Tag Archives: painting

An image from the past: Shirehampton Park

Another artwork with Kings Weston Interest has come our way recently. The panoramic views across the waters of the Severn to the north were matched by the rolling landscape framing the Avon and its gorge to the south. Both proved popular locations for picturesque paintings throughout the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. The recently uncovered work shows the view up the Avon from Shirehampton Park, a spot much-favoured by artists. Here, the view across Horseshoe Bend was attractively framed by trees along the parkland edge. Distant views of Cook’s Folly, a tower with romantic associations, added distant intrigue to the scene.

The painting is likely to date from the 1830s, before the twin towers of the Clifton Suspension bridge rose to punctuate the skyline.  Our artist, whoever they might have been, has added a sentimental vignette as foreground interest. A young couple, the gent apparently an artist working on his own version of the same view, have been approached by a gentleman and his dog. It may be that, in his red tunic and walking stick, he is an old soldier begging for money, so adding a poignant human touch in the midst of such natural drama.

An elegant portrait of a Kings Weston lady 

An elegant portrait of a Kings Weston lady 

KWAG usually scans archives, libraries, auctions, and private collections in search of new pieces of the Kings Weston history jigsaw, but we recently came across something that had evaded our radar last year. Kings Weston house is already home to a majestic full-length portrait of Lady Elizabeth Cromwell, who married Edward Southwell in 1703. Edward, or Neddy, went on to rebuilt the mansion later that century, but his wife was at least his equal. Around the time of their marriage Lady Elizabeth – Betty to her friends and family – became the muse of Godfrey Kneller, one of the foremost portraitists of his age. Kneller made more paintings of Lady Elizabeth than any other sitter, about ten more-or less.

Reputedly he was obsessed by her and resented her marriage to Southwell, but continued to paint her subsequent to that union. In July 2022 a significant painting we’ve been unaware of went under the hammer at Sotheby’s. It depicted Lady Elizabeth in a fashionable pose, as shepherdess seated in a landscape, holding a floral garland, a lamb by her side. We’ve not yet worked to establish whether it was one of those that hung at Kings Weston, the Southwell’s London house, or elsewhere. With an estimate of £20,000-£18,000 it’s perhaps best we missed the sale!  

A Regency Fancy 

Another painting recently came to auction that’s of Kings Weston interest; it’s a watercolour of the house and park from Penpole Point. It’s a view that’s already familiar to us through one of the most widely published and most attractive prints of the park in the early 19th Century. The artist was the impressively named Anthony Vandyke Copley Fielding (1787-1855) who visited Kings Weston in 1816. It’s not clear whether it was intentionally painted as part of a larger project, but reproduced it found its way into a Series of Picturesque Views of Noblemen’s and Gentlemen’s Seats seven years later.

the original watercolour showing the view of Kings Weston house from Penpole Point. 1816, Anthony Vandyke Copley Fielding (1787-1855). 
One version of the print copied from the original painting. 

A Shirehampton Park Painting

A fantastic painting of the estate has just come to our attention. Kings Weston was once famous for its views, not just northwards across the Severn to Wales, but also to broad panoramas southwards up the Avon and across to Somerset. This newly discovered painting supposedly dates to around 1836, a time of great uncertainty for the house and estate. Edward Southwell, 21st Baron de Clifford (1767-1832), last in his line had died in 1832. His will instructed the sale of house and park, effects and furniture, and all the landed estate, with the proceeds being split between several nieces. His widow was required to give up living at the mansion, but had been well provided for with the splendid town  house in Carlton Terrace in the centre of London.

Above: Henry Willis’s painting showing the view across Shirehampton Park, towards the Avon, circa 1836. 

The following year the house and estate was marketed by estate agents; they described the park as “forming a most desirable situation for the erection of one or more villas.” Looking at the view depicted you can see the attraction to a potential developer who might be tempted to pepper the landscaped grounds with mansions for well-heeled merchants. By good fortune the estate was instead purchased by the incredibly wealth Philip Miles and preserved intact. By 1836, the suggested date for the painting, Miles was settling in having moved here from Leigh Court with his second wife and their children.  

The artist, Henry Willis, has chosen to emphasise the pastoral character of the view from Shirehampton Park, towards the Avon in the distance. A small group of agricultural workers have paused a while to chat as cattle amble through the landscaped ground behind them.  Beyond them a steam tug assists a sailing vessel up the Avon towards the city docks. The  contrasting of verdant trees with the dying elm and felled trunk in the foreground suggest themes of the passage of time and the circle of life.

The valuation and marketing prospectus for the estate from 1834

Willis was an artist associated with the Bristol School of Artists, and was a member of sketching parties with members of that group until his departure for the United States in 1842 until his health forced his return to England.  These artists, part of the Romantic Movement, often celebrated the natural beauty of the Bristol region. The Gorge was a particular favourite location, but paintings around Kings Weston are rarer from this group. It’s interesting to note that in 1829 Lord de Clifford had paid Willis the sum of £8 8s for a painting of Kings Weston, and out paid a further £2 10s on a frame.  There’s a remote possibility that it could have been this painting, but possibly there are others out there for us to discover.

Painted from Penpole – a new discovery  

A recent new acquisition is this watercolour painting of Kings Weston house framed by the trees and lodge at Penpole Point. The gates separating the common land on the Point from the private woodland walls is firmly shut and the top of the lodge is almost enveloped in ivy. The sun makes the golden stone of both buildings glow in the early autumn light. This was once a well-known view of the house, being the subject of several other known paintings, but inclusion of the lodge in the view as well is unusual. The view to the house must have been obscured by trees not long after this painting was created as we have no later image from this perspective.

It’s an important find for a couple of reasons; first it was painted by a well-known local artist, Thomas Leeson Rowbotham (1782–1853), whose paintings form a major component of the city museum’s Braikenridge collection. Most of these date to the 1820s and were commissioned to record historic buildings and monuments in the city, though the Kings Weston painting falls outside of that collection. It’s also significant for its very precise date – September 21st 1848 – just a year short of 175 years, almost to the week. It’s a late work by Rowbotham, then aged 66, the artist surviving just five years longer after its completion.  

Kings Weston house and Penpole Lodge from the point, Thomas Leeson Rowbotham, 21st September 1848. 

Recently acquired painting of Shirehampton Park.

The golf course on Shirehampton Park often puts off potential visitors, but it remains an integral part of the historic landscape. This oil painting, “In Shirehampton Park”, recently surfaced showing the pastoral scene in the Edwardian Era. The Golf course began in 1904 and extended to eighteen holes in 1907. This painting shows the scene before the setting out of the course in the eastern side of the park, and illustrates the rolling pastures dotted with parkland trees which sadly have not survived later landscaping schemes.

The artist. CW Goodridge, was apparently an amateur, but anyone with further details of him or his work would be very welcome.

“In Shirehampton Park”, CW Goodridge, early Twentieth Century  

Memorials of Philip Miles

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.

Philip John Miles by Sir Thomas Lawrence, currently up for auction on the 19th Jan

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.

Philip Miles’s memorial in Abbots Leigh church, by E H Baily 

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.

A Delve into the Museum Stores

A recent visit to the back rooms of Bristol Museum and Art gallery has uncovered some interesting new finds. The museum holds an extensive collection of material on Kings Weston including paintings, prints, drawings, and artefacts. This particular visit was focussed on uncovering, and recording, some of the less well known images of the historic estate.

Above: The view from Kingsweston Hill, a watercolour from the late C18th by Samuel Jackson (BMAG K181). Below-right: Sunset from Kingsweston Hill, circa 1790,Nicholas Pocock (BMAG Mb1996)

pococke-sunsetThere are a number of memorable paintings in the collection, just a small number of which we share here. Most are from the estate at the height of its fame in the late Eighteenth century, with many by notable artists of the “Bristol School” such as Francis Danby, Samuel Jackson, and Nicholas Pocock.
Of special interest was a large portfolio of art etchings by the eminent artist Robert Charles Goff (1837-1922). Most of the dozens of etchings are little to do with Bristol, but are significant for their connection with the last members of the Miles family. The collection was gifted to the museum in 1936 by  Mrs Sybil Napier Miles, the wife of Philip Napier Miles the last private owner of the estate, and her sisters. Goff was their brother-in law, having married Sybil’s sister, Clarissa, in 1899.

Below: The Sentinels, Kings Weston, Robert Goff, 1907(BMAG Mb2555)
The Goff’s and the Miles’s were close and Robert and Clarissa were frequent visitors to both Kings Weston, and Napier Miles’s villa at Alassio in Italy. On Robert’s death in 1922 Clarissa came to live permanently with her sister and brother-in-law at Kings Weston, and presumably brought the artist’s portfolio of work with her.

Sadly for Sybil, both her husband and sister died in 1935 within weeks of each other, leaving her with a huge estate and the contents of the house to manage alone. Evidently she sought to ensure that Goff’s artworks were kept together as a single archive and, in memory of her sister, donated then to Bristol Museum and Art Gallery the following year. In this way the provenance of the works can be directly connected back to the artist’s ownership.

Amongst Goff’s works in Bristol museum are two etchings of Kings Weston. One, of 1907 we have discovered before and our Tree Trail guide sports a low resolution version of it, and the other completely new to us. This second view is taken from the Shirehampton Park side of the estate, where the parkland drops steeply down to Horseshoe Bend of the River Avon. It is a particularly pleasing composition with the once-famous pine trees framing glimpsed views back upstream to the Avon Gorge. This scene has sadly succumbed to the ravages of time and the Portway Road now passes through this very area.

In due course copies of all the artworks recorded will be uploaded to KWAG’s website to accompany the galleries of historic views.

Below: The Avon below Kings Weston, Robert Goff, drypoint etching. (BMAG Mb2552)