Celebrated Private Galleries

9781108073844fc3dArt collecting in mid-Victorian London

Mrs Anna Jameson produced her Companion to the Most Celebrated Private Galleries of Art in London in 1844. In some ways it is a cut-and-paste job: she lists all the pictures which could be viewed in the Queen’s Gallery, the Bridgewater, Sutherland, Grosvenor, and Lansdowne galleries, and the collections of Sir Robert Peel and of the poet Samuel Rogers. But it is valuable for three reasons: it shows what was on display in the visitable collections of the great and good of the mid-Victorian period; it provides a measured introduction to each gallery, including its history; and it enables us to while away the time happily checking whether what was believed to be a Rembrandt in 1844 still is.

For example, if you say ‘Grosvenor Gallery’ to a Gilbert and Sullivan enthusiast, they will (or should) say ‘greenery-yallery’, referring to the Grosvenor Gallery founded by Sir Coutts Lindsay in 1877, famous for its support of the Aesthetic movement, and mocked in Patience. It showed works by the likes of Burne-Jones, Walter Crane, Charles Hallé (son of the conductor) and Whistler (coming soon!). It was while reviewing the latter that Ruskin made his famous remark (in Fors Clavigera): ‘I have seen, and heard, much of Cockney impudence before now; but never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.’ This led to a libel case, which Whistler won but was awarded a token farthing of damages.

Whistler's Nocturne in Black and Gold, which offended Ruskin's sensibilities. Picture credit: Detroit Institute of Arts

Whistler’s Nocturne in Black and Gold, which offended Ruskin’s sensibilities. Picture credit: Detroit Institute of Arts

But I digress, because this isn’t the Grosvenor Gallery that Mrs Jameson was talking about 30 years earlier. That gallery was the private collection of Robert Grosvenor, first marquess of Westminster (1767–1845), who as well as building houses on the family estates in Belgravia and Pimlico, and maintaining a successful racing stud, added to his father’s collection of Old Masters, and displayed them in his London home, Grosvenor House, where the gallery was first opened to the public in 1808.

 

 

 

‘I call this book a Companion, not a Guide to the galleries of art; too sensible of its many deficiencies to give it a title implying a degree of responsibility, as well as an amount of completeness, to which it has no pretension.’ This modesty may be genuine or false, but in fact Mrs Jameson is remarkably thorough in her prefatory essays and gives enough detail in her listings that it’s possible, via the Wonders of the Web, to track down the images she is discussing.

For random example, see p. 30, no. 61 of the Queen’s Gallery: Franz van Mieris, ‘A Boy at a Window Blowing Bubbles’. Searching for this is enough to bring up various versions of this painting of which one is in the Kunstpalatz in Düsseldorf and another in the Mauritshuis at The Hague. The Queen’s Gallery one is now catalogued as ‘After Franz van Mieris’, and comparing it online with the Mauritshuis picture, one can see why, but as Jameson notes, the portrayal of the faintly smiling woman in the background is ‘exquisite’.

One of the caveats about the book is of course the change in attribution: Queen’s Gallery, no. 89, an ‘Adoration of the Magi’ by Rembrandt (acquired by George IV, described as ‘one of [Rembrandt’s] finest historical pictures’, and valued at 1,800 guineas in 1819) is now ‘Style of…’, though the online catalogue encouragingly says that ‘a work (this panel or another lost painting) emerged from the immediate circle of Rembrandt at this time of sufficient quality to bear his name and to be admired and imitated’.

The Bridgewater gallery (belonging to the duke of Bridgewater, not the earl) contained at this time two Titians which are the pride of the National Gallery of Scotland: ‘Diana and Actaeon’

Titian's Diana and Actaeon. Picture credit: the National Gallery, the national Galleries of Scotland

Titian’s Diana and Actaeon. Picture credit: the National Gallery, the National Galleries of Scotland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and ‘Diana and Callisto’, bought by the duke from the great Orléans sale after the French Revolution. Just after this book was published, the then owner, Francis Leveson-Gower, had his home remodelled to accommodate the collection, and the Titians hung there until after the Second World War, when they were placed in the National Gallery of Scotland as a long-term loan. ‘Diana and Actaeon’ was sold to the nation in 2009, and the goddess and her victim will now shuttle between Edinburgh and London every five years; ‘Diana and Callisto’ was acquired in the same way in 2012, but is not apparently currently on display.

Perhaps the most unusual collection, as being the personal choice of ‘one of those who collect pictures for love, for companionship, for communion’, is that of the poet Samuel Rogers. He was not exactly starving in a garret like Thomas Chatterton, as he had received a bank as his inheritance from his father, but he selected his small collection (74 items) himself, and Mrs Jameson especially appreciates the skill of his hanging. He owned ‘The Strawberry Girl’ by Reynolds, which is now in the Wallace Collection: after his death in 1855, his paintings and his library were auctioned in a 22-day sale, achieving £50,000.

Read Mrs Jameson’s introductions to the collections, or dip in at random to the catalogues and locate the paintings under their current titles, artists or attributions: either way you will have fun. The only problem with this book (apart from all the others noted above) is that it’s completely unillustrated.

Caroline

This entry was posted in Art and architecture, Biography, History, Literary Studies, Women's Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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