Passersby might be intrigued by the gilded weather vane of Columbus’s caravel, the Santa Maria, that sits atop this beautiful building – I was one of them – but opportunities to discover more about it are limited as, for most of the year, Two Temple Place is closed to the public. So it’s worth keeping an ear to the ground and an eye on the press listings to find out when the next exhibition is on. The current one, ‘Amongst Heroes: the artist in working Cornwall’ is an absolute delight, but sadly finishes on 14th April 2013. Hurry…
William Waldorf Astor, Two Temple Place
In 1895, Two Temple Place was commissioned by William Waldorf Astor as his residence and estate office. Astor had come into a fortune of millions but, forced to flee the United States following death threats, he became something of a recluse and a little paranoid. Thanks to Lord Astor’s considerable wealth, architect John Loughborough Pearson had free rein to employ the best craftsmen and use the finest materials to create this exquisite example of late Victorian workmanship. Astor filled it with his passions and delights.
A square staircase dominates the wood-paneled vestibule. Newels on the staircase feature characters from Alexandre Dumas’ ‘The Three Musketeers’, thought by Astor to be the finest novel ever written. The oak-carved friezes on the first floor gallery depict scenes from some of Shakespeare’s plays, including Othello, Antony & Cleopatra, Macbeth and Henry VIII. An enormous stained glass roof covers the atrium, and exquisite stained glass windows, one featuring a Swiss landscape, book-end Astor’s office.
Newlyn School of Art
Against this extravagant backdrop, the current exhibition focuses of the simple lives of Cornishmen and women during the 19th century. It is beautifully displayed and very informative; if you didn’t already know, you’ll find out the meaning of fids, spikes, jowsters, cowels and sail-making palms. Many of the paintings are by the Newlyn School, a group of artists who painted from nature, en plein air. They chose popular subjects such as the nearby fish markets, mackerel boats, offshore crabbers and inshore seine fisheries.
On our visit we were fortunate enough to see a short performance especially created for the space by the New English Ballet Theatre. Our cup overfloweth…
And the weathervane? The caravel in which Columbus ‘discovered’ America is thought to symbolise the linking of United States and Europe.
Two Temple Place
London WC2R 3BD
Tel: 020 7836 3715
Exhibition Opening Times:
Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday 10.00am – 16.30pm
Wednesday Late 10.00am – 21.00pm
Sunday 11.00am – 16.30pm
Closed on Tuesdays