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The Independent Culture
The Historic Houses Association - a kind of club for some of the most landed of our landed gentry - is 25 this year and to celebrate the event the Tate has mounted a small show under the banner "The Art of the Country House". One or two works have been borrowed from 62 of the finest private houses in the country and assembled in a very eclectic mix of old masters, miniatures, manuscripts and assorted curiosities, including a death mask of Napoleon and Mary, Queen of Scots' rosary beads.

The result is a fascinating selection of little-known things, many of which are not usually on show to the public, but one which seems to suggest that collecting in this country stopped some time in the mid-19th century. There are a few exceptions, such as a John Piper drawing commissioned by the Sitwells in 1942 and a fine little Fifties painting by Lucian Freud from the Duke of Devonshire's private rooms at Chatsworth, but for the most part the emphasis is on past times.

This isn't surprising - most of these collections were built up long ago - but I can't help thinking that it might have made an even better celebration to show more evidence of these fine houses as living things. None the less, it's an unusual and intriguing show.

Tate Gallery, London SW1 (0171-887 8000) Wed-28 Feb

Richard Ingleby

In Celebration: The Art of the Country House Tate Gallery, London SW1

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