The stately homes of England seem about to reconquer the United States for Squire Western, the Duke of Omnium, and Lord Marchmain. That, at least, is the impression conveyed by the splendid exhibition, “The Treasure Houses of Britain,” in Washington. Thirty-five thousand square feet of gallery space have been given over to it; more than seven hundred works of art from over two hundred houses are on display; the Ford Motor Company alone has subsidized it with a sum in excess of one million dollars; and 700,000 visitors are eagerly and confidently expected before the exhibition closes. Now that the inaugural festivities are over, this may be an appropriate time to take a closer and more critical look, not only at the exhibition itself, but also at the broader British background to it, and at the real aims and objectives of those responsible for staging it.
It has become a platitude of modern British history that one of its most significant themes is a profound and pervasive hostility to industry and to urban life. By the late eighteenth century, people came to feel that they had largely mastered the natural world, and this, combined with the major impact of the industrial revolution on the landscape, led to an important shift in attitudes toward the countryside. Men and women of all classes increasingly saw it no longer as a wilderness to be tamed but as a Garden of Eden—threatened not so much by the serpent as by the dark, satanic mill—which must be preserved. At all levels of society, from the Chartists to the Fabians to High Tory paternalists, a veneration for green fields, village communities, and high mountains became commonplace, as reflected in the paintings, the prose, and the poetry of so many writers and artists during the last two hundred years. Indeed, the cult of the countryside seems about to supersede the rising middle classes as the all-purpose explanation for modern British history: for the economic growth of the Industrial Revolution no less than for the economic decline that followed; for fox hunters at one extreme and for animal liberationists at the other.
One way to treat this subject more precisely is to look at the timing and tone of these romantic, rural impulses as embodied in the cult of the country house during the last hundred years. Since the 1870s, the British economy has experienced three major downturns, each one known to contemporaries as the “great depression”: during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, between the end of the First World War and the beginning of the Second, and in the long, lean years after 1974. Like all historical happenings, slumps never repeat themselves exactly, but these three depressions share many common characteristics: unacceptably high levels of unemployment, both cyclical and structural; the loss of overseas and domestic markets to international competitors; complaints that entrepreneurial effort was insufficient and that worker productivity was inadequate; renewed awareness of the blight, poverty, and deprivation in big cities; hunger marches, riots, strikes, and other expressions of urban unrest; and a widespread sense of unease, pessimism, and anxiety, which hardly needs laboring in the aftermath of Handsworth and Brixton.
But these three recessions have also had a much broader impact on the country. In politics, they have in each case coincided with a significant shift to the right: from Gladstonian liberalism to the age of Lord Salisbury, from Asquith and Lloyd George to the era of Baldwin, and from Wilson’s “New Britain” to the regime of Mrs. Thatcher. In part, this is because depression divides the left, and so lets the Conservatives in: Salisbury profited from Liberal disarray in the aftermath of Home Rule; Baldwin from the interwar confusion engendered by Liberal decline and Labour’s infirmity; and Thatcher from an opposition vote split between Labour and the Social Democratic and Liberal Alliance.
But there are also more positive reasons why recession in Britain seems to favor reaction rather than revolution. Economic crises make most men and women increasingly cautious; safety first becomes a more appealing slogan than the new frontier; retrenchment, self-interest, and conformity triumph over expansiveness, openhandedness, and dissent. It was, after all, the undergraduates of the prosperous Sixties and early Seventies who aspired to change the world; today their successors are more concerned to get good grades so they can get good jobs.
But there is also a distinctive cultural climate engendered by each of these depressions in turn. It is hardly coincidence that the late nineteenth century was the time when Elgar was composing his most elegiac music, when Lutyens was designing his most romantic houses, and when a variety of conservationist bodies and pastoral publicists like the National Trust and Country Life were coming into being. In the interwar years, the Council for the Preservation of Rural England was set up; writers as diverse as G.M. Trevelyan, P.G. Wodehouse, and Hugh Walpole were praising the hedgerows; and Stanley Baldwin appeared as Lord Emsworth incarnate, puffing his pipe, poking his pigs, and telling everyone that the true spirit of England was the sight and sound and smell of the countryside. And in our own time, the same sentiments have reemerged: witness the expert and popular books of Mark Girouard on English country houses and the extraordinary success of Brideshead on television; the hue and cry raised by the preservationist lobbies over the sale of Mentmore (in vain) and Calke Abbey (much more successfully); and the passing of the National Heritage Act and the raising of the Mary Rose, the latter acclaimed by some as almost comparable to regaining the Falklands.
All this suggests a recognizable and distinctive public mood, which has twice come and gone, and which is now firmly entrenched in Britain once again: withdrawn, nostalgic, and escapist, preferring conservation to development, the country to the town, and the past to the present. Not surprisingly, the version of the past that catches and crystallizes these sentiments is itself as conservative as the prevailing political climate. No one would describe Elgar or Trevelyan as radicals. The committees of the great preservationist societies were—and still are—groaning beneath the weight of great grandees. The idea of a “national” heritage which is somehow “threatened” and must be “saved” is sometimes little more than a means of preserving an essentially elite culture by claiming—often quite implausibly—that it is really everybody’s. The claim is usually accompanied by a highly value-laden version of the past, not so much history as myth, in which there is no room (and no need) for dissent or a different point of view. And the result is a neonostalgic, pseudopastoral, manufactured world, a picture-postcard version of Britain.
Just as business cycles need the helping hand of entrepreneurial endeavor, so the nostalgia booms require their own inventors of tradition and peddlers of dreams. Consider the image of England at present purveyed in American newspaper advertisements: Burberry raincoats, Laura Ashley dresses, Liberty prints, and Scotch wool tartans, all exploiting nostalgic and snobbish Anglophilia in the interest of British exports. In England itself, tourism is now the country’s biggest foreign currency earner after North Sea oil and the export of automobiles, providing jobs for 1.3 million people, with a predicted 50,000 a year being added for the rest of the decade. Is it any wonder that a recent headline in the London Times ran as follows: “Minister puts history at peak of new strategy to attract more tourists”? In the rapidly deindustrializing Britain of the 1980s, nostalgia and escapism are big business. Indeed, if the economy continues to decline at its present rate for much longer, they may soon be the country’s only business.
This long perspective of Britain’s recurrent economic crises and regular swings to conservative cultural values seems essential to understanding the country-house exhibition in Washington. But what of the display itself? Its avowed purpose is to celebrate and to publicize five hundred years of upper-class patronage and collecting since the advent of the Tudors first made the art world safe for aristocracy. To display the remarkable assemblage of paintings, miniatures, sculpture, furniture, porcelain, silver, tapestries, armor, and books that have thus been brought together, seventeen rooms have been specially designed and constructed within the east wing of the National Gallery. Some of these vividly suggest the feel of country-house interiors, rather than the antiseptic impersonality of an art museum. There is also a magnificent catalog, which reproduces in color every item on display, provides the fullest possible documentation and analysis, and is further enhanced by a set of lively essays filling in the historical background. And for those who want a closer sense of the country houses themselves, Gervase Jackson-Stops has provided an admirable introduction, accompanied by some beautiful photographs by James Pipkin.
The first section of the exhibition traces the development of country-house collecting from the period of the fortified medieval castle, through the outward looking “prodigy houses” of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods, to the sumptuous Baroque palaces of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Here, in one broad sweep, we see the rise and efflorescence of superior secular patronage in the aftermath of the dissolution of the monasteries. We begin with a room devoted to the Tudor Renaissance, which achieves its magical effect by bringing together several remarkable pieces never before seen side by side: the Lumley horseman from Sandbeck, the earliest known equestrian statue in the history of English sculpture; the sea-dog table from Hardwick, with an inlaid walnut top, supported by four carved dogs with dolphins’ tails, themselves resting on the backs of tortoises; the Rainbow Portrait of Elizabeth I from Hatfield, whose iconography is so complex and suggestive that its precise meaning has eluded art historians. There are suits of armor that remind us that this was still an unsettled time; tapestries that were intended as much to warm the walls as to decorate them; and some exquisite miniatures by Nicholas Hilliard and Isaac Oliver.
From this great chamber, we proceed into a Jacobean long gallery modeled on the background to Daniel Mytens’s painting of the Countess of Arundel, which is itself on display, as is the companion study of her husband, arguably the first great aristocratic patron and collector. Fifteen paintings of Tudor and Stuart worthies, ornately dressed, proudly posed and poised, are works of propaganda no less than of art.
The gallery opens into a more intimate section devoted to the gentry houses of the Restoration, with their French furniture, their Dutch-influenced interiors with portraits by Sir Godfrey Kneller, their cabinets and sconces. They are brilliantly contrasted to the later exuberance of the Baroque, when the Vanbrugh palaces set new standards of country-house luxury; these are well captured here. A Grinling Gibbons carving of dead game from Kirtlington Park reminds us that hunting, shooting, and fishing were an integral part of upper-class life, both for recreation and for food; the magnificent silver wine cooler from Burghley House, weighing over 3,400 ounces, gives some indication of their capacity for alcohol; and the silver-framed looking glass, silver candlestands, and silver-covered table from Knole, form a decorated suite of bedroom furniture of astonishing richness.
The second section, displaying the effects on collecting of the eighteenth-century Grand Tour, covers a shorter period, and has a greater cumulative impact. It begins, predictably, with a room devoted to Lord Burlington, Chiswick House, Inigo Jones, and the Palladian revolution. This prepares us for a display of contemporary Italian topographical paintings, including Canalettos of the Doge’s Palace and the Grand Canal, and for an ingeniously created sculpture rotunda, full of the ancient marbles, bronzes, and vases that many English aristocrats acquired at bargain prices in their travels to the Mediterranean.
A room devoted to Augustan taste illustrates the beginnings of Old Master collecting, with a particularly fine Titian from Garrowby, and Van Dyck’s Betrayal of Christ from Corsham Court. There is an intimate display of Dutch art in a room where the arrangement of the paintings is inspired by Zoffany’s portrait of Sir Lawrence Dundas and his grandson, from Aske Hall, itself on display. The perspective is then broadened once again, with a gallery devoted entirely to landscape, including Claude’s famous Landing of Aeneas, from Anglesey Abbey, and English works by Gainsborough, Richard Wilson, and Joseph Wright of Derby, paintings that provided some of the inspiration for the great parks and rural vistas which country-house owners were at that time creating.
The climax of the exhibition is devoted to “The Gentleman Collector, 1770–1830,” the high point of country-house patronage and acquisitiveness. British aristocrats were at that time the richest and most secure in the Western world, and since many European monarchs and landowners were obliged to unload their treasures in the aftermath of the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, there was more than ever for them to buy. A room devoted to the country-house library reveals their deep interest in books, prints, and drawings; and there are also splendid examples of Oriental porcelain and Chinese Chippendale furniture, Meissen from Alnwick Castle and Sèvres from Harewood House (although it might have been more advantageously displayed on a dining table). The early eighteenth-century four-poster state bed from Calke Abbey, complete with its magnificent Chinese hangings, is on show for the first time; and there is a selection of sporting pictures and silver gilt. Once again, the close connections between leisure and patronage are made clear, as in the Stubbs Mares and Foals Without a Background, painted for the second Marquess of Rockingham in 1762, and in the four race cups won by Lord Scarbrough’s horse Catton in the 1810s.
But it is the tripartite Waterloo Gallery that creates the most overpowering impression of aristocratic opulence and acquisitiveness. The room itself, with its columns, its top-lit ceiling, and its pictures double-hung on the walls, is a convincing evocation of early-nineteenth-century galleries, as shown in Charles Robert Leslie’s study of the Grosvenor family. The centerpiece of the display is Canova’s Three Graces, commissioned by the sixth Duke of Bedford for the Woburn sculpture gallery. There are furniture and fittings showing Egyptian influence, as in a settee and armchair from Buscot Park. Here, too, are gathered works by the great British artists of the period, such as Gainsborough’s full-length study of the third Earl of Bristol, and Romney’s double portrait of Sir Christopher and Lady Sykes. And here, also, are some fine Old Master paintings, including Rubens’s spectacular and newly cleaned portrait from Kingston Lacey of Marchesa Caterina Grimaldi, a memorable indication of what could be bought at this time, even by relatively poor landed families.
Those who believe that aristocratic taste went rapidly downhill during the remainder of the nineteenth century will find their views amply—perhaps excessively—corroborated by the rest of the exhibition. One section is devoted to Victorian sentimentality and the cult of the Scottish Highlands. Predictably, there are two Landseers, with stags not quite at bay; there is a vast Winterhalter of the Duchess of Sutherland looking rather coarse; and there is some hideous furniture from Osborne, supported on stags’ legs and adorned with antlers. The Pre-Raphaelites that follow are few and familiar, like Burne-Jones’s Love Among the Ruins, from Wightwick Manor. A beautiful silver claret jug designed by William Burges for the Marquess of Bute provides temporary relief and uplift. A room enticingly entitled “Edwardian Elegance and the Continuing Tradition” turns out to be little more than a selection of Sargent’s family paintings, dominated by the famous Marlborough family group from Blenheim and the beguiling portrait of Lady Rocksavage from Houghton. But on the whole, this is a downbeat finale to a dazzling exhibition. The organizers seem rather to have lost interest, and their waning enthusiasm shows.
For all its undeniable splendors, no exhibition devoted to such a theme and mounted on such a scale, can be without its flaws. It is not clear why some works have been included and others left out. The distinctions between patronage and collecting, and between functional and decorative art, seem inadequately made or insufficiently explored. The exhibits are assigned their chronological places in an inconsistent way: some by date of acquisition, others by date of completion. And the effect is sometimes to mislead the visitor about the real extent of aristocratic collecting, especially in the early period. By displaying only magnificent objects, many aspects of upper-class collecting are ignored: there are no stuffed birds, no stags’ heads, no elephants’ feet, which clutter so many country houses. The personalities of the greatest patrons do not really emerge: even Lords Arundel and Egremont seem little more than names. No great Holbein is exhibited. And it seems strange that there should be but one work by Turner, arguably the greatest ornament and beneficiary of country-house patronage. Above all, these works of art give only the cosiest view of the landed classes’ world: there is but one picture of a prison, one of the Industrial Revolution, and one of the poor. It is not just fine art that is on display here: it is very refined art.
To put it less mellowly, this means that “The Treasure Houses of Britain” may be justly praised, not only for the overall high quality of the objects and the installation, but also for providing a popular and saleable image of English upper-class life. But this is not all that needs to be said. So far as I am aware, no one reviewing this exhibition has yet mentioned the rather obvious and important fact that the private collections and public galleries of North America already contain huge amounts of such English country-house art. Between them, the Frick Collection, the Huntington Gallery, and the British Art Center at Yale, to name only three, would yield a harvest of paintings not much inferior to those now on display in Washington. It cannot, therefore, be plausibly maintained that this exhibition shows things in America of a kind and quality that have never been seen before. So what, exactly, justifies temporarily transporting these treasures across the Atlantic when so much that is similar is already here for good?
It is clear that this exhibition is not just concerned to evoke admiration for country-house art. It also seeks—on the principle of veneration by association—to elicit feelings at least as ardent and well disposed on behalf of the country houses themselves, and even more so on behalf of their owners. How else is one to explain the highly emotive, value-laden language that pervades the accompanying literature? It might just be acceptable to call stately homes “treasure houses,” but to describe them as “vessels of civilization,” as “temples of the arts,” seems altogether excessive. And when we are further informed that they are “the envy of the rest of the world,” this seems little more than hyperbole. Even worse are the descriptions offered of the owners: “wealthy and privileged, but also well-read and well-traveled,” characterized by “culture and humanity, scholarship and lack of pomposity.” The best that can be said about this is that it is the language not of scholarship but of sentiment.
Indeed, two of the essays contributed to the catalog by knowledgable scholars show plainly just how naive and overstated these claims really are. In his account of British landowners as collectors, Francis Haskell puts their activities so crushingly in perspective that he comes close to demolishing the notion that they were ever paragons of patronage. As he explains, they bought few paintings in or of the Italian Renaissance; there were not many first-rate country-house collections in being even by the early eighteenth century; the portraits (if any) commissioned by most landed families were limited in number and poor in quality; it was only in the aftermath of the French Revolution that the really large accumulations of Old Masters were made in England, and in any case, most of these were first displayed in London; and from the 1880s onward, landowners were more active in selling works of art than in acquiring them, as the one-way traffic across the Atlantic so vividly serves to show.
Indeed, Haskell’s deflating argument may be pushed even further. For, as the catalog itself demonstrates, most works of art cost very little, even in the more robust currency of the time: fifty pounds for the Leconfield Aphrodite, and only double that for the Van Dyck Betrayal of Christ. They were not yet precious and priceless objects in the way that they have since become. So it is hardly surprising that country-house owners often treated their collections in a cavalier manner: they blithely cut tapestries to fit odd and irregular spaces; they regularly relegated pictures and furniture that seemed out of date to the attics; and the magnificent Calke state bed was never even unpacked after its delivery. As this suggests, most aristocrats and gentry were more likely to be philistine than cultured, indifferent to art rather than drawn to it. Compared with the minor princelings of Germany or the city-states of Italy, what is really remarkable is not that they spent so much of their wealth on art, but that they spent so little.
In fact, as Mark Girouard—another contributor to the catalog with his feet firmly on the ground—makes plain, the greatest aristocratic expenditure on the arts was usually on the mansion itself and the park: the outward and visible signs of wealth, status, and importance. For, as he goes on to argue, country houses were not fetish objects, inhabited by implausibly nice and exquisitely civilized people: they were fundamentally machines for a power elite to live in. Most of the faces that gaze out of the pictures on display are proud, tough, assured, haughty, confident; these are men and women who know precisely their place in the nation, and their nation’s place in the world. These were people who enjoyed income not just from agriculture but from the East India trade, London building estates, coal mines and canals, harbors and railways. They endured damp, drafty, and insanitary houses; they could stay for hours in the saddle; they condoned mantraps, employed gamekeepers, and favored the death penalty for poaching. Above all, they stood for oligarchy, hierarchy, inequality, and exclusiveness: all the things against which the Americans rebelled in 1776, and which even the British have, in the last hundred years, come to regard as increasingly indefensible.
But this exhibition has a second, and perhaps more insidious purpose, which follows from the first. If the works of art are magnificent, if the houses are magical, and if the owners both past and present are wonderful, then surely paintings, palaces, and patricians should be allowed to remain together in the future? Here, it seems, is a principal object of the exhibition: to argue not just for the preservation of the “total” country house, but also for continued aristocratic occupancy. Once again, the cascade of emotive language is turned on to present a highly colored account of recent aristocratic plight and pluck. During the last hundred years, country houses have been “threatened” by democracy, death duties, two world wars, and more recently by “swingeing” capital transfer tax. Even Hugh Dalton, a Labour chancellor of the Exchequer, felt “anguish at the prospect of the great estates breaking up.” In the Fifties, country houses were “embattled fortresses, powerfully resisting the hand of the demolisher and the developer,” appropriate symbols for “a post-war Britain too inclined to accept the idea of progress for its own sake.”
But, we are told, the position is now fortunately much brighter. Thanks to the inspiration of that “radical politician” Lord Lothian, the National Trust has allowed many families to remain in their houses, so that they continue “loved and lived in,” and are not “simply museums.” In 1974, the Victoria and Albert Museum staged an exhibition on the destruction of the country house, which “struck an emotional chord”; the National Land Fund now offers “succour” to mansions in distress; and recently it has become possible to retain works of art in situ after they have been accepted by the Treasury in lieu of death duties. “It is,” we are told, “of the greatest importance that this principle should be extended.” And why? Because it will enable owners to continue to fill their historic role of “sharing their houses with the public, and maintaining them as heirlooms in trust for the nation at large.” For that, we are reminded, is what they have always done: since the eighteenth century, great owners have readily welcomed visitors to great houses; the stately homes of England are thus “the oldest and longest running museums in the world”; and this is how they should be allowed to remain.
Clearly, to question an argument couched in such impassioned and emotive language runs the risk of seeming ungrateful, philistine, or even anarchic. But since that is no doubt part of its polemical purpose, we should be aware that a contrary polemical case can be made. To begin with, it is not clear that those in today’s stately-homes business are simply carrying on an old tradition in opening their houses to the public. The few tourists let in long ago were the beneficiaries of noblesse oblige; but now it is the owners who benefit from the thousands who go through the turnstiles, partly from the revenue thus acquired, and partly from the tax breaks thus enjoyed. Moreover, it can hardly be coincidence that the last hundred years, which have seen the self-conscious elaboration by the aristocracy of their role as guardians of national culture, have also been the century in which they have themselves been most under threat. And so, by demanding—and getting—special treatment as patrons of the arts, they have been able to hold on to their paintings, their houses, and their way of life, in defiance of the social, economic, and political trends of the time. Paradoxically, but deliberately, the art collections have thus increasingly become the means of ensuring aristocratic survival. Once it was the country-house culture which could be called parasitic on the country-house elite; now it is the elite which more and more depends on the culture.
Yet as the need to resort to these elaborate stratagems only serves to show, the British aristocracy is in many ways an anachronistic group in decline. Do the government and the taxpayers really have a duty—even in the name of art—to prop it up indefinitely? There are already more than one hundred country houses in the expert care of the National Trust: just how many more do we actually need? And besides, this argument necessarily involves a double standard. The British aristocrats who ransacked Europe in the eighteenth century are acclaimed by their descendants for their discerning collecting and for augmenting the national heritage. But now, when their successors are obliged to sell to the new rich of the United States, this is decried as a national tragedy. This seems not only inconsistent but also unrealistic. When it comes to collecting art and building large houses, taste and culture are to a large degree a function of economic relations: art tends to follow cash. When Britain was a rich country with a rich elite, treasures were acquired; now that the nobles and the nation are poor, the treasures are up for sale again. And, with Britain’s economy in its current state, what else is it reasonable to expect?
Viewed from such a standpoint, “The Treasure Houses of Britain” is not so much an exhibition as a rhetorical exercise, displaying works of art, tugging at the heartstrings, appealing to snobbery and nostalgia, all in support of an idealized view of the country house and its owners that is as historically unconvincing as it is politically backward. But of course the argument just made is itself both overstated and oversimplified. The real problem, with art no less than with aristocracy, is to get a sense of proportion. Among country-house owners, there have always been terrible philistines, and there have always been those with a genuine love of beautiful things; there have always been those who calculatingly view family heirlooms as assets to be realized, and there have always been those who see them as a trust to be treasured. And in the professional world of museums and conservation, attitudes toward country houses and the collections in them are almost as varied. Certainly a case can be made for keeping some of these intact. But there is also an argument—in the name of art and history but not in the name of aristocracy—for displaying many of these things in galleries, open and accessible to all.
Indeed, in at least two ways, the exhibition itself powerfully undermines the very case which its sponsors and organizers want it to make. In the first place, while celebrating country-house collecting, it will probably further country-house dispersal. Many things on show here are still in private hands, and their public display will surely stimulate more rich Americans to acquire additional items of Britain’s “national heritage.” But more importantly, the very nature of this marvelous museum display is a quite devastating riposte to the claim that works of art are always best kept in situ. Many country houses are inaccessible, open rarely, contain at best indifferent works of art, and show them badly and inexpertly. Yet here are gathered together beautiful works from two hundred mansions, in near-perfect conditions of display and access. In making the artifacts of an elite culture available to a broader public, this exhibition does incomparably more for the national heritage than any number of country houses.
That it does so overseas, in a great American gallery, and with generous American funding, only serves to highlight another problem. For the argument in favor of museums rather than country houses as the best place for display presupposes that English art galleries are in a position to acquire and to show such beautiful things in surroundings and conditions comparable to those available in Washington. But that, of course, is rarely and decreasingly possible. Many British museums are almost as dreary and uninviting as the most rundown country house: their funds inadequate, their lighting unsatisfactory, their galleries only intermittently open. The Thatcher government is not much concerned about this: the idea that works of art may elevate the mind and lift the spirit, and that they should be freely and easily available for all, is not something that seems to concern her very much. And as long as this continues to be the case and British museums remain pitifully underfinanced, country houses are likely to become more important as “vessels of civilization,” not less.
But of course Mrs. Thatcher herself is no better disposed to the country-house world that is so valued and vaunted in this exhibition. She may approve of the tourist trade as a dollar earner, but her personal brand of radical and petty bourgeois conservatism has no time for the country house, which she sees as anachronistically irrelevant to the Britain of 1985. Her heroes are self-made men (and self-made failures) like Clive Sinclair, Freddie Laker, and Cecil Parkinson; they are not traditional Tory gentry like Francis Pym or grandees like Lord Carrington. She hates the idea of Britain as a museum society, intent on embalming itself, whether the impulse comes from the left (in the shape of Arthur Scargill and his miners) or from the right (in the form of country-house owners and their propagandists). If told by the organizers of this exhibition that Britain possesses the finest country houses in Western Europe, she would probably reply that Britain also has the worst and the weakest economy. One does not have to be a Thatcherite to concede that these things may, perhaps, be connected. We may leave this exhibition dazzled; but we should certainly not leave it blinded.
December 19, 1985