Alec Cobbe is a designer, painter, musician, picture restorer and collector, and has recently donated drawings, photographs and other archives to the V&A, where some of this collection is now on display.
Cobbe was born in Dublin and aged four moved to the family house Newbridge, an 18th-century, 50-room country villa designed by James Gibbs, which, he says, was the ‘single greatest influence on my life’. He had an ‘idyllic lamp-lit childhood’ — there was no electricity — where the ‘running water was rainwater, which had to be pumped daily to a tank at the top of the house’. And to keep young Alec amused there were pictures, historic interiors and a ‘museum’ of curiosities (fossils, snakeskins, small animal skulls), which had been started by his ancestors in the 1740s.
Over the past 40 years, Cobbe has advised many stately-home owners on their houses’ interiors, making sure that the rehanging of paintings (which he may well have restored, too) will complement any architectural detail; he provides detailed sketches and watercolours of his schemes. Houses that have succumbed to the eye and hand of Cobbe include Petworth in Sussex (see design for the square dining room, above), Kent’s Knole House and Harewood House in Yorkshire; he has also designed Christmas cards, menus and programmes for, among others, members of the royal family and the Ritz in London.
This exhibition gives us a glimpse into the work and world of Alec Cobbe: Designer, Collector, Connoisseur, which runs until 20 April; there is also an illustrated catalogue.