Colnaghi Foundation Journal 03 - Page 81



78
The Bridgewater Collection and its picture frames
While the Louis XV Revival was presumably
considered to be particularly appropriate for paintings
with an Orléans provenance, it was also adopted
for other works, including the family portrait-cumhistorical genre piece known as The Return from Hawking,
commissioned by Lord Francis from his friend Edwin
Landseer (BG418; fig. 20). Smith’s Day Books show that
this “very large handsome Frame enriched with bold
Corners and middles on the long side” was completed
in April 1837 at a cost of £20.32 In this case the design
appears to have been based directly on that of ca. 1765
on Claude’s Landscape with Shepherds (BG97), and it was
in turn to serve as a model for other new frames in the
collection. These include two Roman views by Panini
(BG5-6; fig. 21), which follow their Claudian prototype
by showing long, swept rails that enhance the fluid and
poetic qualities of the paintings they enclose.
Fig. 20 / Edwin Landseer,
Return from Hawking
(BG418), in English frame of
1837, UK, Private Collection.
Fig. 21 / Giovanni Paolo
Panini, View of St Peter’s
Square (BG6), in English
frame of ca. 1845, UK,
Private Collection.
In 1839, two years after the framing of the Return from
Hawking, Lord Francis embarked on the demolition
of the house that had belonged to his great-uncle, to
make way for a new Bridgewater House on the same
site. As recorded in detail in the Smith Day Books,
the big logistical task of moving the collection first to
Lord Francis’s temporary home of 18 Belgrave Square,
The Bridgewater Collection and its picture frames
and then of moving it back and reinstalling it in its
new home a decade later, fell to John Smith and his
family firm. This task naturally continued to include
the repairing and conservation of picture frames, as
well as the compilation of a new catalogue (with a
new numbering system) for what may be called the
third Bridgewater Gallery – comprising a number of
reception rooms as well as the gallery proper designed
by Charles Barry, and recorded in pre-War photographs
(see figs. 6, 7 & 8). It seems, however, that from the
time of the removal to Belgrave Square rather few new
frames were commissioned, and that by the time of the
inauguration of the third Bridgewater Gallery in 1851
tastes in framing the collection had ceased to evolve.
_____
In some ways the study of the frames of a private
aristocratic art collection, even one of the range
and distinction of the Bridgewater Collection, is less
rewarding than a study of public collections such
as the National Portrait Gallery, London, or the
Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, or indeed of the
Royal Collection.33 Except in the case of commissions
from contemporary painters such as Turner and
Landseer, few of the Bridgewater frames (even those
now lost, and known only from visual records) are
original to the paintings they surround; and the
overwhelming majority were made in a relatively
limited geographical area (Paris and London) and
within a relatively limited period (from approximately
the mid-eighteenth century to the mid-nineteenth).
On the other hand, it is important to realize that the
majority were actually made for their paintings –
designed specifically to enhance them – and perhaps in
only relatively few cases were existing frames adapted
for them. The Bridgewater Collection also provides
an illuminating case study of how three generations of
British aristocratic owners regarded the frames of their
paintings – whether bought or inherited – and of how
they saw their role in presenting the paintings to best
effect in three successive Picture Galleries. Of particular
interest is the fact that all three owners of the collection
show a respect for, and a desire to perpetuate French
79
styles of the eighteenth century in their choice of
frames; and the collection therefore also represents an
important example of how such styles were transmitted
from France to England. From the evidence presented
here it can also be seen that the three owners exercised
a certain pragmatism, and none sought to impose a
complete uniformity of frame design, in the manner of
princely collections on the continent such as those in
the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj in Rome, or at Dresden, or
at the Palais Royal – or indeed, in the Picture Gallery
at Buckingham Palace, as organized by Prince Albert.
Sometimes favourite patterns were applied to more
or less large groups of pictures, or sometimes pictures
were reframed with their own individual designs. But
just as often there appears to have been an acceptance
that existing frames served their purpose perfectly well,
and in fact they had the further advantage of reflecting
the often prestigious previous history of their respective
paintings.

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