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Makers, Buyers, and Users: Sir Lawrence Dundas and his Town House: 19, Arlington Street, London (1763-1780)

Malcolm Clements, Coordinator: Contextual Studies / Scholarly Activity and Research Coordinator

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                   Sir Lawrence Dundas and his Grandson, Johann Zoffany, 1769–70 © Collection of the Marquess of Zetland, Aske, Yorkshire.



The eighteenth century is occupied by key figures who located the enlightened thinking of the time, within the framework of Georgian creativity. Names such as Robert Adam, Thomas Chippendale, and Josiah Wedgwood, are synonymous with the construction of a Neo-Classical language of architecture, interiors, and design, and their magnificent rise to creative glory are well-documented and lauded. As a design historian however, my research interest lies not with the creative geniuses of Georgian design, but with those who commissioned, bought, and displayed the goods that were exhibited within the country houses of the wealthy, particularly those who lived within the margins of accepted society; the recusant Catholics, the ‘new money’ Nabobs, and the lowly born social climbers. In the past, my focus has been on the ways in which the marginalised expressed their arrival, or survival, to elite society, through the purchasing and display of high status possessions. My previous research has revealed two distinct patterns of display and consumption here; adherence to the social norms of taste in the visual language of exhibition, and, secret visual languages that can be read by the similarly marginalised. One of the greatest names in eighteenth-century connoisseurship, Sir Lawrence Dundas (c.1710-1781), was one of these marginalised figures, who earned the reputation as being a man of dubious character, bribery, and political machinations, much of this earned from attitudes of snobbery amongst the elite. As he rose from minor gentry to one of the greatest purchasers of properties in eighteenth-century Britain, he promoted his arrival through the commissioning of high status goods in his new houses, but as this paper will reveal, a perceived pattern of arrival, purchase, display, was not necessary correct, nor that simple.


This paper will focus on the creation of a modern town house owned by the politician and entrepreneur Sir Lawrence Dundas, and is the result of painstaking research within the personal records and letters of Dundas, which are held in the North Yorkshire Country Records and Archive, Northallerton, North Yorkshire. I aim to add to scholarly debates here by focusing on a number of key issues. This work will consider the creation of a classical language within the decoration and display in the interiors of Dundas’ London town house at 19, Arlington Street. This will provide a backdrop to further discussions on the meaning of the house, and how we can perhaps read this as a visual representation of Dundas’ intentions, his place within metropolitan society, and his own personality. My research will highlight an issue that has become perhaps a mainstay of those few studies of Dundas’ town house; that Robert Adam was responsible for Dundas’ sublime collection of furniture, by providing evidence that others were accountable, and perhaps, in far bigger ways.

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