12 March 2021
Amelia Smith, a member of ACE’s Product Development team, undertook PhD research on the history of Longford Castle prior to joining ACE, and is the author of the first comprehensive study of the castle and its collections, Longford Castle: The Treasures and the Collectors (Unicorn Press, 2017). Amelia worked closely with art historian and Tour Director Rupert Dickens in the development of ACE’s upcoming itinerary, and here, she shares some personal insights into what makes this particular treasure house truly special.
The approach to Longford Castle, through elegant parkland bisected by the River Avon, feels like stepping back in time. The entrance front of the castle, bookended by two round towers built in local stone and flint, gives a stately yet warm welcome, and even for the most experienced country-house visitor, evokes just a hint of the magic of a fairytale castle. Providing inspiration for fictional sites ranging from the ‘Castle of Amphialus’ in Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia to the royal palace in a Disney film over four hundred years later (much to the surprise of its owners), this is a house that elicits wonder and delight in all those who see it.
The Bouverie family, of Huguenot descent, bought the castle in 1717. The eighteenth century saw their elevation to the Earldom of Radnor, as well as the development of Longford Castle into a fine repository of art. The collection contains many paintings of international importance – such as a fine pair of landscapes by Claude Lorraine, and numerous family portraits commissioned from society painters such as Sir Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough – as well as exquisite furnishings, decorative arts and sculpture. Visiting Longford to see these important works of art in context is a true delight, and as the house is only open to the public on select days of the year, a great privilege.
The coat of arms of Jacob Pleydell-Bouverie, 2nd Earl of Radnor
“A splendid mansion of very remarkable character… famous for its pictures among all the mansions of the West”
- Country Life magazine, 1898
When tourists from around the world gather in Room 2 of the National Gallery to view Holbein’s The Ambassadors, one of the best-known and most intriguing paintings in the world, they may not realise that it was once displayed against the green damask wall hangings of the Picture Gallery at Longford Castle. Giving a further indication of the calibre of Longford’s collection, it is notable that the National Gallery has enjoyed a special relationship with the castle for many years. The Gallery purchased The Ambassadors and a work by Poussin in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries respectively, and today select other paintings are on long-term loan from the castle. However, what is particularly remarkable about Longford is the fact that the vast majority of the art collection remains in situ at the castle.
“Longford Castle has for more than two hundred and fifty years been home to one of the nation’s greatest art collections”
- Sir Nicholas Penny, Director of the National Gallery 2008-2015
Today, the 9th Earl of Radnor and his family continue to actively add to the collection, acquiring pieces by important contemporary artists such as ceramicist Edmund de Waal and sculptors Richard Long and Cornelia Parker. These sit harmoniously in their historical context, reminding visitors that this is very much a living collection and, first and foremost, a family home. The castle’s idyllic setting and its delightful formal gardens, recently transformed by the Countess of Radnor in collaboration with the Garden Museum, combine with its unique history and significant holdings to make this a truly special place to visit.
I hope that this introduction inspires you to join ACE’s tour of Art Collections & Stately Homes of the West Country later in 2021, to take in the splendours of Longford Castle as well as many other fine country houses.
More information about Amelia's book, Longford Castle: The Treasures and the Collectors, can be found on the Longford Castle website at: https://www.longfordestates.co.uk/the-estate
Art Collections & Stately Homes of the West Country
31st August - 4th September 2021
We currently have limited availability for this tour - to discuss this further please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 01223 841055.
Garden front of Longford Castle by Peter is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 / Edited from original
Coat of arms of Jacob Pleydell-Bouverie by Motacilla is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 / Cropped from original