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Wednesday Moodboard: Portraits at Kenwood

When I was a small child my father, who was an artist, used to take me to see art on Sundays. Kenwood House was a favourite as it was so handy –  and I will back among the familiar faces of those times to celebrate the ...

When I was a small child my father, who was an artist, used to take me to see art on Sundays. Kenwood House was a favourite as it was so handy –  and I will back among the familiar faces of those times to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the founding of Prickett & Ellis. The mood board this week is dedicated to my colleagues to give them a little heads up as to who will be looking down at them while we party.

The Brummell Children by Joshua Reynolds 1781/2
This charming double portrait is of brothers whose father, William Brummell, was the brother of the famous dandy, ‘Beau’ Brummel. The family had done very well, in just a couple of generations – William’s grandfather had been a servant in a large household. Reynolds was a friend and the portrait, shown at the Royal Academy, would have been good PR for the family.
William Murray 1st Earl of Mansfield by Jean-Baptiste van Loo & John Giles Eccardt
Now, here’s the man who started all the good taste at Kenwood -Murray was a senior judge who did much towards the abolition of slavery by his judgements, the most famous being that of the slave ship Zong from which 132 men, women and children were thrown overboard, and drowned, so that the owners could claim compensation. The case outraged much of the public. The insurers’ demanded compensation for the lost ‘cargo’. Abolitionist Olaudah Equiano notified Granville Sharp who took the case to Lord Mansfield. Mansfield branded it “shocking”. After originally awarding the insurers £300, he decided a human being could not be insured and called for a retrial. The slavers and insurers withdrew their case, and from then on no one could insure enslaved people, once again leading to a re-examination of this ‘odious’ trade.
Mary, Countess Howe by  Thomas Gainsborough c.1764
This lady always fascinated me – she is very striking, beautiful and confident. Apparently Gainsborough was rather taken with her too and took a lot of trouble to paint her clothes and jewellery with great brio (he didn’t bother much with her husband’s portrait done at the same time). Some saucy commentators think the short broken branch on the tree is a sign of his personal admiration.
The Guitar Player – The Guitar Player by Jan Vermeer 1672
Vermeer is known for his domestic interiors filled with a mysterious diffused light. I liked the scene and was told that this is a great masterpiece –  but secretly thought the girl looked a bit goofy and somewhat bald – but what do children know?
Pieter van den Broecke by Frans Hals
Here’s a man with a lived-in face who has seen a thing or two but still has a good sense of humour. Pieter was a Dutch cloth merchant working for the East India Company. He basically got up to all sorts in Africa and the beyond – in 1611 he brought in a cargo of 65,000 pounds of ivory to Amsterdam from a captured Portuguese ship. In 1614 he visited Mocha  and drank “something hot and black, a coffee”, obtaining some of the closely guarded arabica coffee bushes in 1616 and taking them back to Amsterdam, where they began to thrive in the Amsterdam Botanical Garden. On his retirement he was honoured with a gold chain, which he wears in the portrait by his friend, the marvellous portrait painter Frans Hals.



 Self-Portrait  c.1665 by Rembrandt Van Rijn 
If there’s one painting you should spend some time with among the many very fine works in the collection at Kenwood it is this one.  This is what Jonathan Jones, writing in the Guardian had to say:

Rembrandt, at the age of about 59, looks at us from the depth of his years, and with the authority of his craft. He has portrayed himself holding his brushes, maulstic and palette, in front of two circles drawn on a wall. Why the circles? Do they represent a sketch for a map of the world? Or is Rembrandt alluding, with this drawing on a brown surface, to stories that say the first picture was a drawing made with a stick in sand?

His eyes contain so much knowledge and melancholy that even looking at this painting on a computer screen, I get the eerie feeling that Rembrandt is looking back and weighing up my failures. You can deduce the power of the original.

 He was a failure when he painted this, a proud man reduced to poverty by his enthusiastic spending – but here he throws it back on the his patrons from the commercial world.  Art is not a business; it is a struggle with eternity. Rembrandt stands not proudly or arrogantly, but in the full consciousness of the heroic nature of his work.
So there it is – my little taster of the portraits on show in this wonderful building. Pay them a visit – it is free to enter.
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