Interview with English author, editor and presenter, specialising in British country houses and architecture, Jeremy Musson conducted by Nicola Linza and Cristoffer Neljesjo in Cambridge, England during February 2012.
What was the impetus for your interest in Classical architecture and the history of grand country houses?
My interest in classical architecture really took hold when I spent a spring term at the Anglo-Italian Insitute in Rome in 1984, aged 18; we heard lectures in a building designed by Piranesi on the Aventine, had private tours of the Vatican and the Capitoline Museum, and splendid al fresco picnics in places such as the Villa Adriana and the Bomarzo Gardens. After completing a law degree, I went on to study renaissance history and art history at the Warburg Institute, and after that became increasingly interested in architecture. I worked for the Victorian Society, advising on threatened buildings and then took a curatorial job at the National Trust, looking after a number of interesting properties, including Ickworth House in Suffolk, designed for the greatest Grand Tourist of them all, the 4th Earl of Bristol. From there, I went to Country Life magazine, a really wonderful job writing about country houses, great and small, and after 12 years on the staff I went freelance, and am still a regular contributor.
Do you have a particular favourite UK property? Moreover, why?
I am always falling in love with different country houses which come into my orbit for some different research project or other, but if pressed I would admit to a deep admiration for Castle Howard in Yorkshire, a really composite work of art and a much loved family home.
If you could purchase one item for your private house today (and cost is no object) what would it be?
It would have to be an exquisite Regency dining table and chairs, but it really would have to come with a Paris-trained chef, and a cheerful, smart person to serve all our meals - if money really was no object!
Where do you see historic properties in say 100 years’ time?
That is a very interesting and complex question. Firstly, I would say that they will be even more prized and valued than they are today, especially those in well preserved parklands, but they will also have to be treated with even greater restraint and sensitivity than they are today, and new technologies developed to share the experience of their beauty and atmosphere in different and interesting ways.
If you were in a different career, what would it be?
Well, I started out with the intention of becoming a lawyer, but if I could choose "in an ideal world", I would probably have to say a painter, who worked half the year in a series of studios in Italian cities, and half the year in Chelsea.
You are going to live in another era, Victorian or Edwardian?
I am really fascinated by both periods, but I, if I could belong to the top brass of the era, I would be an Edwardian, because hospitality and comfort were brought to a real pitch of perfection in the early 1900s.
You are going to have your portrait painting by any artist of your choice (either living or deceased) who is it? And where does the finished portrait hang?
My ideal portrait would have to by James MacNeill Whistler, a superlative artist, and he would make the portrait a work of art that would be of interest (Harmony in Black and White) long after I am forgotten. I imagine it would end up in the Tate Gallery, surrounded by the British art of the late 19th and early 20th century art that I greatly admire. While at home, it would probably hang between a 1920s portrait of my grandmother as a young girl, in a simple salmon pink dress, with her bobbed hair held to the side in a slide, and a portrait of an plulp, bewigged 18th-century bishop who was a direct ancestor of my mother. He was a famous historian and Bishop of London at the time of Sir Robert Walpole (he was known as "Walpole's Pope").
The above interview with Jeremy Musson 2012 © Manner of Man Magazine. All rights reserved. Reproduction is strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher.