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Tuesday 7 July 2020

Collection Focus – Castelnau House

Volunteer Jason dives into the Borough Collection to look at a range of images that catalogue a forgotten landmark in Barnes – Castelnau House.

Visitors to Orleans Gallery may naturally assume that the collection is solely concerned with pieces of art, or at least items that traditionally fit within this category.

However, this article examines some images from a series of photos, that we maintain within the collection, which are concerned perhaps less with any potential artistic merit, and are more about their archival and historical function. Although it can be argued that they are artistic in their own way.

The series of photographs below form part of a vast donated body of differing works known as the Paton Collection. Entitled Castelnau House the images date from 1964 and act as a final record of a once imposing, and presumably much-loved, villa in Barnes. Sadly there is little information attached to these images and even the photographer is unknown – which adds to the sense of mystery.

Castelnau House

Major Charles Lestock Boileau (of Huguenot descent) built Castelnau House (from which the area still takes its name) in circa 1840. The name (clearly French) derives specifically from Castelnau de la Garde in Southern France from where Boileau’s family had originated and subsequently fled due to religious persecution. According to census records Major Boileau seems to have lived there until his death on the 18th January 1889.

Although Castelnau House was unfortunately demolished in the early 1960s, and replaced by the public library (which is still in use), there are still many similar villas to be seen in the area as Boileau, as a potential property speculator, had also constructed a number of others around the same time.

It is very likely that these photos were taken at the time of demolition as the date seems to correspond and indeed some of the final images in this series seem to show the destruction in progress. Thankfully we are spared images of full demolition and its aftermath!

From a more artistic perspective, the composition, colour tone of the photographs themselves and the way in which light and texture are captured are really evocative and give the viewer a real physical and atmospheric sense of placement within the building. There is also a sense of loss and absence within these images – the now empty rooms in which lives were once played out.

In some ways these photos put us in mind of the works of more contemporary photographers (who definitely have been defined as artists) such Laurenz Berges, Thomas Ruff (in particular his Interiors series) and Thomas Struth in his wonderful book entitled Walking.

The importance of visual historical documents such as these, and photography’s ability generally to record and inform, cannot be overstated. It forms part of a wide range of artefacts and information that gives us a better understanding of our history and the development of our physical, social and cultural landscape.

Other photographs in the Paton Collection include suburban landscapes, street scenes, war-damaged buildings and graveyards.

About the Paton Collection

Leslie Paton (1919–1993) was one of that wonderful breed of passionate, driven and dedicated local historians whose work is vital in preserving information and artefacts for generations to come. Paton’s great love was in collecting works of art, books and historical (and sometimes contemporary) information.

When Paton passed away he generously bequeathed over 2,200 watercolours, drawings, prints and photographs to the borough of Richmond – which we now have the privilege of being able to draw upon both in person and online. The collection is broad in subject and format and also includes a number of eighteenth century views the area – well worth taking a look.

Jason’s choice of images accompanying his article are just a few of the photographs that capture the interior and exterior of Castlenau House, as it stood in 1964. You can explore the rest of the set, and the entirety of the collection at the link above.

Have you found an interesting artwork or item in the collection and want to write your own article on it? Volunteer with us and be featured here! You can learn more about the opportunities on offer here.