Built up over the centuries by the Cavendish-Bentinck family here at Welbeck, The Portland Collection includes extraordinary examples of fine and decorative arts. As each generation has added to the collection, different tastes and passions have been reflected in the vast array of artworks.
Our current historical exhibition Edward Harley: The Great Collector follows the fortunes of Edward Harley 2nd Earl of Oxford (1689-1741), exploring his background, family and marriage through his spectacular collections of fine and decorative art and books.
Edward Harley married Henrietta Cavendish-Holles – the wealthiest heiress in Britain. He was a dedicated collector; his collections were extensive and extravagant as he passionately sourced the rarest and most beautiful things.
One such object, now on display at The Harley Gallery in Edward Harley: The Great Collector is the exquisite Le Normand Tapestry, made using feathers and embroidery by Nicholas Le Normand in around 1720.
Gareth Hughes, Curator of The Portland Collection, explains why the feather tapestry is so special;
On seeing this piece, the first reactions may be surprise at the vivid colours and the boldness of the statement of the name, Le Normand. But on looking more closely, the most astonishing thing is the realisation that it is not a painting or a piece of needlework at all but is in fact made entirely of feathers.
The panel – which may be an advertising piece, as the monogram reads ‘LN’ – is one of only two signed pieces so far identified. Le Normand, whose name indicates his French origin, worked at Putney and specialised in featherwork. The feathers are all thought to be natural colours and the background was created by weaving the quills of the feathers into the warp and weft. To create the flowing curves of the monogram, the dark feathers have been trimmed.
As well as the use of feathers for costume, by the beginning of the eighteenth century Le Normand was creating furnishing pieces including firescreens and flower pictures. As a composition this work is clearly inspired by Dutch still life painting of the seventeenth century.
The most famous example of Le Normand’s work is of quite different scale – a complete bed with curtains purchased by Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, in 1721 for one of his palaces in Dresden. It too has survived the effects of sunlight, insects and pollution and can be seen in the Moritzburg Castle.