A Breenbergh returns to Belton

Landscape with figures bathing near classical ruins, by Bartolomeus Breenbergh. ©Sotheby's

Yesterday we bought a painting at auction at Sotheby’s Amsterdam that was sold from Belton House in 1984.

Belton House seen across the Italian Garden. ©NTPL/Nick Meers

At that time Belton was being acquired by the National Trust with the help of the National Heritage Memorial Fund. However, there were not enough funds to purchase all of the contents of the house, and some of them were dispersed at auction, including this painting.

Classical ruins with Christ and the woman of Samaria, by Bartholomeus Breenbergh, at Ham House, Surrey. ©NTPL/John Hammond

It is by Bartolomeus Breenbergh (1598-1657), a Dutch painter who spent time in Rome and developed a style of landscape painting that usually included classical ruins. Indeed, ruins became such a part of the Breenbergh ‘brand’ that he even included them in scenes from the Old and New testaments.

King Charles I owned no less than six Breenberghs, one of which ended up at Ham House, and is still in its early seventeenth-century frame.

The Red Drawing Room at Belton, showing some of the old master paintings still at Belton. ©NTPL/Mark Fiennes

In 1984 the Belton Breenbergh still had its ‘Belton’ frame, which many of the pictures there were fitted with. After being sold from the house it was given a new, seventeenth-century Dutch-style frame, which the new owner must have thought looked more authentic. The painting will now have a Belton-style frame made for it once again before it goes on display.

Birds in a garden, by Melchior de Hondecoeter (1636-95), at Belton. ©NTPL/Christopher Hurst

The Breenbergh originally came to Belton as part of the inheritance of Frances Bankes (1756-1847), who married Sir Brownlow Cust, 1st Baron Brownlow (1744-1807). Her father, Sir Henry Bankes (1714-1774), was a wealthy London merchant who assembled a substantial collection of Continental paintings.

The Hondecoeter Room, with paintings by Jan Weenix the Younger and Melchior de Hondecoeter. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The acquisition of the Breenbergh for Belton was supported by the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund.

6 Responses to “A Breenbergh returns to Belton”

  1. Alison Says:

    How interesting Emile. Does the Trust always keep a list of what has been sold in cases like this, and track their whereabouts with a view to maybe purchasing them back one day, or do you scour auction catalogues looking for objects that mention NT houses in their provenance?

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Alison, we do both, as much as is possible.

    We try to make sure that we have copies of all the relevant inventories of a particular house, so that we can check when an object first appeared there, and when it was last recorded. Also in this case there was the 1984 auction catalogue in which the Breenbergh was listed.

    We also subscribe to an auction alert service, so that we get to hear of any lot description that mentions the name of one of the houses in the NT’s care. This throws up quite a lot of red herrings, of course: for instance, because we have an estate in Northern Ireland called Crom, the auction search constantly presents us with Conan the Barbarian classic comics coming up for sale, because they were drawn by an artist called ‘Crom’! Sadly we don’t have a historic collection of classic comics, so we can’t justify going for them :)

    Sometimes helpful supporters also tell us of things coming up, or our curators spot them themselves. Then we have to decide whether we should actually acquire the object in question, and of course whether we can find the funds.

  3. columnist Says:

    I do rather like the work of Melchior de Hondecoeter, and have seen few pictures by him recently. I think I would enjoy the eponymous room at Belton.

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes they are rather glamorous and theatrical, aren’t they?

  5. piers smerdon Says:

    Is the Jan weenix from the sale of the Duke of Newcastle’s effects from Clumber House or does it have other provenance?

  6. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Piers, that is an interesting question. I checked on the new National Trust Collections database (nationaltrustcollections.org.uk, this picture has inventory number 436162), and it has the following on the provenance: Purchased by Sir Abraham Hume from Christie’s, 18 June 1836, lot 44, from the collection of Sir Charles Bagot, KB (1781-1843); bequeathed by him to John Hume Egerton, Viscount Alford (1812-1851); thence by descent until given with Belton House to the National Trust by Edward, 7th Baron Brownlow in 1984.

    Presumably your question implies that there was a Weenix or Weenixes at Clumber?

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