Speaker: Andrea Morgan, PhD (Independent Scholar)
Abstract: The history of collecting paintings attributed to Rembrandt in eighteenth-century England is especially rich. The English developed such a passion for the Dutch artist by the second half of the century that it led the Reverend Matthew Pilkington to worry in 1770 that ‘the genuine works of this master are rarely to be met with, and whenever they are to be purchased they afford incredible prices.’ This talk will focus on two private collections of paintings attributed to Rembrandt that were formed beginning in the eighteenth century.
Charles Jennens is best remembered as the librettist to the composer George Frederic Handel, but he also owned a massive art collection. Among Jennens’s collection by the 1760s and hanging at his now lost estate, Gopsall Hall, formerly in Leicestershire, were six paintings attributed to Rembrandt and one contemporary copy. The copy was a painting by Pieter Tillemans after Rembrandt’s celebrated picture of Belshazzar’s Feast that was in the eighteenth century owned by the Earl of Derby at Knowsley Hall. While Jennens’s ‘Rembrandt’ pictures have since lost their attribution to the master, I propose some reasons why Jennens in particular might have had a special interest in Rembrandt’s painted oeuvre.
One of the largest but heretofore neglected English collections of paintings attributed to Rembrandt was formerly held at Stowe House, Buckinghamshire, having been amassed by various members of the aristocratic Temple-Grenville family. The first picture was recorded at Stowe as early as 1724, but by 1838 there were a total of ten paintings attributed to the Dutch artist at the estate, along with three said to be by artists in Rembrandt’s circle. I trace the history of this collection and conclude with a discussion of the aptly called ‘Rembrandt Room’ at Stowe.