Spanish art in North Somerset

Tyntesfield in its park. ©NTPL/Steve Stephens

The scaffolding that swathed Tyntesfield, in North Somerset, has now disappeared, as another phase in the conservation programme is completed. You can see a time-lapse image here – if you look closely you can also see the spire being put back on by a huge crane.

Studio of Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, The Mater Dolorosa. ©Christie's

Another recent development is the installation of a painting from the studio of Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1618-1682), entitled The Mater Dolorosa, or ‘mother of sorrows’. It depicts the Virgin Mary mourning the death of her son, painted with such realism that it could almost be an ordinary Spanish woman at prayer.

The Mater Dolorosa newly installed in the Hall at Tyntesfield. ©National Trust/Sally Williams

The picture was bought at auction at Christie’s in New York in 2009. It may be the picture that William Gibbs, the rebuilder of Tyntesfield, bought in Seville in 1853. His nephew Henry Hucks Gibbs said of it at the time that ‘the expression of the countenance I think I have never seen surpassed.’

The Hall at Tyntesfield. Since this photograph was taken it has been rearranged to reflect its Edwardian use as a sitting room. Visitors can now sit down here to savour the ambiance. ©NTPL/Steve Stephens

We are not sure whether this newly acquired picture is the exact same one that Gibbs bought (and which was later sold from the house), but even if it isn’t, it is likely to be almost identical. It was common practice for artists and their studios to make several versions of their paintings.

Portrait of William Gibbs by Sir William Boxall, RA, 1859. ©NTPL/John Hammond

William Gibbs (1790-1875) was born in Spain, where his father was engaged in trade. This, and his profoundly religious nature, explains his predilection for seventeenth-century Spanish painting.

William himself also became a merchant, and eventually made a huge fortune exporting guano, which was increasingly being used as agricultural fertiliser, from South America. This enabled him to rebuild Tyntesfield as a large, high-Victorian Gothic country house in the 1860s.

4 Responses to “Spanish art in North Somerset”

  1. Karena Says:

    Very impressiv Emille the portraits specially of the Virgin are equisite!

    Art by Karena

  2. Karena Says:

    Especially, i so wish we had spell check for blogger it would help!


  3. Hels Says:

    Perfect timing. Here is a question that has been forming for the last year.

    You note that the two things that influenced William Gibbs towards 17th-century Spanish painting were a] that he was born in Spain and did much of his trading in Spain and b] his profoundly religious nature, especially with regard to The Oxford Movement. But that would only explain one person’s passion for an art form that seemed relatively obscure in mid-Victorian Britain. Neo-gothic yes, Spanish Catholic not necessarily!

    Yet look at the passions being stirred by the possible sale of the Church-owned Zurburans in County Durham. It seems more than one person in Britain was in love with 17th-century Spanish paintings (as I am) but I wonder why.

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Interesting questions you raise.

    The Zurbarans at Auckland Castle are supposed to have been there for ‘over two hundred and fifty years’, so from the mid-eighteenth-century, but I don’t know who origainlly brought them to England. The latest news today, by the way, is that a philanthropist called Jonathan Ruffer has stepped in and donated £15 million to keep them there, which is wonderful.

    Another important collection of Spanish art is at Kingston Lacy, in Dorset, which was brought together by William Bankes, a cosmopolitan Regency collector who travelled around Spain, Italy and even Egypt. But again his taste was exceptional rather than typical.

    My colleague Fernanda Torrente tells me that Murillo, who was relatively popular in Britain, is considered by some Spanish art lovers to be too sweet and not serious enough – so that again illustrates the difference in taste.

    Also just out is ‘Spanish Art in Britain and Ireland, 1750-1920’, edited by Nigel Glendinning and Hilary Macartney, which probably contains some answers to your questions, if you can afford the hefty £50 price.

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