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The Holburne sits at the end of Great Pulteney Street, the culmination of one of the most beautiful Georgian vistas in Britain.
The Grade 1 listed villa, originally built as a hotel, is home to an intimate collection of 17th- and 18th-century paintings and decorative art. This gem-like museum has recently reopened after a three-year closure and the completion of a bold ceramic and glass extension.
The new building, designed by Eric Parry, is at the back of the older one, looking out onto pleasure gardens where Jane Austen once walked. As well as doubling the museum's display space, it houses the museum's restaurant " tables spill out onto the lawn in good weather.
The Museum's development project saw it nominated for the Art Fund Prize 2012.
Upstairs are the museum's collections, which have been thoughtfully represented with the help of exhibition designers Metaphor. Their approach to story-telling is particularly evident in the Fletcher Gallery, where themes in 18th-century culture, such as the rise of consumerism, are told through a mixed presentation of porcelain, paintings and sculpture.
In the hotel's former ballroom the silver and china are laid out as though for a banquet, sparkling under a crystal chandelier, while glamorous members of 17th-century society look down from the walls.
A smaller, more densely hung space is devoted to the collection of Sir William Holburne (1793"1874), which laid the foundation for the museum. It is easy to see his enjoyment of small-scale Dutch cabinet pictures and his predilection for miniature objects such as perfume bottles, engraved gems and painted miniatures.
On the top floor are portraits and conversation pieces from the Golden Age of British painting. Many of them hark back to Bath's heyday as a fashionable spa, when the city was second only to London as an important artistic centre. Thomas Hoare of Bath and Thomas Gainsborough found plenty of work here, and their works are hung alongside canvases by Lawrence, Ramsay, Stubbs and Zoffany. A small number of theatrical portraits that once belonged to Somerset Maugham grace one of the walls.
Art Funded works
Angelica Kauffman's portrait of the youthful heiress Henrietta Pulteney shows the young girl living up to her reputation as an 'indefatigable dancer' as she cavorts in a woodland setting.
George Stubbs's portrait of the Reverend Thelwall Carter depicts the stocky vicar, his wife and daughter on their Lincolnshire estate, with the church in the background. Since this is Stubbs, plenty of attention is paid to the two horses, but the people are also entirely believable as individuals.
The Garden Café is open daily, serving freshly prepared dishes, tea, coffee and cakes. A shop sells a variety of books and covetable souvenirs.