Very little is known about the early life of Peter Tillemans. The main source for the few facts that are known are given in George Vertue's notebook for 1723, where he records Tillemans being born circa 1684 in Antwerp, and studying with 'Van Meyren', presumed to be Jan Baptist van der Meiren, the landscape and battle scene painter. According to Vertue, he did 'extreamly well' there, painting ' small peices of his own Composition & [copying] Bougonione for Battles, which he did many & of his own designs very well, & lands kips of other Masters coppyd extreamly well'. Van Meyren frequently collaborated with other artists by painting landscapes for them to complete with figures and animals, something that Tillemans himself was to do later in his career. In 1708 he came to England, accompanied by Peter Casteels who had married his sister (see lot 90). Three years later he joined Sir Godfrey Kneller's recently founded Academy of Painting, which was to last only until 1720, when the new St Martin's Lane Academy was founded by Jan Vanderbank and Louis Chiron.
Through an unknown source, about 1709, two early Royal pictures were commissioned: Queen Anne in the House of Lords (Royal Collection) and The House of Commons, where the Queen's arms are shown above the Speaker's chair (Government Collection). A different kind of commissioned followed in 1719, by which time he was working in a studio in the parish of Saint Margaret's, Westminster, when he was asked to provide a series of drawings for a history of Northamptonshire by John Bridges (now in the British Library), and by the following year he was attracting an increasingly larger circle of patrons, who commissioned a variety of subjects. Lord Bingley wanted a decorative scheme for his house in Cavendish Square; the Duke of Kent requested racing scenes and views of Wrest Park; Lord Derby wanted views of Knowsley; the Duke of Kingston commissioned a painting of himself and his friends shooting at Thoresby Hall; the Duke of Devonshire wanted a racing scene and view of Chatsworth; and the 4th Lord Byron not only commissioned views of Newstead Abbey, but took painting and drawing lessons from Tillemans too. He also dabbled in painting scenery painting for the Opera House in the Haymarket and at Drury Lane.
During the 1720's came the Myddelton commissions: two views of Chirk, a view of Llangollen, portraits, and a battle scene. The latter was to show the Battle of Belgrade, when the Austrians took the city from the Turks in 1717 (NT 9). The view of Llangollen and the Dee Bridge (NT 11) shows the hill fort of Dinas Bran, both part of the lordship of Chirk. The view of Chirk from the North shows the original position of the wrought-iron gates designed by Robert and John Davies in 1719 (see lot 20), as well as the layout of the trees and gardens at the time. In the foreground Tillemans has used his skills as a painter of animals to add to the landscape. The other view shows the Castle from a different angle, with members of the Myddelton family riding and sketching with other figures in the foreground.
Landscape and racing scenes are obviously what Tillemans is primarily known for, so the portraits that he painted at Chirk are rare. The first is now considered to be of Mary Liddell (d. 1741), who married John Myddelton in 1724 (NT 40); the other is now thought to be of Anne, daughter of Sir James Reade of Brocket Hall, who married Robert Myddelton of Chirk in 1720 (NT 56). There is, however, a third portrait, possibly of Mary Liddell and her son Richard (1726-1795), the future heir of Chirk (NT 43), which may also be by him.
An important patron was Dr Cox Macro (1683-1767) of Little Haugh Hall, Norton, near Bury-St-Edmunds, who Tillemans met early in his career, and for whom he painted pictures and restored others throughout his life. It was while staying with him in 1734 that he had an acute attack of asthma, which he had always suffered from, and died.
Tillemans sometimes collaborated with other artists on pictures - an example is with Michael Dahl in a racing scene at Newstead Abbey and he was known to copy Old Masters and like his brother-in-law, Peter Casteels, paint still lives. His racing scenes were also popularised by engravings made from them and published by Joseph Sympson in 1734. Apart from the two painting Academys, he was also an honorary steward of the Society of St Luke in 1725, and a member of the more raffish Rose and Crown Club. His apprentices are said to have included Joseph Nollekens and Arthur Devis.
The present drawing is presumably a preparatory sketch made by Tillemans for an unexecuted oil. It shows Chirk from the East, the long-since disappeared banqueting houses framing a formal parterre, with Robert Myddelton's family playing on the stepped terraces below. In the Chirk accounts, a surviving payment to Tillemans, dating from 4 November 1720, records 'for Cloth or Canvas bought by him and colours £2.3s.2d., for pencils and brushes 7s.'