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 Brunias, Agostino (Italian painter, active 17581779, active in Britain), Decorative Painting for the Breakfast Room at Kedleston Hall

Core Record

Title Decorative Painting for the Breakfast Room at Kedleston Hall
Collection Victoria and Albert Museum
Artist Brunias, Agostino (Italian painter, active 17581779, active in Britain)
Adam, Robert (British architect and designer, 1728-1792)
Date Earliest about 1759
Date Latest about 1761
Description This painting is part of a set of five paintings commissioned from Agostino Brunias by Robert Adam to decorate the Breakfast Room at Kedleston Hall. Adam made the design and Brunias was entrusted with the execution of the painting. It shows two women, probably vestals or ancient priestesses, in classical dress in a hilly landscape, with a basket of fruits between them. This painting imitates classical mural decoration which came into fashion at the end of the eighteenth century. Agostino Brunias, sometimes anglicised in Augustin Brunais, was probably born in Rome where he was a student at the Academia di San Luca. He worked with Robert Adam in England in the 1760s and travelled to the West Indies in 1770. He is best known for his drawings that constitute an important record of life in the Lesser Antilles in the second half of the eighteenth century.
Current Accession Number W.36:1, 2-1975
Subject figure; landscape
Measurements 117.6 x 129.4 cm
Material tempera on canvas
Acquisition Details Purchased 1975.
Publications L. Harris, Robert Adam and Kedleston : the making of a neo-classical masterpiece, London, 1987, pp. 52-54.

The size includes the frame. This work is one of the five paintings hang on the wall of the Breakfast Room (not to be confused with the 'Painted Breakfasting Room' planned for the west end of the south front in 1768 but never executed) in the family wing of Kedleston Hall, country house of Sir Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Baron Scarsdale (1726-1804). The room was designed by Robert Adam (1728-1792) in 1759, who described it as being "quite in a new taste" and entrusted Agostino Brunias, an artist he discovered in Rome, with the completion of the mural decorations, while the gilt frames were executed by the most famous ornamental carver of the time, Sefferin Alken (1717-1782) and supplied in 1761. Adam's preparatory sketches are currently in Sir John Soane's Museum, London.

The painting shows two women in classical dress in a hilly landscape, with a basket of fruits between them. They are probably two vestals, virgin priestesses of the Ancient Roman religion, highly regarded and respected for their devotion and purity. The subject derived from the antique ornaments of the thermal baths of Diocletian, the largest public baths in Rome, built in the 4th century AD. Adam's theme was probably inspired by 'Athenian' Stuart's Painted Room at Spencer House, and illustrated women's domestic virtues. In fact, the Painted Breakfast Room began life as 'Lady Caroline's Dressing Room'.

Brunias tried to reproduce on canvas the effect of fresco by painting 'a la detrempe' (with distemper) but this poor medium, mostly made of water, unfortunately deteriorated quickly over the years. The room was eventually dismantled in 1807 and Brunias' paintings in their original frames survived in the house until 1960s when they were removed and stored by the late Lord Scarsdale before being eventually sold to the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1975.

Rights Owner © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Author Ana Debenedetti



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