Spotlight On Kenwood

    Far from the hustle and bustle of the capital on the edge of Hampstead Heath, Kenwood is one of London's lesser-known gems.

    As well as being at the heart of the local community and supported by a dedicated team of volunteers, Kenwood entices visitors from further afield with its incredible art collection, tranquil grounds and unique design. It's also free to enter.

    Scroll down
    Kenwood back facade with people

    Discover Kenwood House

    The Kenwood you see today was remodelled between 1764 and 1779 by Robert Adam, commissioned by Lord Mansfield. It's a masterpiece of innovative detail and architectural storytelling - from the entrance hall which doubled as the dining room, to the dramatic Great Library which was renovated as part of our recent restoration project

    Kenwood is home to the Iveagh Bequest, an extraordinary collection of artworks by Old Masters and British painters assembled by Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh and left to the nation in 1927. Important pieces by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Gainsborough and Reynolds are hung in 'a fine example of the artistic home of an 18th-century gentleman.' 

    The house itself is set in a considerable estate, which provides some great walking - especially when combined with Hampstead Heath - and is very popular with local dog walkers. There are fantastic views over London too - St Paul's Cathedral, the Shard and Canary Wharf can all be seen from the grounds.

    Explore Kenwood
    The pillars of the portico as you enter show the ingenuity of Robert Adam. Knock on them and you will hear that they are made from wood rather than Bath stone, which was much more expensive.
    Jerzy Kierkuc-Bielinski, Collections Curator at Kenwood

    Jerzy Kierkuc-Bielinski, Collections Curator at Kenwood

    Why we love Kenwood

    "Kenwood has one of the greatest, most significant collections of art in the country - shown in a intimate setting in which you can sit down peacefully and spend as little time or as long as you want in contemplation. It's also hard to believe we're in Zone 2. It doesn't feel like you're in London." Jerzy Kierkuc-Bielinski, Collections Curator

    "I love bringing it to life and telling all the stories - it really gives the place some warmth, having volunteers here." George Driffill, Volunteer

    "The community is an incredibly strong presence here, and when you take everything together: the estate, the history, and the art collection - it's really the full package." Phil Wright, Site Manager

    Plan your visit
    Rembrandt self portrait from the Kenwood collection - part of the Iveagh Bequest

    Rembrandt self portrait from the Kenwood collection - part of the Iveagh Bequest

    Extraordinary Art

    In 1925, Kenwood was bought by Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh (1847-1927) - an immensely wealthy member of the famous brewing family, and a noted philanthropist as well as businessman. He used his business acumen to build up a fine collection of paintings by Old Masters, including notable Dutch pictures and portraits by Reynolds, Romney, and Gainsborough. This collection was left, with Kenwood, as a bequest to the nation when he died in 1927.

    Important works include Vermeer's 'Guitar Player' - one of just 36 surviving paintings by the artist - a late portrait by Gainsborough of Mary, Countess Howe, and 'Portrait of the Artist' by Rembrandt van Rijn (pictured).

    According to Collections Curator Jerzy Kierkuc-Bielinski, the Iveagh Bequest is one of the most significant collections in the country. Unusually for a collection with this scope, the works hang in a domestic setting which allows you to contemplate them in peace and comfort.

    See part of the collection online
    The gouty chair invented by John Joseph Merlin

    Did you know?

    Hanging by the window in the Breakfast Room is the portrait by Gainsborough of a Belgian-born inventor called John Joseph Merlin.

    As well as inventing the 'gouty chair' - an early wheelchair (pictured) - he invented, with James Cox, a clock powered by atmospheric pressure, a kind of weighing scale and improved musical instruments.

    He's also credited with inventing inline roller skates in 1760, and - according to Kenwood volunteer George - premiered his invention at a ball where he made a grand entrance into the ballroom by rolling in while playing the violin. 

    Unfortunately, he couldn't stop and crashed into a huge mirror, smashing it, his violin and his wrist in the process.

    Dido Elizabeth Belle

    Dido Elizabeth Belle was one of Lord Mansfield's great-nieces and, unusually for a mixed race girl in the late 1700s, was educated as a lady alongside her cousin. She is known to have acted as Lord Mansfield's secretary and this video (filmed at Kenwood before its refurbishment) tells some of her the story. The 2013 film Belle dramatised part of her life, and we delve into Dido's life after the events of the film on our blog.

    Discover more of Dido's story
    'step into englands story