Houghton Hall is hosting a sculpture exhibition featuring Tony Cragg until 26 September 2021. We went for the opening day and wanted to share our experience so you can decide if you want to go.
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About Houghton Hall
Even without a special art exhibition, Houghton Hall is worth visiting. It’s one of the finest examples of Palladian architecture in the country. The grounds are lovely to walk around and you don’t want to miss the fantastic five-acre walled garden.
Houghton Hall was built in the early 18th century by Great Britain’s first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole. It was designed by prominent Georgian architects Colen Campbell and James Gibbs. The estate passed to the Cholmondeley family at the end of the 18th Century and remains a family home. It has been open to the public since 1976.
Art Exhibitions at Houghton Hall
In recent years, Houghton Hall has started a tradition of holding modern art exhibitions for well-known artists during the summer and early fall. It began with James Turrell in 2015, then Richard Long in 2017, Damien Hirst in 2018, Henry Moore in 2019, and Anish Kapoor 2020.
Tony Cragg is the latest artist to be featured starting on May 19, 2021. The pieces in this exhibition were chosen by the artist himself. Large-scale sculptures will be set around the grounds with smaller pieces the State rooms and gallery spaces of the Hall. Some of the artwork was specifically made for the exhibition.
About Tony Cragg
Tony Cragg is a contemporary award-winning British sculptor whose art is the collection of many top museums including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Gallery in London, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. He was born in Liverpool but currently lives and works in Wuppertal, Germany.
He describes himself as a ‘radical materialist’ because he likes to explore different materials. His work is inspired by structures found in nature and the connection with industrial supplies.
Tony Cragg at Houghton Hall
The exhibition includes more than 25 pieces of art both inside the hall and around the grounds. When you arrive, you will receive a map that shows where to find Tony Cragg’s artwork as well as 14 other sculptures from the permanent collection.
Most of Tony Cragg’s pieces at Houghton were made in the last 10 years and many come from his own personal collection. Masks and Integers were made specially for this exhibition. Due to Covid restrictions, Tony Cragg was not able to visit Houghton Hall and worked based on photos.
The Tony Cragg pieces were all so diverse and striking. Some look quite different depending on your viewpoint. I would encourage you to look at each piece from different sides, not just what may appear to be the front.
My Review of Tony Cragg at Houghton Hall
Art is subjective, especially modern and contemporary art. We are big fans of abstract art and we enjoyed the exhibition. Even if you don’t like modern art, I would encourage you to come with an open mind.
Houghton provides quite the setting for these sculptures. The house is grand, and the grounds around it are beautiful. The views over the landscape are vast with big Norfolk skies. It never felt crowded.
I was impressed by all the art I saw, and it would be hard for me to pick one favourite. Instead, I will say my top three were:
It Is It Isn’t because the reflections on this sculpture were mesmerizing.
Versus because this disc shape had so much going on.
Mean Average (see photo at the top of the page) because I love the contrast between the white, the green grass, and the dark house.
The large piece (listed as Pair on the map or Points of View in the souvenir book) inside the Red Saloon in the House reminded me of It Is It Isn’t, but it didn’t quite have the same impact on me. The elaborate classic decor in the room was too much for the dramatic artwork, in my opinion. Unfortunately, I felt the same way about the pieces in the Stone Hall.
It also would have been nice to have more information about each piece of art. The map included the title of the work and the year it was made. In some cases where multiple pieces were in the same room, it was hard to figure out which was which as there were no information signs.
I was also curious about what material was used for the different sculptures. You are not allowed to touch the sculptures and with many, I was not sure just by looking. The only place I found the information was in the book available for purchase at the gift shop for £8.
The book contains lovely photos of Tony Cragg’s artwork on display, an interesting interview with the artist, and a list of the artwork including the year made and the material. While I enjoyed the interview, I wish the book would have shared more of Tony Cragg’s thoughts on the individual pieces.
While we didn’t know much about Tony Cragg before the exhibition, we are definitely fans now. His artwork is creative and dramatic. While I loved Anish Kapoor’s work last year, I think I actually preferred Tony Cragg’s because it was more intricate and diverse.
All in all, we had a wonderful time and I hope there is another modern art exhibition at Houghton Hall next year.
Other Things to See at Houghton Hall
When you buy a ticket for the Tony Cragg at Houghton Hall exhibition, you get entry to the estate and you should take full advantage of it. There is a lot to see.
In addition to the Tony Cragg artwork, there are sculptures around the grounds from 10 other artists. You can see these pieces as you walk around to see the Tony Cragg exhibition.
Some of my favourites include:
Waterflame by Jeppe Hein – Located in the walled garden, this fountain is entrancing. How does the flame stay lit when it is inside water?
Full Moon Circle by Richard Long – You could easily miss this piece as it is low to the ground at the other end of the lawn from the House, just before the Ha-Ha. As you walk around it, please be careful as there is the sudden drop.
Untitled by Anish Kapoor – While I don’t remember seeing this piece at last year’s exhibition, it reminded me of some of my favourites from 2020. It’s fun to look at concave mirrors and play around. I think kids will love this piece too.
Mother and Child by Henry Moore – You don’t want to miss a chance to see a sculpture by one of the most important British artists of the 20th-century. This piece is quintessential Henry Moore, a semi-abstract bronze.
A Line in Norfolk by Richard Long – To see this artwork you need to go through the kissing gate behind Tony Cragg’s Stack and walk towards what I call the Temple (it’s not on the map). Then, you will see the brown line in the grass leading your eyes to the building.
Interior Space by Stephen Cox – To get to this installation, you need to go through the gate to the left of Tony Cragg’s Stack. It’s made out of rare breccia marble only found in Egypt. I had fun with the booming echo when I spoke into the slit.
When we visited in mid-May the bluebells were in bloom, but we also noticed some rhododendrons that were starting to bloom. (Note: If you want to see more bluebells, be sure to check out our list of the best places to see bluebells in Norfolk)
In 1991, the present Lord Cholmondeley reinvented the old kitchen garden and turned it into the walled garden we see today, as a memorial to his grandmother, Lady Sybil Cholmondeley. On both occasions when we visited Houghton Hall, the walled garden was not quite in full bloom and I still think it’s the best one I have ever seen. Not only is it huge, but I loved the varied styles of the different sections and the artwork you can see.
Each section of the garden is very different. These include a spectacular double-sided herbaceous border, an Italian garden, fruit and vegetable gardens, a formal rose parterre, a glasshouse, a rustic temple, classic statues, fountains and contemporary sculptures. The walled garden is probably most beautiful during the summer months, but a beautiful place to walk around all year.
It’s easy to miss the Soldier Museum at Houghton Hall, but it definitely worth going inside. The sixth Marquess of Cholmondeley started the model soldier collection in 1928. It now has 20,000 figures which makes it one of the largest in the world.
The museum is only two rooms, but it is filled with 35 cases depicting various battles and important historical figures. The level of detail is impressive and I can only imagine how long it took to put each case together. In addition to these displays, you can also see fine military prints and paintings, vintage military helmets, and regimental drums.
You can find the Soldier Museum in the Stables next to the Cafe and Gift Shop.
St. Martin’s Church
Just a short walk from the stables, you will find a picturesque medieval church. St. Martin’s church dates back to the 13th century, although it has been restored and enlarged over time. Sir Robert Walpole, the first Prime Minister, rebuilt the tower as a memorial to his grandfather Sir Jeffery Burwell in about 1730.
There are a few things you will want to see inside the church. When you enter you can’t miss the font, from the early 18th century. In the balcony, you can spot the organ which is from the late 18th century and given to the church in 2006 by Lord Cholmondeley. On the walls, there is a collection of funerary hatchments.
While there isn’t a plaque to honour him, Sir Robert Walpole is believed to be buried in the family plot in the east end of the church. The carved effigy in the middle of the church for a Prior of Coxford Priory, about 5 miles away. He died in 1307 and was brought to Houghton in 1522.
The exhibition is schedule for 19 May to 26 September 2021
Tickets cost £18 per adult and £10 for students. Those under 18 are free. The ticket includes parking.
Tickets for this event need to be bought online in advance here. You book the date but can enter anytime between 11:00 pm and 4:00 pm. They close each day at 5:00 pm.
Yes. There is the Stables café on site and it has outdoor seating. They have soups, salads, sandwiches, scones, cakes, and more. You can also get beer or wine by the glass or bottle.
Since their menu was written on a chalboard, I assume it changes frequently. If it’s an option, I recommend trying the asparagus and parmasean tart.
It depends on if you want to just see the Tony Cragg artwork or take advantage of your access and see more of the Houghton Estate. If you just want to see the Tony Cragg exhibition, I think you would need at least two hours to see it all. We wanted to see as much as we could and take lots of pictures so we arrived at 11:00 and left at 16:30.
While you can bring kids to the Tony Cragg exhibition for free, I’m not sure how much they will appreciate the art. His artwork is very abstract. While some children will enjoy trying to figure out the art, others may get bored.
Yes. Attendance is limited so you must get your tickets in advance. Face masks are required indoors. They also limit the number of people allowed in the indoor spaces at one time. We also saw several hand sanitizing stations around the Estate.
You will need to drive to Houghton Hall which will take about an hour from Norwich. Use post code PE31 6TY. It’s is located just off the A148 which runs from Fakenham to King’s Lynn, just look for the brown tourist signs. There aren’t any public transportation options close by.
If you wanted to come by train, the nearest train station is King’s Lynn which is 14 miles away. From there, you could take a taxi.
More Things to Do Near Houghton Hall
If you have time after you have explored Houghton Hall, I have a few more suggestions for attractions in the area.
Sandringham is the beloved country retreat for Queen Elizabeth II. During the spring, summer, and autumn, you can tour the house and visit the gardens. It’s also nice to go for a walk in the Royal Park which includes almost 243 hectares. There is also a new Children’s Adventure Play Area inspired by the Duchess of Cambridge’s 2019 Chelsea Flower Show garden. It’s one of the best places to take kids in Norfolk. Get more information here.
Castle Acre is a small village home to ruins of a castle and priory. The main road into the village still runs through the Bailey Gate, which is one of two stone gatehouses added to the massive earthwork defences around 1200.
The motte and bailey castle was founded soon after the Battle of Hastings by the first William de Warenne, a close associate of William the Conqueror. The Castle Acre Priory was the home of the England’s first Cluniac order of monks.
Both the Castle and Priory are English Heritage sites so free for members. Non-members can visit the Castle for free but will need to pay for parking and admission to the Priory. Get more information about English Heritage membership here.
Get more information about visiting Castle Acre Castle and Priory here.
Castle Rising Castle is one of the most famous 12th-century castles in England because the stone keep is mostly intact and it is surrounded by massive earthworks. In the 14th century was the luxurious residence of Queen Isabella, widow (and alleged murderess) of Edward II. English Heritage members can visit for free. Get more information about English Heritage membership here.
Get more information about visiting Castle Rising here.
Places to Stay Near Houghton Hall
If you are coming to Norfolk to see the Tony Cragg exhibition at Houghton Hall, you might want to stay nearby. That way you will have more time to explore. Even though Houghton Hall is located in a rural area, there are some lovely accommodation options only a few miles away.
- Ffolkes Arms Hotel – About a 10 minute drive from Houghton Hall, you will find this charming 300 year old inn. They have 24 en suite rooms, a restaurant, indoor games room, and children’s playground. Check the price and availability here.
- The Pig Shed Motel – Don’t let the name fool you, the rooms here are luxurious. Built in 2018, this eco-friendly motel is great value. It’s located about 2 miles from the Castle Acre Castle. Check the price and availability here.
- Titchwell Manor – If you want to stay a bit closer to the North Norfolk Coast, this Victorian farmhouse turned luxury boutique hotel would be ideal. It was included on The Times Top 100 Best Places to Stay in 2019. Some rooms have an enclosed private terrace with a wooden hot tub. Check the price and availability here.
Places to Eat Near Houghton Hall
One of our favourite pubs, which serves excellent food, is the Dabbling Duck in Great Massingham. It’s only about a 10 minute drive away. Read my review of the Dabbling Duck here.
Other popular options include the Rose & Crown in Harpley and the Three Horseshoes in Roydon.
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