26 SEPTEMBER 1998, Page 63

Country life


Leanda de Lisle

Pictures get sold as well as collected and the best way to deal with the pain of the former is to raise the maximum funds and have your house re-hung. On Monday Sotheby's begins a sale at Noseley Hall in Leicestershire of some of the loveliest pic tures to have been collected in the county, as well as furniture, silver and books. The owners must be sad to see them go, but perhaps an Edward Buttner will come along, as he has at Althorp, to re-arrange the treasures that remain to better effect. Althorp has an elegance that is only marred by the gas fires in the dining-room. `Switch on the logs in the grate,' I muttered to my husband as we passed through. Outside, the gardens have been replanted by Dan Pearson, who has been much inter- viewed for the work he has done on the island where the Princess of Wales is buried. His look is a very modern one, which is to say, natural. This might have chimed well with the interior of the house, which manages to be grand and cosy at the same time but the reality was that his little flowers looked quite lost in their imposing setting. I was told Mr Pearson had had trouble with the weather when he was doing his landscaping and that might explain things. His work on the island is quite love- ly, with waterlilies and irises in the water overlooked by benches that look as if they were hewn from trees that just fell there.

It was, I know, the thought of the muse- um that made our friends groan. They've heard quite enough about the Princess of Wales. When we got there, however, it was immediately obvious that this was a world away from saccharine television documen- taries and advertisements for porcelain Diana dolls. The architect Giles Quarme has shown a sensitivity that goes beyond his usual genius at restoring and adapting his- toric buildings. The museum moves you, even when you refuse to be moved. Out- side, the old stable block looks, well, like an old stable block. If there are signs they are small and discreet. Inside, the walls are as plain as a crypt's and the light as subdued, but instead of marble figures with folded hands there is a little girl's school blazer and a cine-film of her playing in a pool.

In the gloom I couldn't quite make out Diana's, doubtless unimpreSsive, school report, but I could see the format was the same as my own had been and I shuddered. How did it go then? There was the wedding and the funeral, a carpet of petals (which you smelt before you saw it) representing the flowers people left outside Kensington Palace last year. It was almost pitch-black at that point, but the light grew brighter as you walked on through a tunnel of man- nequins dressed in her clothes: the terrible meringue dresses she wore in the early days, the little Catherine Walker suits, the beige trousers she walked through a mine- field in a few months before she died.

There was something Egyptian about it, as if Diana could one day put the clothes back on and walk out of her museum. By the door books of condolences from all over the world were stacked up in a glass case. I read names of small towns in distant places. Like it or not, a dumb sloane became the greatest superstar of our age.