George O’Brien Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont (1751-1837) in the North Gallery, Petworth
Thomas Phillips, RA (Dudley 1770 – London 1845)
Lord Egremont was the greatest patron of British artists in the first third of the 19th century, having decided to use his great wealth for that purpose, rather than to buy the Old Masters that were flooding into the sale-rooms from the Continent. This is a posthumous picture by his favourite portrait-painter, summing up his patronage. He sits in the North Gallery at Petworth, which he extended to hold his collections. The works of art include Hilton's Rape of Europa, Turner's 'Egremont Seapiece', C.R. Leslie's Sancho Panza and the Duchess, Flaxman's St Michael, and J.E. Carew's Venus at Vulcan's Forge.
Oil painting on canvas, George O’Brien Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont (1751-1837) in the North Gallery, Petworth by Thomas Phillips, RA (Dudley 1770 – London 1845), 1839. Full-length posthumous portrait, wearing a black coat and breeches and with his left hand on a paper on a table. He is shown seated, three-quarters right, in the North Gallery, a dog (a spaniel), by him. In the background is the North Bay with paintings by Hilton, Turner and Leslie shown hanging on the back wall. It also depicts Flaxman's St Michael and Carew's Venus, Vulcan and Cupid.
It is only very recently that this has been identified as a posthumous portrait . It does not immediately seem so, because, as the artist indicated, by saying in his Sitter Book and when exhibited at the Royal Academy, that it was of the "Earl of Egremont as when about sixty years old" - though he had died in his eighty-sixth year - it was done from an earlier ad vivum likeness (not one of those now at Petworth or engraved). Once that is realised, the picture assumes a new interest, as not simply a portrait of a collector in the actual surroundings of his collection (rare though that is the case with such depictions, as we know from the Flemish initiators of the genre) , but as a retrospective summation of a patron of art through the eyes of others. Those 'others' comprised, in the first place, the sitter's illegitimate son and heir, Colonel George Wyndham, cr. Lord Leconfield in 1859, who must not only have commissioned the picture, when there was already no dearth of portraits of Lord Egremont in the house (five by Phillips alone, not to mention those by others, showing him from boyhood to old age: by his mother, Hoare of Bath, Lucas, and Clint - but, significantly, not one by any of the fashionable artists of the day, despite his great enthusiasm for the works of Reynolds, and although Beechey was a regular houseguest, and though he got both Romney and Hoppner to portray his illegitimate children), but also took care to place it in a cardinal position, over the chimneypiece of the Square Dining-Room (where, interestingly, the 3rd Earl himself had hung Reynolds's Death of Cardinal Beaufort, which had originally been replaced by Clint's three-quarter-length of the 3rd Earl of Egremont). It was probably also his heir who will have suggested the inclusion over the 3rd Earl of a portrait of his most distinguished relative, his cousin, the politician, William Wyndham Grenville, 1st Baron Grenville (1759-1834), primus of the 'Ministry of all the Talents' in 1806-7, although the picture shown is Phillips's own copy of 1819 (Petworth, No.59) of a portrait he had painted in 1810 (Royal College of Surgeons). The most prominent of the other pictures is The Rape of Europa (Petworth, No.30) by William Hilton (1786-1839), who was a friend of Phillips's, with whom and Wilkie he had toured Italy in 1825. Significantly, it was not even a painting commissioned by Lord Egremont, but had been sold by the artist to Sir John Leicester, later Lord de Tabley, at whose posthumous sale in 1827 it had been successfully bid for on behalf of Lord Egremont by Phillips. What is even more curious about the depiction of this picture is that it is not only that it is placed off-centre, in a way that would not have been possible in the actual hang of the north bay of the North Gallery, but that it replaced an - unfortunately unidentifiable - upright painting that was more logically centred over the door. Immediately below this, but quite out of scale with it, is the earliest and still in certain respects the greatest of the Turners bought by the 3rd Earl, the so-called 'Egremont Seapiece' . The 3rd Earl's collecting and patronage of Turner surpassed that of any other artist in both scale and quality, but even so this picture may rather have been inserted by Phillips because of his good fellowship with Turner at Petworth: not only was each an habitué there, but both were close friends of Chantrey's, and were, with him, amongst the founders of the Artists' General Benevolent Institution. In the bottom register is Sancho Panza and the Duchess (Petworth No.34) by C.R. Leslie (1794-1859), one of a pair of literary subjects painted by him for Lord Egremont, in 1824 and 1835, and called by Creevey "the cleverest and prettiest thing I ever saw" . He too was an habitué of Petworth, but again, there is a particular association with Phillips, in that it was the latter who had introduced him to the 3rd Earl, when he proposed Leslie instead of himself to make a sketch of a dying grandchild for the peer . The sculpture, by contrast, seems to have been more carefully chosen to illustrate the patronage of the 3rd Earl, but also, perhaps to reflect its actual or intended placement in the north bay of the North Gallery. Flaxman's St Michael crushing Satan (1829-26) occupied the centre of that room, then as now; it can be seen, by daylight, and being viewed there by moonlight coming through the lunettes (blocked up by the time of Phillip's painting), in two of Turner's watercolours . It was the sculptor's last major commission to be fulfilled, just as his Pastoral Apollo (1813-25) was the first - and crucial - commission for an ideal sculpture that the sculptor had received since he was in Italy. The other marble is Venus visiting Vulcan at his forge (f.1827) by J.E. Carew (?1785-1868), the Irish-born sculptor almost exclusively employed on commissions for Lord Egremont from 1823 onwards, who built a studio at Brighton to carve them and was given Grove House, Petworth to live in from 1835, and for whose works the 3rd Earl ultimately intended to create a special gallery. Not finding himself noticed in his will, however, Carew brought an ill-advised suit against the estate, for the astonishing sum of £50,000 that he claimed was owing to him - only for the court to rule that, if anything, he was the debtor, so that he was declared bankrupt. The facts that this case was in progress whilst Phillips was painting his picture, and that pentimenti show that the group was shifted from a position of much greater prominence this side of the arch to the north bay, to a placing at a greater distance just within it, must indicate that the intention was to place this group there, rather than - as was the case until 1993 - in the Audit Room, the room that would have been the Carew Gallery, had the sculptor not been so greedy - or desperate for cash. Another pentimento concerns the 3rd Earl's notorious love of animals. Not only is there a bronze of a horse on the table beside him, but the same animal, Cricketer, was represented - as is still the case in actuality - as a finial on top of the gold cup that he won at Goodwood in 1825. This was painted out, and a knop of vegetable ornament substituted; but whether so as not to distract from the St Michael beside it, or because Colonel Wyndham thought that its presence would have been laying too much emphasis upon his father's passion for the turf, is unknown. Dogs accompanied the 3rd Earl everywhere, even in many of his portraits, although - oddly - they were eliminated from the version that he retained of Turner's View out from the house over the park at Petworth. In the original version, which Creevey actually saw installed in the panelling of the Carved Room at Petworth in 1828, but which is now in the Tate Gallery a whole troupe of them stream behind him, as he stands to contemplate the sunset. One of the dogs, actually sculpted by Carew, stands in the lake. The 3rd Earl's love of animals, and of men and women who shared his interests, but with whom he did not have to stand on ceremony, were both well-known. Phillips, as a regular house-guest, told Farington that "he tired of living in such company" in the earlier days of the 3rd Earl's less discriminating hospitality, but, after his death, he wrote to the children's former tutor, the Reverend Thomas Sockett, to say that: "I wish for the sake of Lord Egremont, for his memory as a patron of modern art, a much more liberal patron than any in the country, that his goodness in that respect might be fully known, which can only be done by a public catalogue, marking his additions to the collection particularly of modern works ...." . Very regrettably, Sockett only attempted, but was defeated by, the task; whilst the printed catalogue that did appear in 1856 gave no indication of the 3rd Earl's singular contribution to the collection. The present picture instead serves as its epitome. Notes: (i) Spike Bucklow, 'The 3rd Earl of Egremont. A patron and his portrait: new light on Petworth', Apollo, June, 1993, pp.363-66. (ii) Z.Z. Filipczak, Picturing Art in Antwerp, 1550-1700, Princeton, 1987. (iii) M. Butlin & E. Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revd. edn., New Haven & London, 1984, No.18, vol.I, p.17 & vol.II, pl. 14. (iv) Creevey, sel. & ed. by John Gore, 1948, p.293. (v) Autobiographical Recollections by the late Charles Robert Leslie, R.A., ed. Tom Taylor, 1860, vol.I, p.80. (vi) Martin Butlin & others, Turner at Petworth, 1989, pls. 43 & 44. (vii) Creevey, sel. & ed. by John Gore, 1948, p.293; M. Butlin & E. Joll, op.cit. [note 3], no.283, vol.I, pp.165-66, vol.II, pl.285. (viii) letter of 4 Sept. 1843, Petworth Papers, West Sussex Record Office (quoted by kind permission of Lord Egremont). (adapted from author's version/pre-publication, Alastair Laing, In Trust for the Nation, exh. cat., 1995)
Posthumously painted for George Wyndham, 1st Lord Leconfield (1787-1869) thence by descent, until the death in 1952 of the 3rd Lord Leconfield, who had given Petworth to the National Trust in 1947, and whose nephew and heir, John Wyndham, 6th Lord Leconfield and 1st Lord Egremont (1920-72) arranged for the acceptance of the major portion of the collections at Petworth in lieu of death duties (the first ever such arrangement) in 1956 by HM Treasury
Marks and inscriptions
Verso: In large lettering, in black paint, on a fragment of old stretcher, attached to the present one: George Obrien Wyndham Earl of Egremont painted in the year 1798 in the uniform of the Sussex Yeomanry of which he is Colonel / By Philips [sic]; on two small labels, on stretcher and frame, in brown ink: Lord Leconfield / Fr.2
Makers and roles
Thomas Phillips, RA (Dudley 1770 – London 1845), artist
In Trust for the Nation, National Gallery, London, 1995 - 1996, no.13