William Collingwood at Speke Hall

Given the terms “Speke Hall” and “nineteenth-century art”, the name of James McNeill Whistler immediately springs to mind. Yet, while he was probably the best-known, Whistler was not the only top-class painter, nor was he the earliest to be associated with the Hall.

A teacher at the Liverpool Academy, though originally London-based, the landscape artist William Collingwood (1819-1903) was with his Swiss-born wife at home for the birth of their son in August 1854. It is at about this time that he executed a set of seven or more watercolours of Speke Hall. Two of them are known – they are housed at the Hall – five others are not known at Speke and cannot be traced beyond their auction/sale dates in the nineteenth century. Were they a commission? Perhaps, but more than one were exhibited and sold soon after their execution, making this unlikely.

William Collingwood in 1864

I. The seven Collingwood paintings

1. The Reading Lesson

The Parlour – William Collingwood

Given the terms “Speke Hall” and “nineteenth-century art”, the name of James McNeill Whistler immediately springs to mind. Yet, while he was probably the best-known, Whistler was not the only top-class painter, nor was he the earliest to be associated with the Hall.

A teacher at the Liverpool Academy, though originally London-based, the landscape artist William Collingwood (1819-1903) was with his Swiss-born wife at home for the birth of their son in August 1854. It is at about this time that he executed a set of seven or more watercolours of Speke Hall. Two of them are known – they are housed at the Hall – five others are not known at Speke and cannot be traced beyond their auction/sale dates in the nineteenth century. Were they a commission? Perhaps, but more than one were exhibited and sold soon after their execution, making this unlikely.

William Collingwood in 1864

I. The seven Collingwood paintings

1. The Reading Lesson

This watercolour (NT 1196454) is currently hanging in the Morning Room. 30” wide × 22” tall, the picture is signed and dated 1854. It shows a scene in the Oak Parlour with, in a corner, an old man with a youth at a desk with a large open book. Other books are placed close by. A younger girl is kneeling on a window bench, apparently clambering up toward an open window. A dog is sprawled in the foreground, lying next to a large crossbow, perhaps an arbalest. The garb is mid-century Victorian. The title might seem a little odd, given that the reading lesson itself does not supply a significant portion of the entire composition. Dominating the centre of the picture is the fireplace and its ornate overmantel. There is not sufficient detail to pick out any of the genealogical details in the carving, and one is left wondering what the point of the picture really is. The overmantel may provide a clue from its genealogical content: are we witnessing the accumulated wisdom of years being passed down to later generations? And perhaps the date is significant? In 1854 the tenant of Speke Hall, and therefore William Collingwood’s host for these pictures, was the Liverpool merchant Joseph Brereton. It had been only five years since Brereton had had the decayed overmantel restored at his own expense, and he was pleased to show it off to visitors. One cannot help but wonder whether Collingwood composed this picture in order to tickle the vanity of his host? We have, in any case, a contemporary interior saved from being a mere architectural drawing by the insertion of an intimate human scene.

Provenance: The painting was purchased by National Trust volunteers and donated to The National Trust at Speke Hall in the 1990s. NT staff have been unable to provide further provenance or date of acquisition. My thanks to fellow volunteers for the information.

2. The Young Heir – Speke Hall

Collingwood exhibited this watercolour at the Royal Academy in 1855. It is dated 1854, signed, and measures 30” wide × 22” tall. With a date of 1854 and our knowledge of Speke Hall’s history, we might suppose that the subject, the ‘young heir’, is the late teenage Richard Watt V, who was to inherit the estate from his grandfather in 1855. This, however, while initially tempting, seems unlikely. There is no reason to believe that Collingwood knew the Yorkshire-resident Watt family, and he can only have been painting in the Hall as a guest of Joseph Brereton. Brereton maintained his lease until 1855, and the Watt family moved back in as late as 1856. A better probability is that Collingwood has painted an interior and inserted an imagined scene from the past, perhaps one of a Norris, inspired from the carvings of the overmantel. The Norris family complaint was, as we know, one of premature deaths and youthful heirs. We are fortunate in having a reported sighting of this picture in 1872, which tells us (with regrettable geography) that this picture of “Speke Hall—a seat near London—besides the fine study of a groined ceiling, has good atmosphere and difficult detail in perspective.” The setting will surely be the Oak Parlour once more.

Provenance:

Exhibited at the Royal Academy 1855; exhibited at the American Exhibition of British Art, 1858; seen in the collection of Samuel Bradford Fales (Philadelphia) in 1872; auctioned from the Fales Collection in 1881 where it made $345. Current location unknown. No image available.

3. A Morning Visitor at the Baron’s Gate, 16th Century – View of Speke Hall, Lancashire

Another watercolour from the set, and sent together with ‘The Young Heir’ to the 1858 exhibition of British Art at the Pennsylvania Academy. Nothing can be known of this picture until it is rediscovered and examined. The title suggests, once more, a contemporary interpretation of the Hall with an imagined scene from the past inserted.

Provenance:

Exhibited at the American Exhibition of British Art, 1858. Current location unknown. No image available.

4. Garden Gate

Not currently exhibited, this unframed picture (NT 1195965) is kept in the Picture Store at Speke Hall. It depicts a view through the gate from the Hall in the direction of the South Lawn. A woman and dog are framed in the archway, the woman dressed in Victorian mid-century attire. The same date of 1854 as the others seems probable.

Provenance:

Collingwood exhibited the picture at his farewell exhibition in Southport (closed 7 June 1884), where he sold off much of his personal collection before leaving Liverpool. It sold for £7. Subsequent provenance, including how and when it was obtained by the National Trust at Speke Hall, has been unavailable from NT staff and the picture has not been available for view.

5. The Gold Fish, a Corner at Speke Hall

Nothing is known of this picture apart from the name and Speke Hall has no ornamental pond. Collingwood was, however, not the only visitor to the Hall in 1854. A picture by William Davis may be of the same scene, the outer bay of the Great Hall, and so give us a clue about what Collingwood’s picture could look like.

Interior, Speke Hall – William Davis. Picture: Walker Art Gallery

What appears to be the same Fenton bowl is still present at Speke. Dating from about 1840, it was probably the property of Joseph Brereton, who may have abandoned it on his removal to Rodney Street in 1855.

Charles Mason, Fish Bowl. NT 1196361

Provenance:

Collingwood’s ‘The Gold Fish’ was sold at the 1856 exhibition at the Liverpool Academy of Arts for fifty guineas. Current location unknown. No image available.

6. Speke Hall, The Entrance

Nothing is known of this picture since its sale in 1884.

Provenance:

Collingwood exhibited the picture at his farewell exhibition in Southport (closed 7 June 1884), where he sold off much of his personal collection before leaving Liverpool. It sold for ten guineas. Current location unknown. No image available.

7. Bay Window in the Drawing Room at Speke Hall

This watercolour was seen in 1855 and so is probably a part of his set of 1854. The title does not appear to match any other Collingwood picture of Speke Hall. Its present whereabouts is unknown.

Provenance:

Shown at an exhibition of the Art Union of Glasgow in 1855 and sold for £45. Current location unknown. No image available.

8 velut. Speke Hall, near Liverpool

A painting by this name was won at the 1844 competition of the Royal Irish Art Union. Attributed by the reporter to W. Collingwood, it may well be identical with a picture of that name exhibited earlier the same year at the Exhibition of the Society of Painters in Water-Colours (Pall Mall, East) and attributed to W. Collingwood Smith by the reporter who had previously seen it in the artist’s studio. These two artists and also William G. Collingwood are sometimes confused. Its present whereabouts is unknown. I am assuming the two references to be to the same painting. The fuller attribution to W. Collingwood Smith seems to be better supported.

Provenance:

May 1844, Exhibition of the Society of Painters in Water-Colours (Pall-Mall, East) and seen earlier in the studio of W. Collingwood Smith; December 1844, won by William Connolly, 6 Richmond Place, Dublin at the competition of the Royal Irish Art Union with a stated value of £18. Current location unknown. No image available.
II. The Two Paintings Held at Speke Hall

From the above list of watercolours, two are known and held at Speke Hall. The others have been lost sight of since their nineteenth-century sales. It would be interesting to examine the missing pictures in order to gain a better idea of the condition and organisation of the Hall at the close of Joseph Brereton’s lease, and so they are invaluable historical documents.

The watercolours were all probably done over a short period in 1854. Joseph Brereton, his door always open to local artists, was coming to the end of his fifteen-year lease on Speke Hall. Living as an ageing bachelor, he had married when younger but, with no record since then of wife or family, one supposes he was widowed at an early age and never remarried. However, he is at least twice listed as being with “his family” on public occasions: the visit of the Lord Mayor of London and the visit to Liverpool of Prince Albert. This “family” is most likely to be his brother William Brereton’s daughter Jane and her children. Jane Brereton seems to have been so enamoured of her uncle’s home at Speke Hall that when she got married, she broke with tradition and chose to marry at Childwall instead of at the family church at Little Budworth in Cheshire. This surely must mean that the reception was held at Speke Hall. Her first children were born in Bombay, and leafy, cool Speke would have been a welcome respite for the married Jane Latham on return visits. She was certainly back in Britain in 1854, the date of our paintings, as her husband’s business required him to return to England.

“The Reading Lesson”

Unlike many of the paintings of Collingwood, who was no portraitist, the old man in the corner is sufficiently well defined that he has features which one might recognise were one to meet him: balding, a thin face, a pointed beard. And given the contemporary dress, this is plainly meant to be a particular person. Clues in the picture help us to identify him. In the forefront is a chair, surely antique even at the time of the picture. The chair is not a part of Speke Hall inventory and does not appear in any other image. It matches perfectly a chair described in a newspaper of the time:

Liverpool Mail, 9 October 1847, page 2

This can only be Joseph Brereton’s chair, his family heirloom, announcing his unashamed pedigree in front of the pedigree he has proudly had restored: the Norris overmantel. The small table by the chair is still in the Oak Parlour, but has been moved about four feet from its position of 1854. The arbalest and the dog may be meant to be indicative of Brereton’s passion for game shooting: he leased the shooting on the Speke estate throughout the 1830s, perhaps his only indulgence as he worked to pay off the burden of debt from his earlier bankruptcy.

Collingwood also gives us the 1854 position of the armorials in the window-lights. Some of these were moved to different positions during work done on the glazing in the 1860s.

No portrait, certainly, but at least a picture, it is quite likely that the old man in the corner is an image of Joseph Brereton. It may well be taken from life. The children can then be no other than those of Jane Latham, his niece. The lad receiving the lesson is the 7-year-old George Latham, and the girl attempting the window is one of George’s younger sisters. The image of Joseph Brereton is the closest that William Collingwood can give us, and it is the only representation that we have of this Speke Hall tenant.

“The Garden Gate”

The garb of the woman is Victorian mid-century bourgeois. The architecture could be from any period for some years before. However, supposing that this picture was created also around 1854, then we are limited as to who might have inspired the female image. The only candidate who we know of is Jane Latham, shown here on a balmy day, playing with one of her uncle’s dogs, perhaps while he is busy indoors teaching reading to George, George’s sister yearning for the sun by opening a window to the garden outside.

William Collingwood’s painting style is sometimes difficult to pin down. Often very architectural in the style of Nash, he will sometimes surprise us with a scene of intimacy, and is seldom to be taken only at face value.

III. A Final Note

As a teacher of art at the Liverpool Academy, William Collingwood met all of the regional artists of the time and even taught some of them. Among his pupils was A. W. Hunt (1830-1896). Collingwood’s religious beliefs kept him at a distance from the majority of his contemporaries, but he remained close to A. W. Hunt for the rest of his life. Hunt made the sketch given below of Speke Hall’s interior courtyard in 1847.

A. W. Hunt – Inner Courtyard, Speke Hall, 1847.
(Reproduced by permission of the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library)

Aged 17 in 1847, he was still a pupil at Liverpool Academy and, as an older scholar, would have had supervisory and teaching duties towards the younger ones. Here, a group of school-boys is being addressed by their (taller) master before entering (through the ‘old’ entrance) the Hall. They are looking at the inner bay of the Great Hall and presumably being told how to behave and what to look for once indoors. Hunt has braced himself against the sill of the eastern Compass Bay while sketching. They appear to be carrying equipment of some sort. It is probably, therefore, an art class on an outing. While no portrait, it is interesting to glimpse a moment in the routine life of their school-master, who here must surely be William Collingwood?

Angus Graham, Aigburth, June 2017

angus.graham@virgin.net

Given the terms “Speke Hall” and “nineteenth-century art”, the name of James McNeill Whistler immediately springs to mind. Yet, while he was probably the best-known, Whistler was not the only top-class painter, nor was he the earliest to be associated with the Hall.

A teacher at the Liverpool Academy, though originally London-based, the landscape artist William Collingwood (1819-1903) was with his Swiss-born wife at home for the birth of their son in August 1854. It is at about this time that he executed a set of seven or more watercolours of Speke Hall. Two of them are known – they are housed at the Hall – five others are not known at Speke and cannot be traced beyond their auction/sale dates in the nineteenth century. Were they a commission? Perhaps, but more than one were exhibited and sold soon after their execution, making this unlikely.

William Collingwood in 1864

I. The seven Collingwood paintings

1. The Reading Lesson

This watercolour (NT 1196454) is currently hanging in the Morning Room. 30” wide × 22” tall, the picture is signed and dated 1854. It shows a scene in the Oak Parlour with, in a corner, an old man with a youth at a desk with a large open book. Other books are placed close by. A younger girl is kneeling on a window bench, apparently clambering up toward an open window. A dog is sprawled in the foreground, lying next to a large crossbow, perhaps an arbalest. The garb is mid-century Victorian. The title might seem a little odd, given that the reading lesson itself does not supply a significant portion of the entire composition. Dominating the centre of the picture is the fireplace and its ornate overmantel. There is not sufficient detail to pick out any of the genealogical details in the carving, and one is left wondering what the point of the picture really is. The overmantel may provide a clue from its genealogical content: are we witnessing the accumulated wisdom of years being passed down to later generations? And perhaps the date is significant? In 1854 the tenant of Speke Hall, and therefore William Collingwood’s host for these pictures, was the Liverpool merchant Joseph Brereton. It had been only five years since Brereton had had the decayed overmantel restored at his own expense, and he was pleased to show it off to visitors. One cannot help but wonder whether Collingwood composed this picture in order to tickle the vanity of his host? We have, in any case, a contemporary interior saved from being a mere architectural drawing by the insertion of an intimate human scene.

Provenance: The painting was purchased by National Trust volunteers and donated to The National Trust at Speke Hall in the 1990s. NT staff have been unable to provide further provenance or date of acquisition. My thanks to fellow volunteers for the information.

2. The Young Heir – Speke Hall

Collingwood exhibited this watercolour at the Royal Academy in 1855. It is dated 1854, signed, and measures 30” wide × 22” tall. With a date of 1854 and our knowledge of Speke Hall’s history, we might suppose that the subject, the ‘young heir’, is the late teenage Richard Watt V, who was to inherit the estate from his grandfather in 1855. This, however, while initially tempting, seems unlikely. There is no reason to believe that Collingwood knew the Yorkshire-resident Watt family, and he can only have been painting in the Hall as a guest of Joseph Brereton. Brereton maintained his lease until 1855, and the Watt family moved back in as late as 1856. A better probability is that Collingwood has painted an interior and inserted an imagined scene from the past, perhaps one of a Norris, inspired from the carvings of the overmantel. The Norris family complaint was, as we know, one of premature deaths and youthful heirs. We are fortunate in having a reported sighting of this picture in 1872, which tells us (with regrettable geography) that this picture of “Speke Hall—a seat near London—besides the fine study of a groined ceiling, has good atmosphere and difficult detail in perspective.” The setting will surely be the Oak Parlour once more.

Provenance:

Exhibited at the Royal Academy 1855; exhibited at the American Exhibition of British Art, 1858; seen in the collection of Samuel Bradford Fales (Philadelphia) in 1872; auctioned from the Fales Collection in 1881 where it made $345. Current location unknown. No image available.

3. A Morning Visitor at the Baron’s Gate, 16th Century – View of Speke Hall, Lancashire

Another watercolour from the set, and sent together with ‘The Young Heir’ to the 1858 exhibition of British Art at the Pennsylvania Academy. Nothing can be known of this picture until it is rediscovered and examined. The title suggests, once more, a contemporary interpretation of the Hall with an imagined scene from the past inserted.

Provenance:

Exhibited at the American Exhibition of British Art, 1858. Current location unknown. No image available.

4. Garden Gate

Not currently exhibited, this unframed picture (NT 1195965) is kept in the Picture Store at Speke Hall. It depicts a view through the gate from the Hall in the direction of the South Lawn. A woman and dog are framed in the archway, the woman dressed in Victorian mid-century attire. The same date of 1854 as the others seems probable.

Provenance:

Collingwood exhibited the picture at his farewell exhibition in Southport (closed 7 June 1884), where he sold off much of his personal collection before leaving Liverpool. It sold for £7. Subsequent provenance, including how and when it was obtained by the National Trust at Speke Hall, has been unavailable from NT staff and the picture has not been available for view.

5. The Gold Fish, a Corner at Speke Hall

Nothing is known of this picture apart from the name and Speke Hall has no ornamental pond. Collingwood was, however, not the only visitor to the Hall in 1854. A picture by William Davis may be of the same scene, the outer bay of the Great Hall, and so give us a clue about what Collingwood’s picture could look like.

Interior, Speke Hall – William Davis. Picture: Walker Art Gallery

What appears to be the same Fenton bowl is still present at Speke. Dating from about 1840, it was probably the property of Joseph Brereton, who may have abandoned it on his removal to Rodney Street in 1855.

Charles Mason, Fish Bowl. NT 1196361

Provenance:

Collingwood’s ‘The Gold Fish’ was sold at the 1856 exhibition at the Liverpool Academy of Arts for fifty guineas. Current location unknown. No image available.

6. Speke Hall, The Entrance

Nothing is known of this picture since its sale in 1884.

Provenance:

Collingwood exhibited the picture at his farewell exhibition in Southport (closed 7 June 1884), where he sold off much of his personal collection before leaving Liverpool. It sold for ten guineas. Current location unknown. No image available.

7. Bay Window in the Drawing Room at Speke Hall

This watercolour was seen in 1855 and so is probably a part of his set of 1854. The title does not appear to match any other Collingwood picture of Speke Hall. Its present whereabouts is unknown.

Provenance:

Shown at an exhibition of the Art Union of Glasgow in 1855 and sold for £45. Current location unknown. No image available.

8 velut. Speke Hall, near Liverpool

A painting by this name was won at the 1844 competition of the Royal Irish Art Union. Attributed by the reporter to W. Collingwood, it may well be identical with a picture of that name exhibited earlier the same year at the Exhibition of the Society of Painters in Water-Colours (Pall Mall, East) and attributed to W. Collingwood Smith by the reporter who had previously seen it in the artist’s studio. These two artists and also William G. Collingwood are sometimes confused. Its present whereabouts is unknown. I am assuming the two references to be to the same painting. The fuller attribution to W. Collingwood Smith seems to be better supported.

Provenance:

May 1844, Exhibition of the Society of Painters in Water-Colours (Pall-Mall, East) and seen earlier in the studio of W. Collingwood Smith; December 1844, won by William Connolly, 6 Richmond Place, Dublin at the competition of the Royal Irish Art Union with a stated value of £18. Current location unknown. No image available.
II. The Two Paintings Held at Speke Hall

From the above list of watercolours, two are known and held at Speke Hall. The others have been lost sight of since their nineteenth-century sales. It would be interesting to examine the missing pictures in order to gain a better idea of the condition and organisation of the Hall at the close of Joseph Brereton’s lease, and so they are invaluable historical documents.

The watercolours were all probably done over a short period in 1854. Joseph Brereton, his door always open to local artists, was coming to the end of his fifteen-year lease on Speke Hall. Living as an ageing bachelor, he had married when younger but, with no record since then of wife or family, one supposes he was widowed at an early age and never remarried. However, he is at least twice listed as being with “his family” on public occasions: the visit of the Lord Mayor of London and the visit to Liverpool of Prince Albert. This “family” is most likely to be his brother William Brereton’s daughter Jane and her children. Jane Brereton seems to have been so enamoured of her uncle’s home at Speke Hall that when she got married, she broke with tradition and chose to marry at Childwall instead of at the family church at Little Budworth in Cheshire. This surely must mean that the reception was held at Speke Hall. Her first children were born in Bombay, and leafy, cool Speke would have been a welcome respite for the married Jane Latham on return visits. She was certainly back in Britain in 1854, the date of our paintings, as her husband’s business required him to return to England.

“The Reading Lesson”

Unlike many of the paintings of Collingwood, who was no portraitist, the old man in the corner is sufficiently well defined that he has features which one might recognise were one to meet him: balding, a thin face, a pointed beard. And given the contemporary dress, this is plainly meant to be a particular person. Clues in the picture help us to identify him. In the forefront is a chair, surely antique even at the time of the picture. The chair is not a part of Speke Hall inventory and does not appear in any other image. It matches perfectly a chair described in a newspaper of the time:

Liverpool Mail, 9 October 1847, page 2

This can only be Joseph Brereton’s chair, his family heirloom, announcing his unashamed pedigree in front of the pedigree he has proudly had restored: the Norris overmantel. The small table by the chair is still in the Oak Parlour, but has been moved about four feet from its position of 1854. The arbalest and the dog may be meant to be indicative of Brereton’s passion for game shooting: he leased the shooting on the Speke estate throughout the 1830s, perhaps his only indulgence as he worked to pay off the burden of debt from his earlier bankruptcy.

Collingwood also gives us the 1854 position of the armorials in the window-lights. Some of these were moved to different positions during work done on the glazing in the 1860s.

No portrait, certainly, but at least a picture, it is quite likely that the old man in the corner is an image of Joseph Brereton. It may well be taken from life. The children can then be no other than those of Jane Latham, his niece. The lad receiving the lesson is the 7-year-old George Latham, and the girl attempting the window is one of George’s younger sisters. The image of Joseph Brereton is the closest that William Collingwood can give us, and it is the only representation that we have of this Speke Hall tenant.

“The Garden Gate”

The garb of the woman is Victorian mid-century bourgeois. The architecture could be from any period for some years before. However, supposing that this picture was created also around 1854, then we are limited as to who might have inspired the female image. The only candidate who we know of is Jane Latham, shown here on a balmy day, playing with one of her uncle’s dogs, perhaps while he is busy indoors teaching reading to George, George’s sister yearning for the sun by opening a window to the garden outside.

William Collingwood’s painting style is sometimes difficult to pin down. Often very architectural in the style of Nash, he will sometimes surprise us with a scene of intimacy, and is seldom to be taken only at face value.

III. A Final Note

As a teacher of art at the Liverpool Academy, William Collingwood met all of the regional artists of the time and even taught some of them. Among his pupils was A. W. Hunt (1830-1896). Collingwood’s religious beliefs kept him at a distance from the majority of his contemporaries, but he remained close to A. W. Hunt for the rest of his life. Hunt made the sketch given below of Speke Hall’s interior courtyard in 1847.

A. W. Hunt – Inner Courtyard, Speke Hall, 1847.
(Reproduced by permission of the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library)

Aged 17 in 1847, he was still a pupil at Liverpool Academy and, as an older scholar, would have had supervisory and teaching duties towards the younger ones. Here, a group of school-boys is being addressed by their (taller) master before entering (through the ‘old’ entrance) the Hall. They are looking at the inner bay of the Great Hall and presumably being told how to behave and what to look for once indoors. Hunt has braced himself against the sill of the eastern Compass Bay while sketching. They appear to be carrying equipment of some sort. It is probably, therefore, an art class on an outing. While no portrait, it is interesting to glimpse a moment in the routine life of their school-master, who here must surely be William Collingwood?

Angus Graham, Aigburth, June 2017

angus.graham@virgin.net

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