Christopher Rowell has just published a new book about the house which probably contains the richest collection of fine and decorative arts, furnishings and books in any of the historic places owned by the National Trust.
Petworth: the People and the Place is the second in a new series of books based on the more substantial type of National Trust guidebook, but rewritten and redesigned to include new photography and the latest research.
During much of its history the Petworth estate was part of the huge aristocratic empire of the Percys and latterly the Seymours which also included Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, Syon Park in Isleworth and Northumberland House in central London. This partly explains the richness of the collections at Petworth.
In the 1690s Charles Seymour, the 6th Duke of Somerset, and his wife Lady Elizabeth Percy turned Petworth into a baroque palace. The building was probably remodeled by Daniel Marot, and many of the most splendid furnishings and works of art date from this period.
The 6th Duke’s grandson, the 2nd Earl of Egremont, added furniture and furnishings in the rococo style as well nearly 200 paintings and some 70 pieces of antique sculpture.
The 3rd Earl of Egremont was noted for his ‘abundant though not very refined hospitality’, for his many dogs and host of illegitimate children, but also for his patronage of J.M.W. Turner, who painted numerous views of the house and the park.
In 1947 Petworth was donated to the National Trust by the 3rd Lord Leconfield. After Lord Leconfield’s death his nephew, the 1st Lord Egremont, pioneered the practice of offering outstanding works of art and other historical objects to the Government in lieu of inheritance tax. The current Lord and Lady Egremont still reside at Petworth and have lent items from their personal collection to further enhance the rooms open to the public.