Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wyndham, George O'Brien
WYNDHAM, Sir GEORGE O'BRIEN, third Earl of Egremont (1751–1837), patron of fine art, born on 18 Dec. 1751, and baptised at St. Margaret's, Westminster, on 9 Jan. following, George II being a sponsor, was son and heir of Sir Charles Wyndham, second earl [q. v.], by Alicia Maria, daughter of George, second Baron Carpenter. He was for a short time (when Lord Cockermouth) at a school in Wandsworth with Charles James Fox, before going to Westminster (cf. a letter to Lord Holland, in Corresp. of C. J. Fox, i. 8–10). He was only twelve when he succeeded to the peerage on the death of his father. He took little part in politics, but in his earlier years acted with the whigs, and signed protests against the American policy of North, the rejection of Shelburne's motion in favour of economical reform, and against the restrictions proposed to be placed on the power of the Prince of Wales as regent in 1789. But he was not without political ability. Fox declared that he would rather have Egremont's opinion on his India bill than that of any other man, and Charles Greville was of opinion that had he chosen he might have taken a conspicuous part in politics. As he advanced in years his opinions became more conservative, and he was always opposed to catholic emancipation. On the rare occasions when he addressed the House of Lords he is said to have fully maintained the traditional standard of the Wyndham oratory. On 31 Aug. 1793 he was appointed to a seat at the board of agriculture, and he was lord-lieutenant of Sussex from 1819 to 1835. In addition to the Petworth estates and the property in the north and west inherited from his father, Egremont also succeeded in 1774 to the property in Ireland of his uncle, Percy Wyndham O'Brien, earl of Thomond. He was for very many years a leading figure in London society, but in later life lived almost entirely at Petworth.
Mrs. Delany, writing to Bernard Granville on 31 Dec. 1774, à propos of a match between Egremont and Lady Mary Somerset, says of the former: ‘He is a pretty man, has a vast fortune, and is very generous, and not addicted to the vices of the times.’ The marriage did not take place, nor did that mariage déclaré with Lady Charlotte Maria Waldegrave (afterwards Duchess of Grafton) six years later. This match had been negotiated by the lady's great-uncle, Horace Walpole, who says that Egremont's family showed great satisfaction with it (Walpole to Sir H. Mann, 6 July 1780). In announcing on 24 July ‘the rupture of our great match,’ Walpole says that Egremont had proved ‘a most worthless young fellow,’ and charged him with having given out that he, and not the lady, had been the first to draw off. The lady had behaved very well, and had taken the step because of her suitor's indiscretion and irresolution (letters to Mann, 24 July, and Mason, 8 Aug.) Mrs. Delany attributes Egremont's conduct to his being under the dominion of ‘a great lady (Lady M-l-b-e).’
Egremont made Petworth House a nursery of art and a college of agriculture. Arthur Young (1741–1820) [q. v.] was a frequent visitor, and superintended the disafforesting of the great stag park there. Egremont was a most successful stock-breeder. He had a fine stud, and his horses won the Derby and Oaks oftener than those of any other owner. But it was as a patron of art that he was chiefly remarkable. He was a vice-president of the British Institution and one of the most cultivated amateurs of his day. One of the first to appreciate Turner, he was attracted towards him personally by that combination of artistic perception and extreme simplicity which was the keynote of the characters of both. At Petworth Turner had a studio assigned to him, which even Egremont was not allowed to enter without giving a peculiar knock agreed upon between them. There Turner painted his ‘Apuleia and Apuleius,’ and his ‘Derby Morning,’ with a view of Petworth, which was exhibited in 1810. Charles Robert Leslie [q. v.] was invited to Petworth, with his wife and children, every year after 1826. Leslie was at Petworth just before his patron's death, and, together with Turner, Phillips, Carew, and Clint, attended his funeral. He painted for Egremont ‘Sancho and the Duchess,’ as well as three other pictures, and relates many anecdotes of him. In 1834 Constable was entertained by Egremont, and during his stay at Petworth he filled a large book with pencil sketches and watercolours. John Edward Carew [q. v.], the sculptor, was almost exclusively employed by Egremont from 1823 onwards. After his patron's death he claimed the sum of 50,000l. for work done, but, having brought an action at law, was non-suited. It was by Carew's good offices that Benjamin Robert Haydon [q. v.], then in great distress, was introduced to Egremont. He was then at work upon his ‘Alexander taming Bucephalus,’ and Egremont, after making inquiries as to the causes of his misfortunes, called and ordered for himself the picture. Egremont thought Haydon's style too bold for English tastes, but expressed himself as personally quite satisfied, and in 1827 gave him a commission for ‘Eucles.’ Egremont employed John Flaxman [q. v.] on his group of the ‘Archangel Michael piercing Satan,’ and on the beautiful figure of the pastoral Apollo. Both are now in the gallery of sculpture at Petworth, to which Joseph Nollekens [q. v.] and John Charles Felix Rossi [q. v.] also contributed. Egremont had a strong personal preference for Raffaelle and Hogarth, and he expressed to Leslie great contempt for Parmegiano's ‘Vision of St. Jerome,’ now in the National Gallery. The fine collection at Petworth was begun at Rome by the second earl, but owes many of its treasures to the third. It is especially notable for its Van Dycks and Holbeins, besides the Turners and Woollett's Claude. Jonathan Ritson was employed by the third earl to complete Gibbons's wood carvings (which Walpole saw in 1749) in the carved dining-room. Gavin Hamilton (1730–1797) [q. v.] collected the antique sculptures. The allied sovereigns visited Petworth in 1814, and were painted there by Thomas Phillips (1770–1845) [q. v.]
Egremont erected a market cross at Petworth in 1793, and built schools there in 1816. The road to Horsham was made under his directions. In 1827 he restored the parish church, in which just before his death he raised to his Percy predecessors a monument inscribed ‘Mortuis moriturus.’ He made a generous use of his great wealth, and is said to have spent 20,000l. annually for a period of sixty years in charity. Charles Greville was present in May 1834 at the annual fête which he gave to the poor (six thousand of whom were present), and declared it to be one of the gayest and most beautiful spectacles he had ever seen. Not the least impressive part of the entertainment was the keen pleasure shown by the host himself, to whom he thought applicable Burke's panegyric on the Indian kings (‘Delighting to reign in the dispensation of happiness,’ &c.).
Writing of a previous visit (in December 1832), Greville describes Egremont at the age of eighty-one as still healthy, with faculties and memory unimpaired, living with an abundant, though not very refined, hospitality. Haydon, in his account of his visit to Petworth in 1826, describes the character of his entertainment, which resembled that of a great inn. Egremont would leave his guests from breakfast till dinner, when he himself carved every dish and ate heartily. His motto was ‘Live and let live.’ Every one and everything seemed to share his hospitality. Many anecdotes of his hatred of ceremony are told by Haydon and Leslie. Greville described Egremont as a man blunt without rudeness and caustic without bitterness; shrewd, eccentric, and benevolent.
Egremont died unmarried at Petworth on 11 Nov. 1837. There are several portraits of him in the collection there. That by Phillips was engraved by Agar, Reynolds, Cook, and Roberts, and engravings were executed by Lupton after Clint, by Meyer after Beechey, and by Turner of a three-quarter length with dogs by Derby (cf. Cat. Third Loan Exhib. No. 283). A fine engraving by Scriven, from a bust by Carew, is prefixed to vol. ii. of Horsfield's ‘Sussex.’ Egremont was succeeded as fourth earl by his nephew, George Francis Wyndham (1785–1845), on whose death the peerage became extinct. Petworth passed to a kinsman, George Wyndham (1789–1869), who was created Baron Leconfield on 14 April 1859.
[Lower's Worthies of Sussex, p. 90; G. E. C[okayne]'s Peerage; Arnold's Petworth; Walpole's Letters (Cunningham), vols. v. vi. vii. passim; Mrs. Delany's Autobiogr. v. 88, 546, 553; Rogers's Protests of the Lords; Greville's Memoirs, 1888, ii. 345–6, iii. 86–8, iv. 24–6 (the substance of which formed an obituary notice in the ‘Times,’ 18 Nov. 1837); Haydon's Autobiogr. (Taylor), vol. ii.; Hamerton's Life of Turner, pp. 120–1; Monkhouse's Turner, pp. 76, 108–9; Leslie's Recollections, i. 78, 102–8, 162–4, and Life and Letters of Constable, 1896, pp. 289–93; Smith's Nollekens, ed. Gosse, pp. 246, 327, 399; Evans's Cat. of Engraved Portraits. See also Gent. Mag. 1845, i. 539, ii. 653; Boase's Modern Biogr. vol. ii.]