By descent to his grandson, Sir Richard Colt Hoare, 2nd Bt (1758–1838);
Thence by descent in the Hoare family at Stourhead until sold;
Stourhead Heirlooms sale, London, Christie’s, 2 June 1883, lot 16, to Martin on behalf of Thomas Holloway (1800–1883) for Royal Holloway College, London;
From whom acquired in 1993 for the present collection.
London, Royal Academy, Works of the Old Masters, 1870, no. 124;
London, Arts Council, Thomas Gainsborough, 1949, no. 12;
Nottingham, University Art Gallery, Landscapes by Thomas Gainsborough, 1962, no. 18;
London Royal Academy, Bicentenary Exhibition, 1968, no. 143;
Paris, Petit Palais, La Peinture Romantique Anglaise et les Préraphaélites, 1972, no. 124;
Milan, Palazzo Reale, British Council, Pittura Inglese 1660/1840, 1975, no. 51;
Munich, Haus der Kunst, Zwei Jahrhunderte Englische Malerei; Bristische Kunst und Europa 1680 bis 1880, 1979–80, no. 35;
Paris, Grand Palais, Gainsborough, 1981, no. 45;
London, Tate Gallery, New Displays at the Tate, December 1995 – 24 January 1998;
Bath, Victoria Art Gallery, Gainsborough in Bath, 26 January – 30 May 1998;
Ferrara, Palazzo dei Diamanti, Thomas Gainsborough, 6 June 1998 – 30 August 1998;
Sudbury, Gainsborough’s House, Gainsborough at Sudbury, 7 September 1998 – 2 September 1999;
London, Tate Britain, Gainsborough, 24 October 2002 – 19 January 2003, no. 115;
Washington, National Gallery of Art, Gainsborough, 9 February – 11 May 2003, no. 115;
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Gainsborough, 9 June – 14 September 2003, no. 115.
W. Gilpin, Observations on the Western Parts of England, London 1798, p. 119 (listed among the pictures ‘admired most’ at Stourhead);
Anonymous, A description of the House and Gardens at Stourhead, Salisbury 1800, p. 14;
J. Britton, The Beauties of Wiltshire, 3 vols, London 1801, vol. II, p. 8, listed as hanging in the Cabinet Room at Stourhead: ‘a well finished and masterly performance of this eccentric, but great English artist’;
Rev. R. Warner, Excursions from Bath, Bath 1801, p. 97;
Catalogue of the Pictures, Prints... etc at Stourhead, 3 February 1808, Wiltshire and Swindon Record Office MS 383/ 715, listed as: 'Peasants and Colliers By Gainsborough', hanging in the Cabinet Room at Stourhead;
P. Hoare, Epochs of the Arts, London 1813, pp. 76–77, note;
R. Colt Hoare, A description of the house and gardens at Stourhead, Bath 1818, p. 14;
J. P. Neale, Views of seats of noblemen and gentlemen, 5 vols., London 1822, vol. V, unpaginated;
Inventory of heirlooms at Stourhead, Hoare MS, 1838, Hoare’s Bank, Fleet Street, London, listed as: 'Peasants and Colliers riding to Market at dawn of day';
Anonymous, Catalogue of the Hoare Library at Stourhead, London 1840, p. 742;
G.F. Waagen, Treasures of Art in Great Britain, 3 vols., London 1854, vol. III, p. 173;
G. W. Fulcher, Life of Thomas Gainsborough, R.A., London 1856, p. 199;
W. Armstrong, Gainsborough & his place in English Art, London 1898, p. 206;
J. Climenson (ed.), Passages from the diaries of Mrs Philip Lybbe Powys, London 1899, p. 173 (recording seeing the painting on her visit to Stourhead in August 1776);
W. Armstrong, Gainsborough & his place in English Art, London 1904, p. 287;
W. T. Whitley, Thomas Gainsborough, London 1915, p. 358;
M. Woodall, Gainsborough's landscape drawings, London 1939, pp. 49, 50, 55, 110, reproduced, pl. 50;
M. Woodall, Thomas Gainsborough: His life and work, London 1949, pp. 93–94;
E. Waterhouse, Painting in Britain 1530-1790, Harmondsworth 1953, p. 188;
E. Waterhouse, Gainsborough, London 1958, p. 25, no. 911, reproduced pl. 115;
Landscapes by Thomas Gainsborough, exh. cat., Nottingham 1962, no. 18, reproduced;
M. Woodall, 'Gainsborough Landscapes at Nottingham University', in The Burlington Magazine, December 1962, p. 562;
J. Hayes, ‘Gainsborough and Rubens’, Apollo, vol. 78, August 1963, pp. 92–93, reproduced fig. 8;
J. Hayes, 'Gainsborough', in Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, April 1965, pp. 321 and 324;
J. Hayes, The Drawings of Thomas Gainsborough, 2 vols, London and New Haven 1970, pp. 17, 68, 225, 300, reproduced pls 301 (detail) and 369;
J. Hayes, Gainsborough as a printmaker, London 1971, p. 43;
L. Herrmann, British landscape painting in the eighteenth century, London 1973, p. 97;
D. Sutton, 'Realms of Enjoyment', in Apollo, November 1973, p. 337, reproduced fig. 10;
La Peinture Romantique Anglaise et les Préraphaélites, exh. cat., Petit Palais, Paris 1972, cat. no. 124, reproduced;
J. Hayes, Gainsborough. Paintings and Drawings, Oxford 1975, p. 217, no. 80, reproduced pl. 115;
Pittura Inglese 1660/1840, exh. cat., British Council, Milan 1975, no. 51;
T. Clifford, A. Griffiths and M. Royalton-Kisch, Gainsborough and Reynolds in the British Museum, exh. cat., London 1978, p. 20;
Zwei Jahrhunderte Englische Malerei; Bristische Kunst und Europa 1680 bis 1880, exh. cat., Munich, 1979–80, cat. no. 35, reproduced in colour p. 29;
J. Barrell, The dark side of the landscape, Cambridge 1980, pp. 53–54, reproduced;
D. Gordon, Second Sight: Rubens: The Watering Place / Gainsborough: The Watering Place, exh. cat., National Gallery, London 1981, p. 17, reproduced fig. 17;
J. Lindsay, Thomas Gainsborough: His life and art, London 1981, p. 114;
Gainsborough, P. Rosenberg and J. Hayes (eds), exh. cat., Grand Palais, Paris 1981, pp. 138–39, cat. no. 45, reproduced p. 139, and in colour p. 74;
G. Waterfield, 'Winning Parisian Hearts', in Country Life, 16 April 1981, p. 1051, reproduced fig. 4;
J. Hayes, The Landscape Paintings of Thomas Gainsborough, 2 vols, London 1982, vol. I, pp. 110, 112–13, 115–16, 120, 148 and 167, reproduced fig. 182 (detail), vol. II, pp. 451–52, cat. no. 107, reproduced;
J. Chapel, Victorian Taste: The complete catalogue of paintings at the Royal Holloway College, London 1982, pp. 13 and 92–93, reproduced in colour pl. 62;
M. Levey, ‘The Genius of Gainsborough’, in Christie’s International Magazine, October 1990, p. 5, reproduced in colour;
J. Hayes, The Holloway Gainsborough, London 1995, extensively reproduced in colour;
S. Sloman, 'The Holloway Gainsborough: Its subject re-examined', in Gainsborough's House Review, 1997/8, pp. 47–48;
M. Rosenthal, The Art of Thomas Gainsborough, New Haven and London 1999, pp. 204–05, reproduced in colour pl. 203;
Gainsborough, M. Rosenthal and M. Myrone (eds), exh. cat., Tate, London 2002, p. 217, cat. no. 115, reproduced in colour;
S. Sloman, Gainsborough’s landscapes. Themes and variations, exh. cat., Holburne, Bath 2011, pp. 54, 57 and 59 n. 15.
The scene depicts a group of mounted figures on a road cresting a rise of ground, silhouetted against the brilliant light of early dawn. At the head of the caravan is a courting pair of rustic lovers – a favourite theme in Gainsborough’s art – carrying baskets filled with produce on their way to market. Behind them, emerging from the shimmering early morning mist, are three figures whose identity has been debated, but are most likely be colliers, a common sight on the roads around Bath at this time. In the lower left foreground, a young mother nursing her two young children, presumably a beggar – also a common sight on the roads of England at this time – gazes up at the courting couple from the wayside, close to a sedgy pool. The introduction of mother and child underlines the overtones of romance within the picture, linking them with that of motherly love, and anticipates those larger family groups gathered outside a cottage door, which would become a mainstay of the artist’s later landscape paintings. Painted with an assured but wonderfully delicate touch, with subtle effects of cool light seen through translucent foliage, it is an undisputed masterpiece by a great artist at the peak of his abilities.
The subject of riders and pack horses on a road heading to or from market was a popular theme in Gainsborough’s art during his time in Bath, appearing in numerous paintings and drawings (fig. 3). The subject was one that provided the artist with the opportunity to depict the silvery light of dawn or the warm glow of evening, which must partly have accounted for its appeal to him. Following the picturesque principles of his day, just as Gainsborough always associates a bridge with a ruined building in his landscapes, so he links travelling peasants with beggars. Precedent for such groupings of motifs can be found in continental painting of the first half of the eighteenth-century, examples of which by artists such as Marco Ricci (1676–1730) would have been known to Gainsborough. Unlike in the paintings of these earlier artists, where the figures’ fashionable dress resolutely grounds them in their own time and place, Gainsborough’s imagery is rendered timeless by the transformation of the passers by into peasants.
The sophistication of Gainsborough’s landscapes from this period is highlighted by the solid modelling of the two principal figures, as in The Woodcutter’s Return (Duke of Rutland, Belvoir Castle) of a similar date, which Hayes contrasts with the parallel pair of rustic lovers in the artist’s Mounted Peasants and pack-horses returning from market (Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio), painted five of six years earlier. As with a number of his landscapes from this date, including The Cottage Door (Huntington Art Gallery, San Marino), the majority of the figures are raggedly dressed, conforming to the dictates of picturesque theory. The seductively beautiful girl in the centre, around which the whole composition revolves, however, is no ordinary countrywoman. Rosy cheeked and beautiful, with a ladylike demeanour, her auburn hair is fashionably dressed, though the ringlets fall about her shoulders in an informal style that anticipates the fashion of two or three years later (which, indeed, was partly inspired by Gainsborough’s imagery). She is the epitome of ‘rustic beauty exalted by a gentility of expression’,2 and it was figures such as this beautiful redhead that Hazlitt had in mind when he wrote that Gainsborough gave ‘the air of an Adonis to the driver of a hay-cart, and models the features of a milk-maid on the principles of the antique’. The charm of Gainsborough’s mounted peasant girl may not be entirely fanciful, however. A number of contemporary accounts describe the pretty country girls that were employed to sell produce in popular spa towns such as Bath, which prided themselves on their luxury-goods shops and high-quality fresh food markets.
Gainsborough was a lifelong admirer of Dutch Golden Age landscape painters such as Hobbema, Ruisdael and Cuyp, and the theme of peasants going to market appearing over the brow of a hill, with a brilliant dawn behind, finds its precedent in a painting by Aelbert Cuyp at the Mauritshuis, The Hague (fig. 4). Equally the hauntingly lovely effect of shimmering morning light through rising mist, appears in part inspired by works such as Rubens’ The Birdcatcher and the Woodcutter (Musée du Louvre, Paris). The subject of Gainsborough’s landscapes, however, and the figures with which he populated them, are entirely of his own creation and find their inspiration in the artist’s first-hand encounters with real country folk. Uvedael Price, the great theorist on the Picturesque and a friend of Gainsborough’s famously recorded that as a young man, when he and Gainsborough were both living in Bath: ‘I made frequent excursions with him into the country; he was a man of an eager irritable mind, though warmly attached to those he loved; of a lively and playful imagination, yet at times severe and sarcastic: but when we came to a cottage or village scene, to groups of children, or to any object of that kind which struck his fancy, I have often remarked in his countenance an expression of particular gentleness and complacency.’3 Equally Gainsborough himself declared, when it was suggested to him that he might paint some elevated biblical or historical scene, that though ‘there might be exceeding pretty Pictures painted’ of that type, he preferred to ‘fill up’ his pictures with ‘dirty little subjects of Coal horses & Jack asses and such figures.’4 It is quite clear that Gainsborough, who himself was born in the small country town of Sudbury in Suffolk and remained throughout his life a countryman at heart, identified personally with these rural figures, who represented in his mind an idyllic existence and freedom, for which he longed himself, and found in them his true inspiration. It is this strong sense of Rousseauism in his work, in contrast to the more violet emotions found in contemporary pastorals from the circle of Fragonard, that is the hallmark of Gainsborough’s mature landscapes.
Both Gainsborough’s concept and treatment of these rural subjects are picturesque and sentimental, but in his exaggeration and dramatic isolation of the close knit figural group, back lit by the dazzling silvery dawn light (almost like figures on a stage), as well as the agitated setting of the scene, the artist transcends the mundanity of everyday life and takes his subject somewhere deeper, to feelings that lie beyond their obvious qualities. This strong sense of romanticism in his art is not unlike that of Constable (whose deep admiration for Gainsborough’s art is well documented), over forty years later. Like Constable, whose work made heroic the scenes of everyday life, Gainsborough’s landscapes took the commonplace scenes of contemporary rural life, the ordinary comings and goings of the agrarian poor, and made them extraordinary – the ignoble made noble, a subject fit for the realms of high art – thereby transcending the eighteenth-century tradition of landscape painting, so dependent as it was on classical principles.
The precise reading of the subject of this painting has been debated by scholars over time. For most of the twentieth century the painting was refered to simply as a scene of mounted peasants going to market, passing a beggar on the road. Writing in the 1990s, Michael Rosenthal saw this and other landscapes in the group as examples of social commentary in Gainsborough’s art, with the artist engaging in the moral discourse of his age. The late eighteenth century was a period of dramatic population growth and social upheaval in the countryside, with significant mechanisation of farming practices and increasing urbanisation as a result of the Industrial Revolution. The two decades between 1760 and 1780 saw a substantial increase in the enclosure of once common land for specialised agriculture, resulting in a sharp increase in rural poverty and destitution in rural areas. Rosenthal contrasted the scenes of destitution found in this painting and other pastoral landscapes by Gainsborough of this date, with the artist’s earlier works which seem to depict apparently contented peasants living off common land. With particular reference to the Kenwood landscape (fig. 1), he suggested a moral reading of this group of works based upon the emergence of different levels of rural poverty and the neglect of charity. Indeed, charity is a theme that runs through many later landscapes by Gainsborough, who was an early supporter of the Foundling Hospital – the leading charitable institution of the period.
As Susan Sloman was the first to point out, however, in early inventories of the Stourhead collection the figures in this painting are clearly identified as ‘Peasants and Colliers’, and in the 1883 Christie’s sale catalogue the picture was given the title Peasants and Colliers going to market: early morning. Colliers were a common sight on the roads of Wiltshire in the late eighteenth century, frequenting the roads around Bath in equal number to people travelling to and from the town’s busy market. A local map dating from 1773, the year Gainsborough’s picture was sold to Henry Hoare, shows two coal pits less than three miles from the centre of Bath, just off the Bristol Road. Eighteenth-century English coal seams were usually small and quickly exhausted, with the result that miners regularly had to move from one place to another to find work. Equally, with the many steep hills around the city and in the absence of suitable waterways, coal was largely transported into Bath on horseback, in panniers and sacks; and its cheap availability was one of the reasons Bath became a popular winter resort. When not actually delivering coal, the miners rode their animals, sitting astride the wooden pack saddles, and several contemporary accounts describe colliers on the roads around Bath in this manner. Noted for their somewhat haughty demeanour and clannish behaviour, they were a God-fearing bunch with a marked contempt for the moneyed classes, considered something of a menace by more refined travellers on the roads.
Whilst land enclosure was a recurrent literary theme in the late eighteenth century, if Gainsborough’s landscapes from this period to some extent reflect his own experience of the countryside around Bath, it was not an issue uppermost in the local consciousness, since most of the surrounding land had been enclosed since the seventeenth century. As Hayes stated, Gainsborough’s landscapes are peopled with figures ‘drawn from contemporary country life’ rather than Old Master models and both agricultural workers and miners would have been the most readily available rural subjects for him at the time.
GAINSBOROUGH AND LANDSCAPE
During his lifetime Gainsborough made his living painting portraits, or as the artist himself referred to it ‘the curs’d face business’. Painting landscape, however, was his pleasure. In an often quoted letter to his friend, the organist and composer William Jackson, Gainsborough, who was a keen and talented musician himself, wrote from Bath in 1768 complaining: ‘I am sick of portraits and wish very much to take my Viol de Gam[ba] and walk off to some sweet Village where I can paint Landskips and enjoy the fag End of Life in quietness and ease’. As the great art historian Roger Fry, who praised Gainsborough above all other English eighteenth century artists, commented: ‘nothing in all Gainsborough’s art is more fascinating than his beginnings when, as a quite untaught boy at Sudbury, the passion for landscape came upon him. Landscape, indeed, was from beginning to end his true passion’.5
Susan Sloman has highlighted the importance of composition in Gainsborough’s landscapes, comparing his structuring of painting to the way a composer writes a piece of music. As Gainsborough played several instruments and spent more time in the company of musicians than he did other painters, the analogy is particularly apt. It is clear from even the most cursory study of the artists landscape paintings and drawings that, throughout his career, Gainsborough returned again and again to certain themes within his work, repeating and reinterpreting particular motifs and ideas and reworking them in different keys and variations – much as a musician would reinterpret a piece of music. As such there is a strongly lyrical feel that runs through Gainsborough's art, connecting individual works to one another which, when studied together, reveal the artist’s creative mind at work or – if we accept his own description of landscape painting – at play. A good example of this is found in a watercolour drawing of 1780–85, which largely repeats the composition of the present work almost a decade later, in another medium (fig. 5).
When Gainsborough was born, landscape painting in England was in its infancy. The genre had flourished on the continent in the seventeenth century, but by the 1730s there was such a dearth of talent that the artist Nicholas Vleughels (1668–1737), director of the French Academy in Rome, was moved to declare: ‘There are no longer any landscape painters… perhaps someone will come, who will take up this part, which is almost extinguished.’6 The English aristocracy and landed gentry, the natural source of patronage for an artist at this date, had always collected landscape paintings, but at the beginning of the eighteenth century those that they had acquired had by necessity been old and imported, and they were slow to turn their attention to contemporary British artists. Gainsborough would therefore have grown up in the knowledge that there was a limited market for his preferred form of painting but was nevertheless more naturally inclined toward the pure visual pleasure that was to be found in landscapes than the intellectually rigorous pursuit of history painting. It was therefore of added importance to the artist and the development of his career that this painting went to such a good home.
NOTE ON PROVENANCE
The provenance of this painting could hardly be more illustrious for an English eighteenth-century landscape. In July 1773 it was bought directly from the artist by Henry Hoare of Stourhead (1705–1785), who was Gainsborough’s London banker (fig. 6). Despite this, there is little evidence that the two men actually knew each other, and payment for the picture was made in response to a bill presented by Gainsborough’s friend and fellow painter William Hoare of Bath (no relation – though his daughter Mary would later marry Hoare’s nephew, another Henry). Hoare had been established as a portrait painter in Bath for twenty years by the time Gainsborough arrived in the town in 1758 and by the 1760s had assumed a patriarchal role within the artistic and cultural community, acting as an agent as well as a painter in his own right. A regular visitor to Stourhead, in 1765 Hoare designed a cascade for the garden together with Coplestone Warre Bampfylde, and it seems that in this case the elder artist used his longstanding friendship with the Hoares of Stourhead to help promote the career of the younger artist. Nevertheless, the sale of one of his major landscapes to a prestigious and much-visited collection like Henry Hoare’s at Stourhead was clearly a major coup for Gainsborough, and went a long way in establishing his reputation as one of the most important contemporary artists working in Britain at this time.
Henry Hoare was the grandson of Sir Richard Hoare (1648–1719), the original founder of Hoare’s Bank, which remains today the oldest private banking house in the world. His father, also called Henry, had bought the manor of Stourton in Wiltshire in 1717 and employed Colen Campbell to build a new Palladian mansion, Stourhead, but died shortly after its completion in 1724. Described as ‘tall, comely in person, elegant in his manners and address and well versed in literature’, Hoare travelled abroad on the Grand Tour and following the premature death of this second wife, threw himself in earnest into the improvement of the house and grounds. Remembered by history as ‘Henry the Magnificent’ (in reference to that other great banker/patron of the arts Lorenzo de’ Medici) he collected widely, acquiring major Old Master paintings by Rembrandt, Nicholas Poussin, Carlo Marratta – whose Marchese Pallavicini guided to the Temple of Virtue by Apollo, with a self portrait of the artist remains at Stourhead today – Carlo Dolci, Claude Lorraine, Gaspard Dughet, and Claude-Joseph Vernet. He also commissioned living artists, including John Wootton, Samuel Woodforde and the aforementioned William Hoare of Bath, from whom he commissioned a large number of portraits in both oil and pastel (fig. 6); as well as Anton Raphael Mengs, whose Caesar and Cleopatra Hoare commissioned as a companion to the Marratta and also remains in the collection today. The great British sculptor John Michael Rysbrack was also associated with Stourhead from 1744 until his death in 1770 and executed two of his most celebrated marbles for the collection, Hercules and Flora. Hoare’s greatest cultural contribution, however, and the one that he is probably best remembered for today, was the creation of the much celebrated landscape gardens at Stourhead. Damming the River Stour to create an ornamental lake and engaging the great architect Henry Flintcroft, he transformed the landscape surrounding his father’s house into a Claudian idyll, complete with temples to Apollo, Flora and Hercules, the latter of which was modelled on the Pantheon in Rome (by which name it is known today) and recall’s Claude’s Landscape with Aeneas at Delos (National Gallery, London). If the landscape garden is arguably England’s most significant contribution to the arts, that which Henry Hoare created at Stourhead is one of its greatest early masterpieces.
Gainsborough’s magnificent Peasants going to market originally hung in Henry Hoare’s Picture Gallery, or ‘Sky Light Room’ – so called because of the roof light which allowed for optimal viewing of the paintings – where it was in the company of many of his best pictures; including Poussin’s Rape of the Sabine Women (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; fig. 7); the famous nocturnal Landscape with the Rest on the Flight into Egypt by Rembrandt (National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin; fig. 8); and Carlo Dolci’s Salome with the head of John the Baptist (Glasgow Art Gallery). Following Hoare’s death in 1785 the house, grounds and collection passed to his grandson, Sir Richard Colt Hoare, 2nd Bt (1758–1838), the son of his daughter Anne (1737–1759), who had married her first cousin, Sir Richard Hoare, 1st Bt (1735–1787). Colt Hoare’s mother had died when he was six months old and his upbringing had been closely supervised by his grandfather, who favoured him with an annual allowance of £2,000 and a house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields on his coming of age. Under the terms of his grandfather’s will, which had settled his beloved Stourhead on his grandson on the condition that all connection with the family bank was severed, Colt Hoare found himself without a career and consequently set out shortly afterwards on an extensive series of foreign travels. A noted antiquary and artist himself, he spent many years travelling extensively on the continent and added substantially to the great collection that his grandfather had amassed at Stourhead; similarly acquiring both Old Masters and patronising contemporary British artists. He continued his grandfather’s patronage of the portraitist Samuel Woodforde and the watercolourist Francis Nicholson, who recorded the now maturing landscape at Stourhead, but it was an introduction by Sir John Fleming Leicester to the young Turner that heralded his most important foray into modern British art. Turner painted a series of watercolour views of Salisbury Cathedral for Colt Hoare between 1794 and 1806, and even copied one of Hoare’s own drawings for the composition of his oil painting of Lake Avernus with Aeneas and the Cumaean Sybil in 1815 – which also went to Stourhead.
It was as a bibliophile and antiquarian, however, that Colt Hoare is most remembered today, and the library that he amassed at Stourhead was undoubtedly his most ‘significant contribution to culture’. In 1825 he gave his collection of Italian topographical and historical books to the British Museum, but in their place he collected nearly every book on the history and topography of the British Isles. A fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and a member of the Dilettanti Society, upon inheriting Stourhead and ‘finding in the mansion house, as it was, not sufficient room for either his collection of paintings or library of books he made in the year 1800 a considerable addition... by adding two wings’.7 His new library he had handsomely furnished by Thomas Chippendale, creating in his home the scholarly atmosphere of a medieval monastery, without any of the discomforts. Henry Hoare’s original Picture Gallery was remodelled and the subsequent re-hang of the collection saw Gainsborough’s magnificent landscape move to the Cabinet Room, where it is recorded in inventories of 1808 and 1840, hanging as an overmantel above the fireplace.
The painting remained at Stourhead, passing by inheritance with the house within the Hoare family, until 1883 when it was put up for sale, together with many of the great art treasures of the house, at Christie’s in the Stourhead Heirlooms sale by Sir Henry Hoare, 5th Bt (1824–1894). A Liberal Member of Parliament and Deputy Lieutenant for Somerset and Wiltshire, the 5th Baronet had a restless temperament and expensive tastes, including hunting and horse racing. The agricultural depression of the early 1830s significantly impacted his income and he was forced to sell many of his ancestors’ paintings, as well as Sir Richard Colt Hoare’s great library – which came up in two sales held at Sotheby’s in 1883 and 1887. The 5th Baronet spent most of the rest of his life in France, returning to England due to illness in 1894, and died in London in July that year. Having no surviving heir, the baronetcy, together with the house and its remaining collection, passed to his cousin, yet another Henry, who bequeathed the estate to the nation in 1947, having lost his only son in First World War. Today it is one of the jewels in the crown of the National Trust, famous the world over for its magnificent gardens and remaining art collection.
At the 1883 Stourhead Heirlooms sale, despite the presence of a number of great masterpieces from the collection, this spectacular landscape by Gainsborough was the star attraction and sold for by far and away the highest price – a staggering 2,700 guineas. By comparison Turner’s Lake Avernus with Aeneas and the Cumaean Sybil, based on one of Sir Richard Colt Hoare’s own drawings, fetched only 475 guineas; whilst the two most important continental Old Masters, Rembrandt’s nocturnal Landscape with the Rest on the Flight into Egypt (National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin; fig. 8), which achieved the second highest price of the sale, and Nicholas Poussin’s The Rape of the Sabine Women (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; fig. 7), sold for 490 guineas and 340 guineas respectively. Carlo Dolci’s Salome with the head of John the Baptist (Glasgow Art Gallery), fetched 460 guineas and Claude Lorraine’s Peasants driving cattle (present location unknown) sold for 250 guineas.
The painting was bought by Thomas Holloway, the great Victorian philanthropist and founder of Royal Holloway College, part of the University of London. Holloway had made a fortune selling patent medicines and was one of the first British businessmen to harness the power of mass advertising, pioneering the use of methods such as newspaper advertising, creating collectibles and erecting billboards near popular tourist sites – two as far away as Niagara Falls and the Pyramids of Giza.
Inspired by the example of Vassar College in New York State, Holloway endowed the college with a magnificent collection of paintings by great British artists, mostly from the nineteenth century – including Millais, Turner and Constable. Beginning in 1881, over a two year period be bought seventy seven paintings, buying primarily at auction from Christie’s through his brother-in-law, who he instructed to use pseudonyms for fear that he would be bid up if his true identity was known – his choice for this purchase was ‘Martin’. Notable highlights, many of which remain in the collection today, include Sir Edwin Landseer’s famous Arctic landscape Man Proposes, God Disposes; the grand history painting Peter the Great at Deptford Dockyard by Daniel Maclise; John Everet Millais’s The Princes in the Tower; Van Tromp going about to please his masters, ships at sea, getting a good wetting, J.M.W Turner’s 1844 masterpiece (now in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles); and John Constable’s full-scale sketch for View of the Stour near Dedham (recently sold, Christie’s, 30 June 2016, lot 12, for £14 million). This painting was the last purchase he made for the college and one of the most significant, just six months before he died. Having spent the first century of its existence on the walls of Stourhead, for the next hundred years Gainsborough’s landscape was one of the greatest highlights of the Holloway collection until, in 1993, it was acquired for the present distinguished collection.
1 Hayes 1982, p. 115.
2 George Darley, 1828, quoted in Hayes 1982, p. 167.
3 Quoted in Hayes 1982, p. 148.
4 Quoted in Sloman 2011, p. 54.
5 R. Fry, Reflections on British Painting, London 1934, p. 64.
6 Quoted in Sloman 2011, p. 4.
7 A. Hoare, quoted in V. Hutchings, ‘Sir (Richard) Colt Hoare, second baronet’, article in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 21 May 2009.
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