Oil on board 18 x 24 in (45.7 x 61 cm)
Park Place is located in the parish of Remenham, Berkshire, near Henley-on-Thames. It became Britain’s most expensive home when it was sold in 2011 for £140 million to an anonymous Russian buyer.
Piper lived in rural Oxfordshire near Henley and painted the area often, notably for the Shell Guide to Oxfordshire in 1938, which was edited by Sir John Betjeman. In Park Place Piper depicts the boathouse and decorative bridge of the historic house using an emotive, brooding palette that palpably conveys the wartime tensions of the period in which the painting was made. Piper’s visionary approach to landscape extends the 18th century Romantic tradition, championed by artists such as Joseph Mallord William Turner, John Constable and Thomas Gainsborough. There is a lithograph of the same title illustrated in English, Scottish and Welsh Landscape, a 1944 book containing twelve autolithographs by John Piper. This book formed part of New Excursions into English Poetry, a series also including The Poet’s Eye, Sea Poems, Poems of Death, Soldier’s Verse and Traveller’s Verse. Each volume of verse was selected by a different editor and illustrated by a different artist. The verse for English, Scottish and Welsh Landscape was selected by John Betjeman and Geoffrey Taylor. Piper’s lithograph is compositionally similar to our painting but depicts a moon-lit night-time scene. Piper also produced another oil painting of this scene called Park Place, Henley-on-Thames, 1941 (Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums).
History of the Estate
Lord Archibald Hamilton bought the estate on which Park Place now stands in 1719 from Mrs Elizabeth Baker and constructed a lavish new villa on the site. Frederick, Prince of Wales (eldest son of George II and father of King George III) acquired the estate in 1738 from Lord Archibald, whose wife Lady Jane Hamilton was his mistress. Following Frederick’s death, the estate was purchased by General Henry Seymour Conway in 1752. He made numerous improvements and additions to the grounds including building an extensive shell grotto, installing a Neolithic stone circle (known as the Druid’s Temple) from Jersey in 1785 and overseeing the building of a bridge (known as Conway’s bridge) designed by Thomas Pitt and engineered by Humphrey Gainsborough (brother of the painter Thomas Gainsborough) in 1763. Conway’s bridge is visible in Piper’s painting and was described by Horace Walpole as, ‘sublime, composed of loose rocks, that will appear to have been tumbled together there; the very wreck of the deluge. One stone is fourteen hundredweight. It will be worth a hundred of Palladio’s bridges, that are only fit to be used in an opera’. Conway’s bridge was reputably built of masonry derived from Reading Abbey. General Conway died in 1795 and his wife, Lady Ailesbury, sold Park Place to Lord Malmesbury the following year. Henry Holland carried out further alterations to the estate for Lord Malmesbury, who auctioned it in 1815. The house was purchased by Mr Henry Piper Spurling in 1816. In 1824, he exchanged the estate for Norbury Park in Surrey with his cousin Mr Fuller-Maitland. It was at this time that the four obelisks flanking the entrance to Park Place were brought from Stansted Hall, another family estate. Fuller-Maitland also acquired and erected the upper part of Christopher Wren’s St Brides Church Spire (which had been damaged by lightning) in the grounds of the estate at Park Place to commemorate Queen Victoria’s accession to the throne. Fuller-Maitland died in 1858 and his wife remained at Park Place until 1865. In 1866 Queen Victoria visited the estate with the intention of buying it. However, this acquisition did not take place and Park Place was ultimately sold in 1867 to Mr Charles Easton. In 1870, Mr John Noble acquired the estate and the following year, a major fire destroyed much of the interior of the main house. This was substantially rebuilt in a French Renaissance style between 1871 and 1873 by Thomas Cundy, one of the most celebrated architects of the period. The estate remained in the Noble family until 1947 when it was auctioned. The house was bought by Middlesex county and run as a boarding school. The school closed in 1988 and the estate was then briefly owned by Greek shipping tycoon John Latsis. It was subsequently bought by property developer Mike Spink in 2007 and the property was used for external scenes in the 2007 St Trinian’s film. The grounds of Park Place are said to be haunted by the ghost of Mary Blandy, who was executed for poisoning her father (a prosperous solicitor and Town Clerk of Henley) in 1752.