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    Description

    Jacob Thompson (British, 1806-1879)
    Portrait of Lord Langdale, wearing Judge's robes, three-quarter length, seated, holding his spectacles
    Oil on canvas
    56-1/4 x 44-1/4 inches (142.9 x 112.4 cm)


    PROVENANCE:
    Collection of the Earl of Lonsdale;
    Maple & Co., Ltd. and Thomas Wyatt, F.V.A., London, 1947, lot 1821;
    Private collection, London.

    EXHIBITED:
    Lowther Castle, Penrith, Cumbria, United Kingdom, "Gallery of the Westmoreland Worthies," until 1947.

    LITERATURE:
    S. C. Hall and L. Jewitt, "The Stately Homes of England. Lowther Castle," The Art Journal, vol. 38, 1876, pp. 399.

    This handsome portrait records the likeness of Henry Bickersteth (1783-1851), 1st Baron Langdale, who distinguished himself in the legal profession as the "father of record reform." As a member of the privy council beginning in 1836, and his appointment as Master of the Rolls, he was determined for the government to provide an adequate Public Record Office, and in effect served as Keeper of the Public Records. Following the institution of the Public Records Act in 1838, he was instrumental in organizing the transfer of state papers from the Tower of London, the chapter house of Westminster Abbey, and elsewhere to a single location. Had he not been compromised by poor health, he likely would have become Lord Chancellor.

    This portrait showing Bickersteth in his robes and magnificent wig hung for approximately a century in Lowther Castle, the massive country house in Penrith, Cumbria (formerly Westmoreland), in northwest England which belonged to the Lowther family, latterly the Earls of Lonsdale, since the Middle Ages. The smaller original building underwent two enlargements, first in the 17th century, but it did not assume its castellated form until 1806-14 when William Lowther (1757-1844), 1st Earl of Lonsdale, essentially rebuilt it on a grander scale. Specifically, this portrait of Bickersteth was displayed in the 1st Earl's "Gallery of the Westmoreland Worthies," which hadn't existed in the previous building. An article in The Art Journal (1876) described the Gallery in lavish detail (mentioning the present portrait), albeit some 32 years after the 1st Earl had died.

    The artist responsible for this portrait and many others in Lowther Castle' "Gallery of the Worthies" was Jacob Thompson, a young, gifted local coach, sign, house and ornamental painter from Penrith. The boy's skills attracted William Lowther's attention, and the Earl soon set him to work making copies of paintings in Lowther Castle. One of the copies was sent to Sir Thomas Lawrence, who advised him to come to London to train. Thompson thus became a skillful painter of portraits and genre subjects. In 1844, the year before William Lowther died, he gave the painter a cottage (The Hermitage) in nearby Hackthorpe, where the artist lived and worked for the remainder of his life. It seems that William Lowther had a knack for spotting talented artists for he also befriended the poet William Wordsworth, and assisted him financially. Wordsworth wrote several poems for Lord Lonsdale, and even included some verses about Lowther Castle in one poem.

    Judging from Thompson's dated portraits from the "Gallery of the Worthies" which survive, it appears that most were produced following the 1st Earl's death, and were quite likely overseen if not commissioned by the 2nd Earl of Lonsdale, also named William (1987-1872). He may well have been a friend of Henry Bickersteth, since he served as an M.P. for 33 years.

    Unfortunately, Lowther Castle's fate, and with it the "Gallery of the Worthies," took a sad turn during the 20th century owing to the wild extravagance of Hugh Lowther, 5th Earl of Lonsdale. Since Lonsdale was unable to afford the upkeep or the taxes, Lowther Castle had to be dismantled in 1957 (roof taken off). There was a forced auction of the contents in 1947: nearly 8,000 lots (this portrait was lot 1821). The auction was considered the largest country house sale in the 20th century.


    Condition Report*: Wax-lined Framed Dimensions 51.75 X 64 X 2 Inches
    *Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Some condition issues may not be noted in the condition report but are apparent in the provided photos which are considered part of the condition report. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    December, 2016
    7th Wednesday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 2
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 1,415

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