The painter John Constable, in awe of the collections assembled at Petworth House, the seat of the Percy, Seymour and Wyndham families in West Sussex, once called it ‘that house of art’. Following several successful winter exhibitions featuring loans from other museum, Petworth curator Andy Loukes has now drawn on the house’s own collections to put together a show of major old master paintings.
Petworth House was given to the National Trust by the 3rd Lord Leconfield in 1947. To meet the inheritance tax due following his death in 1952, his nephew John Wyndham, later the 1st Lord Egremont, brokered a pioneering agreement with the Treasury to pay part of the tax in the form of works of art, which were then allocated to the National Trust.
This kind of arrangement has now become a well-established system called the Acceptance in Lieu Scheme, which is hugely beneficial to UK museums.
The current Lord Egremont still owns part of the Petworth collection, and some of those paintings are also on view in this exhibition.
Petworth is already well known for its British pictures, so for this exhibition Andy has focused more on Continental European paintings. Some of the works have not been on public view before, while others have recently undergone conservation work, revealing new detail and depth.
The exhibition also celebrates the successive collectors who made Petworth into ‘that house of art’, including Algernon Percy, 10th Earl of Northumberland (1602-68), and Charles Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont (1751-1837).