Two good reasons to visit Waddesdon Manor this summer
by Theresa Thompson, Timeless Travels' Arts Correspondent
Above: The finished Wedding Cake © Atelier Joana Vasconcelos
For the past five years Portuguese artist, Joana Vasconcelos has been cooking up a gigantic wedding cake.
It’s pure fantasy land. A 12-metre-high sculptural pavilion in the form of a three-tiered Wedding Cake, it’s part sculpture, part garden folly, part “patisserie” if you will - a cake you can walk into, a cake you can walk up, a cake where, arriving at its golden summit you can be those figures who traditionally embellish the top. Her most ambitious commission to date, Vasconcelos describes it as “a temple to love” that celebrates festivity and marriage.
The artist is well-known for her playful, oversized sculptures that depict everyday items. The cake is clad entirely in icing-like pastel coloured ceramic tiles – pale pinks, greens, blue and snow-white glazed tiles glisten in the sunshine while cupids, dolphins, mermaids, candles, and mini-saints adorn the walls. The tiles were made by the Viúva Lamego manufactory, which has been operating for 170 years in Sintra near Lisbon.
The saints are all St Anthony of Padua, there to bless the newlyweds who may be married inside this extraordinary fairy tale of a building. St Anthony is recognised in Portugal, Spain, and Brazil as a marriage saint because of legends of him reconciling couples. The saint’s feast day falls on 13 June, a date pleasingly close to the opening date of this commission by the Rothschild Foundation for Waddesdon near Aylesbury.
Above: Joana Vasconcelos in her Wedding Cake © Lionel Balteiro for Atelier Joana Vasconcelos
Waddesdon Manor itself is no stranger to ornamentation. Built by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild from 1874 in the style of a French early 16th-century château for hosting parties and to showcase his exceptional art collection, its very fabric drips with embellishment, externally and internally. And that’s besides the ornamental dairy and gilded rococo-style aviary that was as much a must-see for his guests doing a tour of the garden in the 1890 as it is today.
Similarly, Vasconcelos (b 1971) is no stranger to Waddesdon. Wedding Cake is the latest commission to arise from the relationship between visionary collector Lord Rothschild and the artist. For example, Lafite, commissioned in 2015, is a pair of giant candlesticks made of illuminated Chateau Lafite Rothschild magnums, and now stands beside the Dairy. And, in 2012, her giant wrought-iron tea pot Pavillon de Thé was the focal point of a contemporary sculpture exhibition in the gardens.
Above: Close up of the Wedding Cake and model of the design © Atelier Joana Vasconcelos
Vasconcelos who lives and works in Lisbon explains that Wedding Cake was inspired by the exuberant Baroque buildings and magical decorative traditions of that city. The word ‘barroco’ is from Portuguese, she adds. “It’s more than an artwork, its more than a ceramic work, it’s a dream: a place for peace, love and happiness in this world.”
British artist Catherine Goodman (b. 1961), the founding Artistic Director of the Royal Drawing School, finds peace and happiness in a grove of ancient olive trees that she has returned to every summer for 12 years on the Greek island of Corfu. “I got to know the place, the trees by observing closely and drawing them,” she explains.
“These paintings and drawings are, in a very real sense, portraits,” she explains, as she has to bring all her powers of human observation to bear on the rendering of the gnarled natural forms.
The exhibition title, Do You Remember Me? refers to her exploration of what she describes as “almost a friendship” with the trees. “I am inspired by how our feelings are woven into those places of nature, how nature and emotion combine and enrich our minds, lives, memory, and my drawings become animated by it.”
A massive Frieze of seven canvases depicting the ancient grove against the vivid blues of the sea and sky is the centrepiece of the exhibition in the Coach House Gallery. Ovid’s poem, Metamorphoses, was its inspiration, specifically the legend of the nymph Daphne, and a new translation from the Latin of the original text by the poet Alice Oswald accompanies the work.
Above: Oleander Snow II, 2022; pastel on paper © Catherine Goodman
A complementary display of Goodman’s pastel drawings, all made in situ in the same olive grove, is in the Drawings Room of the Manor. A selection of Bleu Céleste Sèvres porcelain from the Waddesdon collection is shown with them. The Manor is famous for its ceramics and on her many visits, Goodman became fascinated with the colour of some of the finest pieces.
Lord Rothschild says “I am immensely proud that Catherine, one of the leading artists of her generation and a long-standing friend of my family, has chosen Waddesdon for her first major public exhibition of landscape paintings, and that the subject should be one so close to our hearts. The island of Corfu has a deep and long-lasting personal connection for us, thanks to my mother, Barbara Hutchinson and my stepfather, the Greek sculptor and artist Niko Ghika. They made a retreat there from 1969 in a house amongst the olive groves so sensitively and powerfully depicted in these paintings. For me, they evoke the beauty and timelessness of the island and its trees, a serene counterpoint to an increasingly turbulent world. I hope that visitors to the exhibition will share a sense of this, and the importance of place to us all.”
For more information visit www.waddesdon.org.uk
Catherine Goodman’s exhibition Do You Remember Me? is in two parts: pastels in the Drawings Room at the Manor and oil paintings in the Coach House Gallery at The Stables and on until the 29th October 2023.
Vasconcelos: Wedding Cake is on until the 26th October on Thursdays and selected Sundays.
For booking and information, please visit: www.waddesdon.org.uk/wedding-cake