A painting by one of the most celebrated portrait painters of his time has been returned to its ancestral home, Sizergh Castle.
‘Charles Strickland with a Fishing Rod’ was painted by Dalton-born artist George Romney in the 1760s. Romney, who later went on to become a successful Georgian Society artist, is best known for his portraits of Lord Nelson’s mistress, Emma Hamilton, and built up his reputation by painting the local gentry, which included the Stricklands of Sizergh. Romney produced six paintings of the family, five of which can be seen at the castle today (the sixth is of Cecilia Strickland and currently resides in the National Museum of Cuba, Havana, where it’s likely to remain). The family still live at Sizergh, and have done for over 750 years, although the house and its collection are now looked after by the National Trust. The painting of Charles is a rare example of Romney’s early work – quite different to the later style for which he is famed and depicts Charles as a country gentleman and landowner, fishing on his estate in front of Force Falls on the River Kent near Sedgwick.
The painting was auctioned in the late 1800s and bougtby the Grosvenor Estate, where it hung in an accountant’s back office and was gifted to him on his retirement. Years later, whilst visiting Sizergh with his wife, this gentleman recognised a similarity between the four paintings and his own – not knowing that he was in fact, in possession of the missing piece in the set. After striking up a friendship with the late Mrs Strickland and her son Henry, this gentleman wrote into his will that the castle would have the first chance to buy the painting when he died.
The piece was finally bought last August thanks to generous donations from volunteers at Sizergh, the Romney Society and the V&A Acquisitions Fund. Raffle tickets sales at the castle last year funded a specialist survey which identified what restoration work was needed on the painting.
Senior House Steward, Matthew Brown, said, “It’s fantastic to see the portrait of Charles Strickland back on the walls of the house it was painted to adorn. The portrait hasn’t been seen at Sizergh since 1896 so it’s wonderful to have it back in its original setting after 124 years. The Romney portraits tell a significant part of the family’s story and of their place within British society and we are grateful to everyone who donated towards the cause over the last two years.”
The portrait can be seen alongside the other Romney paintings of the family when the house opens for the new season this Saturday 21st March (open Tues-Sun until 1 November). To celebrate its return, there will be a series of free guided ‘Romney walks’ at 11am on Tuesday 24th March, Friday 3rd April and Wednesday 8th April, which will take visitors near to the portrait’s waterfall setting, to see the landscape behind the painting put down on canvas over 250 years ago. Places are limited, please call Sizergh Reception on 015395 69818 to book.