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

Temporary exhibitions

Another hugely significant initiative to promote the viewing of Old Masters was the founding of the British Institution for Promoting the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom (1805-67). Its original object was ‘to encourage and reward the talents of the artists of the UK, and to open an exhibition for the sale of their productions’.

Its particular brand of exhibition was somewhat different from the displays organised at Stafford Gallery/Bridgewater House - rather than being an exhibition hosted in a private mansion and comprising pictures from just one collection, the British Institution organised its annual exhibitions at the Shakespeare Gallery in Pall Mall, a building specifically bought for the purpose of bringing together pictures lent by many different people.

The management fell to a group of gentlemen and aristocrats, some of whom were also on the committee of subscribers in charge of arranging the works within the exhibitions. Notably, the Marquis of Stafford was a founding member of the British Institution, and he went on to become its Deputy-President and Director for a decade from 1810 and then President between 1820 and 1825.39 

The first exhibitions – which took place annually from the spring of 1806 – were solely of contemporary British art, giving a spur to British artists (especially those outside the protection of the Royal Academy) through offering them an additional selling space as well as more direct patronage in terms of premiums and commissions. Certainly artists profited from this initiative with many works of art being bought from the first and subsequent exhibitions. Notably, the Marquis of Stafford bought 15 works from the British Institution over the years, including Opie’s 'Belisarius', Westall’s 'Christ appearing to Mary Magdalen', and 'St Peter' by Shee.40  The Duke of Bridgewater himself had previously commissioned from J.M.W. Turner his painting of 'Dutch Boards in a Gale', but his nephew was a far greater patron.41 
It did not take the British Institution any time, however, to get involved with exhibiting Old Masters. This initiative started after the close of the first exhibition of modern pictures, when the gallery was re-hung with a small but choice collection of Flemish and Dutch Old Masters which students and artists were permitted to copy undisturbed.42  These pictures had been borrowed from the most important private collections, including those of the Prince Regent, the Dukes of Bedford, Marlborough and Grafton, the Marquis of Stafford, the Earl of Grosvenor, Sir Abraham Hume, Sir George Beaumont and John Julius Angerstein.

The success of this first show led to the establishment of a summer exhibition of Old Masters, a tradition which continued until the institution’s demise in 1867, outliving the original spring exhibitions of living native artists’ work. Lords Stafford and Ellesmere lent a range of family pictures over the years, including the two Diana scenes in July 1839. The school of copyists, the original designated beneficiary of these exhibitions, proved immensely popular, which is not surprising given the high quality of the pictures available. But the influence of these loan exhibitions of Old Masters, being the first of their kind ever to be held in England, was felt more widely still and their progeny continue to flourish worldwide today.

A second temporary exhibition of huge importance was 'Art Treasures of the United Kingdom' which opened at Old Trafford, near Manchester on 5 May 1857. It deserves notice here because the Earl of Ellesmere, Queen Victoria’s representative in Lancashire and the principal local supporter of the enterprise, was the first chairman of its Executive Committee – at least from 1856 until his death in February 1857. The exhibition is usefully seen as a follow-on of the work of the British Institution, only it was much larger in size and scope as well as more ambitious in terms of its scholarly input and its attempts to educate the public.43 

Thus the French critic Theopile Thoré felt able to suggest that the assembled collection was 'about on the level of the Louvre. The Spanish school, the German, Flemish and Dutch schools are even richer and more splendid. The English school can be seen only there. Only as regards the great Italians of the Renaissance does the Louvre surpass Manchester'.44  It is interesting to note that, according to one contemporary commentator, had Lord Ellesmere not died unexpectedly a few months before the exhibition was due to open, he would have boosted that Italian Renaissance section through the loan of his Orléans Collection Raphaels and Titians.45

Next: Permanent art galleries

 

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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