Solid, Liberal, Rich and English: The Patriotic Patronage and Curatorship of the Third Earl of Egremont

Essay by Andrew Loukes

Petworth’s long and convoluted cultural history is consistent with a house that has seen a tradition of unbroken occupancy by branches of the same family since the 1150s. The surviving art collection reflects the interests of four principal owners. Algernon Percy (1602–1668), the tenth Earl of Northumberland, was a great collector of European old masters and ranks among the leading patrons of Van Dyck and Lely. Charles Seymour (1662–1748), the sixth Duke of Somerset, whose marriage into the Percy dynasty brought about the rebuilding of Petworth in the late seventeenth century, both commissioned many of the leading craftsmen of the day, notably the master-carver Grinling Gibbons, and added further important paintings. The Duke’s grandson, Charles Wyndham (1710–1763), the second Earl of Egremont, had been an archetypical grand tourist prior to his inheritance and went on to amass further European paintings as well as one of the most significant extant groups of ancient marble sculptures. Finally, his son George O’Brien Wyndham (1751–1837), the third Earl of Egremont, was a notable supporter of British art, most famously through his patronage of J. M. W. Turner (fig. 1).

The 3rd Earl of Egremont in the North Gallery, Petworth House

Figure 1.
Thomas Phillips, The 3rd Earl of Egremont in the North Gallery, Petworth House, 1839. Oil on canvas. National Trust, Petworth House (NT 486298).

Digital image courtesy of National Trust Images/Derrick E. Witty. (All rights reserved)

Inevitably, all of these owners – and these are just four of the most significant – not only acquired objects but also disposed of them, and all owned major houses other than Petworth. Their properties included large London homes that were subsequently relinquished, such as the long-demolished seventeenth-century Northumberland House and the currently unoccupied eighteenth-century Egremont House, and this ensured that today’s residual collection was at various times often widely dispersed.

Architecturally, Petworth House itself still largely reflects its major baroque rebuild of the 1690s. Yet this scheme underwent significant alterations and additions – both externally and internally – in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Previously on the site a succession of manor houses and associated buildings had been expanded and transformed from the mid-twelfth to the mid-seventeenth centuries.

The challenges of understanding the historical basis of the surviving art collection, and our experience of it, are today compounded by the fact that within the eleven ground-floor state rooms regularly open to the public (there are over one hundred rooms in total) are objects belonging to the National Trust alongside many that are still owned by the resident donor family and the twenty paintings by Turner owned by Tate. There are also a great number of objects, mainly still privately owned but some in the ownership of the National Trust, that are not on public display.

In terms of its presentation of Petworth’s state rooms, the National Trust has adopted an approach since the 1980s1 that is largely concerned with evoking the atmosphere of the house as it was in the early nineteenth century – the time of the third Earl of Egremont and Turner. Not only does this remain a widely celebrated period, it is also the era that lends itself most readily to representation by virtue of what survives in terms of objects, interiors and evidence. While this strategy has led to renewed interest in the third Earl’s patronage of British artists, it does not fully convey the extent of his approach to collecting and display, which is here considered to have been more systematic and integrated than the current displays might suggest. In this regard, Egremont’s agenda for the arrangement of the principal spaces at Petworth in the early nineteenth century may be seen to reflect a very personal type of patriotism, which is perhaps most neatly encapsulated in Benjamin Robert Haydon’s description of the house in 1826 as ‘solid, liberal rich & English’.2

Following his sale of the lavish Egremont House in 1794, along with over 150 of its European paintings, the third Earl largely withdrew his presence from cosmopolitan London society and consolidated his foremost cultural activities deep in the English countryside at Petworth. Yet he remained very much of his time not only as a patron of several different branches of British art but also as an informed sponsor of new developments in both industry and agriculture. His generosity of spirit extended not only to artists but to the local population through various charitable acts. In this sense his activities as a landowner, collector and peer were unorthodox, the very antithesis of his ancestor the authoritarian and courtly sixth Duke of Somerset who one hundred years earlier had fashioned Petworth into a palatial seat in the style of the pan-European baroque.

Among the most overtly patriotic, and proudly contemporary, of Egremont’s commissions was Thomas Phillips’s painting of the allied sovereigns’ triumphal visit to Petworth of 1814, painted in 1817 (fig. 2). Today it hangs in the North Gallery – a key showroom since its completion by the third Earl in 1827. However, in the Earl’s day the painting hung in the White Library, a room now in the private end of the house that, like many of Petworth’s rooms, was greatly altered on an architectural level by Anthony Salvin in around 1870. The painting was recorded in the White Library by the artist’s son, Henry Wyndham Phillips, in his handwritten list of 1835.3

The Allied Sovereigns Visit to Petworth House, 24 June, 1814

Figure 2.
Thomas Phillips, The Allied Sovereigns Visit to Petworth House, 24 June, 1814, 1817. Oil on canvas. National Trust, Petworth House (NT 486228).

Digital image courtesy of National Trust Images/Derrick E. Witty. (All rights reserved)

In a watercolour of around 1860 by the third Earl’s granddaughter-in-law, Madeline Wyndham, the painting can be seen still displayed in the White Library (fig. 3). Here it was shown in glorious isolation over the fireplace in a position of honour. In the Earl’s time this room was the social heart of the house and the great gathering place for his large array of invited guests. It is, for example, the room that features most among the 120 famous watercolour sketches made by Turner at Petworth in 1827. After its installation in the White Library Phillips’s painting would, therefore, have provided a ready talking point for years to come.

The White Library

Figure 3.
Madeline Wyndam, The White Library, circa 1865, watercolour on paper, 22 × 30 cm. Petworth House.

Digital image courtesy of Tom St Aubyn. (All rights reserved)

The scene that it represents unfolds in a third space, the Marble Hall, built as the grand entrance to the baroque house. Here, Egremont proudly welcomes the allied sovereigns, including the Prince Regent, Tsar Alexander I and Frederick William III, King of Prussia, during their tour of England following the Peace of Paris in 1814. This proudly commemorative work was commissioned three years after the event and two years after Waterloo. While Phillips’s own presence in the scene, on the far right, lends a flavour of reportage, there is artistic licence, notably in the artist’s decision to flank the tableau with painted portraits of Pitt and Fox. These paintings, as far as is known, have never existed at Petworth, but Phillips – who knew the house well (there remain thirty-eight paintings by him in the collection) – would have known that the Marble Hall did display busts by Joseph Nollekens of Pitt and Fox at this date. Today these are kept in a private room of the house. In his painting, through the insertion of painted portraits rather than sculptures, Phillips may have wished to afford the earlier political rivals a more identifiable presence. In the context of the overall subject their prominent inclusion perhaps not only indicates political neutrality but also advertises this English house’s pride in parliamentary monarchy, in contrast with the regimes of pre- and post-Revolutionary France, and indeed those of other European countries.

The role of the Earl’s family in the allied cause is further commemorated by Phillips’s inclusion of the Earl’s three military sons on the right of the canvas. This feature of the painting echoes a handful of additional individual and group military portraits by Phillips and others of the Earl and his family. Also in the collection is a life-size equestrian likeness, painted by Phillips in 1813, of the Regent himself in military dress (fig. 4). Today it hangs on a rarely visited staircase, but it was first prominently displayed in the room now called the Little Dining Room. In the early nineteenth century this was known as the Van Dyck Room and was home to many of the works by the Flemish master that had been collected in the seventeenth century by the tenth Earl of Northumberland, who incidentally had displayed the Van Dycks in Northumberland House, London, not Petworth. But when the third Earl inherited they were in this anteroom to the Marble Hall and in 1814 were therefore highly visible to the allied sovereigns on their arrival, along with Phillips’s new portrait of the Regent. Moreover, as well as providing an obvious royal compliment and emphasising familial loyalty, by placing the Phillips portrait among the Van Dycks the Earl publicly invested his own favoured contemporary portrait painter with a high degree of associative greatness in sharing wall space with the pre-eminent royal portrait painter of the past, an adopted foreigner.

George IV as Prince Regent

Figure 4.
Thomas Phillips, George IV as Prince Regent, 1813, oil on canvas, 366 × 277 cm. Petworth House.

Digital image courtesy of Tom St Aubyn. (All rights reserved)

In 1823 the Earl moved the portrait to an even more prominent position at the top of the Grand Staircase, decorated in the early eighteenth century by Louis Laguerre. In fact the Phillips hung across the baroque mural, as glimpsed on the right in Turner’s 1827 view of the landing. The Phillips was only removed from this position in 1870 at the time of Salvin’s architectural modifications.

Placing the Regent at the centre of the Grand Staircase can be seen as one of a series of bold subversions of the internationalising baroque style, an approach that became a defining feature of the third Earl’s deployment of his art collection at Petworth in the early nineteenth century. Indeed, he had even cut through the mural itself in 1799 to form an entrance into his newly built Square Dining Room, removing the body of Laguerre’s Prometheus but leaving the figure’s head quirkily above the doorway.4 Another example can be found in the anteroom to the Grand Staircase, known as the Beauty Room owing to the display of portraits by Dahl and Kneller of aristocratic female associates of the Duke and Duchess of Somerset. In this instance, in order to accommodate a shrine to the Napoleonic Wars in 1828 the third Earl moved and reduced in size the baroque portraits.5

The Earl’s arrangement, recreated by the National Trust and the Egremont family in the 1990s, comprises a portrait of Napoleon by Phillips – made from sketches done from life – with a marble bust of Wellington by Francis Chantrey, another regular visitor to Petworth, beneath (fig. 5).6 These major portraits are flanked by battle scenes commissioned from George Jones, which are reduced versions of the pictures representing Vittoria and Waterloo that he had recently provided for St James’s Palace. The two battles had a particular poignancy at Petworth: during the Peninsula War, culminating at Vittoria, the Earl’s second son, Henry, had captured Joseph Bonaparte’s looted old masters, many of which may now be seen at Apsley House. At Waterloo he also performed the critical action of closing the gates at Hougoumont farmhouse to keep out the French until the arrival of vital allied reinforcements.

The Beauty Room

Figure 5.
The Beauty Room, Petworth House. Photograph.

Digital image courtesy of Tom St Aubyn. (All rights reserved)

A further dimension to the third Earl’s Napoleonic scheme in the Beauty Room was the witty redeployment of two inherited seventeenth-century paintings by Adam Van der Meulen of Louis XIV at Fontainebleau and Maastricht. In addition to evoking an earlier French adversary, the inclusion of the creator of Versailles alongside the Napoleonic arrangement may be read as yet another light-hearted subjugation of Egremont’s baroque inheritance.

The third Earl’s most dramatic alteration of a baroque space, however, was his redeveloped Carved Room. A celebrated Grinling Gibbons masterpiece within the earlier house, the original room was doubled in size by knocking through into the adjacent Tapestry Room, and the carvings were completely rearranged and added to by the Earl in the 1790s in order to create a grand dining space. His architectural alterations were followed in the nineteenth century by painting the oak panelling white – as can be seen in Charles Robert Leslie’s painting, The Carved Room, Petworth House, Sussex, of c.1856 (fig. 6) – and by the integration of pictures and objects alongside the ancestral portraits from Gibbons’s original room. Principal among these were John Closterman’s full lengths of the Duke and Duchess of Somerset, who had rebuilt Petworth in the 1690s. Egremont not only moved these major pictures but reversed their positions, exaggerating the famous pomposity of the so-called ‘Proud Duke’ by showing him turning his back to his wife.

The Carved Room, Petworth House, Sussex

Figure 6.
Charles Robert Leslie, The Carved Room, Petworth House, Sussex, circa 1856. Oil on board, 35.2 × 30 cm. Tate (T03789).

Digital image courtesy of Tate. (CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0)

The climax of the Earl’s alterations to the Carved Room, however, was the celebrated commission from Turner, around 1828, to provide a series of local views (fig. 7). Two of these represent modern industrial subjects, the Chichester Canal and the Brighton Chain Pier, both recent additions to the Sussex landscape and constructed with the financial backing of the Earl himself. The other two show Capability Brown’s Petworth Park. One view includes a cricket match, representing the patron’s liberality and Englishness in allowing the use of his grounds for this purpose; the visiting Frenchman Louis Simond noted with astonishment how the Earl ‘suffers the peasants of his village to play bowls and cricket on the lawn before the house’ (fig. 8).7 This more democratic use of the park at Petworth signifies yet another contrast to the looming legacy of the baroque and its associations with European authoritarianism. Turner’s other painting of the park brings the viewer nearer to the lake with a tiny figure, surely Egremont,8 on the far shore, and visually articulates and celebrates the ethereal beauty made possible by the native landscape-garden style.9 In the Carved Room these bold, modern paintings were integrated not only with Gibbons’s carvings but also with inherited ancestral portraits and classical marble busts, all of which conjures up a dynastic environment in which the Earl’s attachment to his domain is represented not by his likeness but by his actions, captured by the nation’s leading artist at the height of his powers.

East wall of the Carved Room

Figure 7.
East wall of the Carved Room, Petworth House, with four landscapes by Turner, c.1828, above the dado rail.

Digital image courtesy of National Trust Images/Bill Batten. (All rights reserved)

The Lake at Petworth Park: Sunset, a Stag Drinking

Figure 8.
Joseph Mallord William Turner, The Lake at Petworth Park: Sunset, a Stag Drinking, circa 1829. Oil on canvas, 63.5 × 132 cm. Tate (T03884). Accepted by HM Government in lieu of tax and allocated to the Tate Gallery 1984. In situ at Petworth House.

Digital image courtesy of Tate. (CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Egremont’s centrepiece for his new Carved Room, however, was Petworth’s major sixteenth-century portrait of Henry VIII from Holbein’s studio, almost certainly inherited through the sixth Duke of Somerset’s family, which the third Earl brought in from another room. Egremont opposed Catholic emancipation in the 1820s and his placement of the founder of the Anglican Church over the central chimneypiece of his great dining room might be read as a public affirmation of his denominational position during this period. A similar sentiment was also expressed in the North Gallery, an extension finished in 1827 to accommodate the Earl’s growing collection. In an arrangement no longer in situ, John Simpson’s version of his master Thomas Lawrence’s celebrated portrait of Pope Pius VII, now in a private room, was menacingly flanked by inherited portraits of the protestant patriarchs Calvin and Luther, painted by Enoch Seeman.

Putting more obvious expressions of allegiance aside, in this room more than any other could be seen the development of a collection that reflected simultaneously Egremont’s exceptional commitment to contemporary art and his desire to celebrate achievements of indigenous artists from earlier generations. There remains a flavour of this in the National Trust arrangement today in the inclusion of examples such as Thomas Gainsborough’s Landscape with Children and Cattle, which was listed in the North Gallery in 1835. But some pictures have long migrated elsewhere: Joshua Reynolds’s famous Kitty Fisher, for example, is now shown in another public room, while George Stubbs’s Pomeranian Dog hangs in the private apartments.

In terms of contemporary landscape paintings in the North Gallery there were also further views of territories. William Witherington’s Fete in Petworth Park (exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1836), which still hangs in the space, commemorates one of the great fetes hosted by the third Earl for the local populace, and again illustrates his largesse (fig. 9). Another view of the park, painted by Phillips in 1798, looks from the house towards the lake and now hangs in a private room. When it was displayed in the North Gallery, where it was listed in 1835, the painting demonstrated to Egremont’s guests the range of animals that he kept in his grounds: rare breeds of sheep, pigs, cattle and goats join the deer herd, hunting pack and horses from the Earl’s highly successful racing stable.

William Witherington Fete in Petworth Park

Figure 9.
William Witherington, William Witherington Fete in Petworth Park, 1836. Oil on canvas. National Trust, Petworth House (NT 486139).

Digital image courtesy of National Trust, Petworth House (NT 486139). (All rights reserved)

Egremont was a popular patrician landlord who introduced many social and farming initiatives, often to the benefit of his tenants. In his History, Antiquities and Topography of the County of Sussex of 1835 Thomas Horsfield sets his achievements as a contemporary landowner in the context of his broader patriotic patronage:

Heedless of pomp, to art and science dear,

Lord of the soil, see EGREMONT appear;

Firm in attachment to his native land,

No foreign feeling guides his fostering hand;

In judgement sound, in contemplation calm,

To gifted Britain still he gives the palm …10

Once more, this assessment reflects the Earl’s attachment to the very landscape itself, highly visible through the great windows of Petworth’s immense west front. Indeed, his alterations to Capability Brown’s park included more native-styled additions to lend rustic or gothic flavour to the existing arcadia, including the Upperton Monument, which was painted by George Constable in 1840.

Similar themes are present in another group of little-known works, this time commissioned for outside the North Gallery. Now dispersed across the private rooms at Petworth are twelve paintings of livestock by John Boultbee, done in the 1790s and later hung in the Audit Room, a large dining hall built in the 1830s adjacent to Petworth’s servants’ block and used for tenants’ dinners, which is now the National Trust restaurant. These paintings were clearly displayed in this room in honour of the farmers who ate there, while another of the Boultbee group represents one of the Earl’s champion horses Gohanna, later engraved, who is proudly paraded in Petworth’s grounds by his groom, with the estate farm and lodges that bear the horse’s name visible in the distance.

Back in the North Gallery the third Earl’s preferred mode of landscape for a more discerning audience was a representative group of Turner’s elevated pastoral views of the western Thames, painted around 1805–10 (fig. 10). Of the twenty Turners acquired by Egremont, five are of this series, with a further two of different subjects from the same period and painted in a similar mood. Pragmatically Turner tended to show this branch of art at his own gallery rather than at the Royal Academy; these works were less likely to further his growing reputation than the marine and grand narrative subjects he was exhibiting more publicly at this date. Egremont’s interest in these pictures was, therefore, particularly progressive and demonstrates his grasp of Turner’s patriotic mission to demonstrate the pictorial potential of his environment while at the same time playing his part in growing the reputation of British art generally. In his first lecture as Professor of Perspective at the Royal Academy in 1811 Turner inevitably advocated the value of studying Claude and Poussin but reminded his audience that in terms of subject matter, ‘The soil is British, so should be the harvest’, a sentiment that would have fully accorded with Egremont’s own outlook, particularly perhaps as deals were struck in the privacy of Turner’s own gallery.

Windsor Castle from the Thames

Figure 10.
Joseph Mallord William Turner, Windsor Castle from the Thames, c.1805. Oil on canvas, 91 × 122 cm. Tate (T03870). Accepted by HM Government in lieu of tax and allocated to the Tate Gallery 1984. In situ at Petworth House.

Digital image courtesy of Tate. (CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0)

By the time the Earl moved these pictures into the North Gallery, in around 1827, he was able to pursue a corresponding curatorial strand on the theme of the British pastoral, which is particularly notable in several of his sculptural commissions. John Flaxman’s Pastoral Apollo, completed in 1825, shows the god in his bucolic guise as the protector of shepherds. This commission established Egremont’s leading support of a distinctive line of British sculptors willing to tackle heroic subjects, in marked contrast to other contemporary patrons of modern sculpture, such as the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth, where the emphasis was very much on the Italian Canova and his followers.

But Egremont went further, in his encouragement of British subjects as well as British artists. John Rossi’s Celadon and Amelia, of 1820, shows the scene from James Thomson’s series of poems The Seasons where the lovers are forced to shelter in a cottage doorway in the face of a savage thunderstorm (fig. 11). Fittingly, Egremont placed the sculpture in front of a disused doorway, where it remains today, and would have been fully mindful of the significance of Thomson’s poem to British artists. It is, notably, the piece of literature most often quoted by Turner in the catalogue entries of his exhibited paintings.

Celadon and Amelia

Figure 11.
John Rossi, Celadon and Amelia, 1820, Marble, North Gallery, Petworth House.

Digital image courtesy of Tom St Aubyn. (All rights reserved)

Placed between two of the Turners in the third Earl’s hang remains Richard Westmacott’s large relief The Dream of Horace of 1823, from the classical poet’s ‘Ode to Calliope’, set into the wall within a gilt frame. While ostensibly a classical subject, its narrative is a clear fit within Egremont’s patriotic scheme, endorsing the North Gallery as a cultural haven: protected by the cultural gods, Apollo and Minerva, Horace can rest assured he will not be troubled by the bears and snakes of barbarian countries such as ‘the cruel race of Britain’.

One among our ‘cruel race’ who Horace would have done well to fear was the Regency bare-knuckle champion Tom Cribb, who is surely the subject of Rossi’s monumental British Pugilist of 1828. In 1810 Cribb notoriously beat the freed American slave Tom Molineux to claim the world title and cement his status as a national hero. Although he retired in 1812 he was brought out of retirement to fight for the allied sovereigns during their tour of 1814, which would have added to his appeal for Egremont. Perhaps more than this was the obvious challenge implicit in Rossi’s work to Canova’s Pugilists in the Vatican.

In some ways an even more confrontational work in the North Gallery is the sculpture that Egremont considered to be his greatest commission in any medium. This was Flaxman’s St Michael Triumphing over Satan, for which the North Bay was especially constructed. Again a British subject – from Milton – this colossal carving has a telling inscription at its base, narrated by Egremont himself, which declares that Flaxman’s work

was hardly surpassed by the most celebrated productions of ancient times, and certainly by none of his own.

This openly stated view takes on special significance for the visitor when standing in the gallery, where the sculpture pointedly faces Egremont’s father’s notable collection of ancient marbles amassed on the grand tour.

Clearly with his North Gallery arrangements in mind, and some five years after the installation of Flaxman’s masterpiece, the Earl wrote to another of his favourite sculptors, Westmacott, in 1832:

I think it could be of great use to our sculptors to see themselves and to show others their works side by side with the ancients for the purpose both of deriving instruction and improvement and of inspiring confidence to themselves and to those thought to be their employers.11

More generally, as recorded in Turner’s sketch of 1827, the third Earl’s contemporary British sculpture was displayed not only with ancient sculpture but with paintings, in a uniquely modern way for this date (fig. 12).

The North Gallery from the North Bay

Figure 12.
Joseph Mallord William Turner, The North Gallery from the North Bay, 1827. Gouache and watercolour on paper, 13.8 × 18.9 cm. Tate (D22675).

Digital image courtesy of Tate. (CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Notably, Egremont’s collection represented the most concerted effort in a private house to promote the depiction of heroic literary or historical themes by painters from the 1780s to the 1830s. Clearly this accorded with the patriotic ambition of the Royal Academy to raise the status of national art by encouraging British painters and sculptors to tackle the grandest themes in art, as their European counterparts had done for generations. While the campaign broadly failed to find the support it needed, at Petworth Egremont did more than his fair share to champion the cause.

By 1835 some twenty-five of the ninety British canvases in the North Gallery alone could be described as history paintings, a proportion that is broadly mirrored if not exceeded by today’s hang. Many of the earlier examples, such as the Shakespearean subjects by Angelica Kauffman, James Northcote and Henry Fuseli, were acquired only in the 1820s, when the North Gallery was built. Egremont was not, therefore, supporting history painting in the 1780s and 1790s but certainly provided a museum for it some years later, and in doing so set the scene for continued efforts at the grand style in the hands of Flaxman, Turner and their contemporaries.

Perhaps the Earl’s most notable purchase of a history painting from the preceding generation was Reynolds’s Macbeth and the Witches, initially commissioned from the artist by John Boydell for his Shakespeare Gallery in 1786, and acquired by Egremont around 1813, on the occasion of its display at the major Reynolds retrospective exhibition at the British Institution. Certainly, its prominence at the exhibition coupled with its significance as the largest attempt at the grand style by the great advocate of the genre would have been appreciated by Egremont. Prior to the construction of the North Gallery, Macbeth and the Witches was hung in the Square Dining Room, another room refashioned by Egremont from the baroque house. It was represented here in 1827 by Turner, who also shows us that in the Earl’s day his principal state rooms were all primarily galleries, with their furniture pushed to the edges when not in use (fig. 13). By 1835 the giant Reynolds had been moved to the North Gallery, where it made a suitably macabre backdrop to Flaxman’s St Michael and Satan in the North Bay. It was returned to its original location in the Square Dining Room by the National Trust in the 1990s.

The South Wall of the Square Dining-Room

Figure 13.
Joseph Mallord William Turner, The South Wall of the Square Dining-Room, 1827. Gouache on paper, 13.8 × 18.8 cm. Tate (D22770).

Digital image courtesy of Tate. (CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0)

In the North Gallery the Reynolds took its place alongside fellow examples of British history painting and sculpture but also among a higher proportion of European paintings than the visitor sees in the space today. In 1835 the gallery contained notable works from Petworth’s old-master collection that are now displayed in other rooms, for example iconic paintings by Bosch and Teniers that now hang in the Somerset Room (fig. 14). Although Egremont had sold off some 150 of the European pictures kept by his father at Egremont House, he relocated the principal works to Petworth. Here, a newly refined collection could develop, not in the cosmopolitan capital but in the English countryside, where visitors to the house could see that – in this location at least – British and European art were now as one.

The Brussels Picture Gallery

Figure 14.
David Teniers, The Brussels Picture Gallery, 1651. Oil on canvas. National Trust (NT 486159).

Digital image courtesy of National Trust Images/Derrick E. Witty. (All rights reserved)

An additionally remarkable dimension of Egremont’s support of British art was his encouragement of leading painters and sculptors to stay at Petworth, which became an unofficial retreat-like academy in the early nineteenth century. This atmosphere was recorded in several sketches by Turner, who was one of the most regular visitors (fig. 15). Artists are shown in the Old Library, another re-purposed baroque space, built by the Duke of Somerset in the 1690s and given over for use as an artists’ studio by Egremont in the 1820s.

Two Artists in the Old Library: Washington Allston’s Picture, ‘Jacob’s Dream’, Hanging over the Fireplace

Figure 15.
JMW Turner, Two Artists in the Old Library: Washington Allston’s Picture, ‘Jacob’s Dream’, Hanging over the Fireplace, 1827. Oil on canvas. (Tate D22765).

Digital image courtesy of Tate. (CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0)

The sculptor John Carew became a favourite of Egremont’s from 1823 until the patron’s death in 1837. It was in the latter year that the tenants’ dining hall was finished, and this became the original location of Carew’s Prometheus and Pandora and his Venus, Vulcan and Cupid, as well as housing the Boultbee cattle pictures. The Earl subsequently christened the room the Promethean Hall. These works by Carew were relocated to the North Gallery by the National Trust in the 1990s.

Egremont’s support of the British school was not, however, exclusively concerned with purchases and commissions. It also involved the more general opening up of his house and landscape to foster native creativity among artists. His decision not to acquire works by such subsequent national treasures as John Constable and Edwin Landseer, each of whom otherwise enjoyed Petworth’s hospitality, reflects the personal and discerning nature of his approach to collecting. He found Constable too painterly12 and almost certainly considered Landseer’s direction too unserious.

There are also very few works in watercolour at Petworth. On one hand this appears to be a puzzling omission on the part of a collector who otherwise was such a staunch supporter of contemporary art. Yet this rejection of a leading dimension of early nineteenth-century British culture is probably a simple reflection of the tendency, as noted by Ruskin in Modern Painters, for the collecting of watercolours to have been a predominantly middle-class interest.13

Egremont was, however, a considerable collector of British prints. In the private libraries at Petworth there remain notable examples from the period, including a full set of Boydell Shakespeare Gallery engravings, a full set of Turner’s Liber Studiorum, two sets of William Blake’s Book of Job, two full albums of James Gillray etchings and Stubbs’s Anatomy of the Horse. Phillips’s posthumous portrait of his great patron shows the sitter contemplating sheets and folios within his greatest patriotic and cultural legacy, the North Gallery (fig. 1).

In summary, the third Earl of Egremont in the early nineteenth century provides a compelling example of a country house owner who both collected and displayed with a clear agenda: in his case, the promotion and celebration of British life and art. This only becomes fully apparent with a broader understanding of his activities beyond the present public displays.


  • Andrew Loukes_crop

    Andrew Loukes has been House and Collections Manager at Petworth House (National Trust) since 2009. Aside from managing the most important art collection in the care of the National Trust he has also curated critically acclaimed exhibitions at Petworth, including shows exploring the importance of the house to Turner, Constable and Blake. Prior to working for the National Trust, Andrew was a Curator of Fine Art at Manchester Art Gallery for ten years, where he was responsible for British art of the 18th and 19th centuries. Before that he was a Registrar of Prints and Drawings at Tate Britain for three years, working particularly with the Turner Bequest, and in 1999 curated the exhibition Turner in North Wales. He is also a Trustee of Turner’s House, Twickenham, where he recently curated the exhibition Turner and the Thames.


  1. Petworth was given to the National Trust in 1947 and has opened twelve of its ground-floor rooms to the public since 1953.

  2. The Diary of Benjamin Robert Haydon, ed. Willard Bissell Pope, vol. 3, 1825–32, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963, pp. 168 (15 November 1826).

  3. Now in the National Art Library and a primary source for the locations of paintings and sculptures in the third Earl’s day.

  4. This area of mural was replaced in the early 1870s and re-painted by a Victorian artist known as ‘Cusius’, who mistakenly gave Prometheus the body of a woman.

  5. See Christopher Rowell, Petworth House, National Trust Guidebook, London: National Trust, 2009 (first published 1997), p. 19.

  6. It was Chantrey who had suggested this location for the ensemble of works, George Jones, Sir Francis Chantrey RA, Recollections of His Life, Practice and Opinions, London: Edward Moxon, 1849. Following the recent restoration of two of the Beauties the National Trust is now looking to reinstate the Beauty Room to its original appearance (see The Petworth Beauties by Tabitha Barber, published on this website).

  7. Christopher Rowell, Ian Warrell and David Blayney Brown, Turner at Petworth, exhibition catalogue, London: National Trust and Tate, 2002, p. 22.

  8. Originally there was to be a companion picture. The full-size oil sketch for this survives in the Turner Bequest at Tate (N00559), showing Egremont starting his walk from the Marble Hall.

  9. In marked contrast to the formal gardens of the baroque house, laid out by George London, which typically imposed themselves on to the landscape rather than blended into it.

  10. Quoted by Ian Warrell in Martin Butlin, Mollie Luther and Ian Warrell, Turner at Petworth: Painter and Patron, London: Tate Gallery, 1989, p. 105.

  11. Egremont to Westmacott, 26 August 1832, Thomas J. Watson Library, Metropolitan Museum, New York, quoted in Philip Mcevansoneya ‘Lord Egremont and Flaxman’s St Michael Overcoming Satan’, Burlington Magazine, June 2001, p. 357.

  12. See Andrew Loukes, Constable at Petworth, exhibition catalogue, Petworth: National Trust, 2014, p. 3.

  13. See Andrew Loukes, Turner and the Age of British Watercolour, exhibition catalogue, Petworth: National Trust, 2017, pp. 3–13.



by Andrew Loukes
20 November 2020
House Essay
CC BY-NC International 4.0
Cite as
Andrew Loukes, "Solid, Liberal, Rich and English: The Patriotic Patronage and Curatorship of the Third Earl of Egremont", Art and the Country House,