Eat, Drink, and Be Merry - The British at Table 1600-2000
Kenwood House, London
Note: the exhibit described in this article is now over, but the description of the house and the area is still very much valid)
A fascinating new exhibition has been announced by English Heritage for Kenwood House in North London. "Eat, Drink, and Be Merry - The British at Table 1600-2000", will run from 27 June to 24 September 2000 (so you have plenty of time to fit it into your vacation plans for next year).
Tracing the changing styles of dining and attitudes towards drinking and eating from Elizabethan times to the present, the exhibition features 30 paintings, from "Grace before a Meal" (1725) by Joseph van Aken, to "Nursery Tea" (1912), by Vanessa Bell.
More interesting for the casual visitor is the series of tableaux depicting table settings from different eras, including breakfast from a Victorian country house buffet recreated from the writings of that arbiter of good taste (literally), Mrs Beeton.
The dinner is Tudor, a delicious feast of sweetmeats under an arbour, and tea-time is set in a 1930's nursery. There are displays of a Windsor Castle banquet, a drinking party set in the 18th century, and a formal dinner from the Regency period. The future is not forgotten amidst all this display of culinary glories past; there is a 21st-century picnic basket laden with what the curators of the exhibition think will represent the future of British food.
Coinciding with the exhibition is the opening of several rooms at Kenwood after refurbishing. The Dining Room has a new dark red colour scheme to provide a backdrop for some of the best paintings in the Kenwood collection, including "Guitar Player" by Vermeer, and Rembrandt's "Self Portrait".
More Old Master paintings will be shown in the Dining Room Lobby, and the Green Room has been redecorated in the style of an 1820 watercolour of the chamber. Finally, the Music Room has a more feminine look, all the better to set off the fine series of portraits of Georgian women displayed there.
If looking at all that food makes you hungry, complete your visit to Kenwood House with a historic meal of your own. The Brew House Cafe at Kenwood will add period dishes to its menu for the duration of the exhibition. Groups can even arrange exclusive use of the Old Kitchen for their feast by prior booking.
"Eat, Drink, and Be Merry" will also be shown at Fairfax House in York from 26 February - 4 June 2000, and at the Castle Museum in Norwich from 14 October - 7 January 2001.
Editorial soapbox: Too many visitors to London concentrate on the famous sites of the city centre and neglect the wonderful (and less crowded) attractions further afield. A visit to the outlying communities of Greater London repays itself many times over. Kenwood is a terrific country house to visit, a masterpiece of architecture and style by Robert Adam (among others), and well worth an excursion.
In the same general area of North London are Highgate Cemetary, Keats House, the Freud Museum, the Royal Air Force Museum, Fenton House, and Hampstead Heath.