A Catalogue of Paintings at Raynham Hall, Norfolk

Essay by Martin Postle

Raynham Hall, home for nearly four hundred years to the Townshend family, is one of the greatest dynastic houses in Britain, both as an architectural edifice with an interior of international significance and as an abiding visual symbol of political power and influence. Less well known is its collection of art works, some eighty or so portraits charting the history of the Townshend family, by leading artists from the early seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth century.

It is true that the collection at Raynham was, until the early twentieth century, more extensive that it is today, following the auction in March 1904 of nearly two hundred paintings at Christie’s in the famous ‘Townshend Heirlooms’ sale, which features among the studies in the current project. As well as certain family portraits, among the most significant works included in the sale were the full-length portraits of late Elizabethan and early Stuart mercenary commanders commissioned by Lord Vere of Tilbury to celebrate his campaigns during the Thirty Years War, which had been the focus of a creative display in the Saloon by William Kent in the course of his remodelling of the interiors in the 1720s. Also featured prominently was the large history painting Belisarius, by the seventeenth-century Italian master Salvator Rosa, which had been presented to Charles, 2nd Viscount Townshend, by the king of Prussia as a diplomatic gift, and which was the centrepiece of the magnificent Belisarius Room at Raynham.

Despite these losses, Raynham today contains among the most historically and aesthetically significant collections of historic British portraiture, showcasing works by many of the country’s leading practitioners, including Marcus Gheeraerts, Godfrey Kneller, Michael Dahl, Charles Jervas, Jonathan Richardson, Joshua Reynolds, George Romney, and William Beechey. In addition, owing to the prominence of the Townshends in court and political life, the portraiture at Raynham serves collectively to chronicle various ways in which this genre is woven inextricably into the fabric of the British history – and British art. Research into the pictures at Raynham has also allowed further insights into the attribution of works in the collection, and the recovery of artists hitherto little known, such as the female eighteenth-century artist, Maria Verelst, and the late sixteenth-century Antwerp-trained painter, Daniël van den Queborn.

Perhaps the most remarkable feature in the story of Raynham in the past century, and in indeed in recent years, has been the determination of the Townshends, the present marquess, Charles Townshend, and his father, George, Townshend, 7th Marquess Townshend (1916–2010), to conserve and even rebuild the collection, at a time when so many country houses continue to haemorrhage significant art works.


  • Dr Martin Postle is Deputy Director for Grants and Publications at the Paul Mellon Centre. Between 1998 and 2007 he was Head of British Art to 1900 at Tate. Martin's research and publication interests focus principally on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British art, including portraiture, landscape and the history of art academies. He has curated exhibitions on a wide range of subjects, including the artist’s model, the Fancy Picture and the art of the garden, as well as monographic exhibitions on Joshua Reynolds, Johan Zoffany, Richard Wilson, Stanley Spencer and George Stubbs. Martin is project leader and commissioning editor of ‘Art & the Country House’, to which he has contributed a number of essays and catalogue entries.


by Martin Postle
20 November 2020
House Essay
CC BY-NC International 4.0
Cite as
Martin Postle, "A Catalogue of Paintings at Raynham Hall, Norfolk", Art and the Country House, https://doi.org/10.17658/ACH/RNE567