Castle Howard Introduction

Essay by Christopher Ridgway

‘Gathered by Amateurs’: Three Hundred Years of Collecting at Castle Howard1

Houses are first and foremost buildings, examples of architectural style, design and function, but they are also residences and, in the case of many country houses, grand repositories for collections too. They may have been conceived in terms of dwelling space, as statements of wealth and grandeur, as dominant structures in a designed landscape, as luxurious interiors for comfort, but gradually they begin to fill up with things well beyond what is essential for quotidian existence. Such stuff might be new acquisitions, gifts or inherited items and with each passing generation an inevitable pressure begins to build up – sooner or later a building is filled to capacity or begins to feel like that. It would be instructive to see how many household inventories specify a ‘lumber room’ in their room listings or some equivalent space, in attics, basements or outbuildings, dedicated for storing things that have no place in the main buildings. Vagrant items are a feature of grand homes.

The solutions to this typical problem might be to rationalise these collections, to dispose of part of them or to modify the building in which they are housed. As a general pattern this is true of all the houses covered in this research project and, while it must never be forgotten that they remain home to generations of family, it is hard to escape the idea that these occupants are, if not battling with these accumulations of art treasures, then frequently having to re-negotiate their ordering within their living space to match their own needs and desires in a building that in all likelihood has a private and a public identity.

Castle Howard (fig. 1) is no exception to this pattern but its protracted construction history in the eighteenth century meant that the display and organisation of Grand Tour treasures brought home by the 4th and 5th Earls of Carlisle, together with their acquisitions in England, was complicated by the fact that the house was not finished until a hundred years after building work began. During this period the building was witness to an architectural dilemma as the Palladian west wing built by Sir Thomas Robinson threatened to supplant the Baroque vision of the 3rd Earl of Carlisle and his two architects Sir John Vanbrugh and Nicholas Hawksmoor. This synopsis immediately also draws attention to a great variable in such houses: do architecture and decoration determine the contents and displays indoors or do these elements themselves influence the design and shape of the building? At Castle Howard the story veers between these two polarities.

Aerial view of Castle Howard

Figure 1.
Aerial view of Castle Howard, garden front. Photograph.

Digital image courtesy of Christopher Ridgway. (All rights reserved)

The historiography of Castle Howard has in recent years been shaped by Charles Saumarez Smith’s study of its early construction; this remains the definitive account of the financing, building and furnishing of the house, together with an account of the landscape in the first half of the eighteenth century. Prior to this Castle Howard had been mainly studied in relation to the lives and works of its two principal architects, Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor, by scholars such as Christopher Hussey, Geoffrey Webb, Laurence Whistler and Kerry Downes. The work of both architects has been reassessed more recently by Vaughan Hart and others, and the role of Sir Thomas Robinson has been explored by the late Giles Worsley. Less has been written on the later phases of the house but there is a growing body of literature on members of the Howard family, the evolution of the landscape and the history of the collections.2

Known as one of the ‘Treasure Houses’ of England and occupied continuously, since it was built, by more than nine generations of the Howard family, once upon a time Castle Howard possessed 1000 oil paintings; more than 200 pieces of sculpture; numerous bronzes, gems and cameos; nearly 600 watercolours and drawings; enough furniture to fill the building twice over; silver and porcelain in abundance; countless prints and engravings; and a library of 20,000 volumes. Today the scope of the collections is not so extensive: beginning more than a hundred years ago, in the time of George Howard, 9th Earl of Carlisle, items were sold, given to the nation, bequeathed to different family members or destroyed in two disastrous fires. To say that the collections today are half what they used to be, or perhaps two thirds is, however, to miss the point. Collections of this magnitude and quality are not about numbers, nor are they about being comprehensive or fully representative in the way that museums and galleries endeavour to be. Private or amateur collections are fuelled by all manner of motives: an appreciation of the given objects; individual enthusiasms and tastes; the desire to possess, to accumulate and to display; as well by as the chance episodes of history such as marriages, bequests and gifts.

In 1699 Charles Howard, 3rd Earl of Carlisle, decided to build a great house for himself and his family in Yorkshire, choosing for his architect his fellow Kit Cat Club member, the dramatist Sir John Vanbrugh, who wisely enlisted the assistance of Nicholas Hawksmoor; thus it is correct to say that Castle Howard was built by a triumvirate of men. Building work moved swiftly and by 1715 the final shape of the house was sufficiently advanced for engravings of it to appear in one of the most important architectural books of the time, Colen Campbell’s illustrated Vitruvius Britannicus – from this moment Castle Howard could be said to have existed at large in the public imagination for the first time (fig. 2).3

1715. RIBA Collections (RIBA32832).

Figure 2.
Colen Campbell, Castle Howard, elevation of the garden front in Colen Campbell, Vitruvius Britannicus or the British Architect, 1715, vol. I, pl. 69-70, 1715. RIBA Collections (RIBA32832).

Digital image courtesy of RIBA Collections. (All rights reserved)

In 1725 when Campbell published a third volume, there appeared the well-known bird’s-eye view of Castle Howard, with the grounds surrounding the house (fig. 3). This revealed the full magnificence of the building and in 1737, a year before his death, Carlisle calculated the total cost of all his building projects for the house, interiors, grounds and outbuildings at £78,000.4 But the bird’s-eye view remained an idealised one, for the house was only three-quarters finished: it lacked the matching west wing and balancing range of outbuildings. A dramatic discrepancy existed between appearance and reality, due in large part to the fact that from 1715 onwards Carlisle, Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor had turned their attention and energy to designing the landscape and filling it with lakes, parterres, rides and monuments. Even though it was unfinished the house was clearly habitable and finished to a high degree but completion of the building had become a secondary priority. The outdoors mattered more and in another context the methodologies behind display histories inside buildings might illuminatingly be applied to how outdoor structures were deployed and sited in the landscape beyond the walls of the residence.

Bird's eye view of Castle Howard

Figure 3.
Bird's eye view of Castle Howard, published in Colen Campbell, 'Vitruvius Britannicus or the British Architect', Country Life, vol. III, 1725, 30 January 1953. Country Life Picture Library (595502).

Digital image courtesy of Country Life Picture Library. (All rights reserved)

Carlisle’s palace remained lopsided until the west wing was built in the 1750s and this unfinished state would of course have an impact on how the collections were displayed during the eighteenth century. Nevertheless this did not deter the 3rd Earl from having his portrait painted in 1728 by the artist William Aikman, with his newly-built house depicted in the background (fig. 4). Significantly this was an outdoors portrait; Carlisle showed no inclination to be represented inside his house and he is captured in the midst of a theatrical gesture, lowering his coronet to reveal his new home in the background.

1728. Oil on canvas, 236 × 145 cm. Castle Howard.

Figure 4.
William Aikman, The 3rd Earl of Carlisle, 1728. Oil on canvas, 236 × 145 cm. Castle Howard.

Digital image courtesy of Mary Evans Picture Library/Castle Howard Collection (10239390). (All rights reserved)

Inside the house Carlisle made the most of this opportunity for extending his patronage, employing some of the finest craftsmen of the day. In the Great Hall, rising dramatically into the air, are frescoes painted by the Venetian artist Antonio Pellegrini, who had been brought to England by the Duke of Manchester in 1708. Pellegrini’s designs included the Four Elements in the pendentives, the Twelve Figures of the Zodiac on the ceilings above the staircases and further designs on the walls through the arches. This ethereal world climaxes seventy feet up with the Fall of Phaeton on the underside of the cupola: encouraged to look higher and higher, the viewer finally meets the dizzying spectacle of Apollo’s son plunging to earth (fig. 5).

The Fall of Phaeton

Figure 5.
Antonio Pellegrini, The Fall of Phaeton, decorating the underside of the cupola above the Great Hall. The original decoration was executed 1709–12 but destroyed in the fire of 1940; the version today is a recreation by Scott Medd, copied from pre-fire photographs, 1961–62, Castle Howard.

Digital image courtesy of Tim Imrie-Tait / Country Life Picture Library (595737). (All rights reserved)

On the first floor, the High Saloon, which opened out onto the balcony above the Great Hall, also contained murals by Pellegrini, this time depicting scenes from the Trojan War taken from Virgil’s great Roman epic the Aeneid, and on the floor below the ceiling of the Garden Saloon was also decorated by him. Much of Pellegrini’s work was destroyed in the disastrous fire of 1940, which incinerated the High Saloon and the Garden Saloon below.5 One of the long-term consequences of this calamity has of course been not only the challenge to recover these lost spaces but also to contemplate how they might be refashioned as domestic and display spaces in a house that remains a family home but which is also a major visitor attraction, receiving in the order of 250,000 visitors a year.

Pellegrini’s work represents some of the largest and most dramatic decorative work in the house but the beginnings of the picture collection lie with his fellow countryman Marco Ricci who in 1709–10 was commissioned by the 3rd Earl to paint a series of nearly forty canvases to hang throughout the house, filling the building with sublime landscapes and rustic scenes. Because many of these were fixtures (over-door or over-mantel pieces) they were lost in the blaze of 1940. Others survived and a number, after lying in store for half a century, were restored and put back on public show in the 1990s.6

Aside from the painted decoration in the house, the furnishings for the apartments included various hangings and tapestries, such as four large scenes depicting the Four Seasons by John Vanderbank, purchased in 1709–12 (fig. 6), as well as a set of Indo-Chinese Soho tapestries from a slightly earlier date.7 Records for acquisitions of furniture are sparse but it is certain that the 3rd Earl acquired two important sets of Queen Anne chairs, dating from c.1710, with their cartouche-shaped backs and giltwood top scrolls. Both sets comprise three single chairs and two armchairs; they have been described as in the manner of the London cabinet-maker James Moore and retain their original crimson Genoese silk brocade.8

circa 1705. Tapestry, 365 × 254 cm. Castle Howard.

Figure 6.
John Vanderbank, Winter from the series The Four Seasons, circa 1705. Tapestry, 365 × 254 cm. Castle Howard.

Digital image courtesy of Castle Howard. (All rights reserved)

This early influx of paintings, tapestries and furniture was primarily motivated by the need to furnish the new mansion and it was really the next two generations who chose to build on this foundation and amass the celebrated collections of art treasures. The second generation of collecting began when the young Henry Howard, the future 4th Earl, first visited Italy in 1714–15, which evidently kindled his enthusiasm for Roman antiquities. He returned from his Grand Tour steeped in the art and architecture of Italy and in the early 1720s put this knowledge to practical effect when discussing with his father, and Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor, the designs for temples in the gardens at Castle Howard. In the 1730s, his opinions, together with those of his contemporary Lord Burlington, would determine the final design of Hawksmoor’s Mausoleum.9 Today he is best remembered for commissioning his brother-in-law, the architect Sir Thomas Robinson, to complete the west wing of the house in the 1750s in a Palladian style, a choice that he came to regret in later years.10

In 1738–39, just after he had inherited the title on the death of his father, the 4th Earl returned to Italy and from this visit can be dated a huge influx of art from Italy, which really determined the character of Castle Howard for the next century at least. His greatest contribution lay in assembling the collection of antique sculpture, housed today in the Antique Passage, which is the subject of a separate essay. But the 4th Earl also augmented the flavour of classical Rome by commissioning six capriccios from the artist Paolo Pannini during his second visit to Italy, and these finally reached Yorkshire early in 1741 (fig. 7). These Roman scenes, a visual anthology of everything that had been admired on the Grand Tour, contained a host of features that every self-respecting tourist and connoisseur would have been familiar with – the Colosseum, the Arch of Constantine, the Pantheon, the Temples of the Forum and other structures.

circa 1740. Oil on canvas, 122 × 165 cm. Castle Howard.

Figure 7.
Paolo Pannini, A Roman Capriccio with the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine., circa 1740. Oil on canvas, 122 × 165 cm. Castle Howard.

Digital image courtesy of Mary Evans Picture Library/Castle Howard Collection (MEV 10239387). (All rights reserved)

The 4th Earl’s love of Italy manifested itself most strongly in his purchase of Venetian view paintings. A total of between forty and fifty pictures attributed to Canaletto are known to have existed in the collection and by the end of the nineteenth century many of them had been assembled in a single room known as the Canaletto Room. Today only three paintings from this Venetian collection remain in the house. A handful were sold at the end of the nineteenth century, some in the 1920s, more were destroyed in the fire of 1940 and the remainder were auctioned immediately afterwards in 1944. For years inventories at Castle Howard lumped these view paintings together under the frustratingly vague title ‘View of Venice’, referring to them collectively as simply ‘Canaletti’. Today it is possible to distinguish the work of Canaletto, his talented nephew Bernardo Bellotto and their younger contemporary Michele Marieschi, and the fugitive pieces have all been traced in new collections. The three views that are still at Castle Howard are now recognised as by Bellotto (fig. 8).11

Photograph. Country Life Picture Library (9769-01-2).

Figure 8.
Canaletto Room before fire, 1928, Photograph. Country Life Picture Library (9769-01-2).

Digital image courtesy of Country Life Picture Library. (All rights reserved)

In the light of all this evidence the 4th Earl must rightly be viewed as a devotee of Venetian and Roman art, as well as a discerning member of that elite of English aristocratic cognoscenti who absorbed the treasures of Italy. By any standard his collecting was spectacular and by the middle of the eighteenth century Castle Howard was growing in splendour. The spectacular mansion was filled with sculpture and paintings, while outdoors it sat in the heart of a sublime landscape filled with temples and monuments that was as suffused with antiquity as was the indoors.

This magnificence grew even more with the next generation. Frederick, the 5th Earl (fig. 9), travelled to Italy as a young man on his Grand Tour in 1767–68, where he purchased paintings and sculpture in Rome, Venice and Naples. Included in these acquisitions were two landscapes by Gaspar Dughet, still in the collection today, which he purchased in Rome from the banker and dealer Thomas Jenkins. He also gathered works by Bassano, Guido Reni, Julio Romano, Bellini and Velázquez, including his Portrait of a Moor said to be Juan Pareja. At the same time Frederick supplemented the antiquities collection by purchasing a plaster version of the Dying Gladiator, also from Jenkins.12

Frederick Howard, 5th Earl of Carlisle in his Garter Robes

Figure 9.
John Hoppner, Frederick Howard, 5th Earl of Carlisle in his Garter Robes, circa 1770. Oil on canvas, 246.4 × 160 cm. Castle Howard.

Digital image courtesy of Mary Evans Picture Library / Castle Howard Collection (10239403). (All rights reserved)

Later in his life, when the 5th Earl sat down and made a list of all his purchases of paintings the total came to more than a hundred.13 Apart from collecting Italian old masters, throughout his lifetime he also patronised English artists, notably Joshua Reynolds, who painted him as a young boy in Van Dyck costume, as a young man wearing his robes of the Order of the Thistle, and with his friend George Selwyn. Reynolds was also commissioned to paint other members of the Earl’s family, including his wife, Caroline.14

Among other English artists enjoyed by him were Gainsborough, whose Girl with Pigs (initially bought from the artist himself by Reynolds in 1782) was later purchased by Carlisle in 1795 (see Martin Postle, ‘Frederick Howard, 5th Earl of Carlisle’, fig. 17);15 he also acquired a second painting by the artist, the full-length portrait known as The Housemaid, which was unfinished at the time of Gainsborough’s death and is said to depict Mary Graham, the subject of one of Gainsborough’s most splendid society portraits.16

Topographical pictures were also prized and included a set of views by William Marlow. Important paintings in their own right, they are valuable sources of information on the appearance of the house and grounds at this time. The view of the south front shows the simplified parterre after the removal of Vanbrugh’s obelisks and statues; and the view of the western approach to the house shows the original elevation of the west wing, as built by Sir Thomas Robinson in the 1750s. These views were supplemented by a pair of landscapes by Hendrik de Cort, commissioned in 1800.17

The climax to this third generation of collecting occurred with the purchase of the picture collection of the Duc d’Orléans in 1798, when the 5th Earl formed a syndicate with two other men, the 2nd Marquess of Stafford and the 3rd Duke of Bridgwater, and together, with the London dealer Michael Bryan, purchased the residue of the Orleans collection – a total of 296 largely Italian pictures – for £43,000 (fig. 10). The collection was exhibited in London and the sums realised from the sale of the pictures enabled each member of the syndicate, effectively, to underwrite their own purchases. The 5th Earl’s share of the Orleans Collection comprised fifteen Italian, Dutch and Flemish pictures. Following his purchases he converted one of the rooms in the south front into a small gallery to display these acquisitions; this became known as the Orleans Room, and is the subject of a separate study.18

Castle Howard.

Figure 10.
Catalogue for the Italian pictures from the Orleans collection, exhibited in London in 1798, Castle Howard.

Digital image courtesy of Castle Howard. (All rights reserved)

This mass accumulation of treasures brings into sharp relief not only the wealth of the family, albeit chequered at times, and their desire to collect, but also the difficulties faced when this volume of paintings and sculpture reached Castle Howard: it signals the perennial problem that buying art treasures was one thing but displaying them in an ordered, intelligible and pleasing manner an entirely different matter. After lying unfinished for many years, the interior decoration of the west wing was finally carried out between 1801 and 1812 by the architect Charles Heathcote Tatham, at a cost of over £4000.19

Inside, the Long Gallery was intended primarily as a display area for many of the family’s art treasures, as seen in the illustrations supplied by Tatham in his published prospectus. Shortly after work was completed, in 1812, the 5th Earl commissioned the Yorkshire artist John Jackson to paint him and his youngest son standing in the room admiring a picture in a suitably connoisseurly pose (fig. 11). The Long Gallery is 160 feet long (c.50 metres) and divides into a south and north end with an eight-sided middle area known as the Octagon. Used occasionally as a dining room, the area was principally, as its name suggests, a grand gallery for pictures and busts; but it was also used as a recreational area. Visible on the right in the Jackson painting is the marble bust by Joseph Nollekens of the 5th Earl’s lifelong friend Charles James Fox. Purchased in 1803 at a cost of 100 guineas,20 it accompanies Nollekens’s bust of Carlisle as a young man, for which he sat while he was in Rome in 1768. Dominating each end of the Gallery are Tatham’s huge gilt brass chandeliers with two concentric tiers of eight candle branches, also still in situ today.

Conversation piece in the sunlit Long Gallery, where the ageing Lord Carlisle contemplates, in the company of his youngest son, Henry Howard, an unidentified painting on an easel

Figure 11.
John Jackson, Conversation piece in the sunlit Long Gallery, where the ageing Lord Carlisle contemplates, in the company of his youngest son, Henry Howard, an unidentified painting on an easel, circa 1810. Oil on canvas, 61 × 73.6 cm. Castle Howard.

Digital image courtesy of Castle Howard. (All rights reserved)

With the death of the 5th Earl in 1825 the momentum of collecting slowed. The 6th Earl did not travel or gather as extensively as his forebears and seems to have shown little interest in pictures. In turn, his son, the 7th Earl, although interested in art, was much more actively engaged in political affairs.21 The final chapter in the history of the collections, at the end of the nineteenth century, begins with George and Rosalind Howard, who in 1889 became the 9th Earl and Countess of Carlisle (fig. 12). In the mid-1860s as a newly married couple they moved in the most fashionable cultural circles in London; both of them commissioned portraits from important painters of the day, Rosalind from Frederic Leighton and Howard from G. F. Watts; a few years later Rosalind was painted by Rossetti too.

George and Rosalind Howard

Figure 12.
George and Rosalind Howard, shortly after their marriage in 1864. The couple became the 9th Earl and Countess of Carlisle in 1889. 1864. Photograph. Castle Howard.

Digital image courtesy of Castle Howard. (All rights reserved)

In time all three family homes – Castle Howard in Yorkshire, Naworth Castle in Cumbria and their new London home, No. 1 Palace Green, designed by the architect Philip Webb – were furnished at their behest with textiles, friezes, furniture, wallpaper and paintings by William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, Walter Crane and other designers.22 This fashion for Morris & Co. began at Castle Howard in the early 1870s when, at their urging, the 9th Earl’s uncle, Edward Howard, commissioned the redecoration of the family chapel in the west wing. It was sumptuously ornamented with frescoes and paintings by Charles Eamer Kempe and W. H. Hughes and stained-glass windows designed by Burne-Jones and executed by Morris & Co (fig. 13).23

1870–75. Castle Howard.

Figure 13.
Chapel, decorated by Morris & Co, 1870–75. Castle Howard.

Digital image courtesy of Castle Howard. (All rights reserved)

In 1887 the 9th Countess purchased three embroidered panels from a set of eight by Morris, depicting figures from Chaucer’s poem The Legend of Good Women. Originally they hung in Morris’s Red House in Kent but once at Castle Howard these panels (representing Lucretia, Hippolyta and Helen of Troy) were made into an oak-framed screen. Nearly twenty rooms at Castle Howard were covered in William Morris wallpaper, including the High Saloon, where the Pellegrini murals were covered in Bird and Anemone paper, and the Long Gallery, covered in red Sunflower paper. Some two-dozen unused rolls of different Morris designs still survive today.24

As a painter himself the 9th Earl was held in esteem by English artists of the day, including Leighton, Watts, Tissot, Lear and Burne-Jones, who all praised the work of this gifted amateur. It is during these years that the link between Castle Howard and Italy was revived albeit in a different manner. In 1865 the Earl had met the Italian artist Giovanni Costa under whose tutelage he developed his landscape-painting repertoire, eventually forming the Etruscan School of painters in 1883–84, which included Costa, Alphonse Legros and Leighton. A small oil of Costa painting en plein air was the Earl’s homage to his tutor (fig. 14). The Earl travelled repeatedly to Europe, Egypt, India, Africa and the Caribbean on painting excursions; and his numerous sketchbooks and finished pictures both in oil and watercolour are still in the collection today. Closer to home the Earl sketched his friends and these intimate sketches of his contemporaries Morris and Burne-Jones (with whom he had a particularly close friendship) illustrate how accomplished he was with a pencil (fig. 15).25

  • 1882. Oil on panel, 23 × 13.5 cm. Castle Howard.

    Figure 14.

    George Howard, 9th Earl of Carlisle, Giovanni Costa painting at Naworth, 1882. Oil on panel, 23 × 13.5 cm. Castle Howard.

    Digital image courtesy of Castle Howard. (All rights reserved)

  • circa 1882–84. Pencil on paper, 20 × 20 cm. Castle Howard.

    Figure 15.

    George Howard, 9th Earl of Carlisle, William Morris, circa 1882–84. Pencil on paper, 20 × 20 cm. Castle Howard.

    Digital image courtesy of Castle Howard. (All rights reserved)

At their London home, Palace Green, Burne-Jones executed a frieze for the Dining Room depicting the story of Cupid and Psyche; and his late great masterpiece, The Sleep of Arthur in Avalon, began life as a Howard commission, for the library at Naworth Castle, until Burne-Jones asked to be released from the commission. Today this huge masterpiece is in the Museum of Art, Ponce, Puerto Rico.26

The death of the 9th Earl in 1911, and that of the Countess in 1921, marked the end of the collections in many ways. During their lifetime they began selling pictures or giving them to members of the family or galleries. Some eighty-five pictures were sold or given away by the couple between 1890 and the death of the Countess. These included Velázquez’s Don Baltazar Carlos and his Dwarf, now in the Museum of Fine Art, Boston, and Titian’s Portrait of George Cornaro, now in the Joslyn Art Musuem, Omaha, Nebraska, both sold in 1900. Velázquez’s Portrait of a Moor said to be Juan Pareja, sold a year later, is now in the collection of the Hispanic Society of America in New York. In 1909 Van Dyck’s portrait of Snyders was sold to Colnaghi and two years later the greatest Flemish picture in the collection, The Adoration of the Magi by Jan Gossaert, was sold to the National Gallery, London.27

The depletions continued in the twentieth century with Geoffrey Howard (a younger son of the 9th Earl who inherited Castle Howard) selling a number of pictures including three large Canaletto vedute to America in the 1930s.28 Approximately ninety paintings were lost in the two fires of 1932 and 1940, including seven landscapes by Salvator Rosa and Clouet’s portrait Catherine de Medici and her Family; and a further 161 pictures were auctioned at Christie’s in 1944, including the rump of the Venetian view collection.29 More recently there have been a handful of headline-making sales, including masterpieces by Guercino and Gentileschi in 1995, a drawing by Michelangelo in 2001 and Reynolds’s portrait of Omai, sold in the same year. In 2015 further items were sold at auction including a Bellotto view of Venice and Ferdinand Bol’s Portrait of a Boy said to be his Son.30

The rise and fall of country house collections is a common and familiar story. Few houses have escaped dispersals over the past century or so and Castle Howard is no exception. In many cases the afterlife of individual pictures is easy to follow as they pass through sale rooms or into public museums and galleries. Periodically there is regret, as well as outcry, when pictures disappear overseas but this was a trend already apparent before the end of the nineteenth century, as national institutions were unable to match the deep pockets of buyers from the USA or elsewhere; thus it is no surprise to find many pictures formerly at Castle Howard in American institutions today.31

For more than a century mechanisms have been in place to try to stem this flight of art treasures: today the Export Review Panel endeavours to buy time for national bodies or consortia to match the sale price of an item and give it a home in the UK. The acceptance-in-lieu scheme, approved by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, enables tax liabilities to be offset against pre-eminent works of art that can find a new home in a public gallery or museum; and the in situ arrangement means that certain works can remain in their place of origin such is their indissoluble cultural connection with the building in question. This arrangement has had a beneficial effect on the collections at Castle Howard with three in lieu, in situ agreements since 2003, which have seen the collection of antiquities and Reynolds’s portrait of the 5th Earl transferred to the nation but remaining at Castle Howard. There are some who view these schemes as mere tax dodges but they are proven vehicles for keeping art works in the country and on public view. One need only compare the afterlife of Reynolds’s Omai (see Martin Postle, ‘Frederick Howard, 5th Earl of Carlisle’, fig. 13) since it was sold in 2001 with that of its long-time counterpart at Castle Howard, the portrait of the 5th Earl. Now in private ownership, Omai has, with occasional exceptions, largely disappeared from public view, whereas the 5th Earl was transferred to the ownership of Tate Britain. In 2018 the portrait journeyed from Castle Howard to the conservation studios at the Tate before going on display in the gallery; it has since returned to Yorkshire to hang in the house as it has done since it was commissioned in 1768.32

This example of visible and invisible lives of works of art also goes to the heart of the meaning of collections such as those at Castle Howard today. The country houses of Britain have always welcomed visitors: in the past they may have been a select few who came armed with letters of introduction and the correct social credentials. But country house visiting has pursued a more demotic trajectory ever since the dawn of the railway age, which saw the rise of excursion trains and visits by larger groups spread across a wider social demographic. The game-changer for most houses has been the birth of the heritage industry in the years after the Second World War, when a handful of pioneering owners, George Howard of Castle Howard among them, opened their doors to the wider public, thereby creating a recreational pastime that endures to this day (fig. 16).33 Of the millions of visitors who visit country houses today the majority may not come with the same expectations as their historical predecessors – indeed few consciously have an art historical agenda; nevertheless they still experience a wealth of art on the walls and throughout the interiors, as well as a host of other things that make their visit enjoyable and informative. Art treasures in country houses have, in effect, passed into a form of public ownership, especially when inheritance tax exemption obliges owners to display them for a minimum number of days each year. The pictures on the walls are the same as they were when viewed in previous centuries but their audiences have changed, as have modes of comprehension and levels of expectation.

Photograph. Castle Howard.

Figure 16.
George Howard, grandson of the 9th Earl of Carlisle, introducing Castle Howard to members of the York Georgian Society in 1953, Photograph. Castle Howard.

Digital image courtesy of Castle Howard. (All rights reserved)


  • Head and shoulders portrait of Christopher Ridgway

    Christopher Ridgway has been curator at Castle Howard since 1984. He is Chair of the Yorkshire Country House Partnership, and Professor in the Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates. Christopher has lectured extensively on the history of the Country House and is the author, with Terence Dooley, of The Irish Country House. Its Past, Present and Future (Dublin: Four Courts, 2011).


  1. The phrase ‘Gathered by Amateurs’ comes from the five-part survey of the Castle Howard collections in The Athenaeum, ‘The Private Collections of England’, vol. 25, no. 2551, 16 September 1876, p. 375; for the other four parts see vols 26–9, nos 2552–4, 2557, 23 and 30 September, 7 and 28 October 1876.

  2. Charles Saumarez Smith, The Building of Castle Howard, London: Faber and Faber, 1988. The standard volumes on the history of the house its architecture and landscape, in chronological order are H. Avray Tipping and Christopher Hussey, English Homes, Period IV, vol. 2: The Work of Sir John Vanbrugh and his School, 1699–1736, London: Country Life, 1927; Geoffrey Webb, ed., The Complete Works of Sir John Vanbrugh, vol. 4: The Letters, London: Nonesuch Press, 1928, and Webb, ‘The Letters and Drawings of Nicholas Hawksmoor Relating to the Building of the Mausoleum at Castle Howard’, Walpole Society, 19 (1930–31), pp. 111–64 and pls xviii–xxiv; Laurence Whistler, The Imagination of Vanbrugh and his Fellow Artists, London: Art & Technics and B. T. Batsford, 1954; Kerry Downes, Hawksmoor, London: A. Zwemmer, 1959; Downes, English Baroque Architecture, London: A. Zwemmer, 1966, Downes, Vanbrugh, London: A. Zwemmer, 1977; Downes, Sir John Vanbrugh: A Biography, London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1987; Christopher Hussey, English Gardens and Landscapes 1700–1750, London: Country Life, 1967; Giles Worsley, ‘A Palladian Loose at Castle Howard: Sir Thomas Robinson and the West Wing’, Country Life, 30 January 1986, pp. 274–6, and his Classical Architecture in Britain: The Heroic Age, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995; Christopher Ridgway and Robert Williams, eds, Sir John Vanbrugh and Landscape Architecture in Baroque England, 1690–1730, Stroud: Sutton, 2000; Vaughan Hart, Nicholas Hawksmoor: Rebuilding Ancient Wonders, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2002; Hart, Sir John Vanbrugh, Storyteller in Stone, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2008; Owen Hopkins, From the Shadows: The Architecture and Afterlife of Nicholas Hawksmoor, London: Reaktion, 2015; Sally Jeffery, ‘Hawksmoor’s Vision of Wray Wood, Castle Howard’, Architectural History, no. 61 (2018), pp. 37–72. More comprehensive bibliographies for Castle Howard can be found on either the Castle Howard website or the resources pages of the Yorkshire Country House Partnership website,

  3. For the building history of Castle Howard see Saumarez Smith 1988. The construction work is recorded in the building accounts and household books, Castle Howard Archives (hereafter CHA), G2/1-2, G3, H1/2-5. The first two volumes of Vitruvius Britannicus appeared in 1715 with six engravings of the house; the third volume appeared in 1725 with the single bird’s-eye view. For the history of Campbell’s publishing venture see Eileen Harris, British Architectural Books and Writers, 1556–1785, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990, pp. 139–48.

  4. Charles Howard, 3rd Earl of Carlisle, ‘Total disburs’d in my Buildings Gardens, plantations & outworks to mid: 1737, £78,240–02–01’, CHA, J8/5/3.

  5. For Pellegrini’s work see George Knox, Antonio Pellegrini 1675–1741, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995, pp. 63–73.

  6. For Marco Ricci’s work at Castle Howard see Dario Succi and Annalia Delneri, Marco Ricci e il paesaggio Veneto del Settecento, Milan: Electa, 1993, pp. 190–203.

  7. For the early interiors of Castle Howard see Saumarez Smith 1988, ch. 4, and also John Cornforth, ‘Castle Howard, Yorkshire’, Country Life (4 June 1992), pp. 74–7, discussing tapestry hangings; see also Edith A. Standen, ‘English Tapestries “After the Indian Manner”’, Metropolitan Museum Journal, vol. 15 (1980), pp. 119–42, and H. C. Marillier, Handbook to the Teniers Tapestries, London: Oxford University Press, 1932, pp. 103–10.

  8. Queen Anne chairs attributed by Sotheby’s to James Moore.

  9. For the building of the Mausoleum, see Saumarez Smith 1988, ch. 6; Downes, Hawksmoor, pp. 217–31, and Hart 2002, pp. 233–42. See also Geoffrey Webb, ‘The Letters and Drawings of Nicholas Hawksmoor relating to the building of the Mausoleum at Castle Howard, 1726–74’, Walpole Society, vol. 19 (1930–31), pp. 111–62.

  10. For the building of the west wing see CHA, G3/1, Building Accounts, G3/3 Bills and receipts for the new wing work 1759–1760. Also Worsley 1986, pp. 274-76, and the earlier account in Tipping and Hussey, 1927. The 4th Earl’s regret over the wing is recorded in ‘Reminiscences of the 4th Earl of Carlisle’, CHA, J65/3, p. 63.

  11. Charles Beddington, Canaletto in England, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2006, pp. 38–9. See also the correspondence between the Venetian dealer and artist Antonio Maria Zanetti and Carlisle; on 3 June 1740 Zanetti wrote recommending Marieschi as a younger contemporary of Canaletto, CHA, J9/11/1835; Carlisle’s purchase of 18 vedute by Marieschi is recorded in CHA, J14/31/2. For Marieschi’s work see Dario Succi, Marieschi: Opera completa, Treviso: Zel Edizioni, 2016, pp. 28–51 and individual picture entries.

  12. Bill for pictures, jewellery and statuary purchased in Rome of Thomas Jenkins, 4 July 1768, CHA, J14/28/1.

  13. Frederick Howard, 5th Earl of Carlisle, ‘Catalogue of pictures etc. bought at Rome by myself’, c.1770, CHA, J14/30/1; as well as the ‘Catalogue of paintings, bronzes, marbles and statuary’, c.1790, J14/30/2. In 1805 he oversaw the Descriptive Catalogue of the Pictures at Castle Howard, Malton: printed by G. Sagg, 1805, repr. 1814, 1821 and 1845.

  14. For Reynolds and Carlisle see David Mannings and Martin Postle, Sir Joshua Reynolds: A Complete Catalogue of his Paintings, 2 vols, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000, vol. 1, pp. 265–7, nos 942–8; and for Omai, p. 357, nos 1362–3. For the sale particulars for Omai see Sotheby’s, Important British and Irish Pictures, London, 29 November 2001, lot 12.

  15. Reynolds bought Girl with Pigs from Gainsborough in 1782 but it was then sold to Charles de Calonne in c.1789. At the Calonne sale, Skinner & Dyke, 23–8 March 1795, it appeared on the 4th day, lot 85, but was bought in and sold privately shortly afterwards to Carlisle through Michael Bryan, reputedly for 180 guineas; Ellis Waterhouse, Gainsborough, London: Edward Hulton, 1958, p. 103, no. 799, citing The Athenaeum, no. 2557 (28 October 1876), p. 566.

  16. Gainsborough’s Housemaid was given to the National Gallery by the 9th Countess of Carlisle in 1913, CHA, J22/78; see also Hugh Belsey, Gainsborough’s Beautiful Mrs Graham, Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland, 1999, pp. 54–5.

  17. Marlow painted four views of Castle Howard in 1772 and de Cort two views c.1800; John Harris, The Artist and the Country House, from the Fifteenth Century to the Present Day, exh. cat., London: Sotheby’s, 1995, nos 77, 78 and 92. Elizabeth Hervey, visiting Castle Howard on 30 September 1799, recorded being shown round by de Cort; Staffordshire Record Office, MS D6584/C89, Journal 35 (15 September–26 December 1799).

  18. For the Orleans sale see CHA, J14/27/1-18 and also Gerard Reitlinger, The Economics of Taste: The Rise and Fall of Picture Prices 1760–1960, London: Barrie & Rockliff, 1961, pp. 26–38; Jordana Pomeroy, ‘The Orleans Collection arrives in Britain’, in Inge Reist, ed., British Models of Art Collecting and the American Response: Reflections across the Pond, London: Routledge, 2017, pp. 47–60; Vanessa I. Smid and Julia I. Armstrong Totten, eds, The Orleans Collection, New Orleans: Giles, 2018. Carlisle’s share of the Orleans collection comprised: Bassano, An Old Woman said to be his Wife (Castle Howard); Bellini, Circumcision (National Gallery, London), Girolamo Bedoli, Two Kneeling Princes (Castle Howard); Annibale Carracci, The Dead Christ Mourned, also known as The Three Maries (National Gallery, London); Les Bateliers and La Chasse au Vol (private collection, on loan to National Gallery of Scotland); Self-Portrait (Castle Howard); Ludovico Carracci, The Entombment (sold 1944, whereabouts unknown); Domenichino, St John the Evangelist (Bob Jones University, South Carolina); Gentileschi, The Finding of Moses (private collection); Saraceni, The Death of the Virgin (given to Ampleforth College in 1890); Titian, Self-Portrait (given to Lady Dorothy Henley, née Howard, in 1923); Titian, A Warrior and his Page (Castle Howard). A number of these were assembled in the Green Drawing Room, which became known as the Orleans Room, depicted in the watercolour view of July 1832 by Mary Ellen Best; see Caroline Davidson, The World of Mary Ellen Best, London: Chatto & Windus, 1985, p. 36. The picture arrangement is also corroborated by a contemporary house inventory.

  19. For Tatham’s work at Castle Howard, see CHA, G5, as well as his published prospectus, The Gallery at Castle Howard, Yorkshire, London, 1811.

  20. Receipt from Nollekens, CHA, J14/28/16.

  21. While in Ireland as Viceroy from 1855 to 1864 the 7th Earl acquired a number of topographical views in watercolour; his biggest single purchase was in 1850 when, prior to the visit of Victoria and Albert, he purchased Poussin’s Triumph of Bacchus at Christie’s Ashburnham sale, 20 July 1850, lot 63, for £1160. The painting was sold in 1931 and is presently in the Nelson Atkins Museum, Kansas City. The 8th Earl spent much of his life in Ticehurst Asylum in Sussex and his role as a collector is negligible.

  22. For the 9th Earl and Countess see Virginia Surtees, The Artist and the Autocrat, London: Michael Russell, 1988, and Christopher Ridgway, ‘A Privileged Insider: George Howard and Edward-Burne Jones’, The British Art Journal, vol. 3, no. 3 (Autumn 2002), pp. 4–18.

  23. For the refurbishment of the Castle Howard chapel see CHA, G6.

  24. Rosalind’s purchase of the screen is recorded in her account book for 1887, as are her copious purchases from Morris and Co. over a number of years; CHA, J23/105.

  25. For papers relating to Costa see CHA, J22/34-36, and also Giuliana Pieri, ‘Giovanni Costa and George Howard: Art, Patronage, and Friendship’, Walpole Society, vol. 76 (2014), pp. 289–432.

  26. For the Palace Green decorations see The Studio, vol. 15 (1899), pp. 3–13; Ridgway 2002, pp. 9–12; and Stephen Wildman and John Christian, Edward Burne-Jones, Victorian Artist-Dreamer, New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998, pp. 119–28. The story of Burne-Jones’s last great commission is told in Alison Smith, The Sleep of Arthur in Avalon, London: Tate Publishing, 2008.

  27. For papers relating to sales and bequests see CHA, J22/73-75, J22/102-103 which includes the Gossaert sale; also J23/133, J23/101/4 for Rosalind Howard’s bequest to the National Gallery. For the Van Dyck portrait of Snyders see Susan Barnes et al., eds, Van Dyck: A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2004, pp. 100–02, no. I.106. For Gossaert, see the entry in Lorne Campbell, The Sixteenth-Century Netherlandish Paintings with French Paintings before 1600, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2 vols., 2014, NG 2790, pp. 352-83.

  28. These three Canaletto views were the Bacino di San Marco now in the Museum of Fine Art, Boston; Entrance to the Grand Canal from the west end of the Molo and Piazza San Marco looking south east, both now in the National Gallery, Washington DC. See Katherine Baetjer and J. G. Links, Canaletto, New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989, pp. 192–6.

  29. Christie, Manson & Woods Ltd, Catalogue of Pictures by Old Masters from the Collection at Castle Howard, London, 18 February 1944, lots 1–110.

  30. Guercino’s Tancred and Erminia is now in the National Gallery of Scotland; see Gervase Jackson Stops, ed., The Treasure Houses of Britain: Five Hundred Years of Private Patronage and Art Collecting, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1985, pp. 348–9, no. 275. Gentileschi’s Finding of Moses was sold at Sotheby’s, Old Master Paintings, London, 6 December 1995, lot 61A, now in a private collection. The Michelangelo drawing was sold at Sotheby’s, Old Master Drawings, London, 11 July 2001, lot 81 (whereabouts unknown); for the sale of Omai in 2001 see n.14 above. The most recent sales have been Sotheby’s, Old Master Paintings, lots 7, 11, 21, 52, and Treasures, lots 16–20, both London, 8 July 2015.

  31. The term ‘outcry’ comes from Henry James’s novel The Outcry (1911), written in response to the crisis occasioned by the Duke of Norfolk’s decision to sell his Holbein portrait Christina of Denmark, the Duchess of Milan. See Adeline Turner, ‘Henry James’s The Outcry and the Art Drain of 1908–09’, Apollo, no. 113 (February 1981), pp. 110–12; Richard Verdi, Saved! 100 Years of the National Art Collections Fund, London: Hayward Gallery and Scala, 2003, pp. 92–7; Jordanna Bailkin, The Culture of Property: The Crisis of Liberalism in Modern Britain, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2004, pp. 118–58; and Ross Finnochio, ‘The One That Got Away: Holbein’s Christina of Denmark and British Portraits in the Frick Collection’, in Reist 2017, pp. 181–94.

  32. The Irish owner John Magnier was denied an export licence, although Omai was granted permission to go on display temporarily in Dublin before returning to the UK; in 2018 the portrait was shown at the Rijksmuseum in its High Society exhibition but has since returned to store in the UK; Martin Bailey, The Art Newspaper, 25 February 2018,, accessed 12 August 2019.

  33. For a history of country house visiting see Jocelyn Anderson, Touring and Publicizing England’s Country Houses in the Long Eighteenth Century, New York and London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018; also Peter Mandler, The Fall and Rise of the Stately Home, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1997; and Christopher Ridgway, ‘Making and Meaning in the Country House: New Perspectives in England, Ireland and Scotland’, in Terence Dooley and Christopher Ridgway, eds, The Irish Country House: Its Past, Present and Future, Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2011, pp. 203–43.



by Christopher Ridgway
20 November 2020
House Essay
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Christopher Ridgway, "Castle Howard Introduction", Art and the Country House,