PICTURE COLLECTING in the 19th Century : Northwick


Along with going through my paintings and drawings I have also been going through my art history research papers. ?My major concern for many years were the picture collectors of Bristol and Gloucestershire from about 1800 to 1860 – a particular concern growing out of that earlier work has been, and continues to be, the Northwick Collection. ?Recognised as one of Britain’s major collectors, with an early interest in early Italian work, the fate of that collection caused by Lord Northwick apparently not making a Will means that there are many unanswered questions. ?There have been several forays by art historians and writers into the Northwick Collection and Lord Northwick himself.?What was recognised early on was Northwick?s pioneering interest in early Italian painting at a time when little attention was paid to these ?primitives? ? and that interest seems to remain almost the sole concern of later and present commentators. A close study of the Northwick collection in its entirety reveals that there was far more to his collecting interests ? not least his purchase and patronage of modern British art. (?a subject I deal with later?), ?and so to add to that bare corpus of knowledge I think it is time I shared some of my own comments and findings.

My first visit takes a glance at Thirlestaine House at a point when it had reached maturity in terms of paintings and buildings.


As the year 1850 dawned John, 2nd Baron Northwick, could look with satisfaction on his Cheltenham residence, Thirlestaine House. Bought in 1838 he had developed the property with a number of new rooms ? and for him that meant more hanging space for his picture collection. ?Northwick Park at Blockley, on the borders of Gloucester and Worcestershire, remained the active family seat where Lord Northwick ran a large estate with farms and woodland. The house at Blockley itself contained an extensive collection of works of art and they remained, plus additions, in situ. On buying Thirlestaine House Lord Northwick had sold his London house, in Connaught Place, and ?works of art in that house were transferred to Cheltenham. ?The 1840?s saw not only additions to the picture collection ?but also additions to his houses.

The move to Cheltenham signalled Northwick?s increasing concentration on his picture collection rather than his antiquities. In pursuit of this passion he quickly became known for his purchasing activity and he was a regular feature of Christie?s Auction Rooms in London. In 1846 he had produced a catalogue of his collection at Cheltenham ? a publication seized on by the ?Art Journal? who published a lengthy article on that collection but also the works housed at Northwick Park. ? ? ? ? ? ? Cheltenham and Thirlestaine House was fast becoming a ?must? place to visit for art enthusiasts and that emergent new breed, the art historian.?????? By 1850 the noble Lord and Thirlestaine House were firmly established – not least as an ornament and important cultural addition to the town of Cheltenham to which the local inhabitants had freedom of access. The weekly Cheltenham gossip magazine, the ?Cheltenham Looker-On?, had for some years been recording the comings and goings of people and pictures to Thirlestaine House reflecting the town?s pride and sense of ownership of this cultural icon.

The death of Lord Northwick ?and his dying intestate, and being unmarried and without issue, ?necessitated the whole collection, from Thirlestaine House and Northwick Park, to be put up for sale in 1859 and 1860 ? curiously not sold by Christie?s, with whom Lord Northwick had had a strong connection over many years, but by Phillips. Those sales of 1859 and 1860 took place at Thirlestaine House.

Looking at the catalogue lists of works, and the individual works where we know them to now exist, is in a sense only scratching the surface, is seeing them out of context. This is not a passive collection ? Northwick’s approach to collecting, and methods of selection, his contacts with other collectors and with dealers, his constant revision of hanging and purchase, and his practical concern with such things as framing and conservation are a fascinating subject.

David Addison.


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  1. Jo Langston
    Posted March 20, 2013 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Dear Rev. David Addison,

    I would like to send you an email requesting your help with some research I am carrying out on a large enamel miniature by Henry Bone after Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne, believed to have been part of the Northwick Collection. The email contains attachments so I wonder if you could supply me with your email address if you are happy to accept this enquiry.

    With many thanks and best wishes,

    Jo Langston
    Director & Head of Portrait Miniatures

    Posted November 14, 2014 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    Dear Rev. Addison,
    Some two years ago I bought an old master portrait at an auction in the Cotswolds. It was catalogued as Victorian and was dirty. I only paid £25 for this large half portrait of what was catalogued as an old man. The painting had been relined in the nineteenth century but was far older, sixteenth or seventeenth century. When it was relined the restorer, I believe, wrote what as on the back of the painting onto the stretchers. Much of this has faded and been subject to the damp. It does state that this painting was bought by the Duc D’Orleans in 1896. The French Royal Family were in exile in England at the time and the Duc D’Orleans was about to move into a large house, Wood Norton near Evesham. I think that this painting was bought to hang at Wood Norton. From research I believe that this portrait was owned by someone around Cheltenham before this. In fact, there is evidence to lead me to believe that this painting came for Northwick Park. I know after the death of Lord Northwick all his paintings in Cheltenham were sold by auction. In 1860 his paintings in Northwick Park were auctioned. I have been to see that catalogue in the Worcestershire Record Office but few details were given of size etc of each painting. I know the painting was not bought in to remain at Northwick Park as it does not make any more appearances in the collection there after 1860. I see from the Northwick Park Estate Collection that there are several groups of letters surviving regarding the paintings. I wondered if you had looked through any of these letters and would you consider it worth my while in searching through the estate collection for details of an individual painting. I hope my questions do not cause you any undue bother and I look forward to your reply.
    With best wishes,
    Laurence Ince

  3. James
    Posted December 9, 2016 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Dear Rev Addison

    Should you ever come across any paintings from either of the Northwick Collections, could you please let me know.

    With thanks,

  4. Gordan Taylor
    Posted November 20, 2017 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    Hi David Addison,
    I know that some of the collection (32 paintings) was purchased by Thomas Ware Smart, who lived at Mona, Darling Point, Sydney, Australia. He opened an art gallery in his part of his house, Mona, circa 1861 to show off the artworks. There is a list in the Sydney Morning Herald of which artworks he exhibited. I guess most or all come from the Northwick collection, I am yet to cross reference. The link to the newspaper story is: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13067725
    Some of the paintings may have ended up the art gallery of NSW, Sydney. I will have to there one day to check.
    Thanks for your story on why the collection was sold.

  5. Posted December 3, 2017 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    There was a ‘Velasquez’ Landscape at Thirlestaine House, Lot 412 “A Grand Landscape with a group of figures in a boat’ (it is also mentioned in Ch Curtis, Velasquez and Murillo, 1883, 65m ), and it was lent by Ld Northwick to the British Institution, Old Masters 1856 Velasquez, A Landscape, with river scenery and numerous figures
    I wonder if you have come across any other reference to this ? There was apparently a companion picture and it would be nice to know where Ld Northwick bought his .

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