You can’t have failed to notice the refurbishment and building work going on at Orleans House Gallery over the last year or so. Unless of course you haven’t seen it. The work is now done and the house is about to re-open. We asked the El Brute’s Arts Brigade what’s been going on down at OHG and here’s what they told us….

“In March the three hundred year old Orleans House will reopen to the public following a seventeen month refurbishment as the 300 year old building enters a new phase of its role as a centrepiece of Twickenham life.

Orleans House (Feb 2018)

The £3.7 million transformation project has been made possible thanks to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and support the Council, Orleans House Trust, and various trusts, foundations and charities and individual donors. The refurbishment will make the Gallery more accessible to its many visitors with a new entrance and the addition of a  lift to the upper floors meaning more people can explore the range of exhibits and pieces the building has to offer.No doubt the House’s previous owners would have approved of the improvements. One could envision George I and George II, who both visited the house nodding with approval at the fresh new look, particularly in the stunning Grade I listed Octagon Room. The room, designed in baroque style by Gibbs and built in 1720, has taken on a whole new, sunlit look after builders tasked with unblocking and replacing a bricked up window found the original window surround had survived in good condition, and it was decided to leave it unblocked. With light streaming in for multiple windows the room, restored to its second paint colour scheme of blue, grey and gold room is the undoubted jewel in the Orleans crown.

Restoration of the Octagon Room meant an old inhabitant, a painting of Queen Caroline donated by the last private owner of the house Nellie Ionides, would need to be relocated. The painting, by Herman van der Mijn, has been cleaned and conserved to show off details of Queen Caroline’s sumptuous embroidered dress decorated with flowers – a nod to Van der Mijn’s earlier career as a flower painter. It is now on display in the entrance area outside the Octagon Room on a recently uncovered wall which is still in its original state.

Queen Caroline, Orleans House Gallery

Art lovers and history buffs alike will find something to enjoy on a visit to Orleans House. Before entering the Octagon Room keep your eyes peeled and you will glimpse the remains of an old bell pull which was uncovered during the restoration – a nod to the buildings life as a stately home. You will also be able to walk across some of the history of the house as a section of the old floor, which sits below the current floor, has been opened up and covered with a glass panel to create a decorative feature.

Wander outside and it’s not hard to understand why the Duc d’Orleans, one time owner of the house, called it his ‘peaceful house in Old Twick’.  The Duc, Louis Phillippe lived in the house in exile from 1815-1817 before becoming King of France. His son Henri, Duc D’Aumale, followed his father in living in Twickenham for almost two decades from 1852. It was Louis who built a gallery and library next to the house.

Louis Philippe visiting Orleans House in 1844

In the garden you will find new permanent interpretation markers to help understand where the original House stood. The five markers display text and images showing the original locations of the building’s front door, the corner of the house, as well as the 19th century circular fountain, library and gallery, and the former boat house. These information boards help bring the historical site to life, as the main house and link building were demolished in 1926, and give visitors an insight into what the house would have looked like when it was first commissioned in 1710.

Interpretation markers at OHG

The House has come a long way in that time and now acts not only as a gallery and historical site but as an educational tool and artistic space too. The West Wing of the Main Gallery has been improved as an exhibition space with more natural light and a more open and flexible character. The remodelled the North Wing of the Main Gallery at ground level provides a new accessible reception area and shop.

On the upper floor the new extension now houses a Study Gallery, enlarged Picture Store, Framing Room and Training Room. The Study Gallery showcases over a hundred exhibits from the Richmond Borough Art Collection. These works are on permanent public display for the first time and visitors of all ages can enjoy and explore works displayed on walls, pull out racks, in drawers and hidden behind doors. Whether you are interested in artefacts or paintings, quirky collections or regal designs, there will be something at Orleans to pique your interest.

Orleans House Renovation (Oct 2016)

Everyone at the Gallery has worked tirelessly over the last seventeen months to ensure the space befits its history. So if you’re visiting for an hour or an afternoon, they look forward to welcoming you the next time you make your way to the peaceful house on the riverside.”

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With thanks to Richmond Council for details on the OHG refurbishment

P.S. If you found this interesting, please consider sponsoring local charity Spear as part of the Twickerati marathon fundraise. Details here.