02 August 2011

Emile de Bruijn: the National Trust Reads

Surely among a rich man's flowering lawns,
Amid the rustle of his planted hills,
Life overflows without ambitious pains;
And rains down life until the basin spills,
And mounts more dizzy high the more it rains
As though to choose whatever shape it wills
And never stoop to a mechanical
Or servile shape, at others' beck and call.

Portrait of Charles Crowle, by Batoni

Mere dreams, mere dreams! Yet Homer had not Sung
Had he not found it certain beyond dreams
That out of life's own self-delight had sprung
The abounding glittering jet; though now it seems
As if some marvellous empty sea-shell flung
Out of the obscure dark of the rich streams,
And not a fountain, were the symbol which
Shadows the inherited glory of the rich.

Emile de Bruijn writes the blog Treasure Hunt for the National Trust- but he really is a hunter- the blog is just one of his tasks there. Emile writes of the hunt- I "co-ordinate acquisitions of works of art and other historic chattels that have left our historic houses in the past." Emile's presence at the National Trust's blog is so highly valued- for me it brings what is already  the lively reality of History into my daily life. It has to be the same for all his readers. It is unique unto itself. Emile says his "aim is to share the enjoyment-" that he has done.

Some violent bitter man, some powerful man
Called architect and artist in, that they,
Bitter and violent men, might rear in stone
The sweetness that all longed for night and day,
The gentleness none there had ever known;
But when the master's buried mice can play.
And maybe the great-grandson of that house,
For all its bronze and marble, 's but a mouse.

The Book Room at Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

What Books are on your Summer reading list? 

I must admit that I don’t have a specific ‘summer’ reading list – I am just constantly trying  to keep up with all the books that I want to read! At the moment these volumes are at the top of the various piles:

Wendy A. Cooper, An American Vision: Henry Francis du Pont’s Winterthur Museum. 
This surely is the dream life: to have exquisite taste as well as the funds and leisure to exercise it. Of course H.F. du Pont was a more complicated personality than that, and it is fascinating to read about his motives and collecting. And of course his idiosyncratic perfectionism can now be seen as very much of its period

Stephen Addiss, 77 Dances: Japanese Calligraphy by Poets, Monks and Scholars, 1568-1868. Addiss is one of those rare scholars who writes with great elegance. It is fantastic to have these abstruse and subtle works of art explained to one in clear and yet detailed prose, with beautiful illustrations.

Rosemary Crill, Chintz: Indian Textiles for the West.
  This catalogue of the chintzes in the collection of the V&A in London is a visual feast.

Jonathan Hay, Sensuous Surfaces: The Decorative Object in Early Modern China.
 This beautifully illustrated book is opening my eyes to the aesthetic modes and fashions of Ming- and Qing- period China. In particular, I hadn’t realised how objects were subtly integrated into interiors through their shapes, colours, textures, motifs and so on.

Mark Purcell, The Big House, Library in Ireland: Books in Ulster Country Houses

I have just begun to read this book by my colleague Mark Purcell.

Daniel, Peter, and Andrew Oliver by John Smibert, 1732.

This is ‘heritage’ in its ideal form: a mixture of social, economic, political and art history, plus family gossip. It illuminates Irish country house life through the juxtaposition of objects, people and ideas, bringing the archives (and libraries, in this case) to life.

Jane Brown's  The Omnipotent Magician: Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, 1716-1783.
Jane Brown has tried to establish what the elusive garden designer Capability Brown did when. It is a difficult task, and a lot will have to remain conjectural, but this book is nevertheless very useful and interesting.

Capability Brown, painted by Nathaniel Dance

O what if gardens where the peacock strays
With delicate feet upon old terraces,
Or else all Juno from an urn displays
Before the indifferent garden deities;
O what if levelled lawns and gravelled ways
Where slippered Contemplation finds his ease
And Childhood a delight for every sense,
But take our greatness with our violence?

Books reflected in a mirror at Sissinghurst Castle. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Fascinating shelves of 'ordinary' books at Sissinghurst Castle, Kent. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Is there one book that lingers season to season that doesn't get read, one you honestly don’t expect to get to?

There are lots of those, but sooner or later they will rise to the top of the pile – I hope!

Where do you read and when? Does the genre you are reading dictate the  place you read- in other words, Do you take just any old book to bed?

close up from Rembrandt Peale's Portrait of Three Children

Yes size and time of day dictate everything: the large illustrated books tend to get read sitting at the dining table with a mug of tea before breakfast, or in the evening after our toddler son has gone to sleep, while the books read in bed perforce tend to be the smaller novels and biographies. 

What books would I find on your nightstand look like? or your side of the bed,floor,chair?

Ian Thompson, The Sun King’s Garden: Louis XIV, André le Nôtre and the Creation of the Gardens at Versailles. I am fascinated by how political gardens can be, and this is a classic example.

Timothy Brook, Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth and the Dawn of the Global World. About the influence of trade and economics on art history and the history of ideas – often overlooked by the aesthetes.

Stanley Weintraub, Charlotte and Lionel: A Rothschild Love Story. The family side of the astonishingly successful Rothschild family business, where business was family and vice versa.

Meredith Martin, Dairy Queens: The Politics of Pastoral Architecture from Catherine de Medici to Marie Antoinette. Again about the politics of garden design, and about image-making and image-projection.

Peter Watson, The German Genius: Europe’s Third Renaissance, the Second Scientific Revival and the Twentieth Century. Like its title, the argument of this book is too broad and over-stuffed with too many unrelated examples, but I am learning a few interesting things about German intellectual history. The concept of Wissenschaft, for instance, is difficult to translate into English – combining as it does aspects of ‘scholarship’, ‘learning’, ‘development’ and ‘science’, but I remember how my own (Dutch) university education was imbued with its spirit, which I am only now starting to comprehend.

What is you all time Favorite Book for its sense of place?

That would be Yasunari Kawabata’s Snow Country, for conveying the sense of isolation and cold of the Japanese town of Yuzawa, in Niigata Prefecture, in winter. Kawabata is a master of the understated description of  sensory and emotional experiences.  The deep snow of Yuzawa is contrasted with the town’s hot spring’s, and that polarized setting is echoed in the relationship between the wealthy but emotionally withdrawn protagonist and the warm-hearted geisha Komako. This is one of those novels that leave an almost physical memory.

What is your Security Blanket Book?
Any book by William Gibson: Pattern Recognition, for instance, or Spook Country, or Zero History, or Idoru, and of course his first and game-changing novel Neuromancer

 Gibson’s use of language is beautifully spare, and he weaves together suspenseful storytelling, iconic characters, and interesting ideas about what is happening now in the worlds of media, branding and technology. I find his books somehow very soothing – perhaps that is the geek in me! Or perhaps Gibson is the Kawabata of Cyberpunk…

What is your favorite Genre? Why? What is your most recent purchase in this category?

I love interior design books, for the pure visual enjoyment, the escapism. A recent read in this category is David Mlinaric On Decorating – the text is slightly disappointing,  but there are marvelous images of Mlinaric’s achingly beautiful interiors. As with all really good interior designers, the details in Mlinaric’s interiors never disappoint: a paint colour here, an interesting fringe there, a modest but appropriate piece of furniture somewhere else. This is elegance as a kind of science, precise and well-judged.

The Breakfast Room at Nostell Priory, West Yorkshire, subtly redecorated by David Mlinaric after a fire in the early 1980s. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

What about Books you are reading for a second or third time? Why? Any disappointments on second reading?
When I first read Sybille Bedford’s A Legacy I thought it was a wonderful evocation of pre-WWI European upper-class life. But on re-reading I seemed to detect an element of caricature: some of the characters seemed a little too feckless, too over-cultured, or too brutal, too philistine to be entirely believable. In particular the author’s distaste for anything ‘Prussian’ seems a little bit too subjective (or rather to be a subjective opinion presented as an objective fact).

What is the seminal book in your field or your passion that you would recommend to young would be(s) of the same?

The power of some books you read when very young is extraordinary, they can shape your life. In my case a few that come to mind are:

Private View: The Lively World of British Art
by Bryan Robertson, John Russell and Lord Snowdon (1965)
My mother bought this when she was young and I devoured it as a teenager. Robertson and Russell write a magisterial, authoritative prose that brings to life the British art world of the day in all its complexity, while also explaining what the individual artists were trying to do. Snowdon’s photographs are second to none in providing seemingly spontaneous (but actually very cleverly posed) images of artists in their studios. The book achieves the ultimate goal of rendering its subject both serious and glamorous.

Mark Girouard's
Life in the English Country House: A Social and Architectural History (1978)

Again by a very engaging writer, this book introduced me to heritage, not as a dusty, static subject, but as a teeming mixture of architecture, interior design, changing social conventions and interesting personalities. I wonder whether Girouard is the first to make plans of houses seem sexy and vivid: in this book, with his commentary, they conjure up images of elaborate hospitality and courtesy, of formal grandeur and informal intimacy, and of course of the logistical problems of keeping the food warm on its journey between the kitchen and the dining room.

Marcel Proust's
À la recherche du temps perdu

I started to read this daunting series of books in my late teens (and finished it several years later) for essentially snobbish reasons: as something that one had to have read. Appropriately, the book actually includes some marvelously intricate analyses of snobbery, as well as of love, desire, jealousy, memory, nostalgia and beauty. Proust’s writing is famously beautiful, and the work somehow makes psychology beautiful as well, and beauty psychological.

Chester Jones'
Colefax and Fowler: The Best in English Interior Decoration (orig. publ. 1990)

Although this is a glamorous coffee table book, Jones manages to make Fowler’s oeuvre and his way of working seem almost scientific in its rigorousness and its attention to the character of a place and its owners.I love the book’s - and Fowler’s - balance of subjectivity and objectivity.

Admirers of John Fowler will recognise his touches in the Great Hall at Sudbury, Derbyshire, redecorated in 1969. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

What if the glory of escutcheoned doors,
And buildings that a haughtier age designed,
The pacing to and fro on polished floors
Amid great chambers and long galleries, lined
With famous portraits of our ancestors;
What if those things the greatest of mankind
Consider most to magnify, or to bless,
But take our greatness with our bitterness?

The Long Gallery at Sudbury looks as if it has always been like this, but prior to John Fowler's intervention in the late 1960s the walls were lined with polished pine bookcases. 
©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

 Latest Obsession Author?

Sadly I don’t seem to have enough time to develop obsessions, unless if it for William Gibson’s strangely gripping novels about the interface of the material and the virtual world.

Book covers can be art- Do you have a favorite cover  in your stacks?

Portrait of Bertrand Barère de Vieuzac by LANEUVILLE

In a way find ordinary book covers more interesting than ‘arty’ ones, for what they say about the marketing and ‘branding’ of an author and a subject, and about the intended audience. It is a visual language that can be decoded and can sometimes be very subtle  or poignant and add to the depth to the experience of reading a book.

Going out on a limb here –define LIBRARY in the nontraditional sense?

I think blogs can be a new version of the library, as repositories of information and networks of connections. 

Blogs can be archives and exhibitions too, as well as virtual coffee shops, which makes them such a fascinating new medium.

Jean Paul Sartre said:
"Every age has its own poetry; in every age the circumstances of history choose a nation, a race, 
a class to take up the torch by creating situations that can be expressed or transcended only through poetry.

The National Trust makes preserving the ages possible-in doing so whatever the era-these places are there to tell  of Beauty, of History & of Poetry.

poem by William Butler Yeats Ancestral Homes, Meditations In Time Of Civil War, here
Emile's Treasure Hunt blog  here
The National Trust here



  1. I can't begin to find all the right words to thank you for this post.

    A person I do not know.

    So many books I am ignorant of until today.

    Thank You X 2 :)

  2. I receive Emile's blog by email. It is my daily addiction. He is the most practical of the brightest young people. He always gets it, as in his quote below...

    "I think blogs can be a new version of the library, as repositories of information and networks of connections. Blogs can be archives and exhibitions too, as well as virtual coffee shops, which makes them such a fascinating new medium."

    We are so lucky to know him.

  3. A splendid introduction, really handsomely done. Seeing the facing page of the title page in Bedford's "A Legacy" and reading his comment about it, reminded me that he probably felt much better about "The Sudden View," a travel book on Mexico which cost me $1.45 in 1963 and may be regarded as one fabulous investment.

  4. I immediately went to Emile's blog--it is fantastic and is this post. Once again thank you for pointing me in the right direction. Mary

  5. Delighful posting. Thank you!

  6. Fascinating…
    Thank you PGT for the introduction.

  7. Hi, Gaye - Thank you for the excellent interview and for introducing us to Emile de Brujin. I have already added his blog to my list.

  8. When Emile speaks of William Gibson's use of language being "beautifully
    spare" he could easily be referring to his own approach to writing his
    excellent blog, of which succinctness of style and evocative phrasing
    are hallmarks. No surprise then to see the broad range of books of which
    he is fond. There are a few titles new to me, but that will soon be remedied.

  9. This is a great series! I'm always delighted to see one of Pompeo Battoni's wonderful portraits—he was from Lucca, by the way.

  10. Fascinating! I love books and there are a a number here new to me.
    __ The Devoted Classicist

  11. Wow--so much in this posting. In addition to checking out de Brujin, I'll have to track down the Capability Brown book. His comment about Brown is very revealing--Brown's influence was so enormous that it goes beyond his individual commissions and opinions, so we need Jane Brown to help disentangle myth from reality.

    ---Road to Parnassus

  12. Please read Sybille Bedford - a very great writer somewhat forgotten - wit yes but with a unique view of the world. Go buy - and back in print too - start with Jigsaw.



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