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

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English royalty and aristocracy

On the subject of the association of Titian’s Diana and Actaeon with European royalty it is appropriate to note the picture’s association with the English royal family.7  Charles I, when Prince of Wales, saw the pictures in Madrid in 1623, during his quest to obtain a Spanish bride.

The art-historian Carducho, writing only a few years later, in 1630, in his eighth 'Dialogue on Art' recorded how the King of Spain, seeing Charles’ appetite for pictures, made preparations to give him a number of the Titian mythologies. In the Dialogue, the Pupil asks his Master how it was that Charles did not in the event carry them off and receives the reply: ‘I saw them at that time put in cases to be sent to England. There were the two baths of Diana, the Europa, the Danae, and the rest. But, with the change of circumstances, they stayed here'.8  The ‘change of circumstances’ was Charles’s refusal to comply with the Spanish demand that he convert to Roman Catholicism and remain in Spain for a year after the wedding to ensure England’s compliance with the terms of the marriage treaty.

In the event, the closest Charles came to owning these masterpieces were the full-scale copies Rubens made when he visited the Spanish court six years later. The copy of 'Diana and Actaeon' has not been traced, but a sheet survives of sketches after figures in the picture by Rubens, presumably made at the same time (Getty Museum, California).9

In the case of 'Diana and Acteon', the picture had to wait a while longer to enter an English collection. It remained in Paris with its pair and other paintings by Titian for over 70 years at the Palais Royal in Paris (where they were seen by many people) until the Orléans Collection was broken up and sold in the 1790s, during the French Revolution by the Regent’s great-grandson, Philippe II, duc d’Orleans. The Orléans Collection was sold to raise money for this hugely financially embarrassed Prince, among other reasons because he hoped to ride the political storm. It was at this point that the picture was destined to cross the Channel and enter what became one of the most spectacular collections of the English aristocracy – that of the Duke of Bridgewater and his heirs. Much work has been done on the fascinating topic of the dispersal of the Orléans collection, notably by Francis Haskell and Nicholas Penny;10  here it is sufficient to rehearse the most salient details. The Italian and French pictures – 305 of them - were sold off first and ended up in England. The other batch of Flemish, Dutch, and German pictures also ended up in this country, having been bought by Thomas Moore Slade, Esq., a rich speculator and financier (for 350,000 francs), who in 1791 had in fact attempted to purchase the entire Orléans Collection.11 

As far as the group of Italian pictures was concerned, its entry into the Bridgwater Collection was not ‘a given’ and had things turned out differently, the Diana pictures et al. might have been bought by the English government far earlier than in fact occurred or they might have remained in France. The artist Benjamin West and politician Charles Long had had ambitions to purchase the finest 150 pictures from the Orléans Collection (for £44,000) to serve as the basis of a national collection.

Their proposed scheme was said to have had the blessing of the Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger and George III, but for whatever reason it foundered. Instead what occurred was that the Italian and French pictures from the Orléans Collection were bought by a Brussels banker, Edouard Walckiers, who then sold them to his cousin, François-Louis-Joseph de Laborde-Méréville, who began to build a gallery in the Rue d’Artois, Paris, to accommodate them. Méréville’s decision to cross the Channel with his collection once the Revolution began was deemed a temporary solution, with the collector hoping to return to France one day12

Given that the pictures were mortgaged when he fled to England and that selling the collection to a fellow countryman was no longer an option, he ultimately had to cede ownership of it to Jeremiah Harman, a director of the Bank of England and an important collector of paintings. Harman chose to sell on the pictures almost immediately, in the early summer of 1798, for £43,000, to Michael Bryan, a gentleman dealer,13  who was acting on behalf of a syndicate of noblemen, including the Duke of Bridgewater. 

The three noblemen involved chose to retain (after some changes of mind by all three) many of the most splendid pictures – the Duke of Bridgewater, for instance, keeping the Titian Dianas for his own collection. The 94 pictures selected were divided by the consortium in such a way that Bridgewater retained some 47 pictures, valued at £23,130, while his nephew Lord Gower (1758-1833; George Granville Leveson-Gower, in 1803 created 2nd Marquis of Stafford and later still, in 1833, 1st Earl of Sutherland) took a fourth part and Lord Carlisle14 (Gower’s cousin-by-marriage)15 took an eighth share.

Despite their smaller portions of the pictures, it is likely to have been the two younger nobles, rather than Bridgewater himself, who brokered the deal. For one thing Lord Gower had been British ambassador in Paris in the early 1790s, so he would have been in an ideal position to keep abreast of developments concerning the Orléans Collection. And one can assume that it was Carlisle who approached Michael Bryan (or was approached by him) since he had been buying pictures from Bryan (and selling to him) since the 1790s.

Having made their selection the noblemen arranged for the remainder of the Orléans Collection pictures to be sold; to this end – and with great novelty - they put all the Italian and French paintings on show for seven months, including those they had already selected for themselves, owning all the pictures in common until the end of the sale. Due to the sheer number of pictures they were split between two locations; 138 of them were shown at Bryan’s own commercial gallery in Pall Mall,16  while the remaining group of 158, including the larger pictures, was displayed in a rented hall at the Lyceum in the Strand.

This double-venue exhibition opened on Boxing Day 1798, admission cost half a crown and hand-lists of the pictures were available. Interestingly, the artist and diarist, Joseph Farington, made rough sketches of the layout of the rooms at both venues on the very last day of the exhibition, 31 July 1799, so a record has been preserved of how the pictures were hung.17  From Farington’s drawing it is clear that Titian’s 'Diana and Actaeon' and 'Diana and Callisto' were displayed on the principal right-hand wall of the Lyceum among other unframed pictures, in a symmetrical, closely-packed hang; more precisely, they were placed to either side of Sebastiano del Piombo’s Raising of Lazarus and they had a horizontal Tintoretto, the 'Last Judgement' above them.18 

The artistic community seems to have agreed that the Titians were the best pictures, although a more discussed work (because of its contested authorship) was the Sebastiano, which was purchased on the opening day by John Julius Angerstein; a little later, in 1824, the work was included within the governmental purchase of the Angerstein Collection to form the basis of the National Gallery (NG1). At 3,500 guineas, the Sebastiano was among the most expensive purchases, although Bridgewater paid out high prices too, especially for his Titian Dianas and for the famous Bridgewater Raphael. Most expensive of all was Annibale Carracci’s Dead Christ Mourned, bought by Lord Carlisle (4,000 guineas).19  Certainly our triumvirate’s pickings were among the most stunning.

The Earl of Carlisle’s pictures stayed in his family (on show in the ‘Orléans Room’ at Castle Howard), although Annibale Carracci’s 'Dead Christ Mourned' was presented by Rosalind, Countess of Carlisle, to the NG in 1913. In the Duke of Bridgewater’s case, when he died unmarried in 1803, he left the whole of his collection (the Orléans collection – including the Titian Dianas - plus the rest of his collection) for life to his nephew, the Marquis of Stafford/1st Duke of Sutherland (part of the triumvirate). When the 1st Duke of Sutherland died, the portion of the paintings inherited from the Duke of Bridgewater passed to his second son, Francis Leveson-Gower (1800-57). Presumably in acknowledgement of this great inheritance Francis, on his father’s death in 1833, changed his surname to Egerton - that of his great-uncle; some 13 years later that he was created 1st Earl of Ellesmere.20  The 'Diana and Actaeon' and its pair have stayed with that branch of the family – the Egerton Sutherlands - ever since21.

Next: Bridgewater and his relatives


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.