Two wings for an altarpiece by William John Bankes

The collector, connoisseur, member of Parliament and explorer William Bankes made these two neo-Gothic paintings around 1804 as part of a decorative scheme for his undergraduate lodgings at Trinity College, Cambridge.


Details

Medium:
Gouache and watercolor on vellum
Dimensions:
56.5 x 18.8 cm
Art Fund grant:
£9,000 ( Total: £22,000)
Acquired in:
2015
Vendor:
Lowell Libson

The paintings are thought to have been created for a mock chapel, which Bankes set up in a spare room. The panels feature Bankes’s family heraldry combined with medieval funeral iconography. They also reflect his sense of humour, particularly in the representation of the comical skull and inscription, which reads “Pray for the soul of Wulie”, probably referring to Bankes himself. His friend Byron later labelled him “the father of all mischief”. Bankes went on to transform his 17th-century country seat at Kingston Lacy into a grand Italianate house, complete with one of the finest collections of European painting in England. He fled into exile after a homosexual scandal in 1841, and the house and contents were given to the National Trust in 1981. These paintings now return there as early and important examples of his remarkable taste and character.

Provenance

William John Bankes, Trinity Cambridge, c.1804; private collection. An Art Loss Register search has been carried out.

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