Jeremy Warren, Collections and Academic Director, discusses the new acquisitions for the Hertford House Historic Collection.
Although the Wallace Collection itself is a closed collection which does not acquire new works, since the opening of the Collection in 1900, we have from time to time acquired archival material and works of art which help to illuminate the history of the Collection and its founders, as well as the works of art within the Collection. Long regarded as an adjunct to the Library, these collections now form part of the Hertford House Historic Collection.
We have gained our new acquisitions through various sources. Very recently the London Transport Museum presented two posters advertising the Wallace Collection. The first, by Edward Knight McKauffer, published in 1925 and in bold art deco style, advertises the Wallace Collection’s 17th and 18th-century collections whilst the other, dating from 1934, encourages prospective visitors to explore ‘Masterpieces by English Artists’ through a reproduction of Sir Joshua Reynolds’ famous portrait of the courtesan and friend of Reynolds, Nelly O’Brien.
The Wallace Collection is engaged in a major project, principally funded by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, to investigate, conserve and research the Wallace Collection’s highly important group of twelve paintings by Reynolds. The popularity which Reynolds gained in the late 18th and early 19th centuries is attested to by the number of engravings which were published reproducing his most successful paintings, such as the full length portrait of Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire, now at the Huntington Library, and The Age of Innocence in the Tate. There was also a mezzotint after Mrs Carnac by John Raphael Smith, now at the Wallace Collection, which was sold for 1160 guineas in 1901 and was a record at the time. As these prints can provide valuable information about the condition and state of Reynolds’ portraits in the years after they were made, we were delighted to be able to acquire for the Historic Collection engravings after Miss Nelly O’Brien and Miss Jane Bowles. This will not only enhance our understanding of the historical context of these portraits, but will also help with conservation decisions.
Focusing on research on the founders, the Wallace Collection also actively seeks to acquire satirical prints relating to the history of the Seymour-Conway family. This has been possible thanks to a generous bequest from the Wallace Collection’s long-serving Librarian John McKee. By far the greatest number of these satires, and the funniest, concern the obsessive passion which the then Prince Regent conceived for Isabella, second Marchioness of Hertford, between 1806 and his accession as King George IV in 1820. The Prince Regent took to visiting Lady Hertford at today’s Hertford (then called Manchester) House on an almost daily basis.
While it is now generally believed that the relationship between the Prince and the by then middle-aged Marchioness remained platonic the relationship attracted much attention. The reactionary and anti-Catholic Marchioness was widely perceived as exercising unhealthy political influence over the Prince, who became more openly supportive of the Tory administration, which opposed Catholic emancipation and vigorously supported war against Napoleon. Numerous, often hilarious, satirical cartoons were produced attacking the liaison between the Prince and Lady Hertford, in particular the damage it was perceived as having on the body politic. Lady Hertford’s husband the 2nd Marquess and her son Francis Charles, Lord Yarmouth and later the 3rd Marquess of Hertford, a notorious drinking-partner and friend of the Prince, were seen as using the relationship to bolster the family’s advancement. The most recent print to enter the Hertford House Historic Collection is dated 1820, when the newly crowned George IV jettisoned Lady Hertford in favour of his new mistress Lady Conyngham, but was meanwhile engaged in a struggle with his estranged wife Caroline of Brunswick, who had returned from her self-imposed exile on George’s accession as King.
In the anonymous print, Queen Caroline and King George IV are tied together by a sash, from which the king is struggling to break free, assisted by two men and a woman, who may be tentatively identified as Lady Hertford, but may be her successor Lady Conyngham. The presence of the figure of Justice next to the Queen leaves us in no doubt where the publisher’s, and indeed the public’s, sympathies lay.
Hopefully this blog has given you an insight into the Collections and our research. The Wallace Collection aims to continue to collect suitable material for the Hertford House Historic Collection, and, through this, further develop our understanding of the founders and the extraordinary pieces in our permanent Collection.
By Jeremy Warren