If you are looking for something interesting to liven up your walls and you have a penchant for Bristol then a recent auction lot might take your fancy. A portrait is shortly to be sold by Lawrences in Crewkerne, Somerset that has a strong connection with Kings Weston. The sitter is Philip Miles, who bought the estate in 1833 for the princely sum of £206,000; an extraordinary sum for the time. It will perhaps come as little surprise that Miles was Bristol’s wealthiest person and, when he died, the city’s first recorded millionaire.
When he bought Kings Weston he already owned the palatial Leigh Court on the other side of the Avon in Somerset, and had filled it full of famous Old Master paintings. For his own portrait he commissioned Sir Thomas Lawrence, the most famous portraitist of his time; this may not have just been purely for the prestige, but Lawrence was a Bristol-born artist who had made good in the capital.
The Miles’s founded their fortune as merchants, bankers, and ship owners, and owning plantations in the colonies. As might be expected for the period his business interests were heavily dependent on slavery right up to 1833, the year he bought kings Weston, and the Slavery Abolition Act. He was also MP for Bristol between 1835 and 1837.
The painting up for sale is likely to have been painted before Miles moved to Kings Weston, and it is not documented as having hung in the house, but it is an important record of a man who played an important role in the history of the city and the estate.
After Philip Miles’s death his family went to the foremost sculptor of the age to have his memorial carved. Again, perhaps not be coincidence, the artist, Edward Hodges Baily, was Bristol-born. It is known that the family were keen benefactors of the Bristol Arts scene and it is likely that their patronage of Bristol artists was intentional. The monument stands today, pale and magnificent, on the north wall of the tower of Abbots Leigh church; a pair of pensive figures stare up towards a draped classical urn bathed in carved stone rays of heavenly light.
The portrait of Philip Miles sells at Lawrence’s auction rooms on the 19th of January with an estimate of £4000-£6000. For further information, or perhaps even to make a bid, go here.