Just before Lockdown, West Dean College of Arts and Conservation acquired a new artwork, adding to its diverse and internationally important Collection. The small yet significant watercolour shows the interiors of the grand entrance hall in 1812, revealing how West Dean House, now home to the College, would have looked after James Wyatt extended the property in the early 1800s. The significance of the work lies in the new understanding it brings to Wyatt scholarship, the study of historic interiors, and the fascinating story of the College’s past.
At the time the watercolour was painted, West Dean was the seat of the Peachey Family. James Peachey (c.1732-1808) had been made 1st Lord Selsey by Charles III and shortly after commissioned leading architect of the time James Wyatt to extend the West Dean Manor House. The Wyatt commission led to the famous flint-stoned mansion that West Dean is known for today. James Peachey died in 1808 and the House was inherited by his son, John Peachey, 2nd Lord Selsey (1749-1816). It was during this period that Marie-Jérôme Eon, Count of Cely (c.1734-1817), painted the recently acquired watercolour. Count de Cely was a French Lieutenant General who fought in the French Revolutionary Wars and was awarded the Royal and Military Order of Saint Louis. He was later made commander of the Legion of Honor, the highest French order of military and civil merit.
As Hugh Morrison, Head of Collections at West Dean, explains: “West Dean is very pleased to acquire this painting, which is now the earliest depiction of the house’s interior in the Collection. This is a fascinating addition to the College’s diverse collection and aids in filling a gap in our knowledge about the development of the house.”
He continues: “This rare glimpse into the interior of West Dean is not only significant for what it tells us about the Wyatt commission, but also for what is reveals about the extent to which the House continued to be adapted by subsequent owners of the House. After purchasing the West Dean Estate in 1891, William and Evelyn James commissioned architects Ernest George and Harold Peto to refashion the interior in Edwardian style. The extent of this refurbishment is evident in historic pictures of the house and in viewing these along side contemporary photographs, reveals the changing history and use of what is now West Dean College of Arts and Conservation.”
A small amount of conservation work was required to the watercolour and Lara Meredith, Subject Tutor (Books and Library Materials) at West Dean College did this. She described the process: “The old mount was discoloured and the pressure sensitive adhesive tape was degrading and both had the potential to cause damage to the watercolour. So this old material was carefully removed and rehoused into an archival enclosure.”
She followed on by saying: “From the recto of the watercolour I removed the pressure sensitive adhesive tape plastic carrier mechnaically, using a lifting knife. This left the sticky adhesive residue that I removed with a plastic eraser.”
West Dean College of Arts and Conservation has an international reputation and is a full partner of the University of Sussex. Students who study at West Dean often get to work with objects from the Archive and Collection as well as using it as inspiration.
Students with an interest in studying conservation or fine art can find more details on www.westdean.ac.uk and to find out more about West Dean College and its history, please visit https://www.westdean.org.uk/about/history-and-edward-james
While face-to-face teaching at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation is temporarily suspended, you can see tutor demos and some of the objects conservation students have worked on via social media: