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Kenwood House (Caen Wood House)

  • House & Family History: Kenwood, as Caen Wood, was first built in 1616 by the king's printer. Between 1694 and 1704 the house was rebuilt by the surveyor-general of the ordnance at the Tower of London. In 1754 the solicitor general, William Murray (1705-93), bought the Kenwood Estate, just two years before he was simultaneously ennobled as the 1st Earl of Mansfield and appointed lord chief justice. Murray was a younger son of the 5th Viscount Stormont of Scone Palace, a noted Jacobite who was thrown into prison for participating in the 1715 rebellion. Moving to London to attend Westminster School, Murray turned his back on his family and never returned to Scotland. After Westminster School he went on to Christ Church, Oxford, and later famously became a protégé of Alexander Pope. Appointed solicitor general at the young age of 37, and known as "Silver-tongued Murray" in his lifetime, Murray is today considered the greatest British lawyer of the 18th century. In the 1760s Murray hired the famous Robert Adam to recast Kenwood as a great house to befit his new, elevated status. Adam enlarged the house (he added a third story) and created the great room and the famous library, after which he unified the exterior with the new patented "oil cement," a form of exterior stucco that Adam was greatly enamored of (it turned out to be a poor material and only lasted a number of years). The Kenwood Estate remained in the ownership of the Murray family until 1925, when it was sold to the immensely wealthy brewery scion Edward Cecil Guinness (1847-1927). Guinness was given a baronetcy in 1885, raised to the peerage in 1891 as Baron Iveagh, elevated as Viscount Elveden in 1905, and finally, in 1919, given the title of Earl of Iveagh. In the early 20th century Lord Iveagh was looking for a suitable home for the cream of the art collection he had formed between 1887 and 1891 (originally installed in his Mayfair home). In 1924 he signed a 10-year lease on Kenwood; in 1925 he purchased the freehold of the house and 74 acres; without his intervention Kenwood would have been developed into a housing estate of 33 homes. On his death in 1927 Lord Iveagh left Kenwood to the nation. Kenwood House became a famous icon in the 1930s when it was illustrated by Margaret Calkin James in her poster for the London Underground. During World War II Kenwood housed servicemen. In 1949 the Iveagh Bequest Trustees deeded Kenwood House to the London County Council; when its successor, the Greater London Council, was abolished by Margaret Thatcher in 1986, Kenwood was handed over to the nascent English Heritage.

    Collections: Most of the original contents of Kenwood House were either removed by the earls of Mansfield to Scone Palace, Perth, or sold in 1922, just three years before the family sold the house itself. A number of pieces designed by Robert Adam for Kenwood have been reacquired by English Heritage for the house, including a sideboard table, pedestals, and a wine cooler, all carved by Sefferin Nelson in 1773; they are today displayed in the entrance hall in the same grouping as originally dictated by Adam (see “Images” section). In 2012 Godson & Coles sold a pair of Robert Adam-designed benches, originally made for the house, to English Heritage for the collection at Kenwood. The Kenwood Candelabrum (mahogany, circa 1799) designed by C.H. Tatham for the Prince Regent at Carlton House, is today in the collection at Kenwood House. The house also contains the finest collection of Old Master paintings given to the nation in the 20th century (on his death in 1927 Edward Cecil Guinness, Lord Iveagh, left Kenwood House and 63 sublime paintings to the British people). Julius Bryant, writing in the 2003 book "Kenwood: Paintings in the Iveagh Bequest," states that Lord Iveagh, "With perfect timing and decisiveness...absorbed the cream of art newly released from settled aristocratic estates" and put together "the most intact surviving collection formed for a London town house of the Gilded Age." The collection is particularly strong in Flemish and Dutch masterpieces, with works by van Dyck, Hals, Cuyp, Vermeer ("The Guitar Player"), and Rembrandt (his famous self-portrait; see “Images” section). Eighteenth century society beauties and children painted by Gainsborough ("Mary, Countess Howe" – see “Images” section), Lawrence, Reynolds, and Romney (Emma Hart as "The Spinstress" – see “Images” section) form the other strength of the collection (of the 63 paintings left to the nation, 62 were purchased by Lord Iveagh at the dealers Agnew's). On the evening of February 23, 1974 Vermeer's "The Guitar Player" (see “Images” section) was stolen from Kenwood House. On May 7, 1974, after an anonymous tip, Scotland Yard successfully recovered the painting, which was found unharmed (wrapped in newspaper tied up with string) in the graveyard of the Priory Church of St. Bartholomew the Great in the Smithfields section of London. Though the identity of the thief, or thieves, has never been confirmed, many experts believe that the English socialite turned Marxist terrorist Bridget Rose Dugdale was the mastermind behind the theft. On April 26, 1974, just two months after the theft of “The Guitar Player,” Dugdale and her accomplices carried off an audacious art robbery at Russborough House in Co. Wicklow, the home of Sir Alfred and Lady Beit, who were pistol-whipped and tied up during the theft. Dugdale and her gang pulled off what was, at the time, the most valuable art theft in history, stealing 19 paintings, including works by Velázquez, Goya, Gainsborough, Rubens, Hals, Guardi, van Ruisdael, and, most famously, Vermeer’s “Woman Writing a Letter with her Maid.” All of the paintings were soon found in a cottage in Co. Cork and returned to Russborough; however, just 12 years later, in May of 1986, a gang of Dublin criminals stole many of the same paintings again. This time 18 paintings from Russborough House were stolen, including Gainsborough’s portrait of Madame Bacelli, the portrait of Dona Antonia Zarate by Goya, Gabriel Metsu's “Young Man Writing a Letter,” and, of course, Vermeer’s “Woman Writing a Letter with her Maid.” It took until 1993 to recover all but three of the paintings—still missing are a head of a man by Rubens and a pair of Venetian scenes by Guardi (the twice-stolen Vermeer is today in the collection of the National Gallery of Ireland). All of these stories are detailed in Anthony Amore’s 2020 book, “The Woman Who Stole Vermeer: The True Story of Rose Dugdale and the Russborough House Art Heist.” Amore is the director of security and chief investigator at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, an institution whose own Vermeer, “The Concert,” was stolen on March 18, 1990 as part of the most valuable art heist of all time (the 13 pieces of artwork remain missing today).

    Comments: Robert Adam's Library at Kenwood is considered one of his finest interiors. J.C. Loudon, writing in 1838, on Kenwood: "This is, beyond all question, the finest country residence in the suburbs of London..."

  • Garden & Outbuildings: The Kenwood Estate today comprises 74 acres. In the 18th century, when it was famous for its natural spring waters and fresh air, the estate encompassed 1,500 acres, most of which is today part of Hampstead Heath.

  • Architect: Humphry Repton

    Date: 1793
    Designed: Parkland

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    Architect: George Saunders

    Date: 1793-96
    Designed: Northeast service wing and outbuildings for 2nd Earl of Mansfield

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    Architect: Robert Adam

    Date: 1767-69
    Designed: Remodeled and enlarged House: created Library and added portico and 3rd story for 1st Earl of Mansfield.

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  • Country Life: XXXIV, 710 plan, 1913. LXII, 653, 1927. CVII, 1550, 1950.

  • Title: Kenwood: Paintings in the Iveagh Bequest
    Author: Bryant, Julius
    Year Published: 2003
    Reference: pgs. 1-3, 6, 16-17, 292
    Publisher: London: English Heritage
    ISBN: 9781848021280
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Movie Locations: A Guide to Britain & Ireland
    Author: Adams, Mark
    Year Published: 2000
    Publisher: London: Boxtree
    ISBN: 0752271695
    Book Type: Softback

    Title: Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600-1840, A - SOFTBACK
    Author: Colvin, Howard
    Year Published: 1995
    Publisher: New Haven: Yale University Press
    ISBN: 0300072074
    Book Type: Softback

  • House Listed: Grade I

    Park Listed: Grade II*

  • "Sense and Sensibility" (1995). "101 Dalmatians" (1996). "Mansfield Park" (1999). "Notting Hill" (1999). "William and Mary" (2003 - TV mini series). "Venus" (2006). "Clapham Junction" (2007 - TV). "Dido Belle" (2008). "Priceless Antiques Roadshow" (2009 - BBC TV, 15-episode documentary, 31-year highlights). "Kevin McCloud's Grand Tour of Europe" (2009 - TV mini series).
  • Past Seat / Home of: William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, 18th century; Murray family here until 1924. Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh, 1925-27.

    Current Ownership Type: English Heritage

    Primary Current Ownership Use: Visitor Attraction

    Ownership Details: Since 1986 owned by English Heritage

  • House Open to Public: Yes

    Phone: 02083-481-286

    Email: [email protected]

    Website: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk

    Historic Houses Member: No