Major new exhibition opens at the National Trust's Petworth House

Petworth House and Park celebrates Dutch art and design as it hosts a major new exhibition of paintings from the Golden Age.

Friday, 25th January 2019, 7:05 am
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 6:51 pm
Gerard ter Borch . An Officer making his Bow to a Lady . 1660-64 . Polesden Lacey
Gerard ter Borch . An Officer making his Bow to a Lady . 1660-64 . Polesden Lacey

Prized Possessions – Dutch Paintings from National Trust Houses runs at the National Trust property from January 26-March 24

Andrew Loukes, house and collections manager for Petworth House and Park, said: “Prized Possessions brings together Dutch seventeenth-century paintings by some of the finest masters of the Golden Age from National Trust collections around the country and examines how and why this style of art was desired, commissioned and displayed in Britain.

“The show is especially relevant to Petworth, which holds major Dutch paintings in its collection and reflects the Dutch influence of King William III and Queen Mary II in its design.

“At Petworth House, the Prized Possessions exhibition will be seen for the first time in a country house context, having previously been exhibited in galleries at the Holburne Museum in Bath and The Mauritshuis in The Hague.

“With Petworth House as a venue, the exhibition will also invite visitors to discover more about the influence of William and Mary on the Dutch-inspired design choices that were made for the property in the 1680s by the Duke and Duchess of Somerset at a seminal moment in the house’s history.

“Petworth was partly remodelled by the French architect Daniel Marot, who had worked extensively for the Dutch court, especially on the palace at Het Loo. Decoration at Petworth includes the spectacular wood carvings of fruit, flowers, trophies and game by Anglo-Dutch master carver Grinling Gibbons, who had also worked for William and Mary at Kensington Palace and Hampton Court.”

Prized Possessions, curated by David Taylor and Rupert Goulding, includes nearly two dozen works from Trust houses around the country by celebrated artists such as Rembrandt van Rijn, Peter Lely, Gabriel Metsu, and Cornelis de Heem alongside less well-known names such as Simon Pietersz Verelst and Adriaen van Diest.

Additional Dutch works that feature as part of Prized Possessions at Petworth include The Three Younger Children of Charles I, 1647 by Sir Peter Lely (1618-1680), commissioned by Algernon Percy, the 10th Earl of Northumberland, after the King’s children were put in to his custody by Parliament during the English Civil War.

The exhibition will also contain Dutch paintings on loan from the private collection of Lord Egremont that have never been displayed publicly at Petworth House before, including Jan Griffier’s (c.1652-1718) Windsor Castle and Cows on a Riverside Pasture by Aelbert Cuyp (1620-1691). Of particular relevance to Petworth, home to 20 works by artist J.M.W. Turner, it was the Dutch landscapes captured by Cuyp that inspired the great English landscape painters such as John Constable and Turner.

Andrew added: “Petworth House, with its wealth of Dutch art and decoration makes for a fitting end to the National Trust’s touring exhibition. Petworth’s Duke and Duchess of Somerset were well connected with the royal family, William III and Mary II, and the Dutch influences the couple introduced while remodelling Petworth House from the late 1680s were influenced by these new tastes at court.

“A particular tribute to the influence of William and Mary is that one of the Grinling Gibbons carvings in the Carved Room features sheet music of Henry Purcell’s The Fairy-Queen, an opera composed for the royal couple’s 15th wedding anniversary.”

“Prized Possessions will give visitors the opportunity to see these Dutch masterpieces at the Duke and Duchess’s English Versailles, steeped in influences of the Golden Age and inspired by the Baroque palaces of Europe.”

As part of Prized Possessions at Petworth House there is a unique opportunity to see a display of specially commissioned photographs of Grinling Gibbons’ carvings by Peter Thuring. The photographs will be situated in the same room as the original carvings themselves. Photographed in black and white, using a specially constructed lighting rig, the images will artificially replicate how these exquisite carvings would have been viewed in sunlight when originally carved and installed in 1692.

David Taylor, national trust curator for pictures and sculpture, said: “Works from Trust collections are loaned to exhibitions across the world, but this is the first time in over twenty years that paintings from around the country have left their homes to appear together in a dedicated National Trust exhibition.

“It is wonderful that the final stage of the tour can be hosted at Petworth House, against a backdrop of such decoration with strong Dutch influence and alongside some of the property’s own Dutch artworks. We hope that ‘Prized Possessions’ will delight not only enthusiasts of Dutch art but anyone who is discovering the joy of ‘Golden Age’ paintings for

For further information and opening times for the exhibition visit

A catalogue for the exhibition will be available.

Petworth House and Park, Petworth, West Sussex GU29 0AE

Open daily, 10am – 4pm

Highlights of the exhibition include:

• Rembrandt van Rijn’s Self-Portrait, Wearing a Feathered Bonnet (from Buckland Abbey)

This intriguing self-portrait was painted c 1635 and shows Rembrandt at a period in his life when he was successful and rich - he had recently married and moved from his native Leiden to Amsterdam, where he had been made a burgess of the city, and where he was taking on pupils and studio assistants to learn his painting techniques. The portrait shows a confident man, aware of his importance and his skills as an artist.

Rembrandt was no stranger to self-portraits (it seems he depicted himself in over forty extant paintings, thirty two etchings and seven drawings), but this one is an example of a ‘tronie’ where he wears a theatrical, fanciful costume and appears like a figure from a history painting, rather than being a straightforward portrait.

This tells us that he considered role play in his portraiture, which we can see with his fanciful costume, including the gorget (a metal band worn round the neck) from a suit of armour. His jewelled bonnet has elegant yellow and white ostrich feathers, attached in the centre with a large gem. He is standing in a starkly-lit interior and his shadow with the feathers is playfully depicted on the wall behind.

Every self-portrait by this great painter is important, and this particular work exemplifies his evolving painting style in the 1630s, when he experimented with how to paint different surfaces and materials (such as the curls of hair, described by scratching into wet paint with the wrong end of a paint brush). This self-portrait has only recently been reattributed as being by Rembrandt himself. As such it adds another picture to the known body of work painted by this celebrated and much-loved artist.

• Jan Lievens’ ‘A Magus At a Table’ (from Upton House)

Jan Lievens’ atmospheric panel depicts a priest or magus, who stands and reads at a table. The skull cap that he wears, as well as the large books, suggests he might be a scholar, but his elaborate gold gown and the gold brocade table cover are unusually opulent for someone in this role.

The strange canopy of green fronds and the circular insertion in the floor suggest overtones of magic or alchemy, which is why the term ‘magus’ has been used in its current title. The picture was painted near the end of a period when Lievens collaborated with his friend Rembrandt, in the latter’s studio in Leiden. He subsequently moved to England, before eventually settling in Amsterdam. At the time the magus was painted the two artists’ painterly styles were very close and the picture was thought to be by Rembrandt in the past. Lievens is one of the Dutch Golden Age’s most intriguing artists – a child prodigy, who was eclipsed by the great Rembrandt, and who died in poverty – and this is one of his most enigmatic pictures.

• Gabriel Metsu’s ‘The Duet’ (from Upton House)

Metsu is best-known for painting scenes of everyday life, set in domestic interiors. These were clearly influenced by Metsu’s master, Gerard Dou, and by his contemporaries Ter Borch and De Hooch, and the exquisite The Duet is no exception.

In this picture, various symbols hint at amorous activity between the the elegant woman and the young gentleman. The glass of wine, clearly being drunk by the woman, and the footwarmer, which usually alludes to the warmth of passion, might be interpreted in these terms. Likewise, the man tuning his lute has connotations of sexual activity, and in turn the little dog trying to get the woman’s attention may be warning her of her moral conduct.

The alternative title of the picture is ‘Le corset bleu’ which, refers to the woman’s brilliant blue, fur-trimmed jacket, and it, and the woman’s silver skirt emphasises Metsu’s great skill in depicting the play of light over different fabrics and surfaces.

• Pieter Jansz. Saenredam’s ‘The Interior of the Church of St Catherine’, Utrecht (from Upton House)

This striking piece by Saenredam depicts the interior of the Church of St Catherine in Utrecht. Saenredam is known best for his detailed architectural pictures, particularly of church interiors. He used carefully-observed and rendered pencil and chalk drawings, as well as painted cartoons, as part of his preparation for painting his large-scale paintings, such as this.

Saenredam depicted churches that, following a period of religious turmoil and change during the Reformation, had been stripped of much of their decoration. This is clearly seen in The Church of St Catherine, where the artist concentrates on the perspective of the interior space and on capturing the effect of light on the whitewashed walls.

While some of the figures in Saenredam’s pictures are by other artists, and it has been suggested the figures here are by Isaak van Nickleen, this picture is a fine example by one of the most important of the seventeenth-century Dutch church interior painters.

About the National Trust’s art collection

The National Trust looks after some of the finest painting collections in the UK with over 12,000 easel paintings, along with miniatures, watercolours and wall paintings. These include masterpieces by artists such as Titian, Van Dyck, Rembrandt, Velázquez, Reynolds and Gainsborough.

About the National Trust

The National Trust is a conservation charity founded in 1895 by three people who saw the importance of our nation’s heritage and open spaces, and wanted to preserve them for everyone to enjoy. More than 120 years later, these values are still at the heart of everything the charity does.

Entirely independent of Government, the National Trust looks after more than 250,000 hectares of countryside, 778 miles of coastline and hundreds of special places across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

More than 24 million people visit every year, and together with 5 million members and over 65,000 volunteers, they help to support the charity in its work to care for special places for ever, for everyone.

For more information and ideas for great seasonal days out go to:

About Petworth House and Park

Home to an extraordinary collection of art, Petworth House stands as a monument to the evolving taste of just one family over 900 years. Constructed to show the family’s wealth, taste and royal connections, over generations the mansion has evolved to display an ever- changing art collection. Today the state rooms offer an infinity of paintings and sculptures, including major works by van Dyck, Turner, Flaxman and Blake. These works reflect the family’s journey through the Tudor Reformation, the Gunpowder Plot and the Napoleonic Wars. Separate Servants’ Quarters offer a glimpse of life below stairs, featuring domestic rooms and historic kitchens. William Blake in Sussex: Visions of Albion is the sixth in a series of major exhibitions at Petworth including Constable at Petworth in 2014, Mr Turner – an exhibition in 2015, Remastered: Bosch to Bellotto in 2016, Turner & The Age of British Watercolour in 2017 and William Blake in Sussex: Visions of Albion in 2018