A classical landscape for Belton

Attributed to Nicolaes Berchem (1620-83), Classical Landscape with Figures and Animals. ©Tennants

Attributed to Nicolaes Berchem (1620-83), Classical Landscape with Figures and Animals. ©Tennants

We have just managed to purchase this painting at auction at Tennants, attributed to the Dutch Italianate landscape painter Nicolaes Pieterszoon Berchem (1620-83). It was at Belton House during the nineteenth and the early twentieth century, and it will now return there.

A nice story about Berchem’s name is that this was a descriptive nickname given to him by the pupils in the studio of the painter Jan van Goyen, who regularly used to hide him (‘Berg hem!’ meaning ‘Hide him!’) when he was in disgrace and was being pursued by his father. A more prosaic explanation is that it relates to his father’s hometown, Berchem, near Antwerp.

Berchem travelled to Westphalia with Jacob van Ruysdael in about 1650, and he subsequently may have traveled to Italy as well. Certainly his style reflects the contemporary fashion for Italian light and scenery.

Martin Archer Shee (1769-1850), portrait of John Cust, 1st Earl Brownlow (1779-1853). ©National Trust, image provided by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Martin Archer Shee (1769-1850), portrait of John Cust, 1st Earl Brownlow (1779-1853). ©National Trust, image provided by the Public Catalogue Foundation

The painting was recorded at Belton House in 1809, in the ownership of John Cust, 2nd Baron and later 1st Earl Brownlow (1778-1853), who had himself traveled to Italy in 1802. The 1st Earl’s brother’s grandson, Adalbert Cust, 5th Baron Brownlow (1867-1927) left it to his sister, the Hon. Marion Isabella Tower (née Cust, 1854-1939). In 1958 it was with the London dealer Alfred Brod.

12 Responses to “A classical landscape for Belton”

  1. Michael Shepherd Says:

    Considering the recent statement by Dame Helen Ghosh that there is “so much stuff” in the Trust’s stately homes it deters certain people from visiting since they cannot comprehend the collections I am surprised that the Trust is buying rather than selling it’s works of art. I can only assume that the dumbing down of the NT will only continue under such a “politically correct” leadership who only look to the bottom rather than the top! http://www.arthistorynews.com/
    What an absolutely appalling view from the Trust: I am glad that I am no longer a member!

    • Emile de Bruijn Says:

      Michael, I am surprised and disappointed that you are swayed by Bendor Grosvenor’s comments. I think this very blog post, and the evidence of the Treasure Hunt blog as whole (which channels the work of many colleagues) proves that he is wrong.

  2. trewinb Says:

    If nothing else, this has certainly stirred up a healthy debate (if somewhat passionate) and I am sure that the NT will take note. It would be a shame if in the process of trying to attract a wider audience a loyal and committed group of NT visitors was lost to the Trust. As you rightly noted Emile, this blog is an excellent forum for the dissemination of the current direction of the Trust, however I do hope that Dame Helen Gosh will provide an accurate rebuttal to Bendor’s article.

  3. Michael Shepherd Says:

    Emile, I am disappointed and surprised that you think I was swayed only by Bendor Grosvenor’s comments. When the story first appeared on-line I spent a long time searching out what Helen Ghosh had said and, whilst Bendor may only provide one point of view he does appear to quote accurately what was said. I have corresponded with Helen Ghosh in the past and she doesn’t seem too keen on maintaining the Trust’s current so-called “middle-class” membership and instead wants to attract a “wider” audience: presumably the reason the Trust now has Engagement Officers at it’s properties. My family has never been “middle class”: we have all come from a working class background with my ancestors dating back to the C16 in Cornwall and Lincolnshire and I am disappointed to say that none of my direct family have had the opportunity to go to university. I was, however, taken at an early age to visit local stately homes and a keen interest in history was nurtured in me by my parents. At the age of 5 I was able to point out the sitters in portraits at Hatfield House: the house was full of collected treasures and detritus and at no time was I overwhelmed by what was there. It is patronising in the extreme if the NT is considering thinning out the collections it has on display at it’s properties if it believes that the visiting public find them difficult to understand and comprehend. I also recall several properties which the Trust has acquired where they have sold off what they saw as “surplus” contents and, in the case of Brockhampton Hall where they sold off the entire collection: James Lees-Milne was particularly keen to recall such sales in his Diaries. Finally, each year the British public is continually told that exam grades are improving at both GCSE and ‘A’ Level and that study at university is increasing why is there such a paucity of aspiration within the Trust to education it’s visitors rather than bring everything down to the lowest common denominator. Several NT properties seek to increase visitor numbers by allowing them to play snooker or billiards and lie on the beds in the bedrooms: how is this educating people? I have also mentioned the downward turn in the standard of NT guidebooks recently: I taught myself about aspects of the Country House over the years and had a willingness to learn. The work of Gervase Jackson-Stops and Tim Knox at the NT was seminal in sparking this interest and there is very little that can could do this in the Trust’s current output.

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Michael, I appreciate what you say – and Gervase Jackson-Stops is one of my favourite art-historical authors 🙂

    But I simply don’t agree that we are dumbing down. If anything, things are going the other way, with more and more art-historical information becoming available through our online collections database and our specialist publications programme. Just think of the recent Sixtus cabinet book: a whole lavishly illustrated and deeply researched tome on just one object.

    The misconception that we don’t care about serious art lovers is caused, I think, by the fact that we also have to look after and engage our other, less specialist visitors. The National Trust has never just been a museum. But it is not a question of ‘either – or’: we can do both. So please don’t give up on us.

  5. Andrew Says:

    Sorry, Emile, but I have to agree that there has been some dumbing down, or at least polarisation between the “high” and “low” ends of the market.

    The more recent main guidebooks are often more pictures with captions. They rarely say enough, and I have often taken the view that they are just not worth buying. Perhaps they appeal more to the casual visitor but what does the serious student do? No doubt you will say they sell well.

    Yes, there are the high-end publications, like the Sixtus cabinet book, but I really would rather have a sensible guidebook on the whole of a house, not a tome on one item of furniture!

    The older style guidebooks contained a wealth of information and (for me, at least) hit the sweet spot in the middle – not infantile, but not an academic treatise. There must be some other people like me! Was there a perception that they were too old fashined and too heavy going for the NT’s customers?

  6. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Andrew, yes indeed I think there are quite a few people like you who appreciate the old-style substantial NT guidebooks. In fact I like them too and I have a collection of them which I use for quick and reliable reference and historical context.

    It is interesting that you say we need more ‘in the middle’ as exactly that point has been the subject of various internal discussions recently. So without being as yet able to go into detail on that I can say that that issue is actually being worked on.

  7. trewinb Says:

    Emile, I hope you understand that these passionate responses are NOT directed at either yourself nor at the majority of very hardworking NT staff and volunteers, as Bendor has noted in an update to his article on AHN. We very much appreciate that there exists a forum for open comment in your blog which enables us to both follow what is going on in the NT properties and collections, and provide input where appropriate.

  8. Michael Shepherd Says:

    Hi Emile,
    Having thought about this somewhat crass “too much stuff” viewpoint over the weekend I seem to recall that a number of NT properties used to have an item of the week/month which would be prominently displayed with additional information for visitors. Surely this would be the way forward in connecting with visitors rather than Helen Ghosh rather patronising stance. As someone with Autism I find it difficult to enter a new room full of “stuff” but I wouldn’t dream of suggesting change: the NEW visitor should be supported rather than simplifying the display. As a result of my condition I do find it difficult when people are allowed to play the piano in rooms but again I get help from my parents rather than walking through in silence. I do find that there is little support shown to visitors who have such disabilities and perhaps the NT should address this first before seeking to patronise people. Unfortunately, I see that Tim Parker, the Trust’s new Chairman has added to the fray by suggesting that “Visits to National Trust properties can help immigrants feel more tied to the history of the British Isles”! see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/11500158/National-Trust-stately-homes-can-make-immigrants-feel-more-British.html
    Words fail me this time!

  9. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    I am sorry that I have been unable to respond for a few days.

    Trewinb, thank you, let’s try to keep the discussion constructive.

    Michael, yes indeed different people have different needs and expectations. I am sorry that we cannot always cater to all of those, but we are doing our best, and please continue to give us your feedback.

  10. meredithbdesign Says:

    Hello Emile, I, too, was dismayed by the article regarding Ickworth and the photos certainly do not give one encouragement that things are changing for the better! I find it curious that a room that looks so empty could in any way be “inviting”…and I have long been saddened by the idea that admiring or touring these beautiful properties is “elitist” and we have to make it more “accessible to the general public” by downplaying or removing contents….I think the NT would be more “accessible” or “inviting” to the general public if the volunteers and staff were allowed to convey the same sense of passion and interest for the work they do and for the houses they tend as our comments exhibit! I know that you and all the people that I have met and engaged with at NT properties love what they do and if this was communicated better to visitors, ( especially NEW visitors) I think you would see positive changes.
    But, if it feels like “dumbing down” to those of us that might have perhaps more knowledge or interest…a visit to a beloved stately property is very disheartening…and it is difficult to know how to voice that to the powers that be..better guides, better docents should be the goal, not removing suites of furniture that actually create a Library, rather than an odd barn of a room with beautiful art that is not well understood in the context….especially since the “context” has been removed! These new acquisitions that you highlight can and should be trumpeted to new and old visitors alike…as an old friend that has at last come home….and explaining the item and putting it in context, explaining how it traveled and how it has returned, or how it enhances our understanding of the item AND the house it now resides….this is the how we instill passion and understanding to the next generation of viewers…..showing how we understand these treasures and how we are always learning new things about them is what can make a stately home come alive…..not this curious “deadening” of the experience that I have begun to see….
    I love following your blog and look forward to seeing you again at a Country House seminar in the future!
    Meredith Bohn
    Hollis, New Hampshire

  11. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Meredith, I very much appreciate your comments, but I cannot really respond to them here because, on the one hand, I don’t know enough about what was done at Ickworth and why, and, on the other hand, because this blog is not really a forum for interpretation and visitor engagement issues. I hope you won’t think that is a cop-out – I just don’t think I am the right person to respond on this.

    And actually I just saw on Twitter that the regional director responsible for Ickworth, Ben Cowell, has agreed to do a guest post about this on the Country Seat blog (http://thecountryseat.org.uk/), so do keep an eye on that.

    And I also very much appreciate the reasoned tone of your comment, which is a welcome contrast after the shrillness of much of the comment so far. This is absolutely an important topic and it deserves a serious and considered debate. Let’s hear what Ben has to say.

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