|Osborne House - eastern entrance|
Osborne House is run by English Heritage, which has "a management contract to run [it] as a historic tourist attraction". You're reminded of this the instant you get in the door, by people trying to sell you English Heritage membership even before you get to the main ticket desk. Entrance is via a crass setup that funnels you through the crowded gift shop; you buy tickets (£13.40 per adult), and then they try again to sell you English Heritage membership, along with a guide book costing around a fiver. Once inside the very spacious grounds, a short walk (or a paid-for horse carriage ride) takes you to the house. They have a free baggage storage setup up a ramp to the right of the entrance.
My heart sank on finding that Osborne House has a no-photo policy indoors. We were told this was due to all the contents belonging to the Royal Collection - but it comes across as a restriction whose chief intent is to steer visitors toward buying postcards, guides, and commercial images. I appreciate that such income is necessary to help pay for the upkeep, but given the generally steep pricing for entrance and extras, it comes across as petty and anal (I'd have been perfectly happy to pay a reasonable permission fee with an agreement not use images commercially). Furthermore - I've discussed this with Felix Grant - as a fairly compulsive photographer, I've found photography has become a "way of seeing", of remembering, note-taking, and "fixing" experiences. Consequently I can't remember, or else can't find online, half of the stuff that interested or amused us as we walked around the house, such as the unintentionally hilarious "Sleeping Junkie" statue, of a sleeping spinner whose distaff looks like an oversized hypodermic syringe.
The visit is well-organised as a self-guided round trip that winds round the house, down to the basement, up to the top, then back down via the central stairwell. There are information boards and a few audiovisual displays, plus minders in each room, but the house isn't terribly well annotated. With a bit of creative management, it could be brought into the 21st century - for instance, with WiFi-accessible descriptions - but perhaps that's not the clientele they're aiming for.
|Cherub strangling duck|
The William Dyce painting on the main staircase - the 1847 Neptune Resigning to Britannia the Empire of the Sea - is a weird piece of propaganda that chiefly left us wondering at the anatomy of the nymphs or tritons, who (unlike conventional merfolk) seem to have separate prehensile fishtails on the end of each foot.
But on the plus side, there are moments of human interest and calm in all this overblown clutter. Chiefly, we were awed by the portraiture of Rudolf Swoboda: a whole corridor is devoted to the works of this artist, who toured India and produced a large output - many in 8"x5" miniatures - of sensitive and photorealistic portraits of Indians from all walks of life. You can see many of them in the Royal Collection e-gallery. The Osborne collection includes a couple of portraits of Abdul Karim (aka "The Munshi") - if they're accurate, it's easy to see why Queen Victoria found him charismatic.
Finally, we took a walk round the grounds. Externally, I can't fault Osborne. Albert was a fine architect technically, and I like the Victorian Italianate stye. In pictures, the house often looks an austere grey, so grim that some comments have likened it to an American penitentiary - but in the flesh, it's a warm pale honey colour, perfectly complemented by the yellow-gravelled paths and a formal garden with a tightly-coordinated register of plant colours. A little over a kilometre's stroll takes you down through parkland to Osborne's private beach, recently opened to the public. There wasn't a great deal to see there - the "Swiss Cottage" was under renovation - but it was a pleasant spot to chill out on a very warm autumn afternoon.
See the official site: Osborne House.
Addendum: out of interest, check out Government House, Melbourne, Australia, which, as a tribute to Victoria, was constructed in 1876 as a copy of Osborne House.
Sorry about the hiatus in posts: nothing sinister, just a very busy week including a band performance last Sunday at Topsham Quay, then a scheduled break in the Isle of Wight - all pretty hard work while convalescing from a respiratory bug (sub-flu, but still nasty) that's going the rounds.