The West Wycombe State Rooms
A beautiful Palladian villa inspired by Sir Francis’ Grand Tour of Europe is among one of England’s finest theatrical Italianate houses. It is relatively small compared to its Palladian contemporaries such as Woburn Abbey, yet it is architecturally important as encapsulates the 18th Century social period, when young men otherwise known as Dilettanti like Sir Francis returned from their Grand Tours and built country houses to accommodate their new collections and display what they had learnt on their travels. Take a look around this magnificent country home, view the exquisite Music Room and experience the beautiful rococo landscaped gardens.
Hall and Staircase
The grand scale and splendour of the marmoreal decorations coupled with the marble busts and tables that furnish this room combine to create a classical Roman atrium. The Hall was decorated about 1770, when Nicholas Revett was introducing a new, Neo-classical taste to the house, and is today one of the best preserved and earliest examples of this taste in Neo-classical decoration of any English country house. The ceiling was painted by Giovanni Borgnis, the son of Giuseppe Borgnis who painted the panels of the staircase some fifteen years earlier. The staircase is a masterpiece in itself, made of mahogany with inlaid satinwood and ebony. The frescoes which decorate the staircase show subjects which get progressively more erotic as one rises to the bedroom level.
The Palmyra Room
A room created out of household offices by Nicholas Revett in 1770, it became the dining room as it is today in 1963. With rather similar marbled decoration to the Hall, the walls, frescoed to imitate Jasper and the ceiling were probably painted by the younger Borgnis. All of this elaborate décor was suppressed in Victorian times and the late Sir Francis as part of his intricate restoration project cleaned the white wash off the walls when he inherited the house in 1963. Hung with portraits of Sir Francis Dashwood, 2nd Bt and his lady friends, this magnificent room has the perfect atmosphere for dinner parties.
The Tapestry Room
This room can only be described as intricately ornate; it is hung with Jose de Vos’ Brussels tapestries giving it its name. Originally it was the Dressing Room for the State Bedroom and was used as such by George III. The ceiling was painted by William Hannan, and what is particularly fantastic about this room is Hannan’s decoration of the walls, chimney piece, door and window cases, as decoration like this in paint rather than plasterwork is incredibly rare now.
The Yellow Saloon
As the central room on the north front of the house, the Saloon looks out on to a superb view of the park with its temple and lakes. The ceiling is said to represent the Council of the gods and is one of Giuseppe Borgnis’s first works at West Wycombe. Intended as the principal reception room of the house, it became a dining room from the 19th century until the Second World War. During the war it became like a restaurant for all the people staying in the house, yet it has today reverted back to its old purpose of a drawing room.
The Red Drawing Room
This room is named after the crimson silk hung on the walls by the 11th Baronet in 1964; this tells a rather amusing story. After being persuaded by the famous country decorator John Fowler to decorate the room pink, the Dashwoods who never took to this décor had it secretly redecorated in this crimson silk you see today. However, when Fowler returned he requested to see his decorated room, fearing embarrassment Sir Francis had locked all of the doors and was forced to fabricate an elaborate story how the floor of the room was riddled with death-watch beetle and it was too dangerous to enter. Three of Hannan’s paintings of the house and gardens of West Wycombe hang in this room, including the same main focal points as today yet also many other elements that have since disappeared like the ships on the lake.
In 1781 this was described as a Dressing Room, although this seems strange as it was detached from any of the other bedchambers in the house. It was decorated how it is today in the 1960s by John Fowler and used as a display for many framed architectural drawings of the house, these are comprised of designs that were implemented and those that were not for the house and its gardens by various architects, including those done by an amateur hand, perhaps the 2nd Baronet himself.
The Blue Drawing Room
Throughout the 18th century this was the Dining Room, a purpose that is indicated in Giuseppe Borgnis’s ceiling painting. There is a large copy of the Venus de Medici, which stands in a niche at the end of the room and she commemorates the second Baronet’s notorious devotion to the Goddess of Love. The walls are hung with an array of Italian paintings from the 17th century, and it’s predominantly blue colour scheme gives the room its name.
The Music Room
The grandest room at West Wycombe was formed from a number of smaller rooms in around 1748-51; it has always served as a ballroom for the house. The late Baronet recalled entertaining ‘the two little princesses,’ Elizabeth (the present Queen) and Margaret when they came to visit and his mother arranged a circus in the room complete with miniature ponies, clowns and acrobats. The ceiling is again by Giuseppe Borgnis and was his most ambitious work in West Wycombe, and is most definitely a sight to behold.