London Sights


Spencer House Review

Ancestral abode of the Spencers—Princess Diana's family—this is perhaps the finest example of an elegant 18th-century town house extant in London. Reflecting his passion for the Grand Tour and classical antiquities, the first Earl Spencer commissioned architect John Vardy to adapt designs from ancient Rome for a magnificent private palace. Vardy was responsible for the exteriors, including the gorgeous west-facing Palladian facade, its pediment adorned with classical statues, and the ground-floor interiors, notably the lavish Palm Room, with its spectacular screen of columns covered in gilded carvings that resemble gold palm trees. The lavish style was meant not only to attest to Spencer's power and wealth but also to celebrate his marriage, a love match then rare in aristocratic circles (the palms are a symbol of marital fertility). Midway through construction—the house was built between 1756 and 1766—Spencer changed architects and hired James "Athenian" Stuart, whose designs were based on a classical Greek aesthetic, to decorate the gilded State Rooms on the first floor. These include the Painted Room, the first completely neoclassical room in Europe. Since the 1940s the house has been leased by the Spencers to a succession of wealthy residents. In 2010 the Spencer family scandalously decided to sell off all the house's best furnishings, so today's viewers see a decidedly denuded interior. The garden, which is open on certain Sundays in summer only, has been replanted in the 18th- and 19th-century fashion. Check the website for details.

Updated: 02-27-2014

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