Catalogue entry

N05981 A View of Box Hill, Surrey 1733

Oil on canvas 908×1842 (35 3/4×72 1/2). The painting was once folded back at least 12 in (305 mm) on the left to fit a smaller stretcher
Inscribed ‘G. Lambert 1733’ centre foreground
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1951
PROVENANCE ...; in the Bedford Collection at Woburn Abbey by May 1802; Bedford Sale, Christie's 19 January 1951 (29) bt Agnew for the Tate Gallery
EXHIBITED Kenwood 1970 (5, repr.); Landscape in Britain c. 1750–1850, Tate Gallery 1973–4 (29, repr.); Pittura inglese 1660–1840, Palazzo Reale, Milan 1975 (45, repr. pl.III in col.)
LITERATURE J. Hayes, ‘British Patronage and Landscape Painting - IV’, Apollo, CXXXV, 1967, p.256; R. Paulson, ‘Hogarth the Painter: The Exhibition at the Tate’, Burlington Magazine, CXIV, 1972, p.72, fig.9 (detail); Luke Herrmann, British Landscape Painting of the Eighteenth Century, 1973, pl.I (col.); D. Piper (ed.), The Genius of British Painting, 1975, p.182, repr.; J. Sunderland, Painting in Britain 1525–1975, 1976, p.232, fig.49; J. Barrell, The Dark Side of the Landscape, 1980, pp.42–8, repr. p.43; M. Rosenthal, British Landscape Painting, 1982, pp.30, 38, fig.22; H. Prince, ‘Landscape through Painting’, Geography, LXIX, no.302, pt.I, 1984, pp.11–12, fig.7

It has now been established that this is a view of Box Hill, Surrey, showing the Mole Gap, and the Mickleham Downs on the left, seen from some point on Ranmore Common. It has also been plausibly suggested that the viewpoint is taken from the former Denbies Carriage Drive, now part of the North Downs Way (letter of 8 September 1984 from Ethel Clear of the Dorking Museum). Denbies was at this date a small farm on the slopes of the North Downs which was bought in 1734 by Jonathan Tyers, manager of Vauxhall Gardens and soon to become a notable patron of British artists. Tyers (1702–67) was intimate with the convivial artistic fraternity of St Martin's Lane to which Hogarth, Hayman and Lambert belonged, and it is possible that this painting of 1733, and its companion in the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, relate in some way to Tyers's acquisition of Denbies the following year (for the fullest history of Tyers's estate see Brian Allen, ‘Jonathan Tyers's Other Garden’, Journal of Garden History, I, no.3, 1981, pp.215–38). There is, however, no record of Tyers ever having owned such a view or views. Prominent in the foreground are three gentlemen, one of whom is working at a drawing board, while another man lies on the ground beside a picnic basket, pointing sadly at an overturned wine bottle. Harvesting is in progress in the cornfield on the right, with one labourer at work, while the other sharpens his scythe in the shade, beside a countrywoman seated on the ground with a leather ale bottle by her side. Another is walking along the path through the corn with a child in her arms, and there are other figures in the distance, including a man on horseback approaching along the edge of the cornfield.

N05981Lambert's method of painting views was to make an accurate on-the-spot drawing of the topography, and then to ‘frame’ the scene on canvas with wings of decorative trees or shrubs and a built-up foreground with appropriate, usually fanciful, figures. The latter were usually painted by other hands - as probably in this case - but their importance in the general composition is demonstrated by frequent pentimenti showing careful adjustments: here it can be clearly seen that the active labourer originally swung his scythe to the left. It cannot be entirely ruled out that some of the figures may be by Lambert himself, since he is said to have owned drawings by Hogarth for his use as models. The British Museum has a wash drawing by Hogarth (no.1953-2-18-1) of a labourer with a scythe, inscribed in an old hand ‘This & the following 6 Sketches were made from Nature by Hogarth for his Friend George Lambert ye Landskape Painter’; it is presumably one of seven such sketches which belonged to Samuel Ireland (his sale Christie's 6 May 1797, lot 131). As has been pointed out by Barrell and others, two reapers would be far from sufficient to harvest a field of this size; like the framing trees and the picturesque cloud formations, the figures are there to give appropriate animation to the landscape rather than to record actual agricultural methods.

Both paintings are first recorded, already showing their difference in size, in ‘The List of Pictures with their Dispositions and Size as placed at Woburn Abbey May 1802’ (MS Bedford Office, London), according to which the ‘Landscape - with Mowers of Corn at Bottom - 5.1-3.0’ was in the West Attic and the ‘Landscape Hills and Fields (the fellow to one in W. Attic) - 4.5-2.11’ in the Lumber Room. One can also speculate that the paintings may have been commissioned by John Russell, 4th Duke of Bedford, possibly as a record of favourite outing places near his house in Surrey. Before inheriting the Dukedom and Woburn Abbey on the death of his brother in October 1732, he and his wife Diana Spencer were furnishing a modest house in the village of Cheam. They enjoyed taking the air on Banstead Downs, and were almost certainly familiar with the nearby beauty spot of Box Hill (G. Blakiston, Woburn and the Russells, 1980, p.98). When his formidable mother-in-law, Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, inspected the Cheam house on 2 April 1732, she considered it ‘a very pleasing habitation, particularly as it was within half a mile of the finest downs and best air in England, and within two hours of driving from London’ (Gladys Scott Thomson, Letters of a Grandmother, 1943, p.18). She goes on to compare it very favourably with Lord Herbert's recently built Westcombe House at Blackheath, which Diana's brother John Spencer seems to have thought of buying. Diana, however, had on some previous visit liked it or, as her grandmother put it, it was ‘a place I am fearful you once commended to me’ (ibid. p.21), and she was also impressed by Lord Herbert's plans for Wilton, which she visited in July 1732 (ibid.p.52).

Significantly, at least two of Lambert's set of four fine views of Westcombe House, now at Wilton, can still be seen to be dated 1733, and it is possible that Lord Herbert (who became the 9th Earl of Pembroke in January 1733) recommended Lambert to the Bedfords. His work must have met with approval, because according to George Scharf (Catalogue of Pictures at Woburn Abbey, privately printed 1890) there were at least nine other pictures by Lambert in the Woburn Collection, most of them classical scenes, all of which bar one, have left the collection. Those that can still be identified do not seem to be autograph works, though very much in his style, and may have been executed in collaboration with pupils or assistants.

The compilers gratefully acknowledge topographical information given by L.H. Locock, J.H.P. Sankey, R.S.R. Fitter and C.M. O'Brien.


Published in:
Elizabeth Einberg and Judy Egerton, The Age of Hogarth: British Painters Born 1675-1709, Tate Gallery Collections, II, London 1988