This is one of two paintings by the Flemish-trained Siberechts in the Tate collection. The artist began specialising in pictures of country estates when he settled in Britain in the 1670s. The name of the estate's owner, and probable commissioner of the painting, is now lost. At one time thought to be The Grove in Highgate, the building has been identified by local historian Roy Allen as being in Belsize, Middlesex (what is now Belsize Park in northwest London). In 1696, when this picture was made, the whole of Belsize belonged to the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey (the Abbey and other landmarks are visible on the horizon). The road in the foreground is what is now Rosslyn Hill. The coach is heading towards Hampstead.
The country house and estate portrait, of which Siberechts was the most accomplished practitioner, was a fashionable genre in Britain by the late seventeenth century. The typical bird's-eye view allows a maximum amount of detail to be depicted, including possibly the best recorded vegetable and fruit garden of the period.
John Harris, The Artist and the Country House, London 1979, pp.47, 73, reproduced pl.69 (as The Grove, Highgate, London)
Karen Hearn, 'Rewriting History on the Walls', Country Life, vol.191, no.21, 22 May 1997, p.55, reproduced pl.6 in colour
Technique and condition
The painting is on plain-woven, linen canvas which was prepared, probably in the artist's studio, with a coat of animal-glue size, followed by two layers of opaque priming. The first layer is brown, the second layer is tan coloured and like the first it is bound in oil. Both contain varying amounts of lead white, ochres, umbers, glassy particles and fine sand, which was probably added to increase the hardness of the ground and perhaps also give it some texture.
No underdrawing is visible with microscopic or infra-red examination, though the dense paint layers and tan ground may be masking its presence. The first stage of painting was an opaque, off-white underpainting, which was applied to the top part of the picture in preparation for the blue of the sky. It extends also beneath the most distant range of hills, its whiteness helping create the hazy effect of aerial perspective. The technique used thereafter is consistent throughout the painting. The colours, which are mostly opaque, were mixed up on the palette and applied wet-in-wet with no preparatory underpainting. Large areas were blocked in before tonal and figurative details were added on top and in each element of the picture dark tones were put on before light. Glazes are present here and there in the trees but as local patches rather than large passages. The blue pigment in the sky is very good quality ultramarine, which was used also to make the most distant greens. The greens elsewhere have azurite as their principal component, mixed with green earth, ochres, lead tin yellow, black and pale smalt.
The painting is in very fine condition. When acquired by the Tate in 1995, it had been recently cleaned and lined. The original stetcher is not present. There are no significant damages in it.
Jan Siberechts 1627–c.1700
View of a House and its Estate in Belsize, Middlesex
Oil on canvas
1079 x 1397 mm
Inscribed ‘J. Siberechts | 1696’ bottom left
Purchased with assistance from the National Art Collections Fund and the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1995
… T.N. Asterley, by whom sold anonymously through Christie’s, 20 May 1927 (59), where bought for £189 by Knoedler; … John Sloane, by whom bequeathed to his daughter Mrs Cyrus Vance in 1994; by whom sold, William Doyle, New York, 26 January 1994 (72), where purchased by Leger Galleries, London, from whom acquired by Tate 1995.
Leger Galleries, British Landscape Painting, May–June 1994, no.1 (as ‘Sir Francis Pemberton’s London Estate’).
T.H. Fokker, Jan Siberechts: Peintre de Paysanne Flamande, Brussels and Paris 1931, pp.98–9 (as ‘Vue du Chateau de Nannau Hall (Cardiganshire)’), reproduced pl.45; Ellis Waterhouse, Painting in Britain 1530 to 1790, 5th edn, New Haven and London 1994, p.118 (as ‘View of Nannau Hall’); John Harris, The Artist and the Country House, 2nd edn, London 1986, pp.47 and 73 (as ‘The Grove, Highgate’), reproduced pl.69; NACF Review 1995, 1996, pp.126–7 (as ‘A View of Sir Francis Pemberton’s House in The Grove, Highgate’); tate, issue 8, Spring 1996, p.m1; Tate Report 1994–96, 1996, p.17, reproduced in colour (as ‘A View of the Grove, Highgate’); Karen Hearn, ‘Acquisitions of Seventeenth-Century Painting at the Tate Gallery’, Apollo, December 1996, p.22, reproduced fig.3; Karen Hearn, ‘Rewriting History on the Walls’, Country Life, vol.191, no.21, 22 May 1997, p.55, reproduced fig.6; G.W. Levenson, ‘The Tate Gallery Painting’, Newsletter of the Camden History Society, no.166, March 1998, p.4; Roy Allen, ‘The Tate Gallery Painting’, Newsletter of the Camden History Society, no.167, May 1998, p.3; Rica Jones, ‘Jan Siberechts: View of a House and its Estate in Belsize, Middlesex of 1696’, in S. Hackney, R. Jones and J. Townsend (eds.), Paint and Purpose, London 1999, pp.38–41; Karen Hearn, A Seventeenth-Century Enigma, Tate Patrons Papers, no.3, 2000.
Until acquiring this work in 1995, Tate had lacked an example of the important late seventeenth-century English genre of the topographical portrait of a country house – a pictorial expression of its owner’s wealth and rank in society.
This painting shows the smoke from many chimneys on its horizon, and the outline of Westminster Abbey – without the twin west towers that were subsequently designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor and erected in about 1739. From a bird’s-eye view the spectator looks down upon a late seventeenth-century brick-built house of seven bays, with sash windows. From the road, an avenue of trees leads up to a pair of gates with wooden or iron rails, supported on massive piers topped by ball finials. Inside the gates is a forecourt with a broad walk leading to the house, upon which the tiny figures of two fashionably dressed ladies stroll towards the open door. A crosswalk, dividing this forecourt into four grass ‘plats’ or plots, leads to doors in the side-walls. Such an avenue and forecourt arrangement became fashionable in the mid-seventeenth century, to be superseded only in the early eighteenth century by a turning circle that reached to the door. To the left is a simple English parterre of grass plats, surrounded by a wall, under which a border has been planted with flowers and wall fruit; plain parterres of this kind had been fashionable in the 1630s and might perhaps be a legacy of a previous house on the same site.
Behind the house is an enormous walled kitchen garden. The arrangement is not axial, and the house does not seem to have a clear relationship to this garden, suggesting that it too may predate the present building. The kitchen garden is laid out at least partly in square compartments, with fruit trees set in hedges around each compartment – a traditional arrangement, in vogue from the sixteenth century onwards. Grass paths separate these compartments, outside which are gravel paths surrounded by a wall, beneath which, again, lies a border planted with wall fruit.1 Set in the wall on the right-hand side is a summerhouse or gazebo. To the left of this garden is an orchard and beyond this, to the extreme left, can be seen the glint of water.
The main approach to the house seems to be via the stable yard, to the right, and an informal turning circle may be discerned in the grass. The tall white posts surmounted by balls may have acted as supports for ropes on which to hang washing. This area would thus not only have been an entrance courtyard and stable yard, but also a drying-ground.
The 1690s saw the start of rapid economic development. The commercialisation of English society that began at this period has sometimes been seen as a consumer revolution.2 The wealthy splashed out on new fashions, new types of houses, and new furniture and paintings to go in them. In their London homes, following the accession of William III in 1688, his Dutch courtiers began to replace the smaller mullion windows with sash windows – as seen in the present painting – which introduced more light into the rooms. The fashion was soon taken up in houses throughout the country.
The history of this painting prior to 1927 is unknown. When it appeared at auction in that year it was called ‘A View of Nannau Hall, North Wales’.3 This was clearly wrong, as the real Nannau was surrounded by mountains. Moreover, a sketch showing Nannau before it was rebuilt in the nineteenth century indicates that it was an older, taller, five-bayed house with a single ogee-topped tower at one side.4 In 1959, the present work was the subject of a letter of enquiry in Country Life and the magazine’s unsigned reply re-identified the subject as the house of Sir Francis Pemberton in The Grove, Highgate.5
However, this site lay at the wrong angle to Westminster Abbey, depicted on the horizon, and Camden local historian Roy Allen subsequently proposed, convincingly, that the building depicted was on the western side of Haverstock or Rosslyn Hill, and roughly opposite the entrance to present-day Pond Street.6 In 1696, Belsize was four miles north of London, well out in the countryside. During the seventeenth century, the entire Hampstead area was considered a pleasant, and initially, prestigious country retreat.
In the muniments room of Westminster Abbey, a surviving map of the whole manor of Belsize in 1714 – that is, just eighteen years after Siberechts painted this view – shows the layout of a building and grounds of very similar shape to that here depicted. At this date the tenant was named as ‘Lord Paget’ (presumably the recently deceased William, 6th Baron Paget), with a reference to the addition of ‘ye late impro[vement]s’.7 A subsequent map, dated 1723 (by which time the tenant was a Mr Cartwright), shows the same features, including the summerhouse in the right-hand kitchen-garden wall.8 Both maps show water running along the left-hand edge of the estate (close to present-day Belsize Lane), and such water can be seen in the present painting. The house in question was demolished in 1770 by John Stokes, who erected another building on the site, which by 1808 was called Rosslyn Grove. In 1881 the Rosslyn Grove estate, whose freehold had reverted to the Church Commissioners, was leased to the Congregationalists who built a church on the corner of Lyndhurst Road and retained Rosslyn Grove as the manse.9 Today, it is identifiable as the privately owned no.11 Rosslyn Hill.10
From 1317 the entire Belsize estate had been owned by the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey. This may explain why the Abbey is featured so prominently in the distance in the picture. Following the Restoration, the Abbey had leased the whole estate to Colonel Daniel O’Neill (died 1664). There were a number of properties on the estate, and O’Neill rebuilt and inhabited the main one, Belsize House. The lease was later inherited by his stepson, Philip Stanhope, 2nd Earl of Chesterfield (1633–1713).
The house depicted in the Tate picture was the second most important one on the Belsize estate – a new, up-to-date, small-to-medium sized house surrounded by expanses of trees. The evidence suggests that it was on the site that had been inhabited early in the century by the diplomat Sir Isaac Wake (1575–1632), the remains of whose admired garden are perhaps to be seen in the present painting.11
The ‘citizen of London’ who, according to John Aubrey, rebuilt the house, is thought to have been a goldsmith called John Coggs or Cogges. Born around 1637, and originally from Denham in Buckinghamshire, John Coggs was apprenticed to a London goldsmith in 1651, becoming a freeman of the Goldsmiths’ Company on 10 December 1658. Coggs was one of the new breed of goldsmiths who kept ‘running cashes’ and acted as bankers to their clients. The late seventeenth century was the period that saw the birth of the modern banking system.
In 1685 Coggs was elected Third Warden of the Goldsmiths’ Company, and Second Warden in 1686, the year in which, according to Aubrey, the house at Belsize was rebuilt.12 Coggs seems to have secured a lease from Lord Chesterfield that would run until Lady Day 1736.13 He was clearly a man on the rise, and in 1699 he was elected Prime Warden. His London address was at the sign of the King’s Head opposite St Clement Danes Church on the Strand, and he had some very important clients.14 From 1696 onwards he operated in partnership with a John Dann and in the same year – the date on the Tate painting – they were appointed to receive subscriptions to the Greenwich Hospital for Seamen.15 Coggs and Dann seem also to have acted as bankers to Queen Anne,16 and in 1703, Coggs was granted heraldic arms.17 Early in 1710, however, Messrs Coggs and Dann failed, and a meeting of creditors was called for 26 January. Coggs died in March 1711 and was buried in St Mary’s Church, Denham.18 When his business collapsed, Coggs seems still to have been in possession of ‘my House &c at Hampstead’ (Belsize was considered part of Hampstead), and its contents were appraised at a value of £282 12s, roughly the same as the value of the contents of his property on the Strand.19 Another document of the same date gives precise particulars of the Belsize house and gardens, and these appear to tally with the details of Siberechts’s picture; the house itself is there stated to have cost £3,000 to build.20 As Coggs’s business collapsed, he mortgaged his house to one Joseph Sherwood, who after the goldsmith’s death was to sell on the sub-lease of ‘Mr Coggs his owne house’, and its contents, to Lord Paget.21
But the year 1696 must have been a triumphant one for Coggs. It is understandable that he would want to celebrate his fashionable, recently built house, and his prestigious appointment to the Greenwich Hospital. Such an image of his country retreat would have been an affirmation of his prestige and success. He could have kept the painting in the house itself – possibly as an overmantel, often the chosen position for such pictures – or it could have hung in his house in the Strand.
In the foreground of the painting can be seen a fine and lavishly decorated carriage, drawn by four matched greys, and with a lone female occupant. Carefully painted on the door are heraldic arms: a white background with a black horizontal band across the middle. The correct term for this is argent a fess sable. The background on which the arms are depicted is lozenge-shaped, by convention the means of armorial display for a woman, and above them are four or five vertical yellow brushstrokes that might represent a coronet of rank. These appear to be the arms of a spinster as, on marriage, a woman’s own arms are united with those of her husband, and displayed as marital arms on a shield-shaped background. In England only a peeress in her own right would have a single coat of arms on a lozenge, which would be surmounted by a coronet.
John Coggs was not granted arms until 1703 and these were sable [black] on a bend between three coggs or [gold] as many elm leaves vert [green]. However, the arms of the man who had previously subleased the house, Charles West, 5th Baron De la Warr (c.1625–1687), had been argent a fess dancetty sable – which is extremely close to the arms here depicted (‘Dancetty’ means that the black horizontal band has a sharply indented edge).22 The reference could, therefore, be to a member of his family. In 1696 his widow Anne, the daughter of Sir John Wilde, was still living: indeed, the Hearth Tax records for 1674 had actually named ‘the Lady Delaware’ as the then-owner of the Belsize property.23 She would have displayed the West family arms on a lozenge, with her paternal arms in pretence (that is, in the centre) surmounted by a coronet. Of the couple’s three recorded daughters, Anna and Sophia never married, but their dates of death are unknown. The third daughter, Cecelia, was an unmarried thirty-five-year-old at the beginning of 1696, although on 28 January that year she married Dr William Beaw.24
Siberechts may have been asked to represent the dowager Lady De la Warr, but omitted her small inescutcheon of pretence for the sake of simplicity. Or he may have intended to show one of the three West daughters, though they would not have been entitled to a coronet. The coach is depicted continuing up the road, towards Hampstead proper, and past the house. Both the lady, fashionably attired in a font-ange head-dress, and her coachman have their backs to the house. The Wests had apparently given up the property in 1683, so it is not clear what the significance of this figure is. Perhaps Coggs was celebrating his success in acquiring a nobleman’s seat or, more likely, he wished to acknowledge some continuing act of patronage by the family.
The country-house-and-estate portrait was introduced into England in the later seventeenth century, and within forty years had become a significant local genre. Some of the earliest birds-eye views of royal and private estates – J.A. du Cerceau’s Des plus excellents Bastiments de France – had been published in France in 1576 and 1579. This precedent was taken up in the Low Countries, particularly by the printmakers of Amsterdam and Antwerp. With the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy, and the return of Royalist families from exile on the Continent, where they would have seen such images, opportunities arose in Britain for Netherlandish view painters.
Among these was Jan Siberechts, the son of a sculptor of the same name, who became a freeman of Antwerp’s artists’ guild in 1648 or 1649. Siberechts’s Flemish works consist mainly of Dutch Italianate wooded landscapes, with large figures of buxom peasant girls, often wading through rivers, sometimes accompanied by rustic carts.25
By 1674 he was in England, having been, according to Bainbrigge Buckeridge in 1706, brought over by George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham (1628–1687), to work at Cliveden (none of the works painted for Cliveden are traceable today).26 Signed and dated paintings by Siberechts of English subject matter are known from the years 1674–7, 1679 and 1681. These include a group of images for Thomas Thynne, of Longleat House, Wiltshire, and of Cheveley Park, Cambridgeshire, for Henry Jermyn, 1st Lord Dover.
In the 1690s, he may have painted Bretby in Derbyshire, for the 2nd Earl of Chesterfield, and he certainly made various images of Wollaton Hall, near Nottingham, for Sir Thomas Willoughby, subsequently 1st Lord Middleton. These were large and substantial houses, for top-level patrons. In 1694 he was apparently summoned to Derbyshire by the Earl of Devonshire to paint old Chatsworth House before it was rebuilt. Although that picture is now lost, drawings and watercolours made by Siberechts in the surrounding area in Derbyshire survive in the British Museum, Manchester and Amsterdam.
In Flanders, Siberechts had painted his pictures of peasants in country settings for the art market; in England, he seems largely to have been working to commission for individual patrons, travelling long distances to visit the properties he was to depict. A group of differing views of the Thames-side village of Henley, dating from the later 1690s, are among his final works. One of these, showing the village beneath a rainbow, is in the Tate Collection.27