Britain’s Lost Masterpieces

A mysterious painting held within Hospitalfield’s collection will be the focus of the BBC’s Britain’s Lost Masterpieces TV programme this week (9pm, 18 October 2017).
A mysterious painting held within Hospitalfield’s collection will be the focus of the BBC’s Britain’s Lost Masterpieces TV programme this week (9pm, 18 October 2017).

Through in-depth research conducted by Bendor Grosvenor, the art historian who presents the television programme, the team ask; could this be a work by the highly respected 16th century painter Antonis Mor?

The painting will be on show during Heritage Tours on Wednesday 25 October and Wednesday 6 December 2017 and Hospitalfield can also host group tours made by appointment. More information is available on Hospitalfield’s website.

Director Lucy Byatt said “With all the work that we are doing for Hospitalfield’s future there could not be a better time for Bendor Grosvenor’s team of sleuths to have visited Hospitalfield and to be researching in to the background of one of the paintings within the collection that we know least about – in doing so they enlarge upon the extraordinary 19th century history. This is so exciting.”

Dr Bendor Grosvenor, presenter of Britain’s Lost Masterpieces; art historian and writer:

“Finding such a potentially extraordinary painting in a place as magical as Hospitalfield would be an immense privilege. As a portraitist, Mor rivalled the likes of Titian, and I think it’s no exaggeration to say that, if this work proves to be by Mor, this would be one of the finest 16th Century portraits on display in Scotland.”

Sir Mark Jones, Chair of Hospitalfield Governors:

“What a tribute to Patrick Allan Fraser, the artist who built Hospitalfield, that a portrait that he acquired for his collection could now, thanks to Bendor Grosvenor, be identified as a work by Antonis Mor. A very exciting discovery which highlights the quality of Hospitalfield’s wonderful collection and indeed, the insightful legacy that Allan Fraser left and that we are so committed to continuously following and renewing.”

Grosvenor visited Hospitalfield initially in 2015 and conducted research on subsequent visits and through consultation with other experts which leads him to be able to make the analysis during the programme.

The research process has included the restoration of the oil painting which has revealed more of the colour and the careful detailing on the subject’s clothing. It is now hanging in a central position within the extensive collection of mainly Victorian paintings at Hospitalfield House.

The identity of the subject of the portrait, an upright, bearded figure, holding a sheaf of documents, still remains a mystery, as does its provenance and how it was acquired in to this collection. Whilst Allan Fraser was committed to portraiture his collection mainly includes works by artists who were his friends and contemporaries, many of who were part of a group formed in the mid 19th century by the painter Richard Dadd called The Clique.

In 1843, after his marriage to the last heir to the estate, Elizabeth Fraser, Patrick moved from London to his new home on the east coast of Scotland just south of Arbroath. The couple embarked upon a long architectural project to extend the house, building a series of ornate rooms including the vaulted Picture Gallery which is considered one of the most important Victorian rooms in the UK. He removed the medieval buildings that remained from the 12th century hospital and commissioned craftspeople to create extensive carvings inside and outside some referring back to the earlier history of the site that connects Hospitalfield’s history to Arbroath’s most wonderful abbey. He developed his collection by commissioning paintings from his peer group, including John Philip, Augustus Egg and William Powel Frith who were active members of The Clique.

The couple left the estate in trust to support living artists, much as they had through commissions during their life time. The focus on the educational value of the collection and the predominance of portraiture within it, gives an indication of Patrick Allan Fraser’s motivations for acquiring the Mor portrait. We don’t know but he may well have felt the necessity to bring an impressive, historic example of early portraiture into the collection.

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