Pitzhanger Manor

Sir John Soane was the ultimate gentleman collector and Pitzhanger Manor was once his weekend retreat and ‘dream’ home for displaying objets d’art. Nowadays his collections are located at the Soane’s Museum in central London, while Pitzhanger Manor is open for the public to enjoy its historic interiors. Although it has a separate art gallery attached, the actual Manor house is occasionally used as a venue for displaying contemporary art in an elegant, historic setting.

An upstairs room is currently dedicated to Mutter Matter, an ethereal installation by artists Jane Fox and Irene Mensah. The work takes the form of an oversized dining table laden with an unusual landscape of fine china and crystal glass, set amongst peaks of finely sifted white flour. Sunday-best crockery is precariously balanced upon mounds of fine powder, reaching towards the Adam-style ceiling which is equally enthralling with its filigree plasterwork and pastel shades. Light pours into the room from large windows and bounces off glass and mirrors, making the space bright and airy. The proportions are out of scale, giving an Alice-in-Wonderland quality to the work as if we have just sipped a potion to make us smaller, as the table’s contents tower over us. The display is perfectly poised between dream and reality – a mere gust from a carelessly slammed door or an inopportune sneeze could tip the balance and the whole thing come toppling down in a haze of fragments, recollections, notions and dust.

This is a space where Mrs Beaton has rolled up her floury sleeves to take on Josiah Wedgewood. But it is no ordinary pillow-fight. The artists were inspired by recipe books inherited from their own grandmothers as well as by notebooks kept by Soane’s wife and confidante, Eliza. The latter reveal a woman who was the model of domesticity, the perfect hostess compiling lists of ingredients and entertainments to amuse weekend guests. The artists sifted through the few existing remnants of Eliza’s life to reclaim her history and, by extension, the stories of many women only dimly remembered through the filter of domesticity. Sir John may have been the house-builder with his bricks, mortar and plaster, but let us not forget that Eliza was just as industrious and significant as the ultimate home-maker.

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