The house with two faces
South Queensferry, Near Edinburgh — EDINBURGH'S craggy castle and 18th-century New Town are such drawing cards for tourists that many people miss out on some real gems in the surrounding areas of the Scottish capital. One of these is undoubtedly Hopetoun House, one of Scotland's great houses. It is the seat of the Hope family, whose head is the Marquess of Linlithgow. (The present marquess lives in London, but his son and family inhabit part of the house.)
Visitors are first confronted with the grandiose east front of Hopetoun. ``A work of resounding splendor,'' says Colin McWilliam in ``The Buildings of Scotland.'' The house seems enormously wide: Pavilions to the right and left are linked by curved colonnades to a tall, dark central block topped with a balustrade. For a moment the palatial arrogance of this fa,cade takes your breath away.
It is the work, except for a later section in its center, of architect-builder William Adam, built between 1721 and 1742. (See accompanying story on the famous Adam family of architects.) His patron was Charles Hope, first Earl of Hopetoun, and this aspect of the house represents his considerable sense of importance and taste.
But Hopetoun has two faces. The other, designed 20 years earlier, looks west across broad lawns to a pond and a gap between majestic trees. It is the face which represents the taste of Hope's mother: the masterpiece of Sir William Bruce, built between 1699 and 1703, while its ``owner'' was still under age.
Alistair Rowan, a professor of art history at University College in Dublin, describes it as ``the home of a private gentleman.'' In architectural terms it is Palladian style, quietly classical and finely proportioned rather than grandiose, while the Adam front is baroque style. Sheila Bassett, the assistant administrator for the 10-year-old trust responsible for Hopetoun's preservation, finds the Adam front ``imposing ... a bit cold.'' The Bruce house, however, ``is so warm and so intimate, it's beautiful.''
The ground-floor ``Bruce Bedchamber'' - though rather overfilled with a gilt four-poster, its walls decorated by mid-18th-century designs rather too bright after restoration - is not overwhelming. The same goes for the library and the upstairs ``West Wainscot'' bedroom and antechamber, hung with delightful 17th-century tapestries. The charming original main staircase also survived William Adam's alterations (though he proposed something far grander), and it twists unpretentiously upward in a surprisingly narrow octagonal space. Its walls sport enchanting borders of fruit, flowers, wheat ears, and peapods carved in oak with a kind of matter-of-fact abundance by Alexander Eizat. This, and the delightful service stairs with iron scrollwork balusters by William Aitken, are among the human-scale - and particularly Scottish - attractions of the Bruce house.
In complete contrast are the large state rooms on the east side of the house. This is where you encounter Hopetoun's paintings - quite a feast for art-lovers, though in this age of truthfulness, the Rembrandt of an old woman has to be said to be only a good contemporary copy; the vast Rubens has to be labelled ``School of Rubens''; and the Titian is now thought to be a Carracci. Never mind, the Koninck, in the Yellow Drawing Room, is a Koninck, and the Canaletto is particularly lively.
The need to demythologize has also now been extended to the ceiling of the Red Drawing Room. For impressiveness this great room certainly takes the prize. Apart from the white marble chimney piece by Rysbrack, James Cullen's furniture, and the original, now rather worn and marked, red damask (bought cheaply in the 1750s as a smuggled lot) on the walls, it is the excitingly decorated ceiling which dominates.
Usually this exuberant, asymmetrical, rococo ceiling, all scrolls and shellwork and tendrils, has been attributed to William Adam's most famous son, the great British architect-designer Robert Adam. If it is by him, however, it is a very early work and uncharacteristically robust. Professor Rowan says the state rooms may be the work of the older brother, John Adam, in close collaboration with his patron, the 2nd earl. Whoever designed it, the ceiling is intriguing and light-hearted, a mingling of French decoration and Chinoiserie - with a number of cartoon-faces hidden in the marvelous design. Hopetoun relies heavily nowadays on income from functions, and Ms. Bassett confesses that sometimes during concerts her eyes wander ceiling-ward and she plays hunt-the-faces.
In opening Hopetoun to the public, the Hopetoun House Preservation Trust has avoided gimmickry. There are no safari-lions or narrow-gauge railways on the grounds. But there is a thoroughly enjoyable Nature Trail run by friendly and knowledgeable rangers. A whole day can be spent at Hopetoun.
The trail takes you down to the shore line of the Firth of Forth. But the spectacular and memorable view over this stretch of river as it widens into the sea, is from an upper pathway bordered by a meandering, ancient yew hedge and stone wall. From here a meadow falls away in which the Hopetoun herd of red deer grazes alertly. Beyond them stretches the Firth.
But most noticeable of all are the two bridges, The Forth Rail Bridge of the 1880s and, alongside, the Forth Road Bridge of 1958-64. These make a remarkable silhouette, monuments of engineering skill and design. Together they constitute one of the few outstanding features of a visit to Hopetoun House that does not, somehow or other, relate back to the early or middle part of the 18th century. But still they add to this attractive place their own note of elegant magnificence. If you go
Hopetoun House, near Abercorn, about 15 miles west of Edinburgh, has to be reached by car. It is open daily, 11 to 5, from April 25 to Sept. 14. Also at Easter, April 17 to April 20. Phone 031-331-2451.
Adam family architecture: deliciously integrated detail
The term ``Adam style,'' applied to things architectural and decorative in the 18th century, refers to a prominent family of Scottish architects.
The genius of the family was Robert Adam. He and his younger brother, James, both studied Roman classical remains on the European ``Grand Tour'' and made their own influential contribution to neoclassical architecture in Britain during the second half of the century. Perhaps their greatest originality was their belief that a great house should have an integrated scheme of interior decoration in which everything - ceilings, walls, doors, fireplaces, furniture, mirrors, and even candlesticks and soup tureens - was embellished with low-reliefs and patterns and colors of exquisite delicacy and grace in a delicious refinement of classical designs. Among their best-known houses are Syon House, Kenwood, and Osterley in London, and Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire.
It has long been thought that their contribution to Hopetoun House, one of the great 18th-century houses of Scotland, was in designing the decorative scheme of the finest staterooms. Recent research, however, suggests that it is not that simple. Both men were very young at the time this work was done, and neither had yet been abroad to gather the ideas which later brought them fame.
Their father, Sir William Adam, the most notable architect/builder in Scotland in the early 18th century, did, however, have definite connections with Hopetoun. And their elder brother, John, was also involved. Robert may have been. So Hopetoun is ``Adam style,'' but only to a certain degree. It is still remarkable, striking, and well worth a visit.