Animating the 18th-century country house

This event was held on 5 March 2015

5 March 2015, 10am–5pm

Sainsbury Wing Lecture Theatre

£55/£35 concessions

When we visit a Georgian country house and wander through its interiors, the impression we get is of a moment frozen in time. In fact the country house was anything but a static, unchanging entity.

This one-day scholarly conference encourages fresh thinking about 18th-century country houses as environments that were always evolving, animated by interactions between objects and people.

The conference will look at the ways in which objects, when placed on display within a particular space, entered into different kinds of dialogue with the contents, decoration and associations of that space.

It will also explore the ways in which the evolving environment of the country house, and the forms of display found within it, were experienced; by those who lived in the house, by those who visited as tourists or invited guests, and by those who engaged vicariously through the process of ‘armchair travel’.

Organised by the National Gallery, Birkbeck (University of London), and the Paul Mellon Centre, the conference is designed for art historians and scholars of 18th-century fine and decorative arts, architecture and garden history – whether based in museums, collections or universities; curators and custodians of historic houses; and the general public interested in historic houses of the period.

  • Buying, collecting and display: the purchase, commissioning, inheritance, gifting of works of art, furniture, books and other materials; picture hangs; room arrangements.
  • The country house as a complete environment: the total effect of the 18th-century country house, and the ways in which its various elements – works of art, furniture, decorative schemes – worked together to create a complete experience.
  • The country house and visitor experience: country house tourism; visitor experience of houses and gardens; the multifarious literature related to country houses, including guidebooks, regional guidebooks, and periodical articles.


Please see the PDF below for the conference programme.

PDF file Conference programme [PDF 193kb - opens in a new window]

Dr Nicholas Penny, Director of the National Gallery, will open the conference. Papers, divided into three panels, will be presented by invited contributors from across the international academic world, whose research is recognised as being pioneering for its attempts to look at objects holistically in their environments and over time. Each panel will be followed by a ‘Question and Answer’ session with the audience.

Confirmed contributors to the programme include speakers from: Birkbeck, Courtauld Institute of Art, Loughborough University; University of Northampton; University of Southampton; University of York; Strawberry Hill House; the British School at Rome; and Yale University.