Catalogue entry

T03789 THE CARVED ROOM, PETWORTH HOUSE, SUSSEX c.1826

Verso: Sketch of a Seated Male Figure in Van Dyck Costume 1844
Oil on millboard 14 × 12 (352 × 300)
Inscribed on verso ‘N’ and ‘Dec 4th|1844’
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1983
Prov: The artist's wife, Harriet, probably until her death in 1885;? the artist's youngest son, George Dunlop Leslie RA (1835–1921); his eldest son, David Leslie and then by descent to his daughter Barbara (died c.1960); purchased from the administrators of her estate by her cousin Thomas Leslie Twidell from whom bt by the Tate Gallery
Exh: RA Winter 1870 (199 as ‘Carved Drawing-Room at Petworth’)

Petworth House at Petworth in Sussex was the country seat of George O'Brien, the 3rd Earl of Egremont (1751–1837). As one of the most enlightened and generous of all patrons of living British painters and sculptors during the nineteenth century - he owned works by, for example, Beechey, Blake, Flaxman, Jones, Northcote, Opie and Turner - he frequently invited artists to be his guests at Petworth. Here they had the freedom of the house and its grounds and there are a number of recorded instances where Egremont set aside rooms which his artist-guests could use as studios.

C.R. Leslie's first contact with Lord Egremont came in May 1823 when, at the suggestion of Thomas Phillips RA (Egremont's ‘official’ portraitist), he was asked to make a portrait of one of his grandchildren who was dying. Soon afterwards Egremont commissioned a more substantial picture from Leslie - the subject to be chosen by the artist - and in response he painted a scene from Cervantes's Don Quixote, ‘Sancho Panza in the Apartment of the Duchess’; a small preliminary study in oils for this picture is in the Tate Gallery (n 01798). The finished canvas, which is now at Petworth House, was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1824 and its success not only led Egremont to predict, with some accuracy, that Leslie would become ‘the Hogarth of Elegant life’ (Egremont to Lord Holland, 6 May 1824; Holland House MSS. British Museum Add. MSS 51725, ff 59–60) but also produced an immediate commission from his patron for a companion work - with the proviso that should the artist in the meantime receive other commissions then he should give them priority over Egremont's. In fact, after the ‘Sancho Panza’, Leslie painted five more pictures for Egremont: portraits of two of his daughters (1830), ‘A scene from the Taming of the Shrew’ (1830–1; RA 1832); ‘Gulliver's Introduction to the Queen of Brobdinag’ (1834–5; RA 1835), and ‘Charles II and the Lady Bellenden’ (RA 1837).

With the possible exception of J.M.W. Turner, Leslie appears to have had a stronger attachment to Petworth and its owner than had any of his other colleagues who were visitors to the house. The most obvious reason for this was that Egremont's commissions for ‘Sancho Panza’ and its companion came at an important moment in Leslie's career and enabled him to consolidate his position as one of the leaders among contemporary painters of literary genre. In addition to this, however, in the end Leslie's association with Petworth was inextricably bound up with his own family life in a way that no other artist experienced. A striking instance of this is found in the fact that when his second son was born in 1835 he was named George, after Lord Egremont.

Leslie's first visit to Petworth was made in 1826 with his wife (C.R. Leslie, Autobiographical Recollections, 1860, i, p.102) and then subsequently during the Earl's lifetime he made further visits - invariably with his wife and children - in 1827 (when Leslie's eldest son sat for a zephyr in Beechey's portrait of Egremont's niece, ‘Mrs Hasler as Flora’: C.R. Leslie to Ann Leslie, 2 January 1828; private coll.), 1828, 1829(?), 1831 (when he finished ‘A Scene from the Taming of the Shrew’), 1832, 1833, 1834 (twice; on the second occasion he commenced work on ‘Gulliver’), 1835 (when he worked on ‘Autolycus’, a commission for another patron, John Sheepshanks); 1836 and 1837 (twice; on the second occasion he was attending Lord Egremont's funeral). After Egremont's death we know that Leslie went to stay in Petworth, and almost certainly visited the house, in 1848, 1853, 1856, 1857 and 1859. On the last four occasions he stayed with his friend the engraver J.H. Robinson RA and in the latter year he was to die very shortly after returning home to London from his visit.

Whilst guests at Petworth, Leslie and his family were given a large sitting room and a suite of bedrooms (Robert C. Leslie, ‘With Charles Robert Leslie, RA’, Temple Bar, cvi, 1896, p.356). During his visits the artist himself would, in the words of one of Egremont's grand-daughters, ‘go about the rooms making sketches in his little sketchbook of the ...old china vases and Venetian mirrors’ (‘Painter and Patron. Glimpses of Turner and other artists at Petworth’, Times, 9 December 1959, p.14). Leslie's studio sale (Foster's, 25–28 April 1860) contained about two dozen such sketches, along with a few landscape studies of the environs of the house, a few of which can be identified as the sources for accessories in some of Leslie's finished pictures. Another aspect of the use to which he put his time at Petworth is seen in the copies which he made, for his own pleasure and instruction as well as for the benefit of his friends, from paintings by the old and modern masters which hung in the house. Three of these were in Leslie's studio sale, but there were others: in 1830 he sent sketches taken from van Dyck's portrait of Ann Carr, Countess of Bedford, and Reynolds's ‘Death of Cardinal Beaufort’, to his former instructor in Philadelphia, Thomas Sully (C.R. Leslie to Sully, 12 January 1830; coll. Boston Public Library), and in 1832 he made a slight copy of a landscape by Thomas Gainsborough which he gave to his close friend John Constable (C.R. Leslie, Memoirs of the Life of John Constable, 1845, p.222).

Of all the works by C.R. Leslie which owe their inspiration to Egremont and Petworth T03789 is unique in being an exact record of one of the rooms in the house. It also appears to be, apart from the large group of watercolours showing views of Petworth which Turner made in about 1828–9 (now Turner Bequest, nos. ccxliii and ccxliv), the only instance of one of Egremont's artist visitors setting out specifically to make a record of the inside of the great house. Turner, as it happens, also made a sketch of the Carved Room when in use as a dining room (tb ccxliv-36) but Leslie's rendering of the scene, unlike any of Turner's very much more spontaneous sketches, has a documentary precision which reflects his concern, when in the right surroundings, for noting appropriate background material which could be turned to good account in his own subject pictures.

T03789 shows the north-west end of the Carved Room, which takes its name from the carved wall panels which were completed by Grinling Gibbons in 1692. With its exquisitely wrought carvings, in wood, of trophies, putti, flowers, fruit and animals the room, which is the largest in the house, is the most splendid apartment in Petworth and Gibbons's work in it certainly ranks among the finest examples of his art (for the best concise account of the Carved Room see Christopher Hussey, ‘Petworth House II’ Country Life, lviii, 5 December 1925, pp.862–71). So exact is Leslie's treatment of his subject that it is possible to identify the actual items of furniture and works of art in the room; all of them are still at Petworth. The table nearest the viewer on the left is a Louis XIV porphyry topped table which dates from the end of the seventeenth century (for an illustration see ‘Furniture at Petworth’, Country Life, lix, 13 February 1926, pl.13) and the pier table between the two windows can be identified as one of a pair of Italian gilt-wood and marble tables with additions of c.1760 (see Gervase Jackson-Stops, ‘Furniture at Petworth’, Apollo, cv, 1977, p.364, pl.21). Amongst the pieces of classical sculpture in the room, all of which were purchased in Rome for the 2nd Earl of Egremont in the 1750s and 60s, the bust on the nearest table might be the idealized head of a woman, at one time known as ‘Sabina’ and ‘Artemis’, which is a Roman work dating from the 2nd Century ad, and the bust on the bracket on the wall is probably the portrait head of the Emperor Hadrian, which is carved out of Parian marble and which is set into a Renaissance bust of coloured marble (see Margaret Wyndham, Catalogue of Greek and Roman Antiquities in the Possession of Lord Leconfield, 1915, nos.28 and 78 respectively). The two portraits on the far wall are (over the fireplace), Frances Prinne, Lady Seymour of Trow-bridge, now attributed to William Larkin (active 1610–20) but at one time given to P. van Somer (see Petworth House, National Trust Guide, 1978, p.20 and C.H. Collins Baker, Catalogue of the Petworth Collection of Pictures in the Possession of Lord Leconfield, 1920, p.129) and (over the door), Elizabeth Howard, Countess of Northumberland, by Sir Peter Lely (1618–80). This latter picture is still in the same position today but the portrait of Frances Prinne was replaced, at an unknown date, by a portrait of Charles I on horseback after van Dyck. The view through the open door into what was in Leslie's day called the Red Room shows an arrangement of paintings and furniture which is identical to that depicted in a watercolour sketch of the Red Room by Turner (tb ccxliv-21). The painting of which part appears beyond the top left hand corner of the doorway is probably van Dyck's portrait of Sir Robert Shirley for, in a note dealing with Turner's picture, Violet, Lady Leconfield, identifies this as the work which hangs on the left hand side of the door on the north wall of the Red Room (notes added to the copy of A.J. Finberg's Complete Inventory of the Drawings of the Turner Bequest, 1909, in the Department of Prints and Drawings, British Museum). In or about 1869, the Red Room was devoted completely to the works of Turner and renamed the ‘Turner Room’.

Leslie's view of the Carved Room can be dated to the time of his earliest visits to Petworth, most probably those of 1826 or 1827, for a number of reasons. In the first place the room does not appear to have the extensive wood carvings which were added to Gibbons's original scheme by Jonathan Ritson (c.1780–1846) between about 1827 and 1846 (the compiler is grateful to Alison McCann of West Sussex Record Office for supplying these dates from the Petworth House Archives). Most of these additional carvings, which covered much of the wall area and some of the ceiling, were eventually removed after the 2nd Lord Leconfield succeeded to the title in 1869 at which time the white paint which covered the original seventeeth-century panelling, and which is so evident in Leslie's painting, was also stripped off (see Hussey, op.cit.). At the same time, it should also be noted, four paintings by Turner which had been installed in c.1829 on the east wall of the room, almost as predellas to the full-length portraits which hung there, were removed and placed in the Turner Room (see Turner T03883-T03886 below, and Petworth House, National Trust Guide, 1978, p.21). Secondly, in a small picture which Leslie painted for the 1st Earl of Mulgrave (1755–1831) in c. 1829–30, ‘Laura Introducing Gil Blas to Arsenia’, (now coll. Marquess of Lansdowne), there are elements of the composition, particularly a marble topped and giltwood table and the arrangement of a group of paintings hung on a wall seen through an open door, which are clearly borrowed directly from T03789. Thirdly, T03789 clearly dates from that period of Leslie's career - the 1820 - when the influence of the seventeenth-century Dutch masters of genre on his own painting was at its strongest. In 1821 he wrote to his friend Washington Irving that ‘the more I see of the Dutch School, the more I venerate them and the more hopeless appears the chance of coming near them’ (C.R. Leslie, ed. T. Taylor, Autobiographical Recollections, 1860, ii, p.112). In expressing such sentiments Leslie was reflecting the widespread public taste at that time for Dutch and Flemish paintings. But he was also indicating the more particular interest among contemporary artists in the technical virtuosity and skilful handling of subject matter which these painters possessed and the lessons which artists like himself felt such works held for the creators of modern cabinet pictures. Like David Wilkie, who had, earlier on, looked at the examples of David Teniers (1610–90) and Jan Steen (1626–79) when he was treating subjects from Scottish peasant life, Leslie, in looking for examples of how he could treat the more subtle dramas of domestic life which appealed to him, had lighted upon the work of Pieter de Hooch (1629–after 1684) and Gerard Ter Borch (1617–81).

As early as 1817, on his first visit to Paris, Leslie had made a sketch of one of the de Hoochs in the Louvre (Leslie 1860, I,p.41, ii, p.291) but a more telling experience of art of this period came at the time of the exhibition of the whole of George IV's collection of Dutch paintings which was held at the British Institution during the summer of 1826. There can be little doubt that Leslie went to this exhibition and here was one work by de Hooch, ‘The Card Players’, which held his attention. It is a characteristic work by the artist: it shows a group of figures in an interior, lit from a large window which is partly covered by a thin curtain and with a view through an open door into a brightly lit courtyard beyond. In later life Leslie, who thought the picture ‘the finest work of de Hooch with which I am acquainted’, described it in the following terms:

It represents an interior, with a few figures drinking, smoking, and playing at cards. Its largest masses are gray, but as this serves for a foil to warm lights, the tone is delicious, and is exactly that of the finest summer weather. In the lights, there is a predominance of the most refined red and yellow, and though there is one large mass of blue drapery, yet it is of the deepest dye. There is no sunshine in this picture, but something even more beautiful, the reflection of sunshine on an open door, from some object outside, but not seen...

(C.R. Leslie, A Hand-Book for Young Painters, 1855, p.194)


‘The Carved Room’ contains no figures and it is a literal representation of the room. In one respect, therefore, it has close affinities with a tradition, of which Leslie would have been well-aware, of interior view-taking established by Charles Wild and James Stephan-off in their illustrations for W.H. Pyne's The History of the Royal Residences (3 vols. 1819). Nevertheless, Leslie's artistry, his sense of what, in technical and historical terms, is appropriate to the subject in hand, raises his view of this interior at Petworth above the level of a mere architectural record. The conscious debt to de Hooch is obvious in the view-point which he has adopted and in the preoccupation with the luminous quality of daylight, tinted by colour (in this case, the red of the curtains); in the manner the adjoining spaces are suffused with light and in the delicacy with which the paint itself is applied in order to achieve this effect.

Although in these respects ‘The Carved Room’ stands apart from the sort of sketching by Leslie which Egremont's granddaughter mentioned - when he noted likely ‘props’ for his subjects - nonetheless, the artist did turn to the work for such a purpose on at least two occasions. The first has already been mentioned. More interestingly, however, in another painting, entitled ‘The Heiress’, which he exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1845 (no.131; oil on canvas 34 × 26 1/4, 813 × 654; private collection; repr. Exhibition of English Paintings, Leger Galleries, 1968, no.29). Here Leslie recreated the Carved Room, with a number of variations, as the setting for a slight domestic incident in which the young heiress, with her servants, is receiving and discarding the proposals which have been written to her by hopeful suitors. The costumes and many of the background details are unmistakeably Victorian: the work is, in fact, Leslie's most successful attempt at reinterpreting the seventeenth-century Dutch models which were so dear to him, in nineteenth-century terms.

The date on the verso of T03789 would seem to be associated with the period of Leslie's work on ‘The Heiress’ but the study of the figure in van Dyck dress does not relate to any finished picture by the artist.

As a postscript to this discussion of T03789 and C.R. Leslie at Petworth, a seventh and final commission which the artist commenced for Lord Egremont should perhaps be mentioned. The subject of the painting was an incident from the Earl's own family history, ‘Lucy Percy, Countess of Carlisle, bringing the pardon to her Father’ and it was a work in which Egremont took a close interest. The artist records that the Earl even went up to the top rooms in the house in order to retrieve an old globe which was to be introduced into the foreground of the picture (Leslie 1860, ii, p.242) but in fact Egremont died before the painting had progressed very far and was put aside. It was eventually re-commenced at the end of 1845, at the request of Egremont's son and heir, Colonel George Wyndham (later 1st Lord Leconfield), and finished in September 1846.

For Leslie, the course of this particular commission undoubtedly marked a painful conclusion to much that was dear to him about Petworth. Not only was it interrupted by Egremont's death, but also Colonel Wyndham obviously conducted his affairs with artists in a manner totally different to that of his father. Known, rather wryly, by Harriet Leslie as ‘the fox-hunter’-he was famous throughout southern England for his devotion, above all else, to the chase - Wyndham appears to have been both inept and insensitive towards Leslie. It is obvious from a letter written by Harriet that the Colonel at one point pleaded shortage of money as an excuse for not forwarding payment to the artist (Harriet Leslie to C.R. Leslie, n.d.; private coll.) and right at the last moment when the picture was finished he wrote to Leslie to say that if any of the painter's friends wanted the work he would be ‘very glad to relinquish all claims to it’. The artist's comment ‘bless his dear heart! he's as shabby as ever’ referred as much to his sense of being let down over a very practical matter as to the fact that he was now, in the circumstances, unlikely to take the picture down to Petworth House as he had hoped (C.R. Leslie to Harriet Leslie, 26 September 1846; private coll.).

A few days earlier Harriet had herself articulated her husband's feelings and hopes about the picture - and about Petworth as he remembered it: her tone is curiously redolent of the sentiment which informs J.M.W. Turner's picture ‘Interior at Petworth’, painted just after Egremont's death (Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, op.cit., no.449), and an apt reminder of how powerful an influence, for the good of all those who lived under his roof, Egremont had been during his lifetime:

When you take it home, as I hope you will to dearest Petworth, do not forget to point out all its nice little points. Remember such people [i.e. Wyndham] don't see very often, & unless dear Lord Egremont rises one moonlight night & takes a peep at your picture, it may be, will never be valued or looked at as it ought to be, but I flatter myself the dearest Lord will look upon it ere the moon be on its wane; nothing of yours can go to Petworth without his knowledge...

(Harriet Leslie to C.R. Leslie, 24 September 1846; private coll.)


Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986