I FEEL SURE THAT I visited Ickworth House in Suffolk at least 25 years ago. Apart from remembering the external appearance of its wonderful central rotunda, I could not recall anything else about it when we revisited it yesterday (13th of May 2023).
Ickworth House was built between 1795 and 1829 by the Hervey family, who became the marquesses of Bristol in 1467. Now maintained by the National Trust, it contains a remarkable collection of paintings. Unlike the often-indifferent paintings that can be found hanging in many English stately homes, Ickworth possesses many works by top-rated Western European artists of yesteryear. These were collected by the 4th Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry, Frederick Hervey (1730-1803), who inherited the fortune that allowed him to finance the construction of Ickworth. A frequent visitor to mainland Europe, he amassed a fine collection of art – both paintings and sculptures.
Visitors to Ickworth can view a painted sketch by Velasquez, a portrait by Titian, five paintings by Johann Zoffany, a picture by Angelica Kauffmann, a sculpture by John Flaxman, and many other works by artists including Reynolds, Romney, and Gainsborough. And this is not all. There are also plenty of paintings by artists whose names are less familiar to me.
In one room there are two paintings by Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755–1842), who was court artist to Marie-Antoinette. One of them is an interesting self-portrait, in which the artist depicted herself painting a portrait of her daughter. She and her daughter fled from France after the arrest of the French royal family in 1789. She met Frederick Hervey, the Earl-Bishop, in Italy twice in 1790. Both in Rome and in Naples, she painted his portrait. The one painted in Naples hangs at Ickworth, facing her self-portrait.
We visited Ickworth yesterday as apart of a drive around Suffolk. As we had done no advance planning or research on the place, what we found inside – the amazing collection of artworks – was a delightful surprise.