Trewithen Catalogue of Paintings: Introduction

Essay by Martin Postle

The core collection at Trewithen, Cornwall, consists of more than eighty paintings commissioned and collected from the early eighteenth century to the early decades of the twentieth century. The accretion of pictures during this period was influenced by intermarriage, particularly in the genre of portraiture, which forms more than half the collection. At the heart of the collection are portraits of several generations of the Hawkins family, dating from the earlier decades of the eighteenth century when Philip Hawkins II (TN32) purchased Trewithen. James Boswell summarised the impression that the house, its collection and its owner made on him during a fleeting visit to Trewithen in the late summer of 1792:

The house is built of stone, large and roomy. The dining room is spacious. I liked to see a good number of family portraits for this is an english family of anncient standing in Cornwall, but not of eminent distinction for wealth till this Gentleman’s grandfather who was called Ironspurs saved a great deal of money, in which course he was followed by his son and afterwards by Sir Christopher’s mother during a long minority; and now the present representative goes on accumulating.1

An indication of the wealth, as well as the social and political ambitions of the Hawkins family in the early to mid-eighteenth century, was the commissioning of portraits by several generations of leading metropolitan artists, notably Jonathan Richardson, John Vanderbank, Allan Ramsay and Joseph Wright of Derby – all of whom are represented in the Dining Room at Trewithen. In addition to these London-based artists, Trewithen also contains a number of earlier portraits, commissioned by Philip Hawkins I (father of Philip Hawkins II), by the itinerant local artist William Gandy (TN50, TN63 and TN76). Although these portraits lack the polish and sophistication of the later portraits, they are works of some character and shed important light on Gandy and circles of local artistic patronage in Devon and Cornwall during the period.

In addition to the Hawkins family, Trewithen has a number of portraits of individuals to whom they were related through marriage, notably members of the Heywood, Basset and Prideaux families. Of these portraits, among the most significant is that of John Heywood (TN23) by Thomas Hudson, a commission described in detail by the sitter’s father in a series of unpublished letters at Trewithen. In terms of eighteenth-century portraiture another important group of works relates to the Mudge family, although these pictures did not enter the collection until the earlier decades of the twentieth century following the marriage of Zachariah Mudge’s descendant, Alison Raffles Flint, to the heir to Trewithen, George Horace Johnstone. Zachariah Mudge (TN29) and his son John Mudge (TN1) were close friends of Joshua Reynolds and his pupil James Northcote (TN4), and the six portraits by Reynolds and Northcote at Trewithen form an important bridge between their respective careers in London and their shared roots in the Southwest.

Beyond the realm of family portraiture, Trewithen has a number of portraits of royalty, including a reduced copy after Van Dyck of King Charles I on horseback (TN71) and a version of Godfrey Kneller’s portrait of Charles II (TN55). While such portraits are not uncommon in country house collections, and may reflect the Tory loyalties of the family, the early history of the portrait of Charles II is particularly interesting, since it was acquired from the celebrated Royalist house Stowe, in Kilkhampton, Cornwall, built by John Grenville, first Earl of Bath in the 1680s and demolished in 1739. Another portrait, that of Archbishop Laud (TN61), suggests a residual respect for those associated with the Stuart monarchy, although as Emily Burns explores in her associated essay, the early history of the painting and its authorship remains something of a mystery.

In the relative absence of catalogues and relevant inventories in the earlier period, the precise dates at which pictures, other than portraits, entered the collection is open to question. Two impressive Portuguese landscapes by the French artist Jean-Baptiste Pillement, dating from 1785, were recorded in the collection in 1829 and were presumably acquired by Sir Christopher ‘Kit’ Hawkins (1758–1877), who had entertained Boswell on his visit in 1792. Also in the collection by this time were two paintings featuring exotic wildfowl and poultry by a follower of the Dutch painter Melchior d’Hondecoeter (TN35 and TN77). During much of the nineteenth century, notably after the death of Kit Hawkins, Trewithen was no longer regarded as the principal family seat and was just one component of an extensive property portfolio. Hawkins’s brother, John, purchased Bignor Park in West Sussex where he rebuilt the house and established his art collection, some of which eventually found its way back to Trewithen, on the sale of Bignor by his great grandson in 1926.

On John Hawkins’s death in 1841, he was succeeded by his son, Christopher Henry Hawkins (known as ‘CHT’ Hawkins). CHT Hawkins was a thoroughly cosmopolitan figure and, though he was a consummate collector, he had little interest in Trewithen. He died childless and his art collection, including modern paintings and old masters, was dispersed in a series of posthumous sales. Among the nineteenth-century pictures now in the collection at Trewithen, but probably not acquired for display at the house, or indeed by CHT Hawkins, is a series of marine paintings by contemporary British artists, notably John Wilson Carmichael (TN7 and TN8), William Adolphus Knell (TN60) and the Cornish artist Thomas Luny (TN6, TN78 and TN80). CHT Hawkins’s heir was his nephew, John Heywood Johnstone, who lived mostly at Bignor. It was his son, George Horace Johnstone, who in the years following the First World War re-established Trewithen as a family home and revived its fortunes.

The catalogue of paintings is organised by room, beginning with the principal apartments on the ground floor, moving through the Hall and staircases to the upper apartments. Understandably, as with any collection in a private house, pictures are moved from time to time and the order of works presented in the catalogue necessarily reflects the display at a particular moment in time – the summer of 2017, when the bulk of the in situ research was undertaken.


  • 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.


  1. James Boswell, ‘Journal of a Jaunt to Cornwall’, Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University: GEN MSS 89, Box 47, Folder 1028, f. 19.



by Martin Postle
20 November 2020
House Essay
CC BY-NC International 4.0
Cite as
Martin Postle, "Trewithen Catalogue of Paintings: Introduction", Art and the Country House,