name tags.’
With the help of French architect Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur, it took Ferdinand six years to transform the featureless estate he had bought from the Duke of Marlborough into an extravagantly landscaped French-themed fantasy.
RED DRAWING ROOM
The Savonnerie carpet in the Red Drawing Room is an exact replica of the original, which is now in storage. The reproduction is so precise, it even includes signs of wear. The carpet, originally made for Louis XIV for the Long Gallery at the Louvre, is one of 93 in the collection at Waddesdon.
GREY DRAWING ROOM
The Grey Drawing Room, is where Ferdinand’s guests were entertained after dinner. The walls are lined with painted panelling bought from an 18th-century Parisian house. The portrait of Lady Jane Halliday (right) is one of three in the room by Sir Joshua Reynolds.
The table in the Dining Room is laid as it would have been during one of Ferdinand’s famous weekend house parties with extravagant flower arrangements and a Meissen dinner service. The 18th-century rococo mirrors were designed by Nicolas Pineau.
THE GREY DRAWING ROOM'S FIREPLACE
Sumptuously gilded seating is arranged with 18th-century Sèvres plaque furniture, such as the secretaire to the right of the fireplace. The vases on the mantelpiece are in a highly prized colour known in Ferdinand’s day as Rose Pompadour.
RARE SÉVRES VASE
Ferdinand bought the Sèvres Pot Pourri vase in the shape of a ship when he was just 21, before he came into his inheritance.
Ferdinand’s portrait sits on an easel in front of Gainsborough’s portrait of Francis Nicholls, The Pink Boy, 1782
A PRINCELY DESK
The roll-top desk in the Morning Room is by Jean-Henri Riesener and was originally made for Louis XVI’s brother, the Comte de Provence.
THE PORTICO BEDROOM
The Portico Bedroom, where Winston Churchill once stayed. It was the only bedroom with a balcony, much favoured by male guests as they could slip outside to smoke, evading the ‘no smoking’ rule in the house. The bed dates from the late 19th century and the sumptuous drapes are thought to be French.
THE BARON'S ROOM
A marble bust of Queen Victoria by the sculptor Joseph Edgar Boehm was presented by the queen after her visit to Waddesdon in 1890.
The full feature on Waddesdon Manor by Janet Gleeson appeared in the October 2017 issue of Homes & Antiques. Back issues are still available. To purchase a copy click here.
Images: Christopher Drake