In contrast to Temple Newsam, the Gallery at Hagley was built as an integral part of George Lyttelton’s new house, erected between 1754 and 1759 within the existing landscape setting he had been famously embellishing since the late 1740s. His architects were – in addition to himself - his friends, led by Sanderson Miller, in addition to Thomas Prowse and John Sanderson. The Gallery forms the whole length of the east side of the house, measuring 79ft x 19ft, being a virtual four times cube. Most remarkably – and according to John Cornforth perhaps for the first time in England - it is divided into three sections by two screens of columns – looking ahead to the ‘scenic’ divisions of internal spaces so beloved by Robert Adam and the architects of neo-Classicism. Cornforth also suggested that the room was never intended to be a Picture Gallery as such – unlike the Irwins of Temple Newsam the Lytteltons did not own a collection of Old Master paintings. Instead it was more a gathering place for family and friends to enjoy views of the park from its five large windows, perhaps also doubling up as a large entertaining room for assemblies and gatherings. This essentially informal function of the room and its theme of naturalism which we will see dominates the room is emphasised by the lack of gilding anywhere in the decoration or furnishings of the room.
Lord Lyttelton appears to have taken as his starting point a set of inherited 17th century portraits with their original frames carved in limewood with foliate decoration in the style of Grinling Gibbons, and at least one of these he had freely copied – in a lighter and more obviously naturalistic way - for a portrait of his sister Hester. The same carver was probably responsible for the wooden chimneypiece in the room, although whether he was the same craftsman responsible for all or just some of the rest of the furniture remains to be seen.
The rest of the furnishings were now incorporated into this setting. Between the two central windows were hung two immense pier glasses and their tables beneath them. Flanking these, on either side, were the two pairs of candlestands, which are the purpose of today’s paper. On the fireplace wall opposite were hung two spectacular girandoles; and around the walls of the room was placed the seat furniture.
Linking all these pieces is the theme of naturalism, or the imagery of the parkland over which this room affords splendid views. To begin with the candlestands: these are painted in strongly contrasting reddish brown and stone colours, the former (for the stem) to imitate mahogany and the latter to suggest either petrification or ‘frozen’ woods, leaves and water in which the entwined dolphins have been caught up. Indeed it is difficult to distinguish whether the ‘stalactites’ and ‘stalagmites’ are not in fact icicles, and whether the entwined dolphins have either been petrified into their strange locked embrace or have been frozen solid.