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

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Changing tastes

As is clear from an investigation of the collecting instincts of Bridgewater and his heirs, the taste for collecting pictures which revived during the 18th century in Britain was encouraged by private individuals rather than by Parliament or the Crown. William Buchanan in his two-volume 'Memoirs of Painting', published in 1824, interpreted this phenomenon as one of patriotic zeal on the part of the British nobility and finished his narrative with the hopeful prediction that public institutions would soon burgeon in Britain, which would match their Continental counterparts.

Certainly many British aristocrats were desirous of promoting art in the public domain and foremost among them were the owners of Titian’s Diana and Actaeon. Mrs Jameson sums up accurately the influence of the Bridgewater Collection, pointing out that it was noteworthy not only ‘because of the value, variety, and interest of its contents’ but also it took ‘the first rank’ because 'its history is so connected with the history of the progress of art in England, as to render it peculiarly interesting. Of all the private collections, it will be found to be the one which has had the most favourable, the most 'refining' influence on the public and individual taste'.29 

In any survey of significant events in the rise of interest in art and in collecting and display in this country, it is easy to demonstrate the leading role played by Bridgewater and especially his heirs. There can be no better place to start this overview than with an assessment of the impact of the Orléans Collection exhibition. To some the crowded, unframed pictures may not have looked their best; Lady Amabel Lucas, for instance, noted that at the Lyceum the paintings appeared ‘dirty, or more sunk in their colours than those at Bryan’s [gallery]’ and in particular that '[t]he Venus detaining Adonis; the Actaeon and the Callisto of Titian whose colouring looked so fine at the Palais Royal, did not appear so beautiful here'.30 

Even so, most witnesses at the time, and many more with the advantage of hindsight have agreed that this double-exhibition was a revelation. Certainly to see Old Masters ‘in the flesh’ was exciting, the last comparable occasion being the dispersal 150 years earlier of the collection of Charles I. Since then, those fortunate enough to be able to travel abroad could have seen large-scale Italian mythologies and religious pictures 'in situ'. But for those who never left British shores their experience of the Old Masters would have been more restricted. Certainly there were many British collections full of Old Master paintings, including Houghton, Holkham, Blenheim and Chatsworth, but their collections were not of the consistent quality of the Orleans pictures and nor were their doors open to the general masses. For the less well-to-do their experience would have been more often limited to viewing the occasional Old Master which came up for sale at the London auction houses and in reproductions, usually monochrome reductions.

Thus the Bridgewater syndicate, through its initiative to purchase, display and disperse the Orléans Collection, succeeded in pushing British collecting in a new direction – away from the Dutch and Flemish schools towards pictures of the Italian schools of the 16th and 17th centuries. The sensational effect of their effort is well summarized by Hazlitt (1788-8130) who some years later recalled: 'I was staggered when I saw the works there collected, and looked at them with wondering and with longing eyes. A mist passed away from my sight: the scales fell off. A new sense came upon me, a new heaven and a new earth stood before me …We had all heard of the names of Titian, Raphael, Guido, Domenichino, the Carracci – but to see them face to face, to be in the same room …was like breaking some mighty spell'.31

The impact of the Orléans Collection on various artists’ work is also well documented; to take but one relevant example, David Bindman has convincingly argued that William Blake’s 'Bathsheba' (London, Tate) with its open sensuality and luxurious background – unusual for the artist – is indebted to the Orléans Titians.32  As far as the English art market was concerned, the Orléans sale was one of the catalysts which induced many aristocratic, banking and mercantile men to become serious collectors on the back of their acquisitions from it. The other factor was of course the vast number of notable pictures driven onto the market by the French invasion of Italy and Spain. Certainly, from the 1790s English collections started to rival in terms of quality and quantity, as well as in the type of art collected, those in the traditional centres of collecting, notably Paris, Madrid, St. Petersburg and Italy. 

One highly important result of the double-venue exhibition of the Orléans Collection was a new commitment on the part of England’s art-owning nobility not only to collecting certain kinds of art but also to 'displaying' it for public benefit. Initially this took the form of owners of private art-galleries opening them up on a regular basis, but this trend also led to the pioneering development of loan exhibitions and eventually the establishment of permanent art galleries. The Bridgewater Collection was the first in the capital to be made available for general viewing.33  Although it had been an accepted custom for decent travellers to call at country houses and be given a tour, the same tradition did not exist in London, so that the opening of the Bridgewater Collection was a considerable novelty.

The pictures of Diana were briefly kept by the 2nd Earl of Stafford at Stafford House (built as York House, now Lancaster house). The first grand opening of Stafford House on 8 May 1806 was described in detail in the press. Over 2,000 guests attended, including many French Princes and the Prince of Wales with his five brothers. 'The admiration of the Prince of Wales', we are told, 'increased as he advanced through the State apartments, but when his Royal Highness entered the picture gallery he was lost in ecstasy'. A week later Lord Stafford began to issue tickets for Wednesdays, during the season, to view his pictures. So popular did the first day prove that the visitors were loath to leave at closing-time. According to the 'Morning Chronicle' of May 23rd: 'At eleven o’clock on Wednesday last about two hundred of the principal artists and amateurs in the kingdom were gratified with a view of that National Museum rather than private collection, the Picture Gallery at the Marquis of Stafford’s. At five in the afternoon, with some difficulty, the domestics were able to prevail on the company to quit the attractive scene in order that preparations might be made for dinner.'

This pattern continued down the years, with select ticket holders (people personally known by or recommended to the family) and artists being allowed admittance.34 The tradition continued after Ellesmere inherited his portion of pictures from his father, 2nd Marquis of Stafford, 1st Duke of Sutherland – including the pictures of Diana – when he moved his pictures to his new house, Bridgewater House, which he had built by Charles Barry (the architect of the new Houses of Parliament and part of the National Gallery) on the site of his great-uncle’s Cleveland Row property. Indeed, Barry’s plans were specifically revised to accommodate a separate staircase leading straight to the picture gallery for the convenience of the visitor and to maintain the privacy of the family.35

Not all the visitors respected their privilege, however, and Mrs Jameson recorded how shocked she was to see 'loiterers and loungers… strut[ing] about as if they had the right to be there, talking, flirting, peering and prying, lifting up the covers of chairs to examine the furniture, touching the ornaments – and even the pictures!’36 To assist those who did want to study the pictures 'in situ' or afterwards to have an 'aide-memoire' of the collection a guide-cum-souvenir was published. Although catalogues 'per se' were not a novelty (the first ones appearing in the 17th century), the splendour of some of the publications relating to the Bridgewater Collection was notable and recalled those produced for the Orléans and Walpole Collections.37  To reiterate, at this time when the National Gallery had not yet been established, it was the Stafford Gallery/Bridgewater House with its well-labelled and well-catalogued pictures that attracted art lovers in London.

This pioneering enterprise led the way for the construction of several picture galleries in other grand London mansions, a fact that induced an Italian visitor, Count Leopoldo Cicognara to note that: 'The galleries of London are very numerous, always open to the public, and furnished with old and modern works of every school’.38  Sir John Fleming Leicester filled his London pied-à-terre (24 Hill Street) with 'modern' British art which he opened to the public in 1818, and Wyatt’s 'sculpture' gallery at Londonderry House was finished in 1828; Thomas Hope’s sculpture gallery in Duchess Street house was regarded as important too. More usually gentlemen and noblemen collected and displayed Old Masters pictures. Notably, Lansdowne House was completed in the late 1820s, Grosvenor House followed in 1825, the gallery at Buckingham Palace was finished in 1827 and the Waterloo Gallery at Apsley House was ready in 1830.

The last great post-Waterloo mansion was Dorchester House, begun in 1848, which was clearly designed to outshine these earlier models: although it boasted no picture gallery as such, it did have a lavish suite of rooms reminiscent of Renaissance Italy.

Next: Temporary exhibitions


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.