Advertisement

Parliament saves Victorian architect Pugin’s drawing table for the nation

Original Drawing Table belonging to A.W. N Pugin
Original drawing table belonging to A.W. N Pugin

It is the suitably low desk on which the 5ft 2in Victorian architect Augustus Welby Pugin designed the Palace of Westminster.

Now the historic item has been saved for the nation, along with five further objects of significance purchased by Parliament.

Pugin created the Palace of Westminster with fellow architect Charles Barry after the medieval original building was devastated by the Great Fire of 1834.

While Barry designed the Palace as a whole, Pugin created most of its interiors in a Gothic Revival style, inspired by medieval designs.

It was on that 1830s table that he is thought to have shaped ideas for everything from carved panelling and stained-glass windows to doorknobs and wallpaper - as well as a large range of furniture, notably the grand Sovereign’s Throne in the Lords Chamber.

Melissa Hamnett, director of heritage collections and chief curator at UK Parliament, told the Telegraph that the drawing table is unusually low: “Pugin was only 5 feet, 2 inches tall and he most likely stood at the desk to draw. One can imagine him standing at it, designing the interiors. It holds a unique appeal in terms of engaging audiences in the history of art and design at the Palace of Westminster, telling the story of the creative process from concept to realisation. It’s a really evocative item for that reason.”

It is carved with Pugin’s motto ‘En Avant’, with beautiful painted shields at each end.

Unique stained-glass window also saved

Other new Pugin acquisitions include a unique stained-glass window and a decorative oak panel carved with foliage motifs, which is believed to have come from the Lords originally.

How it was removed from the premises is unclear.

Stained Glass Panel Designed by A.W.N. Pugin
Stained glass panel designed by A.W.N. Pugin

It had been replaced with a memorial of names of peers and their sons, who fell during the First and Second World Wars.

The fine carving shows the influence of medieval styles and techniques that inspired Pugin.

Early 1830s architect’s model of north facade of Westminster Hall

Among the new acquisitions is an early 1830s architect’s model of the north façade of Westminster Hall, created in wood and painted card.

Mrs Hamnett said: “It post-dates some of Sir John Soane’s design and alterations made to the Palace of Westminster in the late 18th century - 1790s.  The model further develops our knowledge of the changing designs of the façade.”

There is also William Dyce’s preparatory sketch, Sir Tristan Harping to La Belle Isoude, for his dramatic 1852 frescoes on the Arthurian legend in the Robing Room, where the monarch prepares for the state opening of Parliament.

The entire collection comes from the estate of the late Clive Wainwright, a leading authority on Victorian furniture who worked at the Victoria & Albert Museum and played an important role in the interior renovation of the Palace of Westminster. He was also an avid collector until his death in 1999, aged just 57.

‘Preserved in perpetuity’

His wife, Jane, former librarian in the House of Commons Library, said: “Both Clive and I enjoyed a close relationship with the Palace of Westminster, so I am delighted that these objects we collected and enjoyed at home for so many years, will now be preserved in perpetuity.”

She has sold the objects to the Parliamentary collection for a fraction of their true cultural value. The desk alone, for example, has been acquired for a mere £14,500.

Martin Levy, a leading Pugin expert who organised the sale on Mrs Wainwright’s behalf, said: “Jane - as Clive had been - was very keen that, where appropriate, key pieces they had owned went into public collections. Thus, in discussion with me, the collection was offered at prices that enabled, for example the Palace of Westminster, to take advantage of the opportunity.

“Clive Wainwright was a generous mentor, to whom I owe so much. It was a privilege for me to have helped Jane find appropriate homes for the collection that she and Clive formed together. It is exciting to know that Pugin’s own drawing table will soon be on public show in the Royal Gallery at the Palace of Westminster, alongside the Dyce sketch for one of the murals.”

Mrs Hamnett said: “Jane’s raison d’être in selling the items was not to make an excessive profit. She could have done. But her and Clive’s support for publicly accessible collections was very much at the heart of the sale.”

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 1 month, then enjoy 1 year for just $9 with our US-exclusive offer.