Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Beaumont, George Howland

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

BEAUMONT, Sir GEORGE HOWLAND (1753–1827), connoisseur, patron of art and landscape painter, was the son of Sir George Beaumont, the sixth baronet, and Rachel, daughter of Michael Howland. of Stonehall, Dunmow, Essex, where he was born 6 Nov. 1753. He succeeded to the title in 1762, and was educated at Eton and New College, Oxford. In 1778 he married Margaret Willes, daughter of John Willes of Astrop, and granddaughter of Lord Chief Justice Willes, and in 1782 made with her the tour of Italy. From his youth he had shown taste for literature and the fine arts, and cultivated the society of poets and painters, practising himself the art of landscape painting. In 1790 he entered parliament, and was member for Beeralston till 1796. His social position, wealth, and cultivation secured for him a distinguished position as a ruler of taste, and to these qualifications he added much personal attraction, being tall and good-looking, with polished manners and gentle address. In 1800, with the assistance of the architect Dance, he began to rebuild Coleorton Hall, where, according to the dedication of Wordsworth to the edition of his poems in 1815, several of that poet's best pieces were composed. It was here also, after Sir George's death, that Wordsworth wrote his elegiac musings, a tender and eloquent tribute to the character and talents of his friend, and his noble 'Song at the Feast of Brougham Castle' was suggested by one of Beaumont's pictures. Sir George knew Dr. Johnson, was the intimate friend of Sir Joshua Reynolds, and it was under his roof that Sir Walter Scott met Sir Humphry Davy, Samuel Rogers, and Byron, who satirised him in 'The Blues.' He encouraged Coleridge, and helped to procure his pension. Sir George soon began to collect works of art, beginning with drawings by the English artists, Wilson, Gilpin, Hearne, Girtin, and others. To these he added slowly, and with good judgment, a fine but small collection of old masters, and of oil pictures by contemporary Englishmen. Haydon (whose 'Macbeth' he purchased) and Jackson were among the artists whom he specially befriended, and after John Robert Cozens became insane he supported him till he died. Sir George was one of the first to detect the merits of Wilkie, and Edwin Landseer, and Gibson the sculptor. It was for him that the first painted the 'Blind Fiddler.' In 1818, when Landseer was a lad of sixteen, he purchased the now celebrated picture of 'Fighting Dogs,' and when in Rome in 1822 he gave Gibson a commission for the group of 'Psyche borne by Zephyrs.' It was here at the same time that he purchased the beautiful unfinished bas-relief, by Michael Angelo, of 'The Virgin, the Holy Child, and St. John,' now in the possession of the Royal Academy, to whom it was presented by him.

Sir George greatly admired the works of Wilson and Claude, and it was on these painters that he formed his own style; but though his landscapes show signs of poetical feeling, they did not rise above mediocrity in execution. This fact and his reported sayings that 'a good picture, like a good fiddle, should be brown,' and that 'there ought to be one brown tree in every landscape,' have cast undeserved ridicule upon his taste, which was unusually intelligent and independent for his time. This opinion is attested not only by the judgment shown in his collection, but by his criticisms both of ancient and modern pictures. His lifelong devotion to art culminated in the success of his endeavours towards the formation of a national gallery. These were much assisted by his conditional offer to present his own collection to the nation, and in 1826, or two years after the purchase by the state of Mr. Angerstein's pictures (the nucleus of the present National Gallery), he added sixteen of his own, including four Claudes, two fine Rembrandts, Rubens's landscape of 'The Chateau de Stein,' Wilson's 'Mæcenas's Villa' and 'Niobe,' and Wilkie's 'Blind Fiddler.' To one of the Claudes, now No. 61 in the National Gallery, he was so attached that he requested to have it returned to him for his lifetime. It was this picture probably, and not the 'Narcissus' (No. 19), as recorded by Cunningham, that he used to carry with him whenever he changed his residence from Coleorton Hall to Grosvenor Square, or vice versa. Sir George Beaumont died on 7 Feb. 1827, aged 74.

[Cunningham's Lives, ed. Heaton; Redgrave's Dictionary; Annals of the Fine Arts; Wordsworth's Poems (1813); Byron's Poems; Boswell's Life of Johnson; Lockhart's Life of Scott; Catalogues of the National Gallery; Burke's Peerage; Annual Register, 1827.]

C. M.