THE PROPERTY OF THE BROMLEY-DAVENPORT FAMILY (Lots 18 & 19)
THE REV. WALTER DAVENPORT BROMLEY (1787-1863)
After visiting Wootton Hall, Dr. Waagen wrote 'Mr. Davenport Bromley is an ardent admirer of all such pictures, be they of the 13th or 16th century, in which an unaffected and genuine feeling is expressed. I found, accordingly, in his house a number of works, chiefly altar-pictures, illustrating the Italian schools from their first rise in the 13th century to their highest development in the 16th, such as I have not met with, especially as regards the earlier schools, in any other gallery in England' (Treasures of Art in Great Britain, ed., 1854, III, p. 371). The quality of the collection which so impressed Waagen seems all the more remarkable today. Professor Francis Haskell has described it as 'one of the most distinguished collections in England of early Italian painting' (Rediscoveries in Art, ed. 1980, p. 203, note 64) and Professor Federico Zeri has called Davenport Bromley one of the 'particularly outstanding collectors' of mid-19th century England (Behind the Image, 1987, p. 116).
Walter Davenport Bromley was born to Walter Davenport, the third and youngest son of Davies Davenport (1757-1837). The Davenports had been a prominent Cheshire family since the thirteenth century and Davies Davenport served the county as High Sheriff, and for twenty-four years, its Member of Parliament. While Walter's eldest brother would inherit Capesthorne Hall and his other brother joined the army, Walter inherited Wootton Hall and Baginton from a distant relative in 1822, and assumed the additional name of Bromley. It was not until a visit to Florence and Rome in 1844 that Davenport Bromley, then in his late fifties, revealed a penchant for collecting pictures. During the following sixteen years, however, he acquired more than 170 early Italian panels, almost all of them religious subjects as befitted his cloth, taking advantage of all the opportunities offered by the great sales of the period to add carefully selected pieces to the collection.
Having purchased a few pictures in Florence and Rome in 1844, Davenport Bromley set about collecting in earnest at the great sale of most of the collection of Napoleon's uncle, Cardinal Joseph Fesch, held in Rome in 1845; there he acquired more than forty pictures, by far the largest number he was ever to acquire at a single sale (for the indentification of some of these, see D. Thiébaut, Ajaccio, musée Fesch. Les Primitifs italiens, 1987, pp. 160-89, and the catalogue of the 1863 Davenport Bromley sale). On his return to England, he purchased a dozen paintings from the collection of William Young Ottley, mostly from his son's sale at Foster's in 1847, and during the following thirteen years acquired pictures from all the major collections sold at Christie's, including those of Edward Solly, Edward Harman (both 1847), General Meade (1851), King Louis-Philippe (1853), Joly de Bammeville (1854), James Dennistoun (1855), Samuel Rogers (1856), Lord Northwick (1859) and Samuel Woodburn (1860).
While a few of Davenport Bromley's paintings were hung in his London house at 32 Grosvenor Street (Waagen, Collections of Art in Great Britain, London, 1857, pp. 166-8), most were placed in four rooms at Wootton (see Waagen, op. cit., 1854, pp. 371-80). A watercolour by James Johnson, a joiner employed at Capesthorne, shows how a number of the pictures and Greek vases were displayed, J. Cornforth, 'Family Histories in Watercolour, Capesthorne Hall, Cheshire - II', Country Life, 8 September 1977, p. 608, fig. 4).
Following Davenport Bromley's death, almost all of his collection was consigned for sale in these Rooms, of the 174 lots only eight failing to find buyers (including Giotto's Dormition of the Virgin, now in Berlin). These and a small number of pictures apparently bought back by Davenport Bromley's son William (who changed his surname to Bromley Davenport in 1868) were transferred to Capesthorne when he inherited it from his cousin in 1867. The rest were scattered and many have now found permanent homes in the great galleries of Europe and the United States. Seven are now in the London National Gallery, including Giovanni Bellini's Agony in the Garden, Foppa's Adoration of the Magi, the central section of Pesellino's altarpiece of the Trinity, Boltraffio'sMadonna and Child, and a panel from Ugolino di Nero's Santa Croce altarpiece. Eight are in the Courtauld Institute, including Bernardo Daddi's polpytych of the Crucifixion, two predella panels by Lorenzo Monaco, the Coronation of the Virgin attributed to Lorenzo Monaco and a Madonna by the Master of San Miniato. The Fitzwilliam Museum has an altarpiece by Cosimo Rosselli and cassone panels by Jacopo del Sellaio and Biagio di Antonio. Marco Pamezzano's Sacra Conversazione is in the National Gallery of Ireland and the Immaculate Conception by Girolamo Marchesi da Cotignola is in the Brera. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, has Sassetta's Journey of the Magi and two of the saints by Crivelli shown hanging between the bookshelves in James Johnson's watercolour. Notable among the pictures which have reappeared on the market in recent years are Duccio's Crucifxion, sold in the Rooms, 2 July 1976, and now at Manchester, and Lorenzo Monaco's Saint Jerome in the Wilderness, sold at Sotheby's, 6 July 1988. A polyptych by Taddeo Gaddi and four other early Italian pictures were sold in these Rooms, 21 May 1991, lots 33-7.