The Bridgewater Collection: Its Impact on Collecting and Display in Britain

Bridgewater and his relatives

Turning to consider the characters involved, Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater (1736-1803), was, by all accounts a rather unsavoury individual. As a young man he was a Philistine and his lack of interest in things intellectual or cultural was noted on his Grand Tour by his tutor, Robert Wood. It was only at Wood’s inducement, so one story goes, that the youthful Duke bought some ‘marbles’ in Rome, which then remained for most of his life in their packing crates.22 

After his return to England, Francis Egerton succeeded to the dukedom in 1748 on the death of his brother, the 2nd Duke. Starting off life somewhat indifferent to the opinions of others, he degenerated into someone uncouth, becoming misogynistic, miserly to some and rude to many. His unkempt appearance of later life became renowned, and he would appear in polite society with a dirty face and tattered, unfashionable clothing. He was a heavy smoker; drank a lot and took snuff. It is not unlikely that his manner changed after being unfortunate in love; certainly his career changed course as a result. Shortly after attaining his majority he had become engaged to the beautiful widowed Duchess of Hamilton, but upon the match being broken off,23  he left London, and retired to his estates in Lancashire.

He immersed himself initially in two directions very different from art-collecting. He built up a stud, buying and breeding horses and frequently racing them himself. He also became fascinated with canal schemes, so much so that he became known as the ‘Canal Duke’. As the father of British inland navigation his most famous legacy was the ‘Bridgewater Canal’ running from Manchester to Worsley, a waterway that allowed him to transport (at low cost) coal mined from his estate collieries. In time, he became one of Britain’s wealthiest nobles, consequently overcoming the reputation that he and the Duke of Roxburghe had borne as younger men of being the ‘Two Poor Dukes’.

Bridgewater’s passion for art collecting started late in life and came about, so it seems, as a result of his perceptive and cultured nephew’s persuading him that involvement with the Orléans Collection would prove a profitable business proposition. Perhaps too the thrill of the chase and a competitive spirit also played a part in his conversion to art-collecting, for when Joseph Farington inquired how the Duke happened to collect pictures, he was informed that ‘it was in consequence of [Bridgewater’s] happening to have a few fine pictures, which were in His family – and that when He had once begun His mind became ardent upon it, & the picture dealers Bryant [sic] &c., by reporting to Him a fine picture & then inflaming His mind with the apprehension of a Competition for it, by signifying that Lucien Bonoparte [sic] or some other person wanted that picture, could obtain from Him generally high prices'.

Bridgewater’s new hobby pleased his friends because it caused him ‘to take the exercise of walking much about his galleries and rooms’.24  And ‘walking much about’ was the order of the day for the pictures covered: ‘[e]very room and space in the mansion [at Cleveland Row], which is one of the largest in Belgrave-square’. According to a contemporary description, the Titian’s 'Diana and Calisto' and Diana and Actaeon hung in the parlour with other Italian works from the Orléans Collection, including works by Raphael, Annibale and Lodovico Caracci, and Domenichino. The French school was also represented in Bridgewater’s Collection by Claude and Poussin; and the Dutch masters were seen in good number through the work of Berghem, Cuyp, Isaac Ostade, Rembrandt, David Teniers, and Wilhelm Van de Velde. In 1801 Bridgewater purchased Anthony van Dyck’s portrait of 'Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel' (Getty Mus., Malibu), which is appropriate given that in his day Arundel had been the premier aristocratic collector and promoter of art, and inappropriate in that Arundel was a true art lover and a genuine connoisseur.

Bridgewater’s nephew, 2nd Marquis of Stafford and his great-nephew, Francis Egerton, who in turn inherited the Bridgewater Collection, were both far more urbane than their relative. Both willingly undertook the Grand Tour, and both later served in public positions of responsibility: the Marquis of Stafford as MP (for Newcastle under Lyme and Staffordshire), ambassador to Paris (1790-92) and joint postmaster-general (1799-1810) and the Earl of Ellesmere as a government minister. Both retired from politics to devote themselves to the improvement of their estates. The Marquis of Stafford’s family became notorious for their role in the Highland Clearances, which displaced large numbers of the population of Northern Scotland to make way for sheep farming. Being hugely rich he was dubbed ‘a leviathan of wealth’ (by his father-in-law, Charles Greville); and James Gillray entitled a cartoon of him ‘Macenas in Pursuit of the Fine Arts.’ Both he and his son became renowned as prominent collectors and patrons of their time, relying much on the vast wealth of their wives to do so. 

They supplemented the magnificent pictures acquired with the Orléans Collection with other purchases. In the Marquis of Stafford’s case a significant later acquisition was the Cabinet Lenoir, a unique collection of French portraits from the 16th to the 19th century, purchased in 1838 from its creator, Alexandre Lenoir.26  As for the future Earl of Ellesmere, his most significant purchase occurred in 1823 when he bought drawings from the collection of Thomas Lawrence, including works by the Carracci and Giulio Romano, which the government had failed on numerous occasions to acquire.27 The latter also commissioned new pictures, notably an image of 'Charles I insulted by the Soldiers of Cromwell' (1837) from the French painter, Paul Delaroche.28

Next: Changing tastes

 

1. Anna Jameson, Companion to the Most Celebrated Private Galleries of Art in London (London, 1844), p. 80.

2. E.K. Waterhouse, notes on Bridgewater House (dated 13 June 1925) in his manuscript notebook entitled ‘A record of pictures seen, beginning 1924’, pp. 13-20 (Getty Research Institute, Malibu, CA, ref: Special Collections).

3. N.B. They appear among the pictures about which Titian complained in 1574 that he had not received compensation; see F. Pedrocco, Titian: The Complete Paintings (London, 2001), p. 248.

4. The picture ended up on a list of pictures for sale in Venice in the 1630s, described as: ‘9. A Diana shooting Adonis in forme of a Hart. Not quite finished. Pal 12 & 10 Titian,’ in a MS. inventory among the Duke of Hamilton’s papers; see C. Gould, National Gallery Catalogues: The Sixteenth-Century Italian Schools (London, 1987), p. 294. The picture passed into various aristocratic collections, including the Orléans Collection in France; on being sold in England it passed into the collection of Sir Abraham Hume and then, by descent, into the family of the Earl Brownlow. Later on, it was purchased by the Earl of Harewood. After the sale of the 7th Earl of Harewood (Christie’s, 25 June 1971, lot 27), it was bought by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, California. The export license applied for by the latter was delayed by the Reviewing Committee for a year, during which time the purchase price paid by the Getty Museum was raised by public appeal, so that the work was purchased by the National Gallery, London, in 1972.

5. N.B. Versions of both the Venus and Adonis and Danäe were first produced for the Italian noble family, the Farnese.

6. For a list of twenty-one paintings by Titians in the Orléans Collection, see William Buchanan, Memoirs of Painting with a Chronological History of the Importation of Pictures by the Great Masters into England since the French Revolution (London, 1824), pp. 111-123.

7. Despite being manifestly absurd, a popular 19th-century journal, the Art Union, raised the point that in a catalogue by William Young Ottley the author had recorded that Titian’s mythologies ‘were painted for our King Henry VIII., and belonged afterwards to King Charles I.’; but the paper dismissed the statement on the grounds that the entry did ‘not name any authority for the assertion, nor are they mentioned in the catalogue of the latter Sovereign’s pictures, when they were sold by the Parliament’; quoted in E.K. Waterhouse, ‘Titian: Diana and Actaeon’ (London, 1952): The 34th Charlton Lecture, delivered on 5 Nov. 1951, p. 10.

8. V. Carducho, Diaolgos de la pintura (Madrid, 1630), p. 156; quoted in Waterhouse, op. cit., pp. 6-7.

9. Even though the paintings of Diana never made their way into Charles I’s collection other pictures by Titian did; the Venus del Prado, for instance, was presented by Philip IV to Charles, but it returned to Spain after Charles I’s death, having been purchased back for the donor; see Buchanan, op. cit., pp. 119.

10. See F. Haskell, The Ephemeral Museum: Old Master Paintings and the Rise of the Art Exhibition (New Haven and London, 2000; hereafter referred to as Haskell 2000), pp. 22-29 and Nicholas Penny, The Sixteenth Century Italian Paintings, vol. II: Venice, 1540-1600 (London, 2008; hereafter referred to as Penny 2008), pp. 461-70.

11. N.B. Slade offered them for sale in Pall Mall in 1793, and among the buyers were his three co-speculators (also partners in the same Bank as Slade): Lord Kinnaird, Mr. Moreland and Mr. Hammersley; see Penny 2008, p. 466.

12. N.B. He even visiting Paris in September 1797 to make plans to this end, but a military coup forced him to flee back immediately to England.

13. Michael Bryan was also a collector and the author of a well-known Biographical and Critical Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, first published in 1816; he married the daughter of a nobleman.

14. N.B. The 5th Earl of Carlisle was the brother-in-law of the 1st Duke of Sutherland. A fop and a gambler in his youth, he later became a highly successful politician, public servant, guardian to his cousin Lord Byron, and a friend of the politician and wit George Selwyn. He was a writer himself and his work was praised by both Samuel Johnson and Horace Walpole.

15. N.B. Carlisle was married to Lady Margaret Leveson-Gower, daughter of the first Marquis of Stafford.

16. N.B. The premises consisted of one large and one small show-room in Schomberg House, 88 Pall Mall.

17. Farington’s annotated catalogue is preserved at the Getty Research Institute, Malibu, CA (ref: Special Collections, inv. 880391); for reproductions, see Haskell 2000, figs. 5 and 6.

18. N. Penny (Penny 2008, p. 469, note 75) suggests that this was a sketch for Tintoretto’s Paradise (perhaps the painting now in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid).

19. N.B. Penny 2008, p. 467, has pointed out that both this double-exhibition and the subsequent sale by Coxe, Burrel and Foster on 13 May 1802 ‘at which all members of the syndicate consigned some pictures they had reserved’ were, from a financial point of view, disappointing.

20. N.B. On his death, in 1833, the Stafford Gallery was divided: that part of the collection which had been acquired by the Marquis of Stafford was inherited by his eldest son, who became the Duke of Sutherland, after which point it became known as the Sutherland Gallery; the Bridgewater portion was directed by the Duke of Bridgewater’s will to descend to the Marquis of Stafford’s second son, Lord Francis Egerton, and resumed its original name of the Bridgewater Gallery; see ‘Visits to Private Galleries: The Collection of the Right Hon. The Earl of Ellesmere, Belgrave-Square’, Art-Union, vol. ix (1847), pp.8-12, 49-52.

21. N.B. In 1963 Ellesmere’s great-great-grandson, the fifth Earl, succeeded his kinsman as 6th Duke of Sutherland. The earldom of Ellesmere and viscountcy of Brackley are now subsidiary titles of the dukedom.

22. N.B. Doubtless Francis Egerton’s portrait by Pompeo Batoni was done under duress; perhaps the one of Wood was done as some kind of recompense for this long-suffering ‘bear-keeper’!

23. N.B. Their engagement was broken off because of the Duchess of Hamilton’s refusal to give up the acquaintance of her sister, Lady Coventry.

24. Quoted in Francis Haskell, Rediscoveries in Art: some aspects of taste, fashion and collecting in England and France (London, 1976), p. 27.

25. The 1st Duke of Sutherland acquired the greater part of Sutherlandshire (now Highland) through his marriage to Elizabeth (1765-1839), Countess of Sutherland, while the Earl of Ellesmere, in 1822, married Harriet Catherine, daughter of Charles Greville. Lord Beaconsfield dubbed the family custom of marriage with wealthy woman, ‘absorbing heiresses’.

26. See the review of Ronald Gower, The Lenoir Collection of original French portraits at Stafford house, in Athenaeum, 28 Nov. 1874, pp. 719-20. His collection was so rich that it was considered ‘more complete than … any private gallery’; see Jameson, op. cit., p. 83.

27. See P.A. Tomory, The Ellesmere Collection of Old Master Drawings (Leicester, 1954), pp. 5-6. N.B. Francis Egerton gave the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, two volumes of drawings by the Carracci in 1853.

28. On this work, see Chris Riopelle’s essay in: ***. N.B. The future Earl of Ellesmere’s brother, the Duke of Sutherland, also secured a painting on an English historical theme by Delaroche in the 1830s: Strafford on his Way to Execution. These paintings were not conceived as pendants, although they tend to be described as such.

29. Jameson, op. cit., p. 81.

30. Quoted in Penny 2008, p. 467.

31. W. Hazlitt, ‘On the Pleasures of Painting’, Criticisms on Art, vol. 2 (London, 1844), pp. 19-20.

32. D. Bindman, ‘The Orléans Collection and its Impact on British Art’, in R. Panzanelli and M. Preti-Hamard (eds.), The Circulation of Works of Art in the Revolutionary Era, 1789-1848 (Rennes, 2004), p. 61

33. N.B. According to Passavant, this came about as the result of a clause in the Duke of Bridgewater’s will whereby he bequeathed his collection together ‘with the mansion called Cleveland House, to the Duke of Sutherland, upon condition of its being thrown open to the public during the months of May and June’ (see  J.D. Passavant, Tour of a German Artist in England (London, 1836), pp. 121-22), which is all rather strange given that the Canal Duke was not a philanthropic character on the whole. In fact as the Earl of Ellesmere makes clear in a preface of 23 July 1851 in the Catalogue of the Bridgewater Collection of Pictures … (London, 5th edn., n.d.): ‘The impression in question [‘that the exhibition to the Public of the Bridgewater Collection of Pictures is compulsory, in virtue of some provision in the Will of the late Duke of Bridgewater’, i.e. Passavant’s contention] is in every respect totally unfounded. It is not enough to state that the Duke of Bridgewater’s Will contains no direction whatever to the legal effect supposed, - no evidence written or traditional has ever reached me of any wish or intention on the part of my illustrious relative that the pictures collected by him should be exhibited to anybody’.

34. N.B. In 1810 the Marquis of Stafford visited the exhibition of the Associated Artists in Water Colours in Bond Street and as a mark of his esteem for their work sent each member a season ticket to his private gallery, a privilege hitherto enjoyed by Royal Academicians alone.

35. See ‘The Altered Plan of Bridgewater House, London’, The Builder, 13 October 1849, p. 484; my thanks to Christopher Riopelle for drawing my attention to this document.

36. Jameson 1844, pp. xxxiv-v. 

37. E.g., W.Y. Ottley, Engravings of the Most Noble The Marquis of Stafford’s Collection, 2 vols. (London, 1818). 

38. Quoted in John Cornforth, ‘London’s Lost Galleries: Private Collections in the Early 19th century’, Country Life (13 June 1968), p. 1566.

39. N.B. Bridgewater is mentioned in the 1813 catalogue as a Subscriber who had paid 105 guineas.

40. See William T. Whitley, Art in England, 1800-1820 (London, 1928), pp. 117. Other artists whose work the Marquis of Stafford bought included: James Hewlett of Bath, Thomas Barker, Patrick Nasmyth, R.R. Reinagle, H.P. Bone, F. Huet Villiers, George Watson and Miss Palmer; see Whitley, op. cit., pp. 117-8, 206.

41. N.B. when the BI hosted an exhibition of Reynolds’ work in May 1813, Stafford, known for his generosity as a patron of the arts, was given the honour of receiving the Prince Regent at the opening.

42. See Whitley op. cit., pp. 247, 354.

43. N.B. Prince Albert and Ellesmere had discussed the idea for a chronological arrangement of the exhibits, and the Prince sent Ellesmere a copy of the list of schools and masters of painting which he had asked Charles Eastlake (the National Gallery’s first Director) to draw up for the Gallery’s use in 1853; see Winslow Ames, Prince Albert and Victorian Taste (London, 1968), p. 149.

44. W. Bürger, Trésors d’Art en Angleterre (Paris, 1857), pp. v-vi; quoted in F. Haskell, The Ephemeral Museum: Old Master Paintings and the Rise of the Art Exhibition (New Haven and London, 2000), p. 82.

45. See Haskell 2000, pp. 82-3, but as Haskell points out, p. 177, note 2, the Titians were not among the pictures that Lord Ellesmere originally had offered.

46. N.B. John Fleming, ‘Art Dealing in the Risorgimento II’, Burlington Magazine, vol. CXXI, no. 917 (August 1979), p. 505, note 75: Lord Francis Egerton was later offered several paintings by the dealer William Blundell Spence in 1854, but they seem to have been rejected. In a letter of 30 March 1855, he told Spence that ‘if the National Gallery should ever shake itself into shape the works you mention would be worth its consideration. I believe Mr C. Eastlake has accepted its direction and should this be so I will mention them.’

47. N.B. Another Trustee of the NPG was the fourth son of the 2nd Duke of Sutherland, Ronald Charles Sutherland-Gower (1845-1916), who compiled the catalogue of his father’s collection in 1910.

48. See report in the Glasgow Herald of 26 May 1917.

49. Information on the bombing of Bridgewater House in 1941 is contained in the Westminster Civil Defence Archive; for an account of the war damage sustained by Bridgewater House, and the effect of the blast in particular on Delaroche’s Charles I, see C. Riopelle, ‘Lost and Found’, Painting History: Delaroche and Lady Jane Grey (London, 2010), p. 22 and note 28. N.B. The painting is the focus of the National Gallery’s Room 1 Exhibition, A Masterpiece Rediscovered: Delaroche’s Charles I Insulted, which runs in conjunction with the Gallery’s Sainsbury Wing exhibition on Delaroche (24 February – 23 May 2010).

50. The Trustees agreed to house the Bridgewater paintings at Manod at the Board meeting of 21 November 1944.

51. Two important sales of the collection took place at Christie’s, London: 2 April 1870 and 18 Oct. 1946.

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