Osterley Park is well known as an architectural and decorative masterpiece by Robert Adam, but the role of the Child family which owned the house has not been so obvious. From 1 March a group of portraits and other paintings will go on display at Osterley which will bring various members of the family and their personalities and tastes back into the frame.
The pictures are being lent to Osterley for a ten-year period by the trustee of the Earldom of Jersey Trust following consultation and backing from the 10th Earl of Jersey. The house and grounds of Osterley Park were given to the National Trust by the 9th Earl of Jersey in 1949, and the furniture in the house was purchased by the nation. However, most of the paintings were retained by the family, so it has been more than sixty years since these portraits were last on display in the house.
The most important picture from an art-historical point of view is undoubtedly the self-portrait by William Dobson, the first native English painter of major stature, in its exuberant baroque frame. It was bought by Sir Francis Child the elder (1642-1714) in 1712, together with the Van Dyck self-portrait which I featured earlier.
Sir Francis Child the elder was a goldsmith, banker and property developer who became Mayor of London and a Member of Parliament. He acquired Osterley shortly before his death in lieu of an unpaid mortgage. The Child banking premises were based at 1 Fleet Street, next to the gateway called Temple Bar, and can be seen in the painting attributed to John Collett which will now be on display at Osterley. Indeed, Child & Co, now part of Royal Bank of Scotland, are still there today.
Sir Francis the elder’s sons Sir Robert Child (bapt.1674-1721), Sir Francis Child the younger (1684-1740) and Samuel Child (1693-1752) continued the family firm and also participated in the flourishing East India trade. The loan to Osterley also includes a number of lacquer and japanned items of furniture which were acquired by this generation of the family.
Francis Child (1735-63, sometimes called Francis Child III to distinguish him from his uncle and grandfather) commissioned Robert Adam to remodel Osterley. Following his early death his brother Robert (1739-82) continued to employ Adam, giving the house the appearance it still has today.
Robert and Sarah’s only child, Sarah Anne (1764-93), eloped with the 10th Earl of Westmoreland. Robert changed his will so that the family fortune and posessions would devolve on the couple’s second child, bypassing the Westmorelands. This daughter, Sarah Sophia (1785-1867), married the 5th Earl of Jersey in 1804 and held such sway over Regency society that she was known as ‘Queen Sarah’.
A short video about the return of the pictures can be viewed here.