Colnaghi Foundation Journal 03 - Page 70



68
The Bridgewater Collection and its picture frames
The Bridgewater Collection and its picture frames
PETER AUBÉ AND THE FIRST BRIDGEWATER
GALLERY: DOCUMENTS
Although now regilt, they are impressive for the
quality both of their physical construction and of
their Régence ornament. Particularly striking is the
way in which the complex cartouches are related to
the interrupted mouldings, thereby creating a visual
rotation in the composition of the paintings.
Fig. 11 / Terborch,
Singing Practice (BG198),
in French frame of
ca. 1775, Edinburgh,
Scottish National Gallery,
Bridgewater Loan.
This pair of frames was evidently sufficiently prized
by the duke and his heirs for them not to have been
substituted during later rehangings, although they
were regilt. The same may be said of the frame of
ca. 1730 – perhaps Dutch, but in the French style
– of Teniers’s Village Scene with a Pilgrim (BG253),
bought by the duke at the Trumbull sale (of paintings
exported from Paris) in 1797.10 Another example is
a fourth Claude, Landscape with Shepherds (BG97),
which was acquired by the duke at an unknown
date and shows a Parisian frame of ca. 1765 in the
Transitional style, between those of Louis XV and
Louis XVI. Characteristic of this phase are the swept
top edges and back edges with a strict lotus leaf on
the sight edge. This last example is of special interest
because, as will be seen, it seems to have provided
the model for the series of Louis XV Revival frames
made for a number of the most important paintings
in the collection during the construction of the new
Bridgewater House in the early 1840s.
Curiously, the high-quality Parisian frame of ca. 1775
that still contains Terborch’s Singing Practice (BG198;
fig. 11) appears to have provided the inspiration for the
design of a large group of new frames commissioned
by the duke from Peter Aubé in the 1790s. Yet the
painting did not enter the Bridgewater Collection until
ca. 1841, when it was bought by Lord Francis from
John Smith.11 It is unknown who owned it in the 1790s,
but it is a fair assumption that like so many other works
of art it was imported from Paris in the immediate
aftermath of the French Revolution, and that Aubé
had easy access to it in London.
Between 1795 and 1797, even before his purchase
of a large number of choice works from the Orléans
collection, the duke undertook the construction of a
Picture Gallery along the north side of Cleveland House.
The creation of this new space must have created new
challenges for the presentation of his rapidly growing
collection, and an important collaborator in this task,
in addition to his architect, James Lewis, must have
been his principal frame-maker, Peter Aubé. Very little
biographical information is known of this craftsman,
beyond the fact that he is recorded living at Noel Street
and then at Berwick Street, both in Soho, between 1791
and 1804; and it may also be reasonably supposed that
he is identical with a John Peter Aubé who was buried
in Saint Pancras Old Church in 1826 at the age of
seventy-eight.12 Of considerable importance, therefore,
is the recent discovery in the Egerton family archive
of an extensive series of receipts for payments made
by the duke to Aubé between February 1797 and May
1801 (Appendix).13
These years correspond to the busiest period of the
duke’s activity as a collector, when he bought a large
number of paintings not only from the former Orléans
and Gildemeester collections but from a number of
other sources as well. Yet the documents represent a
chance survival, since the duke had begun collecting
well before 1797 and continued to do so up to the time
of his death in March 1803; and on occasion he may
well have employed other frame-makers besides Aubé.
Unfortunately, the documents are not as informative as
they might be, because none of the recorded payments
for frames refer specifically to the paintings for which
they were intended. Potentially the most promising is
the reference in March 1797 to a large “Canamara”
frame – the name is almost certainly a corruption of
Carlo Maratta14 – measuring twenty-six feet, at eighteen
shillings per foot. In other words, this was a new frame
for a large painting of some four by six and half feet,
69
and the high cost per foot indicates that it was fully
carved: not just at the sight edge, but in the hollow, and
at the top and back edges. But in the absence of exact
records of the duke’s purchases immediately before
March 1797 it remains difficult to identify the respective
painting, and hence to check whether the frame survives.
Likewise only potentially promising is the receipt
for work on almost one hundred frames itemized in
November 1800. In the left column is a list of numbers
that are probably best interpreted as the inventory
numbers of the collection; but since no inventory
survives from this early date, the frames cannot be
matched up with paintings.
Yet much may be learned from the documents in a
number of more general ways. In particular, it may be
noted that while some ninety of the frames supplied
by Aubé were completely new, as many as about fifty
of the receipts refer to the restoration of older frames.
The majority of the duke’s paintings, including, but
not only, those from the Orléans collection, had been
very recently imported from the continent, following
the upheavals of the French Revolution; many of them
would have been packed in a hurry, and their frames
would have been vulnerable to more or less serious
damage. In addition to payments for the repairing and
regilding of frames in which the paintings arrived,
there are a number for “lining”: in other words, for
adding slips to adapt existing frames from Aubé’s stock
to the duke’s acquisitions. In this way, the documents
contradict the assumption sometimes made that the
Orléans pictures arrived from France comprehensively
shorn of their frames. It is true that this is how they
appear in the sketches by Joseph Farington of their
display at Pall Mall and at the Lyceum in the Strand
between December 1798 and July 1799;15 and although
it is possible to interpret these merely as schematic
diagrams, at least two visitors to the exhibition are on
record as explicitly complaining that the paintings were
displayed frameless.16

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