A Heavyweight at Harewood House

Heritage, history, Yorkshire

Harewood House is the archetypical country house. Built for Edward Lascelles, the first Baron Harewood, in the mid eighteenth century to designs by John Carr and Robert Adam, it is set in one hundred acres of garden designed by Capability Brown. It’s among Yorkshire’s most prized treasures. These days, such treasure has lost some of its lustre as people remember that the Harewood family acquired their immense wealth from being slave owners and having plantations in West India. The present Harewood family can’t change that past, but their exhibition programme does what it can to redress the balance: this month there’s an exhibition on Windrush generation Arthur France, founder of Leeds West Indian Carnival.

I mention this, because as you enter the house, this is what you see:

A spacious and gracious entrance hall: delicate plaster work, elegant columns: and slap bang in the centre, a mighty sculpture, monumental, assertive and demanding attention. This figure isn’t a slave: he’s not even Afro-Caribbean. No, this is a sculpture by Jacob Epstein, who was greatly influenced by what was in the early twentieth century thought of as ‘primitive’ art – that of Polynesia and Africa. This is Adam.

How he got here is a curious tale. Back in 1961 the then Lord Harewood saw this sculpture in of all places, a Tussaud’s peep show in Blackpool, together with other works by Epstein. A long and complicated story, but he eventually bought it, and now it’s recognised for the stirring and monumental piece that it is, rather than a grotesque to be laughed at. Do look at this post here to get a flavour of how Epstein’s work was regarded in its early days, at least as it was displayed in Blackpool. The short video below however places Adam in the context of Harewood House.

I wanted, for this week’s Lens-Artist Challenge #220 One Subject Three Ways by Patti, to observe Adam in several ways, to look at how this potent figure works in a space to which it seems in many ways unsuited. I found the lighting difficult and am not pleased with my results, but … I did it anyway. You’ve seen the first one already. Here are more…

So … Adam. But knowing the story of Harewood and where the money came from to build it, I found this figure, which relies on an African, rather than an European artistic heritage, makes a powerful statement to those who enter this house to enjoy its treasures and its finely proportioned and handsome grandeur.

I’m going to have another go at the challenge, perhaps tomorrow, when I take a stroll in the artfully designed ‘natural’ landscape of Harewood House.

46 thoughts on “A Heavyweight at Harewood House

    1. This particular Adam seems to have quite a few good stories surrounding him, but I fund it hard to check the references. Still, he’s better off in Harewood than in a peepshow, for sure.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Very interesting, Margaret. We can’t remove and rewrite history, but we do need to understand and learn from it. And this display and your post help us to do that.
    And I like you different angles – light and shiny surfaces don’t go well together, but these images show off its attributes very well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Debbie. I think that recent exhibitions at Harewood have demonstrated a real wish to re-examine the history of Empire, and Adam’s been here a long time. Hard to photograph, but I like him a lot.

      Like

  2. Fascinating background to this piece and its presence here. I think you’ve made a pretty good stab at showing him to us, given the surroundings. Do I like him? No, not really, although I’ve admired other works by Epstein. But I’m glad he’s here rather than in a peep show!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He’s grown on me, a lot. I used to see the Epstein reliefs on St. James’ Park Station on my way to and from school every day and came to like his work from that point on. This Adam has real power and presence that I love.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Well Margaret, you certainly gave us an eyeful this week!!! Very interesting story and rather an odd eventual placement for the statue but yet, better than a peep show! You did will with capturing it in multiple ways – hopefully no one wondered why you were so interested LOL!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I noticed, in the 1939 film, that a man got rather too close for his own safety, and the faint by the young lady was done very decorously. Excellent report and photos Margaret. We have all noted your desire to have a male nude in your hall!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow. This is a fascinating but challenging subject. The dim lighting, the glare from the surface of the statue. Yikes! Very, very challenging. And you probably couldn’t use a flash inside the mansion. Bravo for selecting this subject. I think your first shot really conveys the massive size of the statue and the environment. I didn’t know about Epstein’s work. Fascinating video. I hope you show us the grounds in another post. That would be wonderful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Patti. I think Harewood has a wealth of material I may tap over the winter. My next post will show the grounds, but not in all its rich variety. Epstein, it seems, was born in America, though he’s much better known herein Europe.

      Like

  6. That certainly is a monumental piece in a stunning setting. And, your three shots for ‘One Subject, Three Ways’ does Adam justice. Of course, it is an excellent choice to greet visitors as it defies being ignored and should shake up any preconceptions and get visitors in a curious frame of mind for visiting such a mansion with such a history.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This certainly was an interesting take on, Margaret. And unusual… You really managed to capture him in all his splendour – such an odd sculpture! The story behind it is fascinating and I can see why you did not give up but kept photographing. So difficult, but you should be happy with it! We are grateful for making this aquaintance.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks for the links – most interesting. The ornate context for the sculpture is odd somehow, but as others have said the monochrome shots (in your next post) do eliminate the distractions and make the sculpture appear even more massive. It is a pity the sculpture is not better lit as the gorgeous natural colours of the stone get a bit lost. (And why the blue lighting in those niche thingies in the background I wonder?)

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.