Publication:

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - 2021-11-21

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THE Eccentric aristocrats, their fed-up tenants... and a VERY unedifying portrait of rural rancour

Ruth Davidson

By MARCELLO MEGA

IT’S not the sort of masterpiece that would set the art world alight. But an amateur oil painting has nonetheless caused a stir on one of Scotland’s grandest aristocratic estates. The large artwork – 5ft tall and exhibited tastefully in an ornate gilt frame – is a mocking portrait of the estate manager, Bill Staempfli, apparently painted by a disgruntled tenant. The mysterious appearance of the painting at The Glen – the magnificent ancestral home of the colourful and controversial Tennant family – has fuelled an extraordinary spat which is being played out beneath the property’s fairytale turrets. With the estate manager conducting a hunt to identify the anonymous artist, a legal letter has been sent warning tenants that the painting has caused ‘nuisance’ and ‘annoyance’ – and threatening ‘appropriate action’ against the culprit. The row over the artwork is the latest evidence of the increasingly fraught relationship between the Tennant estate and some of the locals who call it home. One said: ‘The painting seems quite accomplished and is obviously satirical. Everyone I know who saw a copy found it amusing. Mr Staempfli clearly did not, but as he couldn’t laugh it off maybe he should consider why he is being lampooned. ‘The estate was never quite a democracy but now feels like a dictatorship and it is not the happy place it used to be.’ No one has confessed to painting the unflattering portrait of Mr Staempfli, a New York architect who married into the Tennant family in 2007 and who now runs the estate. A photo of the painting was posted anonymously to some of the estate’s residents last month. Mr Staempfli is depicted in a long dress, walking two dogs past a white cat smoking a cigar on a chair. A nameplate attached to the painting says Wee Wullie Haver– shame – an apparent reference to Miss Havisham, the famously tragic character from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. The painting was shared on the private Glen Community Facebook page, which is exclusive to members connected to the estate, by tenant Andrew Brown, 67. The artist, critic and former gallery director was a close friend of Mr Staempfli’s late wife Tessa for more than 30 years, the pair often dining together in Glen House and nearby in his more modest Grooms Cottage. Shortly after he shared the image, he received a letter from Edinburgh law firm Anderson Strathern, representing the estate trustees, claiming that the painting had ‘caused nuisance and annoyance to a number of residents at The Glen’. In a menacing tone that appears to carry a threat of eviction, the letter warned: ‘If it comes to our clients’ attention that the artist resides at The Glen, our clients will take appropriate action.’ Imposing Glen House was built in Peebles-shire in the 19th Century for the Tennant family, who were wealthy industrialists. A stunning example of Scots baronial architecture, the house boasts 24 bedrooms and sits amid some 3,500 acres. In the mid-20th Century it was inherited by Colin Tennant, the 3rd Baron Glenconner, a flamboyant character who also owned the Caribbean island of Mustique, where he threw decadent parties for the cream of 1970s high society including the Queen’s sister Princess Margaret. Having been passed down through the generations, the estate is now owned by the late Lord Glenconner’s grandson, Euan Tennant. However, it is managed by his stepfather Mr Staempfli. Although The Glen’s website boasts that those living there can enjoy the ‘beauty and peacefulness’ of the surroundings, the mockery behind the painting has widened cracks that had already appeared. Mr Brown’s Facebook post appears to have touched a nerve, as he praised the unknown ‘talented artist’ and added: ‘As a relatively distinguished art historian and critic, I’d very much like to congratulate him or her on their excellent work.’ He said last night: ‘I was told by others on the estate that I was the chief suspect, or had commissioned the work, and that I could expect dire consequences – in other words, eviction. ‘I wanted to be clear that I was not the artist. It is not my style. Nor did I have anything to do with it. ‘If I were to paint Bill I would portray him more appropriately as Mrs Danvers, the crazed housekeeper in Alfred Hitchcock’s horror film Rebecca, who destroys the Gothic mansion of Manderlay.’ Mr Brown moved to The Glen in 2015 but his relationship with the estate started to disintegrate immediately after the death of his great friend Tessa Tennant – the late Lord Glenconner’s daughter-inlaw – in July 2018. He was distraught to be told not to attend her funeral. Once a regular guest at Glen House for dinner, Mr Brown has been invited inside only on one occasion since, to help with the valuation of some paintings. He feels that he has been ‘airbrushed out’, even being told not to use his front door, which opens on to the main courtyard, and not to sit outside it in view of the mansion house. Mr Brown said that he has been written to by the estate factors and lawyers and told that he has no right to use the grounds and gardens of Glen House, or to use the driveway that runs to the courtyard, when he had previously enjoyed all those rights. On page eight of the Glen Community Handbook, which he was given on taking up his tenancy, it states: ‘Residents are welcome to visit and walk in the gardens all year long. ‘We ask only that you choose an alternate route if you see the family or house guests in the gardens.’ While other tenants have also had problems, he believes he has been singled out. He has been told that he cannot allow his partner to stay overnight at his home when he is absent. Mr Brown has instructed his lawyers to make a claim against the estate on human rights grounds. He said: ‘I know of no other tenant anywhere in Scotland who is not allowed to have a partner stay at their home when they are not there. ‘I have been accused of seeking special treatment, but I’m just asking for the same consideration as others. ‘Like everyone else on this beautiful estate, I know I’m lucky to be here, but I want to be able to enjoy it with the same freedom that we tenants have always had, while showing due respect to the family and the estate.’ Euan Tennant last week declined to comment on the unrest on his estate. A spokesman for Mr Staempfli last night said he had also decided not to comment.

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