We have just returned from a visit to see Houghton Hall in north Norfolk, originally built as the ultimate assertion of power and influence by Sir Robert Walpole, usually seen as Britain’s first Prime Minister. The prime reason for the visit was to catch the exhibition of Richard Long’s work before it closes at the end of this week. The principal richard Long works at Houghton are all outside and as we arrived on a particularly cold and wet day our spirits were somewhat dampened and expectations quite low.
How wrong we were. Houghton is an extraordinary synthesis of architecture, landscape, garden and art which combine to create something totally uplifting and far greater than the sum of the parts. I struggle to find the right words for something which represents such a comprehensive Renaissance conception of total art. Houghton Hall itself is of course both the centrepiece and the backdrop to the landscape. Designed by Colin Campbell for Walpole, and with interiors by William Kent, it defines a scale and gander to which landscape and gardens have to rise if not to be completely overwhelmed. After years in which much of the landscape was given over to industrial farming, the current Marquess of Cholmondeley, has devoted himself to creating a landscape which complements the house. Working with Isabel and Julian Barrington he has reshaped the landscape and created the most extraordinary gardens in the old walled garden. And working with Richard Long and others he has inserted into the landscape art works; land art, sculpture etc – which are both fascinating in their own right and create vital points of focus to lead you round the grounds.
A single visit on a cold, wet October day cannot begin to do justice to such an extraordinary and overwhelming creation. I cannot recall anything quite like it in scale and completeness of vision in the UK, and I speculate that there can be few such places in the world. Wow!