2 Temple Place sits back from the Embankment in the City of London and is the former home of William Waldorf Astor. The house was designed by John Loughborough Pearson and built between 1891 and 1895. A neo-gothic fantasy, its interior is an exotic mix of Victorian medieval fantasy with a frosting of Walter Scott and the Three Musketeers. It is open to the public from time to time when there are exhibitions on there.
The present exhibition there is called Cotton to Gold and celebrates the private collections of wealthy Lancashire cotton magnates, all of whom subsequently gave their collections to local museums. Although their particular ways of demonstrating their wealth were different from Astor’s the setting seems very appropriate. For many of them there is a core concern for demonstrating their intellectual concerns often despite their lack of educational advantage on their way up. This was then channelled by the idea that their collections could in some way benefit their communities educationally in the future. The usefulness of dozens of stuffed garden birds distinguished by albinism or non-standard plumage might seems doubtful now but othen evolution and natural variation were live issues in the 19th century. Other features include Tiffany glass and mosaics, some very good Japanese woodblock prints and an impressive collection of illuminated manuscripts and early printed books.
I am not going to illustrate examples from the exhibition though. The excellent café provided coffee, cake and a sofa in a small room at the front of the house. On the windowsill were these two huge and beautiful Tzu Chou style wine jars on the windowsill. The one on the right is particularly fine. I am not going to bluff and guess whether they are Ming or later versions.
The Cotton to Gold exhibition is made up of items from the Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery, the Hayworth Art Gallery in Accrington and Towneley Hall in Burnley. For more information on the house and the exhibition programme see the Two Temple Place website.