PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF J.E. SAFRA
Two drawings, pages from a sketchbook formerly in the collection of Dr. Alfredo Viggiano, and now in the Galleria dell’Accademia, Venice (figs. 1 and 2), can be linked to The Old Horse Guards. Watson, who was first to publish the sketches in 1950, described them as:
“of an unusually summary character, and so bespattered with notes on colours and architectural characteristics as to suggest at first sight that they are sketches made on the spot, perhaps on a notebook held in the artist’s hand… The painting agrees closely with the drawings, and follows the notes as to colour, treatment of the architecture and material, with great care. The proportions of the Horse Guards building have been modified to accord with the direction più largo and the plastered walls of Little Walsingham House follow the indication sporco. Dirty they may well have been, for the house had already been described as ‘little, old and ruinous’ as early as 1658, although it was not demolished until 1786.”3
The earliest known provenance for this canvas links it to Sir Edward Wilmot, First Baronet, who was surgeon to King George II and King George III. The painting then remained in the Wilmot family until it was sold by Sir Robert Wilmot, 8th Baronet, in 1975 (see Provenance). The catalogue of the Wilmot sale states that, prior to Edward Wilmot, the work had “traditionally been thought to have been in the collection of Dr. Meade”4 A renowned man of medicine, Richard Mead was himself a royal physician, attending to King George I, King George II, as well as Sir Robert Walpole, Isaac Newton and Alexander Pope. Mead even assisted the artist Jean-Antoine Watteau, who travelled to England with the expressed purpose of receiving counsel and treatment for his consumption.
Edward Wilmot was not only a colleague of Mead, but also married his daughter, Sarah, becoming heir to Mead’s estate. Mead amassed an impressive collection, not only of paintings, but also manuscripts, books, antiquities and coins. The physician owned other views by Canaletto and was a friend of Joseph Smith, the British consul at Venice and the artist’s great patron and agent. This canvas, however, was not among those offered in the sale of paintings held at Langford’s, London, shortly after Mead’s death in 1754.5 It could be conjectured, therefore, that the painting was bequeathed to Edward or had entered the Wilmot family at an earlier stage.
As Charles Beddington asserts, it is in fact more plausible that Edward Wilmot acquired the painting independently for himself.6 The prominent depiction of the Old Horse Guards in the painting would have been of particular interest to the doctor, who had by now risen to the position of Physician-General to the Army.7 Wilmot would likely have seen the collecting of paintings as befitting a man of his career and standing, and selected the work for its relevance to his own work.
1. C. Beddington, under Literature, op. cit, p. 9.
2. Ibid. p. 83.
3. F.J.B. Watson, under Literature, op. cit., p. 316.
4. See catalogue entry, Sir Robert Wilmot Estate sale, London, Christie’s, 27 June 1975, lot 31.
5. Property from the Estate of Dr. Richard Mead (the paintings), London, Langford’s, 20 – 22 March 1754.
6. C. Beddington, under Literature, op. cit., p. 45.
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