Friendship in miniature

George Gordon, 6th Lord Byron, by William Leighton Leitch, 1831, after George Sanders, 1808. ©Christie’s Images Ltd 2010

In June last year we managed to buy this portrait in pencil and watercolour of Lord Byron at Christie’s in London. It is a copy by William Leighton Leitch of a miniature by George Sanders which was formerly owned by William John Bankes (1786-1855), the owner and embellisher of Kingston Lacy in Dorset.

William John Bankes, miniature by George Sanders, 1812. ©NTPL/Derrick E. Witty

Bankes and Byron were friends when they were both students at Cambridge. There is a Sanders miniature of Bankes at Kingston Lacy as well.

Kingston Lacy. ©NTPL/Rupert Truman

Bankes was an aesthete in the Romantic mould who rebuilt his ancestral home and added many splendid works of art and furnishings which he gathered on his travels. The house was originally built in 1663-5 after a design by Roger Pratt, in a style similar to Belton House. After William Bankes inherited Kingston Lacy in 1834 he employed Charles Barry, the architect of the Houses of Parliament, to remodel it in historicist style.

The Spanish Room at Kingston Lacy. ©NTPL/James Mortimer

In 1841 Bankes was caught in compromising circumstances with a soldier of the Foot Guards in London’s Green Park. His influential friends had previously managed to get similar charges dropped, but this time Bankes jumped bail and went to live in Italy. Nevertheles he continued to send his acquisitions back to Kingston Lacy, with careful instructions on how they were to be installed. There is evidence, moreover, that he made brief secret visits to the house.

Bankes’s tour de force at Kingston Lacy is the Spanish Room, which slowly came together over a number of years as the setting for his collection of Spanish paintings (which includes a Velázquez of Cardinal Camillo Massimi). The ceiling is from the Palazzo Contarini degli Scrigni and the leather wall covering came from another Palazzo Contarini, both in Venice.

The Spanish Room, Kingston Lacy, showing details of the chimneypiece and the wallcoverings. ©NTPL/James Mortimer

The sconces and the gilded leather are another example of the use of reflective surfaces to amplify the effect of candles and fires, similar to the previously featured wallcoverings at Ham House. It is also interesting to compare the Queen’s Antechamber at Ham and the Spanish Room at Kingston Lacy in that the original Baroque decoration of the former was sensitively restored in the late nineteenth century, whereas the decoration of the latter is a romantic nineteenth-century creation using original Baroque ‘salvage’.

5 Responses to “Friendship in miniature”

  1. columnist Says:

    The Spanish Room at Kingston Lacy is indeed spectacularly rich, and textural, and I like to punctuation created by the gilded scallop (?) motif between the pictures.

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    I am not sure if those motifs are shell-related or perhaps a stylised form of acanthus, or both – the lower part of them is certainly an acanthus leaf. It would also be interesting to know if they came from the same palazzo as the ceiling or not – I will try to find out.

  3. Janet Says:

    What intrigue! It is amazing how the love of a house can endure despite great troubles and long distances.

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes Bankes was a fascinating figure. I have just ordered what is supposed to be a good biography of him (Anne Sebba, The Exiled Collector: William Bankes and the Making of an English Country House, London, John Murray, 2004) via AbeBooks, as I want to find out more.

  5. A Tintoretto rediscovered « Treasure Hunt Says:

    […] Lacy, in Dorset, is a house full of treasures, as I touched on in a previous post. The early Victorian aesthete William Bankes was such a voracious collector that some of his […]

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