As the house was built as a complete illusion, what could have been more appropriate, therefore, to celebrate its 200th year as well as a decade of restoration, than a trompe l'oeil mural for the already impressive Staircase Hall?
The artists, Jean-Louis Grand and Guillaume Avonture from France, were invited to Hammerwood in 1991, fresh from the l'Ecole de Trompe l'Oeil in Brussels where they had won the silver and bronze medals in their year. Able to work in the classical idiom of the house they chose colours from the pale palette of the Adamesque. "Such a painting", they say with a wonderfully French inflection, "should not force itself upon the viewer. You must be able to walk past it, if you want to." But the painting at Hammerwood is so delicately beautiful, no-one ever walks past.
The mural turns the Staircase Hall into an open courtyard enclosed on one side by a sandstone wall with niches and urns and, opposite, by the staircase itself enveloped by faux-marbre panels carved to symbolise the intentions of its 18th century creators. Through openings in the courtyard, seen between pink-veigned marble columns, appear landscapes echoing the real Reptonesque parkland outside. Just one stone seems to have fallen away under the staircase; a reminiscence of the former state of the house - and through the open-vaulted ceiling clouds drift wispily in a pale pastel sky. The history of the house is rendered mysteriously throughout the whole by numerous objects suggestively scattered about, suspended almost surrealistically in time and space.
A decade of restoration (1982 - 1992) has enabled Hammerwood to survive a full 200 years. If the owner's unbounding enthusiasm proves sufficiently infectious, the house is clearly set to continue surprising visitors for the next century or two. Happy Birthday Hammerwood!