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When in 1848 Beriah Botfield printed his Catalogue of Pictures at his private press at Norton, he expressed his purpose as a picture collector in clear terms:
'This collection has been formed with the sole intention of adding to the comforts of an English home, the additional luxury of "walls hung with thoughts".
This catalogue has been printed with the view of preserving those minute particulars, which, if not recorded at the time, are lost for ever. Much that seems trivial to us may be interesting to our descendants, and property of whatever kind is not the less valuable because it may be associated with its traditions.
Elaborate descriptions are but imperfect vehicles for conveying ideas of pictorial representations. No language, however glowing, can paint with sufficient distinctness the impressions conveyed to the mind by the best works of the Old Masters. All should be said which is necessary for the identification of the Painting, but beyond this the busy power of the imagination may be happily substituted for any force of words.'
The catalogue speaks indeed for itself, and yet it has to be understood in a wider context. Botfield started to collect pictures in his mid-thirties, but by then his instinct to collect had already been fully expressed in other directions and he had already established himself as a scholar.
Botfield's grandfather, Thomas Botfield, whose family came from Shropshire, had the fortune to work in what we would now term the coal industry at an auspicious time at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Management of the mines at Hawarden in Flintshire led to further enterprises of the kind and in ironworking and by the time of his death all three of his sons were in possession of substantial estates of their own. The eldest, Thomas, was the first to evince artistic interests, employing Nash, chosen architect of the Prince Regent, for additions to Hopton Court in 1811-3. At about the same time - 1812 - the second brother, William, turned to an architect of more local reputation, John Carline II, for his house, Sandwell Hall, like Hopton in Shropshire. The third brother, Beriah (1768-1813), who added to his fortune by acquiring extensive mineral rights in the Clee Hills in the county in 1780, subsequently acquired Norton Hall near Daventry in Northamptonshire. He married Charlotte, daughter of the distinguished botanist William Withering. Beriah, their only son, inherited both the scholarly interests of his maternal grandfather and the determination that had enabled his paternal grandfather to build up the family fortune. In turn Botfield succeeded not only to his father's considerable estates on his early death in 1813, but also, in the 1850s, to those left by both uncles.
Beriah Botfield was sent to Harrow where he was to endow a prize for foreign languages. He went up to Christ Church, Oxford, in 1824, taking his degree as Bachelor of Arts in 1828, the year in which he achieved his majority and was portrayed in his academic gown in an impressive whole length by Thomas Phillips (fig. 1). The choice of Phillips may be revealing, for Botfield would have known that he had painted his Harrovian predecessor, Lord Byron, and other luminaries of the literary world; and one must presume that the romantic bravura of the pose matched Botfield's expectations. One senses too the impact of Oxford, where Botfield's historical perspective must have been fortified by his experience of Christ Church with its unique blend of gothic and classical architecture. His lifelong interest in genealogy would have seemed natural enough in such a context and to a generation that eagerly anticipated the publication of the successive novels of Sir Walter Scott.
Botfield's early study of botany and geology perhaps reflected a maternal influence. His gifts of specimens of British minerals and a collection of British birds to Dresden and Brussels respectively secured him a European recognition that must have meant much to one with his linguistic interest. And it was no accident that he purchased books and subsequently pictures on the continent as well as in London.
It was natural for a man of Botfield's means to aspire to public office. He was High Sheriff of Northamptonshire in 1831 and subsequently served as a Deputy Lieutenant for the county. He was elected Member of Parliament for the Borough of Ludlow in 1840 in the Conservative interest, losing the seat in 1847 only to regain it ten years later and retain it until he died. His political life was less productive, however, than his scholarly career. He became a mainstay of civilised societies, not only the Roxburghe Club of which his great collection of books so fully entitled him to membership, but also such historical bodies as the Maitland Club, the Surtees Society, the Bannatyne Club - which Scott had helped to found - and the Abbotsford Club - instituted in his memory. He prepared appropriate publications for each, as well as numerous bibliographical studies. At Norton, which he began to fit out to his own taste on his coming of age in 1828, he established his own printing press as early as 1830, following the example of other bibliophiles and collectors. There in 1843 he published Stemmata Botevilliana, his account of the Boteville or Botfield family, which would be amplified in 1858, and, not least, the 1848 catalogue of his collection of pictures; a revised edition of this was issued in 1863, the year of Botfield's death, by the Chiswick Press. Both publications may be seen as representing complementary facets of Botfield's wish to establish his own dynasty, to claim for this a long and illustrious history and dignify its seat with collections both worthy of his personal taste and commensurate with his means. Norton Hall was, first and foremost, the repository of Botfield's books. He had been building up his library for over a decade before he turned to buying pictures and long before he died space was already at something of a premium. But, unlike other owners of great estates, Botfield was not the heir of a great deposit of family portraits - the only examples he possessed were a von Breda of his maternal grandfather, printed in Italy, balanced by companion portraits of the same year of James Watt and Matthew Boulton, and a Phillips of his uncle, Thomas Botfield. Moreover, he seems not to have been encumbered with outmoded acquisitions of his immediate predecessors. To an unusual extent, Botfield thus had free rein as a collector.
Not surprisingly he sought to make up for the lack of family portraits by the acquisition of pictures of historical and literary figures. Some were wrongly attributed - like the 'Zuccaros' of Catherine Parr, Queen Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Walsingham and Mary, Queen of Scots; others were misidentified - as of the Pensionary de Witt, Francis Bacon and his wife (lot 582), Admiral van Tromp (lot 594), or Lord Chancellor Clarendon (lot 608); most eccentrically of all, the Salomon Koninck Philosopher (lot 583) was dubbed Cornelius de Hoost 'the translator of Homer into Dutch'. Botfield's portraits of Walsingham, of Sir George Villiers, the favourite of Buckingham's father, of Margaret Lemon, van Dyck's mistress, of Milton and the actress Kitty Clive had the distinction of coming from the collection of Horace Walpole, pioneer among connoisseurs of historic portraits and proprietors of private presses, at Strawberry Hill. Significantly the only friend of whom Botfield secured a portrait was his Oxford mentor, the geologist Professor William Buckland, upon whom he prevailed to sit to Phillips in 1830.
Botfield acquired a small number of landscapes by contemporary British painters. He may well have commissioned a large View of Oxford, Christ Church Meadows, and the Isis of 1827-8 from William Turner of Oxford. He probably also ordered his seven marines of 1830-4 by Thomas Luny; his Patrick Nasmyth, however, came at second hand. A visit, or successive visits, to Italy resulted in a crop of commissions of 1845-6, including three works by Penry Williams, eight by John Newbolt and two by Enrico Coleman, a Strutt of Pompeii, six views by Dessoulavy and examples of other continental masters, now virtually forgotten: Benno Toermer, Anna Teerlinck, Charles Blaas and as many more. The most surprising of the contemporary works in the collection was J. W. Glass's Buffalo Hunters in the Far West, which Botfield acquired from the artist. More conventionally, he commissioned a pair of views of Norton from the competent but not very inspired H. J. Boddington in 1848, significantly the year his picture catalogue appeared. A later acquisition was Glover's view of Harrow-on-the-Hill from the collection of Lord Northwick, one of whose houses was nearby: this obviously complemented the Turner of Christ Church Meadow.
The collection is now known for its pictures by northern painters of the seventeenth century, the interest of which has been widely recognised since the Royal Academy, Dutch Pictures 1470-1750, exhibition of 1952-3. It is less widely realised that Botfield also owned a substantial number of pictures by Italian artists, although the attributions of these were often less secure than was the case with his Dutch acquisitions. He owned two pictures given to Perugino, two others to Sarto and an ex-Rothschild Puligo, a putative Solario (Antonio, not Andrea), a Luini from the Baring collection, a so-called Giulio Romano and a Perino del Vaga. There were canvasses given to Bonifazio Veronese, to Paolo Veronese, to Tintoretto and Bassano: such pictures no doubt fitted rather well with Botfield's exceptional holdings of early Italian books and illuminated manuscripts. He also owned later Italian publications and pictures. While his Caravaggio was no more authentic than his Correggio, the seicento was represented by works assigned to two of the Carracci, to Domenichino, to Lanfranco, Mola, Romanelli and Maratta, to Ribera, Giordano and Sebastiano Ricci. Botfield also owned a Vanvitelli, a Locatelli, a van Lint and two Paninis, including a Pantheon interior - obtained in 1842 at the Shugborough sale and originally owned by the Huguenot connoisseur, William Fauquier. Of his four Zuccarellis, two are included in this sale (lot 621). Two putative Claudes, two Dughets, two Stellas, a Bourdon and a Boucher, and an oval Vernet of 1774 testified to a general interest in French painting: neither of his Watteaus was authentic - one may be by a too little known Fleming who settled in London, Petrus Johannes von Reyschoot (lot 622) - but his Nollekens (lot 626), so eloquent of Watteau's influence, was, he believed, from an impeccable source, the series of pictures painted for Sir Richard Child, 1st Earl Tylney, the builder of Wanstead, grandest of Palladian mansions in the immediate hinterland of London. Two canvasses assigned to Zurbarán and a Mengs Madonna suggest other facets of his taste, while the pair of Boillys (lot 620) demonstrate an enthusiasm for more recent developments. While the large scale of many of Botfield's Italian pictures must have meant that these dominated many of the interiors at Norton, statistically these were outnumbered by his Dutch and Flemish works.
It was in the 1840s that Botfield sought to build up his collection of Northern pictures. The 1848 catalogue cites numerous details of provenance and, taken together, these make it possible to see how he progressed. An early purchase was a large Huchtenburgh battle from the collection of the French financier and politician Casimir Perier, which was apparently secured in 1840. Probably in 1847 this would be joined by the smaller canvas identified as of the Battle of Luzzara (lot 606), previously owned by Lord Wharncliffe, who had inherited the great coal fortune that had enabled his great-grandfather John, 3rd Earl of Bute, to form the greatest of all pre-revolutionary collections of Dutch pictures. The large Huchtenburgh was no doubt secured in Paris: Botfield obtained a van Herp from the collection of Schomp d'Aveschoot, dispersed in Ghent in September 1840, while his Francken Interior of a Picture Gallery (lot 616) - the subject of which must have held a particular appeal for him - was in the sale of a Leiden doctor, J. Kleinenbergh in 1841.
This pattern of continental acquisition is clearly documented from the mid decade. Some seventeen of the twenty pictures specified as purchased in Paris came between 1844 and 1848. Sometimes, as with van Goyens bought in 1844 and 1846, no specific source is recorded. No fewer than seven pictures came from the Chevalier Cousin in 1845 and the following year - including most notably the dignified pair of portraits by Terborch (lot 610), memorable in control and subtlety. Other distinguished Parisian acquisitions were the exceptional Lingelbach Roman capriccio (lot 605) and the fascinating portrait of a young Citizen of Utrecht, a little uneasy in his role as arquebusier, which was already attributed to Eglon Hendrick van der Neer (lot 601). Holland, and to a lesser extent Belgium which had only recently seceded from it, was an equally rewarding source. Among the pictures stated to have been imported from Holland in this sale are a third van Goyen (lot 595), the Schellinks (lot 584) and the beautiful de Momper (lot 618). From Holland too came three of Botfield's four church interiors by Emmanuel de Witte - an artist whose appeal to him is particularly understandable given his sustained study of the historic libraries of the English cathedrals.
Botfield did not haunt the London salerooms, but nonetheless he did acquire pictures from the cabinets of some remarkable collectors: his Poelemberg Adoration of the Magi (lot 602) had been William Beckford's; the wonderful de Keyser (lot 593) came from Edward Vernon Utterson; one of the Huysums from Sir Thomas Baring; the Storck from the collection of the Hon. Francis Charteris (another collector whose family owed much to coal). Botfield seems to have liked the idea of owning pictures from collections in his native Shropshire and adjacent counties: his van Lint was bought in the Shugborough sale and the Salomon Koninck (lot 583) from the Higginson collection at Saltmarsh; his Steen from the prodigious Shrewsbury collection at Alton Towers. More surprisingly he was among the first to obtain pictures from a Rothschild collection, getting the portrait attributed to Netscher (lot 608) and the two characteristic works by Schoevaerdts (lot 617) from that of an unspecified Baroness de Rothschild.
The consistent quality of Botfield's Dutch pictures proves that he was a careful connoisseur. But some of the credit may go to his agents, most obviously John Smith, doyen among dealers in Dutch pictures. He bought all the few works that can be traced in London sales, and was acting for Botfield as late as 1863, the year of his death, when Smith bid on his behalf for a version of a Claude in the Prado. Botfield's aspirations were more modest that those of some rivals in the field - one could cite the example of another Christ Church man, Sir Robert Peel, whose ministry Botfield of course supported - but a very high proportion of his acquisitions have stood the attributional test of time. He owned no Rembrandt or Hals, no Jacob van Ruisdael or de Hoogh; and his two Vermeer street scenes were by Vrel. But taken together his pictures do offer a rewarding microcosm of Dutch painting of the Golden Age. His de Keyser, his Terborchs and the arquebusier of Utrecht are exemplary pictures of their kind. His four van Goyens show how well he understood that master's subtle and restrained qualities. Less interested in the Italianate than the Italian, he nonetheless chose three excellent examples of Lingelbach; and his Huysum is among the most beautiful of that artist's classical landscapes. A hint of his discipline as a collector is suggested by the replacement of the de Keyser thought to be of a cotton merchant included in the 1848 catalogue by the more brilliant van Vianen portrait by the artist that came from the Utterson collection in 1857 for a price that now seems incredible.
Although Botfield took advantage of many of the great dispersals of the 1840s it would be idle to claim that his stature as a picture collector is as considerable as his standing among bibliophiles of the time. His taste was sound, without being original; he bought pictures of types that had been fashionable long before he entered the field; and as a patron of contemporarty artists he can hardly be credited with exceptional discernment. While he was prepared to pay substantial sums for books or manuscripts, he was more restrained where pictures were concerned, neither aiming for, nor obtaining, what would then have been regarded as major masterpieces. As it proves, the excellent Dutch and Flemish pictures Botfield bought are more consonant with the taste of today than with that of his fellow connoisseurs of the 1840s. Ironically, it is their often understated qualities that demonstrate most clearly that he did not set out to be a pioneer in the field of collecting in the way that his near contemporary Lord Lindsay was, a yet greater bibliophile who used another fortune based on coal to signal effect, securing Italian primitives as much for their iconographic as their aesthetic merits in the very years that Botfield sought out works by the Dutch masters. Books and pictures were not the only concerns they shared, for Lindsay was also engrossed by genealogical research and the history of his own family. Lindsay's researches secured his father's recognition as Earl of Crawford - and would, but for the interest of the Whig oligarchy in the House of Lords, have secured the reversal of the attainder of the long-forgotten mediaeval Dukedom of Montrose in his favour. Botfield had perhaps less promising dynastic material to work with, but enough to satisfy himself that his line descended from William Thynne, the sixteenth-century editor of Chaucer and brother of the ancestor of the Thynnes of Longleat. Botfield's marriage of 1858 to Isabella, second daughter of Sir Baldwin Leighton, was childless, yet it must have given him some dynastic consolation to draw up his will, under the terms of which, subject to the life interest of his widow, Norton Hall and its collections would pass to the as yet unborn second son of John Alexander, 4th Marquess of Bath.
At a period when as yet the iconoclastic historian Round had not brought scientific scepticism to bear on the genealogies of the great families of the Tudor era, Botfield subscribed to a romantic view of English history, instinctively Tory. He must have appreciated Longleat as one of the glories of English architecture and realised how keenly interested the 4th Marquess was in its preservation and embellishment, and perhaps how strongly the picture-collecting tastes of his mother's family, the Barings, ran in his veins. One cannot help feeling that Beriah Botfield would be gratified to know that nearly a century and a half later his bequest will help to secure Longleat's future in a new, and very different, millenium.