Records of Sir John’s activities thereafter are sparse. Until the 1850s, when he sold the estate, the family seat was at Stichill, Roxburghshire, and thereafter he and Lady Elizabeth Pringle lived at Undermount, Bonchurch, Isle of Wight.16 Sir John’s political convictions were Tory but he was rarely active. In 1831 he and Sir Walter Scott spoke at a meeting of local gentry at Jedburgh in opposition to the Reform Bill.17 (The following year he was among those who attended Scott’s funeral at Dryburgh Abbey, Roxburghshire.)18 In 1834 Pringle successfully proposed the election of Sir Hugh Purves-Hume-Campbell as Conservative MP for Berwickshire.19 Some years later he chaired a meeting in Kelso held to voice opposition to the repeal of the Corn Laws.20 In his opposition to the Reform Bill and to the repeal of the protectionist Corn Laws, Pringle was on the losing side in both cases. There is no record of any political intervention by him thereafter. He appears to have been interested in improving food production, experimenting with various meat preservatives before concluding that there was an inverse relationship between efficacy and taste,21 and allegedly tripling his cows’ milk production by the use of ‘Thorley’s condiment’.22 Such activities may have made him less than riveting company. Certainly, he scarcely figured in the society pages, although he and Lady Elizabeth Pringle were at Taymouth, the seat of the Marquess of Breadalbane, for the visit there of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1842,23 and Sir John joined the guests after dinner at Windsor Castle in 1856.24 It seems likely that the Pringles continued some acquaintance with the royal family when the Pringles moved to Bonchurch, a half-day’s journey from Osborne House, Isle of Wight.25 Otherwise, to judge from contemporary reports, or rather the lack of them, Sir John kept to his estates. Only a single visit to London (in 1834) was reported,26 and there is no evidence that he owned a house in the capital.
None of which prepares us for the fact that by 1837, if not by 1835,27 Sir John possessed a considerable number of old master paintings. It is unclear when he started collecting but he made one purchase from the Fonthill Abbey sale in 1823.28 Three paintings belonging to him were put up for sale on 5 May 182729 and a painting sold in 1835 by Charles O’Neil, described as ‘A. Vandyck, Judas betraying Christ, the sketch for the great picture at Blenheim’, was further described as from the collection of Sir John Pringle.30 This suggests active buying (and selling) on his part for over a decade or more, although it does not preclude his having inherited pictures on the death of his father in 1809. One hundred and two lots were put up for auction by him in 1835, and 54 in 1837 (including Watteau’s La Gamme d’Amour), and a further 17 in 1859. The Italian School was represented in the 1835 sale by one picture attributed to each of Domenichino, Sirani, Sassoferrato, Procaccini, Canaletto, Zuccarelli and Salvator Rosa, and two paintings attributed to Guardi; and in the 1837 sale by ‘A. del Sarto’ (one lot), Zuccarelli (three lots) and one by ‘Carracci’ (one lot). In the 1835 sale the French School included paintings by J.-B. Monnoyer, Nicolas Poussin, Dughet and Greuze, and there was one painting attributed to Murillo. In 1837, besides La Gamme d’Amour there was one painting by each of Dughet, Greuze and Parrocel in the French School, the Italian School paintings already mentioned and an Assumption of the Virgin by Zurbarán. The English School was represented by a pair of pictures by Reynolds in the 1835 sale, and by two by Wilson and one by Gainsborough in 1837. In both 1835 and 1837 the bulk of the lots, however, were of Dutch and Flemish pictures, and in both cases most of the pictures were portraits, genre or landscape. By contrast, the 1859 sale had no Dutch paintings; of 17 lots there were seven Italian, four Spanish, one English (Richard Wilson again), a picture given to Rubens, and others given to Watteau, Vernet and Nicolas Poussin. Just over half the lots were of historical or religious subjects. The average price per lot at the 1859 sale (some £67) was markedly higher than at the 1837 sale (some £28).31
Based on the these few known facts it is tempting to hypothesise that, whereas the 1859 sale was prompted by the move from Stichill to Bonchurch, the 1835 and 1837 sales were more in the nature of a substantial pruning necessitated by the arrival of paintings belonging to Lady Elizabeth. She appears ultimately to have had a considerable collection in her own right, enabling her, for example, to lend 14 paintings to the Royal Academy’s Winter Exhibition of 1877,32 and Rubens’s Feast of Herod to the 1878 Winter Exhibition.33 This was a painting that her father, 1st Marquess of Breadalbane, had acquired in Naples in around 1830.34 Whereas a picture in Lady Elizabeth’s collection particularly prized by contemporaries, Landseer’s Stag at Bay (Dublin Castle, on loan from the Guinness family), for which she reportedly turned down an offer of £10,000,35 was inherited by her from her brother, the 2nd Marquess of Breadalbane (died 1862),36 and this is also probably the case with the Rubens Feast of Herod,37 it is possible that she inherited others directly from her father, the 1st Marquess. He had died in 1834, but the distribution of his estate was not settled until 1836.38 If it was soon after her father’s death that Lady Elizabeth took possession of a significant number of his paintings, that fact might explain Sir John’s sales in 1835 and 1837.
16 I am grateful to James Pringle (email of 10 January 2009). See also a legal notice in The Times, 23 June 1869, p. 1, col. B. Sir John Pringle’s widow, Elizabeth, probably continued to live at Undermount whence she was received at Osborne House by Queen Victoria in 1872: ibid., 25 July 1872, p. 9, col. F. Soon after Sir John Pringle sold the house at Stichill the new owner demolished it. The replacement was itself demolished.
17 Ibid., 28 March 1831, p. 1, col. F.
18 Observer, 30 September 1832, p. 1.
19 Ibid., 11 May 1834, p. 2.
20 The Times, 16 January 1846, p. 6, col. A.
21 Manchester Guardian, 13 September 1837, p. 1
22 Observer, 11 November 1860, p. 7.
23 The Times, 13 September 1842, p. 4, col. F.
24 Observer, 15 June 1856, reporting the events of 12 June.
25 At all events Lady Elizabeth was received by the Queen at Osborne House some three years after the death of Sir John: The Times, 25 July 1872, p. 9, col. F.
26 Ibid., 27 May 1834, p. 3, col. F.
27 See MacLaren 1991, vol. 1, p. 382. Apparently, Ruisdael NG 746, Ruins in a Dune Landscape, was in the sale of ‘a Baronet’ at Phillips, London, 14 March 1835 (lot 80, bought [in?] Bryant 70 guineas). The picture can reasonably be identified from Smith 1829–42, Supplement, no. 105 to have belonged to Sir John Pringle. Support for the proposition that the unnamed baronet was in fact Sir John Pringle can be found in the fact that a number of the lots in the 1835 sale were probably also in the 1837 sale – namely, lots 13, 21, 28, 44, 92 and 94.
28 Phillips, Fonthill, Wiltshire, 10–15 October 1823, lot 22, described as ‘Adriaen de Gryef A Dead Hare, with Partridges, Snipe, and Dog, in a Landscape, very highly finished – and upright, sold to Pringle for £50.8s’ (The Getty Provenance Index Databases, Sales Catalog Br-12324).
29 Christie’s, London, 5 May 1827, lots 94, 95 and 96 (The Getty Provenance Index Databases, Sales Catalog Br-12752).
30 Foster, London, 4 July 1835, lot 124 (The Getty Provenance Index Databases, Sales Catalog Br-14166).
31 Too few of the lots in the 1835 sale are priced so a comparison is not possible.
32 For mention of some of these paintings in reviews of the exhibition, see the following issues of The Times in 1877: 1 January, p. 6, col. B; 9 January, p. 3, col. C; 17 January, p. 4, col. F.
33 See Burchard 1953.
34 I am grateful to Tico Seifert (email of 1 May 2015) for the information about the acquisition of the picture by the 1st Marquess of Breadalbane.
35 Observer, 18 July 1875, thus two years after Landseer’s death. The story was told by Sir Francis Grant, PRA, at a dinner given by the Lord Mayor at the Mansion House in the presence of members of the Landseer family.
36 Ormond 2005, p. 104 (ill. p. 114), where Richard Ormond states that painting went to the 2nd Marquess.
37 In 1842 Smith in his Supplement (see Smith 1829–42) cited in note 27, no. 229 wrote that the painting ‘is in the possession of Lord Ormelie, who bought it in Naples in 1830’. In 1842 Lord Ormelie could have referred only to the 2nd Marquess since the 1st Marquess, who had been created Lord Ormelie in 1831, had died in 1834.
38 Marquis of Breadalbane v. Marchioness of Chandos, 20 January 1836, in Cases decided in the Court of Session, from Nov. 12, 1835 to July 27, 1836, reported in Scotland. Court of Session, Cases decided in the Court of Session, from May 12, 1821 to July 11, 1838. Reported by Patrick Shaw and John Ballantine (J.M. Bell, Alexander Dunlop, John Murray, Mark Napier). 16 vols, Edinburgh 1822–38, vol. 14 (1836), no. 96. It is likely that all the paintings at Taymouth Castle were bequeathed to the 2nd Marquess, but that paintings at other properties formed part of the entitlements of the widow and two daughters: Cases decided …, ibid., p. 310.