Lowell Libson & Jonny Yarker Ltd

  • Watercolour over pencil on laid paper, with partial watermark of fleur de lis
  • 7 ⅞ × 10 ½ inches · 200 × 265 mm
  • Inscribed and dated ‘A Tree Struck by Lightning 1718’, lower left

Collections

  • Prue Heathcote-Williams;
  • Gifted to Sir John Clermont Witt (1907-1982) by his wife (L.2228b);
  • By descent, to 2017

William Byron, 4th Lord Byron of Newstead Abbey, Nottinghamshire was a talented amateur draughtsman, collector and patron. Byron's interest in art appears to date from quite late in his life and may have been stimulated by his receipt of a court pension of £1000 in 1717. His aspirations as a fashionable art collector are suggested by his attendance at the most important picture sale of the decade, the 1722 auction of the 1st Duke of Portland's pictures, when he bought works by Ludovico Carracci and Giovanni Bellini for almost £70. Byron's large collection of paintings was sold by his son, William 5th Baron Byron at Christie's on 20-25 March 1772. Byron combined his collecting with an antiquarian interest in the history of the arts in England. Vertue visited him at least twice and noted that he owned a 1582 miniature by Nicholas Hilliard, a portrait by William Dobson, and an important collection of drawings by the Elizabethan architect John Smythson, who was active in Nottinghamshire.[1]

Byron employed the Flemish painter Peter Tillemans extensively. Tillemans had left Antwerp with his brother-in-law Peter Casteels in 1708 in order to work as a journeyman painter for the leading London picture dealer, Henry Broome Turner. By the 1720s, Tillemans was himself a prominent picture dealer. The business of picture dealing required a painter to meet the entirety of his client's art-related needs, whether that involved acquiring old master paintings, painting their own fresh work on commission, restoring a client's art collection, or teaching them to draw. Tillemans painted several views of Newstead, and taught Byron both to use watercolours and to paint in oil. Indeed, among several views of Newstead by Tillemans is one, still at the house, that Byron finished.[2] Several of Byron's landscape watercolours are also still at Newstead, as well as in the British Museum and at the Yale Center for British Art. The British Museum also holds examples of Byron's landscape etchings, including one after Guercino. As a picture dealer, Tillemans was called on to paint in various styles, and Byron was able to imitate both Tillemans's freely-washed classical landscape watercolours and, as in the example here, his well observed nature drawing.

A very similar tree study by Byron, in the same mount, is now at the Yale Centre for British Art. They are reminders that landscape sketching was commonly practiced in the early part of the eighteenth century, although often it did not serve a purely picturesque function as in the final decades of the century. These are clearly individual trees well known to Byron, and there is something of the record-making landowner in his close observation of their characteristics. Byron has taken great care to record the damage to the bark caused by a lightning strike in 1718.  They can be placed with a tradition of topographical description with which Tillemans was also heavily involved around this time, between 1719 and 1721 he made about 200 drawings of Northamptonshire for an antiquarian county history.

References

  1. Mark Girouard, 'The Smythson Collection of the R.I.B.A.' in Architectural History, 1962, vol 5, pp.23-184. 
  2. For Tillemans's paintings of Newstead Abbey, see Kim Sloan, A Noble Art: Amateur Artists and Drawing Masters c.1600-1800, exh. cat., London (British Museum), 2000, pp.80,88.