On 11 October 2016, we are opening the first-ever museum display focused on vase sets, also known as garnitures (from Fr. garnir ‘to garnish’). These are primarily ceramic vases with matching decoration designed for display above a chimneypiece, a cabinet and even over doorways. The National Trust has the largest collection of vase sets in the world (and also the largest collection of chimneypieces and doorways!).
Fifteen garnitures from 13 National Trust properties are included in the display: Blickling, Norfolk, Dunham Massey and Tatton Park, Cheshire, Nostell Priory, Yorkshire, Ickworth, Suffolk, Kingston Lacy, Dorset, Stourhead, Wiltshire, Saltram, Devon, Clandon Park, Surrey, Scotney Castle and Knole, Kent, Petworth, West Sussex, and Upton House, Warwickshire (search the National Trust Collections for more information). Many of the vase sets have never been seen outside of these houses, where they have ‘lived’ since they were first purchased.
There are some amazing stories behind these garnitures, and their histories provide the context for similar objects, especially single vases, in the V&A collection. One of the highlights is a recreation of a mid-17th century seven-piece assembled garniture of Transitional period Chinese porcelain, based on examples in French engraved sources.
Other matching vase sets in the display were made in China, Japan, the Netherlands, France and England. There are also several English silver garnitures made when Chinese porcelain was not allowed to be exported (around 1657–1683).
The surprising variety of material, designs and decoration will appeal to students, potters, artists, interior designers, collectors and anyone with a curious mind. The display is free for everyone, but not free forever, on 30 April 2017 it closes!
Accompanying the display, is a richly illustrated catalogue authored by Patricia F. Ferguson, Garnitures: Vase Sets from National Trust Houses, V&A Publishing, London, 2016 (£10). A one-day symposium with an international list of speakers is planned for 17 March 2017.
A series of blogs over the next two weeks will take you behind the scenes as we prepare the display. Be sure to watch the new Garnitures video narrated by Reino Liefkes, Senior Curator, Ceramics & Glass Collection, available soon on the V&A Website.
The display is located in Gallery 146 on the 6th floor.
The display, publication and symposium have all been generously supported by The Headley Trust.