By Liz Tregenza, Collections and Learning Curator
In this blog post I’m going to concentrate on the people who previously owned Walton Bridges, and the significance of J.M.W. Turner’s art for those who collected it. Provenance is greatly important for works of art, and Walton Bridges can be traced right back to its original sale by Turner in 1807!
The first owner was Sir John Leicester, who purchased the painting directly from Turner for £280 (then a considerably sum of money!). Leicester was a great patron of the arts, buying a number of other Turner paintings, some directly from the artist, in the early 1800s. Leicester purchased a wide variety of ‘modern’ British art and had ‘galleries’ in his homes in both Cheshire and London (Berkeley Square). At this time public galleries, including the National Gallery, were yet to be established. This meant that private galleries, like Leicester’s, were incredibly important for the dissemination of ‘modern’ art.
The next owner was Thomas Wright of Upton. Part of a family of Nottingham bankers, he acquired the painting in 1819. Wright was a keen art collector and an accomplished landscape painter in his own right. He built the neo-Classical Upton Hall near Southwell (Nottinghamshire) to house his art collection and the house survives as the British Horological Institute’s Museum of Timekeeping.
Walton Bridges’ third (and perhaps most interesting) owner was Joseph Gillott, who acquired the painting by 1847. Gillott was born in Sheffield, but made most of his money in Birmingham, as a pen manufacturer. Gillot’s cheap pen nibs were a significant technological development and made him fabulously wealthy.
Advertisement for Joseph Gillott pens, mentioning the Exposition Universelle (1878) available via commons.wikimedia
Gillott was an enthusiastic collector. As well as art, he also collected precious stones, silver and musical instruments. His collection of instruments was particularly impressive and regarded as internationally significant- with his violins being of particular note. Gillott’s collecting habits could be seen as verging on hoarding, and he was aarguably a collector for collecting’s sake. Gillott was a self-made man, one of a new breed of private collectors who acquired objects in a competitive way, seeking acceptance from the upper classes by doing so. Despite this, it has been suggested that paintings were Gillott’s true passion, particularly those painted by Turner and William Etty. Gillott’s art collection was regarded at the time as one of the finest in private hands in the country. To accommodate it, Gillott built three picture galleries at his house in Edgbaston (Birmingham) and another at his London house in Stanmore (Middlesex). Gillott reputedly tried to buy Turner’s entire private collection of his works, however, the artist said no and bequeathed his own collection to the nation.
Walton Bridges was one of the key Turner paintings that Gillott acquired, remaining part of his collection until his death. At that time, he Gillott had 25 paintings and drawings by Turner. This was part of an impressive collection of over 600 works of art, the majority of which were British. In 1872, the remainder of Gillott’s collection was sold, through Christie’s auction rooms. The collection raised £164,501, a sum equivalent to around £165 million today. The majority of the art sold via Christie’s remained in private hands.
Walton Bridges next owner was Henry William Ferdinand Bolckow. Born in modern day Germany, he moved to Britain in his twenties, where he made his wealth. He acquired Walton Bridges around 1872. Alongside John Vaughan he established an ironmaking company, Bolckow Vaughan, which helped Middlesbrough to prosper. Bolckow was such a significant figure that he became the town’s first Mayor, and its first Member if Parliament. Less is known about Bolckow’s art collection, although his preference was certainly for living French and British artists. After his death in 1878 his nephew Carl Frederick Henry Bolckow, began selling off much of his art collection, which included examples by Turner (and notably Walton Bridges).
Philip Alexius de Laszlo, Lady Wantage, 1911, Tate.
The final private owners of Walton Bridges were the Wantage family. Robert James Loyd-Lindsay, Lord Wantage acquired the paining around 1891. Wantage was a noted British soldier, politician, philanthropist, and first chairman and co-founder (alongside his wife Lady Wantage) of the British National Society for Aid to the Sick and Wounded in War (which later became the British Red Cross Society). Alongside his wife, Harriet Sarah Jones-Loyd he was also a great patron of the arts. The families’ purchase of significant artworks was possible as Harriet was the only surviving child of Samuel Jones-Loyd, who has been one of the richest men in the country.
The Wantage’s had an impressive art collection and alongside Turner’s Walton Bridges they owned works by modern artists and old masters including Rembrandt, Anthony Van Dyck and Edward Burne-Jones. It is perhaps illustrative of the importance of Walton Bridges, that in 1945, when many of her other art works were sold, her heir A.T. Loyd chose not to sell it, and it remained in the family for another seventy years.
Walton Bridges is no longer in private hands, and is now part of the Norfolk Museums Service collection. From 26th September 2020 – 4th March 2021, it is on display for all to see at Colchester Castle.