Hugh Broughton creates new home for the Dukes of Portland’s previously unseen art collection
Nottinghamshire’s 15,000-acre Welbeck is surely one of England’s most enterprising traditional landed estates. The seat of the Earls and Dukes of Portland since 1606, Welbeck’s limestone walls house a variety of flourishing businesses including a brewery, bakery, dairy, a contemporary art gallery, a cafe, an artisanal culinary school, a farm shop and, as of March 20th 2016, a second 890 sq m gallery that will showcase the Portland’s vast and previously unseen private collection of fine art and family treasures.
The second museum building ever designed by Hugh Broughton Architects (a firm who are more commonly known for creating Antarctic Research Stations), the new Harley Gallery has been built within a redundant structure that was previously used for training race horses in the Estate’s central courtyard and is positioned next door to the Estate’s existing contemporary art gallery.
A new entrance with a floating roof pane, walls made from handmade Danish brick and floor to ceiling glazing has been elegantly added to the original building. Here the old exterior stone wall is brought inside, its rough texture meeting Broughton’s new glazed roof panels and walls with surprising ease. The clean lines coupled with the absence of the typical gallery gift shop or cafe lends the space a refreshing sense of calm – something William Parente, the grandson of the 7th Duke of Portland and current owner of the family estate, was adamant about in his brief to Broughton.
Inside, two galleries house a regularly changing display of pieces pulled from the family’s vast collection, which has been assembled by the Dukes over the last 400 years. Eschewing the standard white spaces that are typical of new, contemporary galleries, Broughton opted for heritage paint colours, warm materials and details that reflect the collection’s former surroundings at Welbeck Abbey -the Stately home that still functions as the Cavendish-Bentinck family’s private abode.
The first gallery space, with its long, cycloidal ceiling and full length translucent roof light, is lined with oil painted portraits and headed up by a towering vitrine of the Portland family silver; while the second gallery, called the Trasury Gallery, is a much darker space that plays host to light-sensitive pieces such as a display of miniatures specially curated by Sir Peter Blake for the opening. While one third of this space features low ceilings and controlled lighting, the other two thirds are lit by north light that’s funneled in by way of a barrel vault roof light fitted with an external light-sensitive louvre system.
’We wanted to create a variety of experience [within the museum], which sometimes, in modern galleries, has got lost,’ reflects Hugh Broughton. ’Nonetheless it is a contemporary piece of architecture. It’s a celebration of light and volume but at the same time, it’s a building that draws inspiration from its context.’