Monday, 27 July 2015

George Grey's drawing room

Daniel Louis Mundy (1826-1881), [Sir George Grey and his niece and adopted daughter
Annie Matthews in the drawing room, Mansion House, Kawau Island, about 1871].
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries (7-A3034)
Due to the long exposure time required to achieve a successful image, few photographs of inhabited nineteenth century New Zealand interiors survive. Probably the best-known is that taken by the Port Chalmers-based photographer Daniel Louis Mundy (1826-1881) depicting the erstwhile governor of New Zealand Sir George Grey (1812-1898) with his niece Annie Matthews (later Thorne George) in the drawing room of Mansion House, Kawau. The photograph is remarkable for a number of reasons not least for its documentation of some of the objects Grey collected for his temporary retreat from the disputatious world of colonial politics. It appears to be summer: the French doors are open onto the adjacent verandah; the timber-slatted Venetian blinds are drawn up; and the sun shines on the floor of this north facing room; the chairs are concealed by seasonal slip covers. With its stained and polished Kauri panelling and restrained decoration, it's a functional space, seemingly untroubled by the concerns of fashion but housing objects of a quality rarely seen in New Zealand.

The photograph depicts a small part of what was described by one visitor to Kawau as 'a peculiarly-shaped room, something like a carpenter's square, and the ceiling is supported by six pillars' <'The governor's tour', Supplement to the New Zealand Public Opinion (22 January 1881), p. 1, cited in D Kerr, Amassing treasures for all times: Sir George Grey, colonial bookman and collector (New Castle, Del; Dunedin: Oak Knoll; Otago University Press, 2006), p. 201>. Possibly for aesthetic reasons, Mundy has excised some details of the room, including its board and batten ceiling, but the configuration of the room seems uncontrived. Following Grey's departure, the house was materially altered to accommodate a range of functions – in its penultimate iteration the drawing room was converted into a bar – before it came under public control in 1977, when it was renovated in an attempt to reinstate its notional appearance under Grey's ownership. The room's current appearance, while superficially mimicking how it might have been seen by visitors during Grey's residence, intimates little of the significance of what it originally contained.

Grey's collections of books and manuscripts, notably those he gave to the South African Library in Capetown and the Auckland Free Public Library, have been exhaustively researched and documented and the paintings he collected and subsequently donated to what is now the Auckland Art Gallery/Toi o Tāmaki are well documented but very little attention has been paid to the other objects he surrounded himself with. His furniture, ceramics, carpets, clocks, silver and the like have been both dispersed and, if identified, poorly documented. Some of this material was given to the Auckland City Council and later transferred to the Auckland Institute and Museum (now the Auckland War Memorial Museum), much of the rest was inherited by his niece, part of which was subsequently either given or loaned to the Department of Conservation for display in the house following the 1977 renovation.
Daniel Louis Mundy (1826-1881), [Mansion House, Kawau Island, about 1871]. The drawing room
occupies the bow window-fronted ground floor of the rear wing of the building.
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries (7-A3085)
Grey purchased the 2000 hectare Kawau island in 1862 and between 1865 and 1868 employed the architect Frederick Thatcher (1814-1890) to renovate and extend the original mine manager's two-storey brick house (1845) into what became Mansion House. Having been somewhat peremptorily removed from his vice-regal post by a Conservative administration, Grey returned to England in September 1868. He evidently intended being away for some time as he leased the newly extended house for five years, but he returned to Kawau in October 1870, broke the lease and lived there until 1885 when he moved with his niece and her husband to St Stephen's Avenue in Parnell. The books and the 53 paintings he gave to the Auckland Free Public Library were removed from the house from November 1886 and it was sold in 1888.

Mundy's conversation piece of the Mansion House drawing room offers a tantalising glimpse of Grey's taste soon after his return from England in October 1870. As Mundy was advertising an Auckland exhibition of his landscape photographs in the Southern Cross in February 1871, it is probable that he visited Kawau around the same time. While there appear to be no other images of Grey's drawing room it was described by many of his visitors, both personal and members of the public. The Auckland correspondent of the Otago Witness asserted in 1875 that Grey was 'in the habit of throwing open [...] his fine library and drawing room, and in fact the greater part of the entire house' to passing visitors, where there were 'choice books, and curiosities of all kind lying about, rare and valuable pictures by Sir Joshua Reynolds (sic) and other great painters, with many of less value, but still worth studying, adorn the walls.'

The British historian James Anthony Froude who visited Kawau for a week in 1884 described it as 'a spacious and fine drawing-room, panelled and vaulted with Kauri pine [...] Some good oil pictures hung on the walls, excellent old engravings, with Maori axes, Caffre shields and assegais, all prettily arranged.' After comparing its atmosphere to that of a reading room at the Athenaeum Club in London (Gray, like Froude, was a member), Froude further observes that 'The furniture was plain and solid, most of it home-made by Sir George's own workmen, Kauri pine chiefly providing the material.' <J Froude, Oceana: or England and her colonies (London: Longmans, Green, 1886), p. 264>. Other, less discerning, visitors were equally entranced, commenting that the rooms were 'large, lofty and cheerful, admirably furnished, and the walls hung with paintings of great antiquity.' <J Grey, His island home (Wellington: Lyon & Blair, 1879), p. 4.>. The observation that most of the furniture was mostly new reflected not only the peripatetic nature of Grey's career but also unfortunate incidents such as the disastrous fire at Government House in Auckland in 1848 which consumed his collections of specimens, manuscripts, wine, 'all [his] plate, linen, furniture of bedrooms, numerous books, [and] valuables of all kind.' <Grey to G Gairdner, 14 July 1848, cited in Kerr, Amassing treasures, pp. 61-62>.

The 'good oil pictures' shown in Mundy's photograph can be provisionally identified from those gifted to the Art Gallery. The oval painting on the left of the photograph is one of two Bacchanals by Jacopo Amigoni (1682-1752) owned by Grey; the painting over the door is William Ewart's 1862 portrait of Hami Hone Ropiha (also known as John Hobbs), Grey's orderly during the Northern War of 1845-46. Over the fireplace is an Aelbert Cuyp (1620-1691) river scene with a ferry boat; hung next to the French door is one of the two paintings of saints, probably that of St Protase, from the altarpiece painted for the Congregation of St Ambrose in the church of St Francesco in Vercelli between 1527 and 1535, by Gerolamo Giovenone (c. 1490-1553), then attributed to Giorgiacomo Fara known as Macrino d'Alba and latter misattributed to Bernadino Lanino. Other than the portrait of Ropiha, these paintings were among those acquired by Grey in London at Christie's on 13 February 1869 where he purchased thirty-five paintings for a total sum of £259 19s – an income value of £226,500 or NZD526,100 in today's terms – including the Amigonis (lot 21), the Cuyp (lot 45) and the Giovenones (lot 36) <M Kisler, Angels & aristocrats: early European art in New Zealand public collections (Auckland: Godwit, 2010), p. 19f>.
Daniel Louis Mundy (1826-1881), [Māori artifacts (sic) in Grey's museum on Kawau, about 1871].
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries (7-A14074)
Other than the two Korowai cloaks employed as seat covers, the Māori and African artefacts mentioned by Froude are excluded from Mundy's photograph although they do feature in another of Mundy's photographs of the interiors of Mansion House. Gray's most recent biographer, Donald Kerr, suggests that the greater part of Grey's collection of Māori artefacts was exhibited in the entrance hall and in his library <Kerr, Amassing treasures, p. 195>. Ethnographical displays were par for the course amongst more intellectual colonists during the nineteenth century: Anna Petersen reproduces an 1881 photograph of the Rev Dr John Kinder's study at St John's College in Auckland that shows a large collection of Melanesian artefacts mixed up with Indian brass work, stone adzes, specimen of coral and religious prints <A Petersen, New Zealanders at home: a cultural history of domestic interiors, 1814-1914 (Dunedin: University of Otago Press, 2001), pp. 78-79>. A posthumous photograph of the library of Donald McLean, chief land commissioner during the 1850s and 60s, depicts a similar, if less discriminating, assemblage of Māori artefacts. Petersen suggests that while this interest in indigenous arts represented an interest and involvement in the cultures of its makers it was also an assertion of economic and social power.
Unidentified photographer, [An interior photograph of the library at Sir Donald McLean's home on Napier Terrace, in Napier, Hawkes Bay, about 1890].
MTG Hawkes Bay (m2004/19, 7512 b, Album 39, 78722)
The furniture seen in Mundy's photograph of Grey's drawing room comprises a double half-height open bookcase, an upholstered footstool, two spoon-backed armchairs (covered by the Korowai cloaks), a pair of balloon-backed chairs that appear to be upholstered under the slip cover. Matthews and Grey appear to be seated on spoon-backed easy or parlour chairs that are also concealed by slip covers. A circular library table is covered with a bordered baize cloth and there are three occasional tables of different styles. In the bay window is a piece of furniture with what appears to be a carved gallery. This half-concealed object would appear to be a neo-jacobean davenport, which Froude observed 'had a large Bible on it, from which he read daily prayers to his household.' The davenport – a type of desk first made in the late 1810s – appears to have been fabricated from older components and is currently displayed in the renovated drawing room, presumably on loan from the descendants of Grey's niece. It is a rare example in New Zealand of furniture found in its original nineteenth century location.

It's difficult to accurately attribute a date or place of origin for furniture on the basis of a photograph but in the absence of the originals some tentative attributions may still be made in respect of the more visible pieces. The open bookcase, for example, appears to be of mahogany veneer and is unlikely to be of colonial manufacture. The same might be said for the occasional table positioned against the fireplace; its carved and turned tripod feet suggest a metropolitan, rather than provincial, origin. By contrast, the other two occasional tables and the upholstered footstool seem to fit with Froude's description of 'plain and solid' 'home-made' Kauri furniture: the vertical elements are turned and the supports sawn and chamfered. It seems likely that the furniture is a combination of pieces acquired by Grey subsequent to the incineration of his furniture in 1848 and utilitarian pieces either recently brought from England or made locally; there's little about it that suggests either Grey's gentry background or his former gubernatorial status.

There are four carpets visible in the photographs. Given Grey's social circumstances, they are, in all likelihood, Axminster or Brussels carpets – machine woven carpets from Kidderminster – rather than more exotic pieces. Seventy three Brussels carpets were listed as being installed at Government House in Auckland in an 1841 inventory of furnishings conducted by Felton Mathew. A notice for the sale of the recently assembled contents of the Coromandel gold prospector George Clarkson's Charleville House in Remuera in January 1871 lists eight Brussels carpets. At the time of Grey's return from England, new and carefully selected Brussels carpets were advertised for sale in Auckland by importers such as LD Nathan.

There are a significant number of ceramics adorning the room that include two porcelain garnitures de cheminée – on the bookcase and on the mantelpiece – that appear to be of Chinese manufacture. On the bookshelf the three quadriform inverted baluster-shaped vases are interspersed with what appear to be four brush pots, presumably also of Chinese origin. On the mantelpiece, the five vases are backed by two octagonal plates flanking two obscured objects that might be circular dishes; the mouths of the four flanking vases appear to be stopped by small bulbous bottles, presumably also of porcelain. Any decoration is indistinct. There are five more, large, vases, also apparently of Chinese origin scattered around the room on tables and brackets. Petersen quotes an 1881 visitor observing that all around the room 'was a sort of shelf or ledge, covered with curios of every description, peculiar chinaware, little deities of different metals, Maori curios, etc.' <Petersen, New Zealanders at home, p. 77>. Grey's drawing room was evidently a dynamic space, with pieces being added and, presumably, removed as his collection of things developed. What is evident is that the ceramics are not displayed primarily for the purpose of decoration. Like the paintings and the books, they're there to make a point: this is serious collecting.
Unidentified photographer, Captain [Roderick] Dew and the officers of HMS Encounter ([1862]).
Otto Herschan Getty
It's unclear what prompted Grey's interest in Chinese porcelain but Kerr records that 'while still in New Zealand [in 1865] Grey somehow learnt that a large Chinese enamel vase was being sold for £60 at a private sale organised by some navy agents in Westminster. Described as booty taken by a Captain Dew of the Royal Navy, 'it was a specimen of very curious art' that he was 'very anxious to get' because it would then be the only one in Australasia.'<Kerr, Amassing treasures, p.196>. That Grey was prepared to spend the equivalent income value today of £53,000 (NZD110,000) on an object he had not seen seems remarkable, but as with his books, collecting unseen was a condition of colonial life. In fact, Grey would have been well aware of Roderick Dew's actions as captain of HMS Encounter. Even though subject to criticism, Dew's actions at Ningbo during the millenarian Taiping rebellion against Qing rule in May 1862 were widely reported in the New Zealand press; it was an eerie foretaste of Grey's own position as commander in chief in and over the British colony of New Zealand during the settler-initiated land wars of 1863. From the brief description, it's possible that the vase positioned on the hearth of the unused fireplace may be that acquired from Dew's prize agent.
Detail of the vase located on the hearth in Daniel Louis Mundy (1826-1881), [Sir George Grey and his niece and adopted daughter
Annie Thorne George in the drawing room, Mansion House, Kawau Island, about 1871].
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries (7-A3034)
Grey's collection of Chinese porcelain as depicted in Mundy's photograph seems to have been unique in the colony both for its origin as well as its size – at least twenty-three pieces are visible. While Chinese ceramics were imported privately into the colony, surviving records suggest such material was not abundant; Between 1865 and 1875 there are a mere four auctions listing Chinese vases in Auckland newspapers including the sale in September 1872 of the stock of Japanese and Chinese goods of Mrs Johnstone of Shortland Street. It's unlikely that any of the pieces would have sold for £60.The September 1858 auction of the household furniture and effects of Colonel Robert Wynyard of the 58th Regiment, acting governor after Grey's first term, lists an extensive range of useful and ornamental ceramics, all of which appear to have been of European origin. Moreover, commercial imports of non-British ceramics attracted punitive duties and tariffs which would have deterred all but the most determined – or privileged – collector.
Detail of the garniture de cheminée on the mantlepiece in Daniel Louis Mundy (1826-1881), [Sir George Grey and his niece and adopted daughter
Annie Thorne George in the drawing room, Mansion House, Kawau Island, about 1871].
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries (7-A3034)
Grey's friendships in London encompassed notable collectors such as the art critic John Ruskin (1819-1900) and, more pertinently in respect of his ceramics, Augustus Wollaston Franks (1826-1897). Franks was keeper of British and medieval antiquities and ethnography at the British Museum and a voracious, knowledgeable and well-connected collector in his own right. He was also a fellow member of the Athenaeum club. Grey seems to have met up with Franks in November 1869 – he probably knew him from earlier visits to London – and during the remainder of his stay encountered him socially at regular intervals. Franks not only introduced Grey to other collectors but would have been well-positioned to advise him both on the paintings he acquired at Christie's and on the purchase of Chinese ceramics; he gave over three thousand examples of Chinese porcelain to the British Museum and his Catalogue of a collection of oriental porcelain and pottery, a documentation of his private collection that formed the basis of the gift (1876), is still highly regarded as an example of meticulous scholarship and exacting research.

Jessica Harrison-Hall opines the timing of Franks' interest in Chinese ceramics 'is significant and coincides with the commencement of long British involvement in East China during the Taiping Rebellion (1851-64) and the Second Opium War (1856-60)', and notes that these military actions 'brought a flood of high quality Ming (1348-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) ceramics onto the European art market.' <J Harrison-Hall, 'Oriental pottery and porcelain' in A W Franks: nineteenth century collecting and the British Museum, ed by M Caygill and J Cherry (London: British Museum Press, 1997), 220-229, p. 222>. Like Grey with his 'large vase', Franks is known to have acquired Chinese ceramics directly from military sources but, as Harrison-Hall observes, 'his main mode of collecting was very pedestrian. Literally. He walked along the Strand and shopped for most of his pieces at his London dealers'<Harrison-Hall, p. 225>, which may have been how Grey acquired many of his pieces.

As keeper of ethnography at the British Museum Franks was implicated in Grey's 1854 gift of over a hundred Māori objects and he evidently sought Grey's ethnographic advice during his time in London <D Starzecka, R Neich and M Prendegast, Taonga Māori in the British Museum (Wellington: Te Papa Press, 2010), p. 15>. In a note dated 17 May 1870 Franks informs Grey that he 'would be glad of an opportunity of looking at your pear-shaped implement from the Cape if not giving you too much trouble.'<A Franks to Grey, 17 May 1870, Auckland Libraries, GL F30.2>. Grey, in turn, was certainly not averse to taking expert advice and although the surviving correspondence between the two men in the Grey Collection at Auckland Libraries does not reveal if advice was sought from and given by Franks, it does encourage the possibility that it was.

As a collector, Grey's principal focus was on his books and manuscripts. His remarkable collection of paintings came, largely, from a single source. His carpets and furniture and other household goods seem to have been acquired by him primarily for functional purposes. His collection of Chinese ceramics, now dispersed and apparently unrecognised, has hitherto been ignored in assessments of Grey's connoisseurship. However it not only seems to have been acquired in the same pedagogical spirit as his paintings but also, like them, it's entirely possible that it was a collection of a particularly outstanding quality.