Colnaghi Foundation Journal 03 - Page 63

For Jennifer Fletcher
The Bridgewater Collection and its picture frames
Among the many rich collections of Old Master
paintings formed in Britain in the aftermath of the
French Revolution, one of the most important was
unquestionably that of Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of
Bridgewater (1736-1803).1 As is well known, the duke
was the leading member of the syndicate of three
noblemen who secured the pick of the Italian and
French paintings from the celebrated Orléans collection
in 1798; and his share, consisting of sixty-four works,
included masterpieces by such names as Raphael,
Titian, Annibale Carracci, and Poussin. The Orléans
pictures, however, constituted only about one quarter
of the duke’s collection; and in the same short period
of less than ten years he also acquired, in addition
to further works by Italian and French masters, a
large number of Dutch pictures, including a group
of about thirty acquired at the Gildemeester sale in
Amsterdam in 1800. By the time of his death in 1803
the Bridgewater Collection numbered some 250 works,
many of them by the most sought-after continental
masters of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Fig. 1 / Adriaan de Lelie,
View of the Collection of
Jan Gildemeester (detail),
ca. 1794-1795, oil on panel,
63.7 x 85.7 cm, Amsterdam,
The story of the subsequent fate of the Bridgewater
Collection has been recounted elsewhere,2 and need
be summarized only briefly here. It was inherited after
the duke’s death, together with the Egerton family's
London home of Cleveland House, by his nephew, the
2nd Marquess of Stafford (1758-1833; another member
of the syndicate of 1798), who temporarily merged it
with his own collection to form the Stafford Gallery.
Shortly before his own death, and in accordance
with his uncle’s will, the marquess transferred the
Bridgewater Collection to his younger son, Lord Francis
Egerton (1800-1857; named after his great-uncle).
Already a collector in a small way before coming
into his magnificent inheritance, Lord Francis (from
1846 1st Earl of Ellesmere) continued to add to the
collection for the rest of his life. More significant in the
present context was his decision in 1839 to demolish
Cleveland House, where the collection had hitherto
been housed, and to commission Charles Barry to build
a new, much grander mansion, known as Bridgewater
House, on the same site at the south-eastern edge of
Green Park. Barry’s seventy-seven-foot-long Picture
Gallery at Bridgewater House was unfortunately
destroyed in an air raid in 1941, together with a few
of the largest paintings, and also some of the larger
frames; more fortunately, however, the great majority
of the paintings, as well as their frames, had already
been removed to safety. After the War, a large number
of paintings were sold at Christie’s, and more sales
followed in 1976.3 But the greater part of the collection
was retained by the family, and in 1946 the 5th Earl
of Ellesmere (later 6th Duke of Sutherland) placed a
very distinguished group of paintings – including the
Raphaels, the Titians, and the Poussins – on long term
loan at the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh.
Since then, some of them have been bought by the
Gallery, including most recently, and amid great
publicity, Titian’s Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto
(acquired in 2009 and 2012 jointly with the National
Gallery, London).
The purpose of the present article is to investigate
one particular aspect of the Bridgewater Collection:
that of the way in which the pictures were framed.


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