The Tudor palace of Hampton Court on the river Thames, thirteen miles west of London, was the favourite residence of the Dutch-born British king William III (reigned 1689-1702). William commissioned the celebrated architect Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) initially to design a new palace there but later, owing to financial constraints, mainly to remodel the earlier buildings. Following the destruction by fire of Whitehall Palace in Westminster in 1698, Hampton Court became William’s principal base.
The costumes depicted in this semi-fantastical view of the palace date it to about 1710. The general view of the buildings and gardens resembles the layout published in an engraving in 1707-8 in Britannia Illustrata by Johannes Kip and Leonard Knyff.
As in other contemporary British landscape views, this work sets out the land and the buildings as if seen from a high vantage point and with apparently map-like precision. In fact, however, Griffier has deviated from the naturalistic depiction of an actual topography to produce a partly imaginary scene, a genre that he had previously exploited in numerous images of the river Rhine. In the present work, the castle to the right is perhaps intended to be an imaginary representation of another royal palace, Windsor Castle in Berkshire, further along the river Thames.
The Netherlands-trained Griffier, who was born in Amsterdam, specialised in both topographical and fantasy landscapes. He first settled in London in 1667 and produced views of the river Thames, before returning to the Netherlands in 1695. Later, back in London once again, he lived at Millbank, near the present site of Tate Britain.
The painting formerly belonged to a Jewish banker who was shot by the Nazis in Dusseldorf in 1937. In 1939, his children escaped to England and his wife fled to Belgium. In hiding in Brussels during World War II, she was obliged to sell this and other paintings in order to survive. In 1944 she was taken to a concentration camp at Malines. After liberation she was able to join her remaining family in Britain in 1946.
The painting was given to the Tate Gallery by the Friends of the Tate in 1961. It had been bought in good faith in 1955 at auction in Cologne by the English dealers Roland Browse and Delbanco, who six years later sold it to the Friends of the Tate. Recently, it was recognised by surviving members of the banker’s family, who made a formal claim for compensation in 1999.
Tate and the claimant referred the case to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s Spoliation Advisory Panel. In January 2001 the Panel published its report acknowledging that Tate had good legal title, but recognising the family’s moral claim to the painting. On the Panel’s recommendation, the Government made an ex gratia payment to the claimant and a caption describing the history of the work now appears alongside the painting.
The Tate Gallery Report 1960-61, London 1961, p.21
John Harris, The Artist and the Country House, London, 2nd edition 1985, p.129