Art Biography

The Picture Collection in Marble Hill House

The architecture of Marble Hill is one of the most important examples of the English Palladian style. However, what is sometimes overlooked is the importance of the Picture Collection. It is an excellent and comprehensive collection of English 18th century painting – the period which is sometimes known as “The Golden Age of English Painting”. This note covers only a selection of the works.

Some of the most interesting works are in the room known as Henrietta Howard’s Bedchamber. There is Richard Wilson’s The Thames Near Marble Hill, Twickenham. The painting is very Italianate. Wilson spent many years in Italy. He is regarded as the father of English landscape painting and greatly influenced both Turner and Constable. In the same room there is a painting by Philip Mercier The Letter Writer. Mercier was one of the artists who introduced the genre known as the conversation piece, to England in the early 18th century. (This type was often used by Watteau.) Another artist, who used this genre, was Hubert Gravelot, whose painting known either as The Reader or the Judicious Lover, is in the lobby on the first floor at Marble Hill. Both Gravelot and Mercier taught art at St. Martin’s Academy, set up by Sir James Thornhill, (the Serjeant Painter to the King) and his son-in-law William Hogarth. This was the first art school in England and Thomas Gainsborough was a pupil there. Another teacher at this school was Francis Hayman whose painting Lady at a Spinning Wheel is also in Henrietta Howard’s Bedchamber. This painting is an important example of the Rococo style being used by an English artist.

In the Dressing Room there are two delightful pendants of Abraham Acworth and his wife Margaretta Acworth by Thomas Hudson, probably commissioned to commemorate their marriage. Sir Joshua Reynolds was one of Hudson’s pupils. In the same room there is an early portrait of Henrietta Howard by Charles Jervas. It had been commissioned by Alexander Pope. When Pope died, Henrietta Howard bought the painting and gave it to Horace Walpole. There are a number of interesting portraits by leading English 18th century artists such as Gainsborough, Ramsay, Cotes and Reynolds in the Gallery. Among the European paintings, there are five capricci, all of scenes in Rome, by Giovanni Panini which were originally in this house.

The inventory drawn up in 1767, when Henrietta Howard died, refers to five Roman Landscapes in the Great Room. English Heritage have managed to recover them and they are now back in the Great Room. Capricci are real subjects, such as the Pantheon, in an imaginary landscape. Veduti are actual landscapes or townscapes such as Canaletto’s paintings.

John Moses
Writing for the Marble Hill Society