Acquisition Appeal | Admiral Russell’s Frame, 1690s
An appeal from The Fitzwilliam in Cambridge:
To commemorate The Fitzwilliam Museum’s bicentenary, we invite you to support the acquisition of Admiral Russell’s Frame, currently on display at the Museum. The Friends of the Fitzwilliam Museum are able to purchase this magnificent frame at a negotiated price of £345,000. We have until 31st December 2016 to raise the funds. Through the Friends’ acquisition fund, a £50,000 V&A Purchase Grant, and other generous donations, we have raised 80% of the total required. Your support with a personal donation would be truly appreciated as we aim to raise the final £70,000. Please join us in saving this work of local, national and international importance and bring it home to Cambridgeshire for good.
With its local Cambridgeshire connection, highly sophisticated carving and intriguing iconography, this splendid frame will enhance the Museum’s collections for future generations to study and enjoy. The Museum’s Learning Team also sees the great potential of this object’s provenance, mythological figures and Stuart-era history to engage school and community groups alike.
This elaborate mirror frame is a unique survivor from the golden age of English wood carving. It was commissioned by Admiral Edward Russell (1653–1727), the celebrated naval hero best known for his triumphs at the battles of Barfleur and La Hogue in 1692. Russell was a generous patron of architecture and the arts. His Cambridgeshire estate, Chippenham Park, was luxuriously furnished and featured intricately carved woodwork throughout. Almost certainly made between 1693 and 1697 to honour Russell’s achievements and to celebrate his appointment as Admiral of the Fleet and First Lord of the Admiralty, the frame is decorated with symbols representing eternal glory. A personification of Fame with two trumpets flies beneath the mirror, which is flanked by two ancient gods: Mercury representing trade, commerce, and financial gain and Hercules symbolising military strength and triumph.
Sadly, the carvers are unknown. They were probably Dutch or French Huguenots based at Deptford’s naval dockyard, more used to carving elaborate ship prows and interiors than decorative pieces for a country estate.
This magnificent object was probably inherited in 1727 by Admiral Russell’s great-niece, Letitia, who had married the 1st Lord Sandys in 1724. Later the frame was part of M. Michel Dezarnaud’s collection in Neuilly-sur-Seine, Paris, from whom it was bought by a dealer in Belgium in ca. 2015
The frame bears the arms of Admiral Edward Russell, 1st Earl of Orford of the first creation (1653–1727). The marine equivalent of the 1st Duke of Marlborough, Russell is chiefly remembered today for his triumphs at the naval battles of Barfleur and La Hogue on 29 May and 4 June 1692 respectively. These confrontations irreparably damaged the French Atlantic fleet and made the proposed invasion of Britain by Louis XIV and the deposed English King, James II, impossible, thereby securing the position of William III. The scale of this double battle was enormous: 126 ships in total—over twice the size of the Battle of Trafalgar. It was this victory that led to Russell’s promotion to Admiral of the Fleet in November 1693, First Lord of the Admiralty in April 1694, and creation as 1st Earl of Orford in 1697. The imagery of the frame clearly celebrates Russell’s remarkable and unsurpassed naval career.
Edward Russell was a sophisticated and extravagant patron of the arts. This was especially the case at his country estate, Chippenham Park in Cambridgeshire, halfway between Bury St Edmunds and Ely, for which he paid £16,250 in 1689. The house was probably designed by his relative, the architect Thomas Archer (1668–1743) who later designed Russell’s (still surviving) town house in Covent Garden Piazza in 1716–17. Chippenham Park was demolished in 1790 and replaced with a succession of later houses. Drawings of the exterior or interior of the house do not survive, but a map of the estate shows how the trees in the park were planted to evoke the battle formations at La Hogue and Barfleur.
Russell had no direct offspring, and his property was divided between his nieces and nephews. Yet Russell did leave a political legacy; his political protégé Robert Walpole (1676–1745) would become Britain’s first and longest-serving Prime Minister. It was in memory of Russell that Walpole decided to adopt the title of Earl of Orford of the second creation in 1742.