A rare glimpse into the Wyatt interior
West Dean College of Arts and Conservation recently acquired a new artwork, adding to its diverse and internationally important Collection. The small yet significant watercolour shows the interior of the grand entrance hall in 1812, revealing how West Dean House would have looked after James Wyatt, one of the most influential architects of his age, extended the property in the early 1800s. The significance of the work lies in the new understanding it brings to Wyatt scholarship, the study of historic interiors, and the fascinating story of the College’s past.
When the watercolour was painted, West Dean was the seat of the Peachey Family. In 1794 James Peachey (c.1732-1808) was made 1st Lord Selsey by Charles III and shortly after commissioned Wyatt to extend the West Dean Manor House. The Wyatt commission led to the famous flint-stoned mansion that West Dean is known for today. James Peachey died in 1808 and the House was inherited by his son, John Peachey, 2nd Lord Selsey (1749-1816).
It was during this period that Marie-Jérôme Eon, Comte de Cely (c.1734-1817), painted the recently acquired watercolour. The artist was a French Lieutenant General who fought in the French Revolutionary Wars and was awarded the Royal and Military Order of Saint Louis. He was later made commander of the Legion of Honor, the highest French order of military and civil merit.
Whilst we know that West Dean House has changed considerably over the years – from a large 17th century manor house to the modern day college – we have little visual record of the changing interior. This newly acquired painting is now the earliest depiction of the house’s interior in the Collection. It is not only significant for what it tells us about the Wyatt commission, but also for what is reveals about the extent to which the House has continued to be adapted by subsequent owners.
By viewing historic images of the interior and exterior we can see the significant changes that have taken place to the Historic House over time. The new watercolour acquisition is a fascinating addition to this timeline and fills a gap in our knowledge about the development of the house, which in turn enriches our understanding of the fascinating history of West Dean College of Arts and Conservation.