Waddesdon Manor: Glorious Years and The Mother of Parliaments
"It’s always a case of wanting to do something that’s new or you haven’t done before. Politics is a great subject for doing that because it changes all the time."
It’s a Wednesday afternoon and I’m sitting in the original stables at Waddesdon Manor. I’m not here for horses; the space is now a Treaterie, where I work my way through a shamefully large number of finger sandwiches, macarons, pea tarts, and mini lemon meringues – switching back and forth between savoury and sweet, like the unhinged gastronomic maverick I am.
The indulgence concludes the preview of the Waddesdon exhibition, Glorious Years: a display of 26 French calendars or almanacs, from the 17th and 18th centuries, which chart “major events, from royal weddings and births to victorious battles and peace treaties.”
Adding another layer to the exhibition, Artist Adam Dant has been commissioned by Waddesdon to – as he puts it to me when we talk a fortnight after the preview – update “the model of the French almanac to represent power in Britain today.” The print he has done as a result (The Mother of Parliaments: Annual Division of Revenue) will be presented alongside the Glorious Years French calendars.
You may have come across his work before. Go to St Ebbe’s in Oxford, and you can see what he’s done for the new Westgate, a commission in which the city is treated as the centre of the world. Citing Oxford’s “history and academic tradition”, he could not have created, he says, what he has done with any other city.
“If something like the 17th and 18th century pieces shown in Glorious Years was around today, what would it look like?” Adam asked himself at the start of the Waddesdon job. What he’s come up with in answer, he says, “is not mocking, but a bizarre idea to transform politicians into godlike status.”
He reminds me that he’s an artist, not by way of boosting his ego, it seems, but to separate what he’s done in this case from what a cartoonist or caricaturist might have. “I take a situation, and I won’t be disparaging about the individuals involved, or point it out to be corrupt and rotten, or – in the traditional way – satirise it. There is no bile or moralising in the way I approach it.”
He’s documented British politics before, when he was commissioned as the official artist of the 2015 general election. Sketching in Central Lobby, he “got to know a lot of candidates, and the system of government, and how general elections work.” He recalls the “general normality” of the world he was depicting. Contrary to the idea of them “being a world apart” from the people they serve, he witnessed politicians existing as parts of their constituencies, as “genuinely honest people trying to do a good job.”
Britain’s current political period is the most fascinating I’ve ever known. “The issues are interesting, aren’t they?” Adam responds when I say this. I suppose the Waddesdon commission has come, I go on, then pausing for him to complete the sentence with “at a good time,” as he does. “I thought, ‘What’s happening politically, what would be most equivalent of an announcement by the French Republic?’ ” He decided on representing Philip Hammond’s Spring Budget announcement. Copies of his print are available to buy, and he has left white spaces for users of the almanac to fill in every year, according to what money is being spent where following each new budget.
With his art, he states, “It’s always a case of wanting to do something that’s new or you haven’t done before. Politics is a great subject for doing that because it changes all the time.”
You can view that politics is ever changing positively or negatively. (I just hope the pastry at Waddesdon, possibly as artistic as anything in its exhibitions, stays precisely as it is).
The Mother of Parliaments: Annual Division of Revenue will be displayed as part of the Glorious Years exhibition, at Waddesdon Manor until 29th October 2017 (Wednesday-Sunday).
Top Image – The Mother of Parliaments: Annual Division of Revenue, A Print for The British Electorate by Adam Dant, 2017 © Adam Dant
Below – Waddesdon Manor Treaterie. © Derek Pelling, National Trust, Waddesdon Manor
Bottom – La Chaussée, Almanac Titled: ‘The August alliance of the houses of Bourbon and Austria’, 1771. Photo Mike Fear © National Trust, Waddesdon Manor
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