We step out of the shuttle bus and there before us in the distance is the magnificent Waddesdon Manor. An extravagant French Renaissance Chateau built on a huge scale complete with round towers, columns, turrets and pinnacles.
Ferdinand de Rothschild purchased Waddesdon Manor farming estate in 1874 from the Duke of Marlborough. It is still fully furnished and Ferdinand spent over twenty years maintaining and embellishing it with objets d’art; today it houses one of the finest private art and furniture collections in England.
We step over the arched threshold and passed the hallways on either side of the entrance vestibule; before us is a sumptuous dining room where we begin our tour.
Inspired by Louis XIV’s state apartments in Versailles, this experience can only be described as an assault on the senses. Sparkling crystal chandeliers hang from the ceiling and each wall is rich with gilded mirrors, Dutch paintings and Beauvais tapestries. The dim lighting adds to the effect and is apparently important in preserving the collection. I find myself needing to stand still on the Savonnerie carpet and simply pause to take in its aesthetic richness.
As we leave this room, we are greeted by a white marble statue of Orpheus playing the lute then step through the conservatory into the Baron’s room. Panelled wall to wall, it is furnished to 18th century Parisian taste. The central chandelier steals the show and its diameter is as wide as the table. The furniture and porcelain is an eclectic mix and I spot some classical mythological statues beside Ferdinand’s favourite armchair.
The guide shows me a grand ornately decorated roll top desk with gold classical statues at it legs. Made in the 1770’s, the guide explains that it is one of Waddesdon Manor’s greatest treasures upon which the writer Beaumarchais wrote The Marriage of Figaro and the Barber of Seville. The marquetry on the desk panels is painstakingly detailed in imagery.
We turn into the Grey Drawing room, a typical 18th century boudoir where guests would relax, play cards or listen to music. A Reynolds portrait of the Duchess of Cumberland catches my eye. She has a certain beauty and Horatio Walpole once described her eyes as “enchanting.”
I spot three vases beneath the painting and step closer. The guide notices my eye for detail as I marvel at the pink vases trimmed in gold and decorated with miniature scenes; he tells me about the technical challenges in combining the Rose Pompadour colour with the gold paint.
Every single wall and piece of furniture is richly decorated and packed with visual imagery, colour, textures and lines. I am immersed in an environment of dense aesthetics and artifice. I try to see passed the roped barriers and visitors filing through each room and get a sense of what it must have felt to live in such opulent surroundings.
I climb the spiral staircase treading the soft red carpet under my feet as I look out through the tall windows onto the huge lawns and rolling countryside.