Tunbridge Wells Museum secures exceptional 18th century English portrait collection

By James Murray | 10 June 2014

Ten family portraits by some of the finest painters of the age are on display to the general public in an intimate gallery space just a few miles from their original home at Bayham Abbey, Kent

A picture of an oil painting of a woman in posh clothes
Thomas Lawrence, Lady Caroline Ann Stewart© 5th Marquess Camden Will Trust
In a major coup for a dynamic small museum, Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery has secured a long-term loan from the 5th Marquess Camden Will Trust of 10 associated family portraits.

The group of portraits are by the Masters Thomas Gainsborough, Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Lawrence, Nathaniel Dance, Pompeo Batoni and William Beechy.

Praised for its innovative methods of interpretation, the museum plans to display the paintings intimately in a single room, emphasising the relationships between the sitters, as well as the differences in style between the artists.

The Trust is especially keen that the portraits are shown in Tunbridge Wells due to the close connection between the Marquesses of Camden and this area of Kent, where one of their main estates, Bayham Abbey, was located.

Although Bayham Manor itself was sold in 2007 following the death of the last scion of the family to live there (Lord Michael Pratt), the portrait collection showcases a number of important local characters, including the 1st Earl Camden, Charles Pratt, who was a prominent opponent of the repressive measures which led to the American revolution of 1775, and an early developer of Camden Town in London.

As well as likenesses of the same sitter by different artists, visitors to the exhibition will also find portraits of wives, sisters and daughters, creating a complete, variegated picture of a prominent local aristocratic family during the 18th and early 19th centuries – altogether a close-up experience difficult to achieve in larger more prominent galleries.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

1st Earl Camden, Charles Pratt, by Nathaniel Dance
The 1st Earl Camden, Charles Pratt, by Nathaniel Dance© 5th Marquess Camden Will Trust
Frances Molesworth, Marioness Camden, by Joshua Reynolds
Frances Molesworth, Marioness Camden, by Joshua Reynolds© 5th Marquess Camden Will Trust
The 1st Earl's children, by Nathaniel Dance
Sarah, Jane, and John Pratt, children of the 1st Earl, by Nathaniel Dance© 5th Marquess Camden Will Trust
the 1st Marquess Camden, by Joshua Reynolds
John Jeffreys Pratt, 1st Marquess Camden, by Joshua Reynolds© 5th Marquess Camden Will Trust
Lady Frances Pratt, by William Beechy
Lady Frances Anne Pratt, by William Beechy© 5th Marquess Camden Will Trust
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Please pass along to Curator of Turnbridge Wells Museum: I've only just read the article re: portraiture of Pratt family & have a piece which probably ought to be there on perm. display. Not oil but a large(ish) engraving ('after Romney') of Joan Marion Pratt (Nee Nevill), Marchioness Camden, wife of John Pratt (4th Marques). She was all of 22, gorgeous, piece commissioned just after marriage - frame is gold leaf/oak w/ original glass. Please email to jwilliampeironnet@ymail.com.
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