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Caring for the past: Richard Montagu Douglas Scott, 10th Duke of Buccleuch and 12th Duke of Queensbury, is making a distinctive contribution to the outstanding historic landscapes and art collections of his family's four great houses. Apollo caught up with the Duke for a tour of Boughton House, Northamptonshire.

These pages tend to focus on the collecting of works of art. Only rarely addressed are the consequences of that passion--the responsibilities of care and conservation, documentation and display that follow that first thrill of acquisition or commission. Collection management is probably not especially onerous for most collectors, but what is it like to find oneself responsible for not tens or even hundreds but literally thousands of works of art, often of a great age and in almost every conceivable medium? And what if those collections were housed in historic buildings, in turn set in historic landscapes, that are also sublime living and ageing works of art in their own right?

'I honestly don't understand the meaning of the word responsibility in this context--for me, it is all about opportunity,' replies Richard Montagu Douglas Scott, 10th Duke of Buccleuch and 12th Duke of Queensberry. Through two female heiresses, his ancestors gathered not only titles but great estates and houses, four of which are still in the possession of the family: Boughton House in Northamptonshire, the historic home of the Montagu family; Drumlanrig Castle in south-west Scotland, the seat of the Douglas dukes of Queensberry; and both Bowhill (Fig. 6), near Selkirk, and Dalkeith Palace, just south of Edinburgh, the creations of the Scotts of Buccleuch (Dalkeith Palace has been let by the family since 1914, although its grounds are open to the public).


To an outsider--this one, at least--the scale of such an inheritance is overwhelming, but what most impresses is the exemplary stewardship of the present Duke's grandparents and parents who, with exceptional dedication, strove to reopen, restore and breathe new life into these vast houses and their surrounding estates after the First and Second World Wars. Theirs is a mantle enthusiastically worn by the energetic and resolutely un-fazed 10th Duke, who is making his own distinctive contribution to the estate's outstanding landscapes and collections as well as to their interpretation.



His father, the 9th Duke, wrote of the familys 'constant war against storms, woodworm, death watch beetle, wet rot, dry tot and general decay through age.' He also wrote, sensitively, of the compelling yet fragile atmosphere--or 'soul'--that is too often sacrificed when houses are given over to commercial management. That soul pervades Boughton, a truly magical house which, having been surplus to requirements for much of its 500 years, has been left to slumber, more or less untouched (Fig. 3). It is here that the Duke and I meet; together we walk through dark and shuttered State Rooms, famed for their French furniture and Mortlake tapestries, into intimate garden courtyards and past imposing French facades--little wonder that Boughton was dubbed the 'English Versailles'--before bumping across the grounds in a golf buggy to inspect the avenues and waterways of a 17th- and early 18th-century formal landscape that is slowly being restored to its former glory. If inside there is still a sense of time suspended, outside, on a sunny summer's day, the park seems a picture of purpose and industry.



The 9th Duke, Walter, and his wife, Jane, were perhaps the last of the great Edwardians in the way they moved seasonally, like stately nomads, between their houses: Boughton in May, June and July; Drumlanrig for the autumn; Bowhill after Christmas. Their greatest art treasures went with them, including Leonardo da Vinci's The Madonna of the Yarnwinder (c. 1501), which in those more innocent days would be popped in the back of the Duke's secretary's Morris Minor. (Since being stolen from Drumlanrig in 2003 and recovered four years later, the painting has been on loan to the National Gallery of Scotland; Rembrandt's An Old Woman Reading (1655), however, still hangs at the castle.)

'I am far worse than my parents,' laughs the 10th Duke, speaking of his own peripatetic lifestyle. 'At least they tended to stay in each house for several months, and moved about even less after my father's riding accident left him in a wheelchair. We still have a very pretty--I won't call it petite--pink family house in Dumfriesshire that our children very sensibly will not let us move out of. I suspect that for all of us, "going home" means going there, but since I lived in all of the great houses when I was younger I can easily and instinctively feel that all are homes on an almost equal footing.

'It is now too easy to go to Scotland by air or train, [so] I go up and down every week. Ir is not at all satisfactory, and it probably can't go on--I suspect it is a sort of an addiction, because I very much want to keep in touch with what is going on in all the houses although I know there are wonderful teams running them. I feel that ir I did not visit for three or six months, I would be slow to re-engage and I enjoy the seasonal variations of being in a building, of different light coming into it. Houses do need to be used all year round--and they need the occasional party, too.

'My father opened the three houses to the public for the first time soon after he inherited in 1973,' he continues. 'It was driven partly by inheritance tax but also by a sense of obligation and sharing, and he genuinely enjoyed people seeing his houses which, to be honest, my mother did not. He was marvellously welcoming, and as I got older I realised just how knowledgeable he was about the collections. He was also particularly keen to break down the barriers of prejudice about what ancient families like ours are like and the cliches about the upper classes. His particular passion was trying to build bridges, especially between the country and the town, and he wanted to illustrate the houses in an estate setting to show people that they were working economic enterprises that supported part of the national heritage.

'However it soon became apparent that extensive house openings were not going to be commercially successful, partly due to location and partly due to an unwillingness to do the sorts of things that attracted large visitor numbers. So, after eight years or so, we decided as a family that the two least commercially successful houses, Bowhill and Boughton, would be opened for only part of the summer and put under the wings of charitable educational trusts.'

Like his father, the 10th Duke also immersed himself in parts of the collection at a fairly early age. After reading history at Christ Church, Oxford, he 'muddled around for a year or two', trying out the City--'it soon became clear I was not right for that'--before becoming 'completely obsessed' with the 15th-and 16th-century English portrait miniatures in his family's collection. He enlisted the help of V&A conservator and miniature specialist Jim Murrell, and together the pair spent over a year studying them. After that came two years working for the BBC's World Service as a current affairs script writer. 'I enjoyed it hugely,' reflects the Duke. 'It was something utterly different and utterly mine--I was never going to do it forever but it taught me a lot.'

He continues: 'With my father being in a wheelchair and pressures growing, I did, inevitably, get drawn back into estate management in a big way, and spent most of my time in Scotland thereafter. I shared Drumlanrig with my grandmother, who adored French furniture in particular and had a very hands-on approach: she liked to get underneath things with a torch and find the marks of the ebenistes.' It is hardly surprising, then, that the first systematic survey of any part of the collection he initiated after inheriting the title in 2007 was of the important Boulle and Louis XV furniture. That led to some immediate first-aid as well as the restoration of a glorious cabinet attributed to Andre-Charles Boulle (c. 1690-95), and a far rarer bureau said to have been a gift from Louis XIV and attributed to Pierre Gole (c. 1672; Fig. 1).


Before then, preserving the family heritage had been very much his parents' domain. 'My father did discuss the houses but, to be totally honest, you can't have two generations of the family running the houses; it just doesn't work.' His mother's particular interest was textiles: 'She was concerned about the way in which we lived in the houses and the impact that had on the textiles in particular, and she transformed our use of shutters and blinds.' She also set up a textile conservation room at Bowhill and was the driving force behind the conservation, undertaken by De Wit in Belgium, of two sets of tapestries (the collection includes some 100 pieces), the most magnificent of which is the suite of four, woven in wool, silk, silver and gold thread in Mortlake, depicting The Acts of the Apostles (1636-38; Fig. 4) after the Raphael cartoons now in the V&A. The set represents the pinnacle of weaving at the royal manufactory, which was briefly controlled by Ralph Montagu, 1st Duke of Montagu (1638-1709), a long-serving ambassador to the court of Louis XIV and the presiding genius at Boughton.

While his parents were alive, the present Duke was also getting to grips with Boughton's landscape. 'Everyone said it was so beautiful, but if you looked closer, it was in rapid decay,' he recalls. 'Park trees were maturing, fences were dilapidated and the water had completely disappeared. My father had made a great step forward by digging out the lake in the 1970s, but it had not been edged, so its edges were crumbling.'

In 2004, as canals continued to be dug and filled and avenues replanted, he asked the landscape architect Kim Wilkie what he might add to the landscape. As the latter recounts in his book Led by the Land, the answer came as quick as a flash: 'Why not go down rather than up?' Mr Wilkie suggested mirroring the grass pyramid mount that had been designed, possibly as a base for a mausoleum, by Charles Bridgeman for the 2nd Duke with an inverted pyramid dug into the neighbouring turf (Fig. 5), a square pool at its 'base' reflecting the sky. Unveiled in 2009, the work is fittingly titled Orpheus and has since evolved into an occasional performance space.

None of this would have been possible, the Duke admits, without what he calls the 'engine room'. About 20 years ago the Buccleuch Group diversified, mostly into commercial property overseas, but this business only took off after the Duke inherited. 'We have a wonderful chief executive who previously worked for a French multinational,' the Duke enthuses. The Duke hopes to reach a similar position with respect to his family's heritage, which is now managed largely by the recently reconstituted Buccleuch Living Heritage Trust. 'While we don't want to lose the sense of it being a family inheritance, or to become museum-y, there is a great deal more we can do in terms of presentation and interpretation,' he says. 'Quite rightly, our trustees are encouraging me all the time to be more strategic in the way that we run operations, particularly when it comes to conservation, planning and prioritising. I am also really fortunate to have been appointed a trustee of the Royal Collection and that has really opened my eyes to what we should be doing in terms of collection management.' He continues: 'We have too rich and varied a collection to be casual about it. If the children choose to be passionate about it, then that would be marvellous, but they must make that choice freely and without overdue expectation.' When I tell the Duke how nice he is, he peals with laughter. 'I genuinely do want to be engaged, but I recognise that we all only have one life and why should they feel guilty if their talents are quite inappropriate for these heritage or business worlds? That said, it is always going to be easier if there is a member of the family who is engaged and around. I can't imagine a museum director being anywhere other than working next to his collection.'

With the encouragement of one of the trustees, Dame Rosalind Savill, a Sevres specialist and former director of the Wallace Collection, the outstanding collection of 18th-century Vincennes and Sevres porcelain assembled by the 5th Duke and Duchess in 1830-31 has already been redisplayed in Boughton's 84ft-long Audit Room, with the estate joiner providing new cases to unveil more of the 103 pieces of the bleu celeste-ground Vincennes dinner set ordered by Louis xv for Versailles. Another exceptional holding, of arms and armour, is also in the process of being researched and reorganised.


One thing that proved too much for the 10th Duke's parents was the management of the archives and records. (Though fortunately access was granted to trusted scholars such as John Cornforth and Dr Tessa Murdoch, and the latter's research evolved into the exemplary and collaborative Boughton House: The English Versailles, published in 1992.) 'Bizza, my wife [Elizabeth], felt we couldn't just potter round the edges of the archive but had to dive in somewhere and music really suggested itself,' he says. 'She bought in the music historian Paul Boucher and suddenly people were pulling out music and humming it. We thought: "Why couldn't we play this? Why not have a concert?" People got very excited, and the whole thing snowballed.' Much of the music in the Montagu Music Collection required a harpsichord, so one was commissioned from Andrew Garlick, who decorated the instrument with motifs from the Daniel Marot panels at Boughton (Fig. 8). A reception space for attendees of the resulting summer concerts--now a regular fixture at Boughton--was created in the old steward's room which now also serves as an exhibition gallery. Ideas for future shows are always bubbling up in the Duke's mind, including a display of the house's incredibly rare 16th-century European carpets.


Conservation work is ever pressing, none more so than on the 17th-century mirrors with verre eglomise borders at Drumlanrig which recently very nearly imploded--'terrifying indeed'--and on the fabulous Louis-Francois Roubiliac family tombs in the church at Warkton, next to the Boughton estate, whose internal iron supports are badly corroded. 'The heritage engine room is not producing enough for us to be anything other than reactive at the moment,' sighs the Duke.

Yet he is determined not to let either the estates or the collections stagnate: 'In the 20th century, with the political and economic winds against them, my family found it impossible to do anything beyond commissioning the obvious primary portraits, but I am keen to explore ways in which we can add to the collection, and not necessarily in terms of portraiture or even painting but by looking at the strengths of what we have and trying to find people who can give a 21st-century take on it. Tapestry is an obvious example--we have managed to commission one piece so far, based on a painting by the Scottish artist Victoria Crowe who did a wonderful cycle about the life of a shepherdess in the Borders. We chose one, Two Views, and the Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh produced it (Fig. 7). I think it is a bold and original piece of work.

'By spending more time in each house, I think I have come to see how the relationships between different parts of the collection can change. What has been enormously helpful in clarifying the mind has been producing new guidebooks for each of the three houses--I write them and my brother John [editor of Cornucopia] organises the photography and publishing. Out of that process has come a major re-hang at Bowhill over the winter--and with that goes a rewriting of the narrative for visitors. Houses tend to focus on family history, but in some ways I feel even more strongly about engaging people's aesthetic interest and encouraging them to really look at the art.'

At Bowhill, an audio-visual had already been made posing the question of whether there was a link between the creation of the landscapes both there and at Dalkeith and the paintings that the family had bought in the 17th and 18th centuries, by Claude Gellee, Claude-Joseph Vernet and Jacob van Ruisdael. 'I strongly believe we should be doing more of this kind of thing--we are only at the beginning of this particular journey,' says the Duke emphatically, before adding with a smile as he surveys the glorious Boughton landscape: 'We are not in any hurry.'


Susan Moore is associate editor of Apollo.

Boughton House is open throughout August (
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Author:Moore, Susan
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 1, 2012
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