Kenwood House

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Kenwood House - restored, repaired and revived. © ENGLISH HERITAGE / CHARLES HOSEA
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The Great Room
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The newly refurbished Breakfast Room at Kenwood House. © ENGLISH HERITAGE / CHARLES HOSEA
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The newly restored Libary at Kenwood House. © ENGLISH HERITAGE / CHARLES HOSEA
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The newly restored ceiling in the Library at Kenwood House. © ENGLISH HERITAGE / CHARLES HOSEA
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The newly restored entance hall at Kenwood House. © ENGLISH HERITAGE / CHARLES HOSEA
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'Mary, Countess of Howe' by Thomas Gainsborough, c1764. © ENGLISH HERITAGE
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ulius Caeser Ibbetson, 'Three Long-Horned Cattle at Kenwood', 1797. © English Heritage

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'Portrait of the Artist' by Rembrandt Van Rijn, c1665. © ENGLISH HERITAGE
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The eighteenth-century dairy at Kenwood House © ENLISH HERITAGE / PATRICIA PAYNE
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The newly refurbished Lord Mansfield's Dressing Room at Kenwood House. © ENGLISH HERITAGE / PATRICIA PAYNE
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The newly repaired south facade at Kenwood House. © ENGLISH HERITAGE / CHARLES HOSEA
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Two years ago Kenwood House was looking distinctly down at heel. The long, creamy south facade was flaking and the roof was in poor repair. The wonderfully situated house (the estate adjoins Hampstead Heath) – which was transformed by celebrated architect Robert Adam between 1764 and 1779 to become a neoclassical villa suitable for William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield – had become shabby.

Which was alarming – because the place is ours. Shortly after World War I, the 6th Earl came extremely close to flogging off Kenwood to developers. The plots were already pegged out when the brewing magnate Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh, bought the estate. He never lived there, but left the estate to the nation, along with a superb collection of 63 Old Master paintings, acquired during a remarkably astute four-year spending spree between 1897 and 1891.

Fortunately, English Heritage, the twenty-first-century custodians of Kenwood, had things in hand and after an 18-month transformation period, made possible by a £3.9m Heritage Lottery fund and private donations, Kenwood House reopened earlier this year.

The impetus for the project was the need to preserve the fabric of the building and protect its internationally important collections, which include masterpieces by Gainsborough, Reynolds, Turner and Rembrandt.

But with the house closed and most of the major works despatched to the US for a touring exhibition, there was a rare opportunity to revamp the ground-floor rooms in sympathy with the first Earl of Iveagh’s vision, when he stipulated that the house should be presented to create ‘a fine example of the artistic home of an eighteenth-century gentleman’.

The dairy in the estate grounds, which once provided a bucolic setting for eighteenth-century aristocratic ladies in the mood for a genteelly slummy tea, has also been restored. Two rooms housing the paintings of the Iveagh Bequest were revamped in 2000 to show the works to their best advantage, and they remain unchanged.

Potentially more controversial is one element of the restoration of Kenwood’s showstopper, the library or ‘Great Room’. In what is considered by many (Robert Adams included) to be a masterpiece, some of the lavish gilding has been painted over. The decision came after extensive research and consultation and hundreds of forensic paint samples. The result is delicate and beautiful. And the protective barrier applied between old gilding and new paint means that the next generation of renovators will be able to find the evidence they need when they come to rehash the arguments about who exactly was responsible for the gilded layer, and when.

Discover more great places to visit in Hampstead

Venue name: Kenwood House
Contact:
Address: Hampstead Lane
London
NW3 7JR
Opening hours: Daily 10am-5pm
Transport: Tube: Golders Green/Archway then bus 210
Price: Free

Average User Rating

5 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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Martin C
Staff Writer

The joggers/strollers/families on the Heath don’t seem to make it as far as Kenwood House. So, even on a busy day (during the week at least) you can feel as if you’ve got the place to yourself. English Heritage has done a great job of the renovation – the impeccable baby pink and blue Great Room is the standout interior. But the real draw is the paintings. Back from its tour is Rembrandt’s ‘Self-Portrait with Two Circles’, his greatest masterpiece on display in the capital. Gainsborough’s ‘Mary, Countess of Howe’ is radiant. Vermeer’s ‘The Guitar Player’ is joyful. Also look out for smaller gems, such as heavenly little landscape by Constable, and even smaller gems in the form of portrait miniatures. Make a day of it and combine the best art and nature London has to offer.

Emma Perry
Staff Writer

The house and gallery are just part of the enjoyment of a day out at Kenwood House. The grounds are a landscaped sweep of loveliness set in 112 acres with a Henry Moore sculpture and picturesque lake creating key focal points. The west lawn is surrounded by mature rhododendron and camelia bushes that are breathtaking in spring. Walks around the grounds lead directly onto Hampstead Heath in several directions, taking you from classical English garden to unmanicured stretches of heathland in a few steps. The Brewhouse cafe terrace is one of the most peaceful places in London to sit and have a bite to eat. Families flock here across all seasons to enjoy the open space, birdlife around the lake and hide-and-seek and tree-climbing opportunities. The ice-cream kiosks are a big draw too. Kenwood House itself is a pleasure and kids absolutely love the huge doll's house, play room and historical trail/quiz card (with stamps in each room to mark their progress) that were introduced after the refurb. They're a good incentive to get little ones in to enjoy one of Rembrandt's most moving self-portraits as an elderly man. The story of Dido Belle, one of the first black women to be part of aristocratic British society (who lived at Kenwood), is fascinating too. 

Juut Bernard

A place of extreme elegance, style and quiet where you van feed your soul when you want à day out of the city. Highlights of european painting and à really very moving selfportrait of Rembrandt as a somewhat older person that stays with you for the rest of your life.