Catalogue entry

338. [N00515] Lucy, Countess of Carlisle, and Dorothy Percy's Visit to their Father Lord Percy, when under Attainder upon the Supposition of his being concerned in the Gunpowder Plot Exh 1831

THE TATE GALLERY, LONDON (515)

Oil, approx. 15 3/4 × 27 1/4 (40 × 69·5), on oak panel, 16 × 27 1/8 (40·5 × 70); original framing members, 20 × 32 5/16 (51 × 81·5)

Coll. Turner Bequest 1856 (22, ‘Lord Percy’ 2'3 1/2" × 1'3 1/2"): transferred to the Tate Gallery 1905.

Exh. R.A. 1831 (263); C.E.M.A. tour 1944 (34); R.A. 1974–5 (333).

Lit. Thornbury 1862, i, p. 320; 1877, p. 447; Bell 1901, p. 116 no. 173; Armstrong 1902, p. 226; Whitley 1930, p. 213; Davies 1946, p. 186; Finberg 1961, pp. 326–27, 491 no. 359; Rothenstein and Butlin 1964, p. 45; Herrmann 1975, p. 38; Wilton 1979, p. 206, pl. 211; Finley 19812, pp. 241–7, pl. 41; Youngblood 1983, p. 17.

Number 4 on Turner's own list of titles for his 1831 R.A. exhibits (Tate Gallery archives): his punctuation differs slightly from that in the catalogue.

Painted, like its companion Watteau Study by Fresnoy's Rules (No. 340 [N00514]), on the panel of an upright door (the framing members of which remain as an inner frame round the picture) which one would like to believe came from a cupboard at Petworth. The link with Petworth is direct in this case, the house having belonged to the Percy family from 1150 until the end of the seventeenth century. Henry Percy, ninth Earl of Northumberland (1564–1632), known as the ‘Wizard Earl’ on account of his scientific and alchemical experiments, was suspected of complicity in the Gunpowder Plot and imprisoned for sixteen years in the Tower of London. On his release in 1621 he retired to Petworth. Dorothy, his eldest daughter (1598–1677), married Robert Sidney, second Earl of Leicester, while Lucy (1599–1660), after spending some time with her father in the Tower, married in 1617 James Hay, later Earl of Carlisle, who, as one of the King's favourites, helped to secure Northumberland's release; she was famous as a beauty and a wit and played a considerable part in political affairs under Charles I and during the Civil War and Commonwealth, as a result of which she too was imprisoned in the Tower for eighteen months in 1649–50.

Among the paintings shown on the right-hand wall are a view labelled ‘TOWER OF LONDON’ and a large picture of the Angel releasing St Peter from prison which also relates to Turner's subject.

Turner based his figures on pictures by, or attributed to, Van Dyck at Petworth (for a copy of one of these portraits among the Petworth body-colours on blue paper see CCXLIV-100). The ninth Earl and Lucy Percy (on the left) are based on three-quarter-length portraits of the same sitters, while the woman standing behind the other two is based on another three-quarter-length portrait of Ann Carr, Countess of Bedford 1620–84. The third woman, that on the right, is presumably Dorothy but is not specifically related to the Van Dyck portrait, three-quarter-length but seated, of that sitter. For another pastiche of the Petworth Van Dycks see A Lady in Van Dyck Costume of about the same date (No. 444 [N05511]).

Finley relates this picture and its companion to such small historical scenes in interiors as Bonington's Henri IV and the English Ambassador, exhibited at the Royal Academy and now in the Wallace Collection (repr. op. cit., pl. 42b).

Both Nos. 338 [N00515] and 340 [N00514] have unfortunately darkened irretrievably so it is particularly interesting that the Library of Fine Arts for June 1831 singled out ‘the flood of light pouring like water over the ledges of a cataract into Lord Percy's chamber, dispelling its sombre hue’, an effect to be carried much further in Interior at Petworth (No. 449 [N01988]). La Belle Assemblée for the same month recognised that ‘the artist has ingeniously adopted some of Van Dyck's costumes. This production also, as well as the Watteau study by Fresnoy's rules ... will attract notice as an extraordinary combination of colour’. The Morning Chronicle, 16 May, was less complimentary to Turner, whom they called ‘The Yellow Admiral’: ‘It seems that the design has no reference to history, but is amongst Mr. T's jeux d'esprit and represents the present Percy, Duke of Northumberland, huddled up in an arm chair with the stomach-ache, on Dolly and the other daughters of corruption announcing to him the success of Reform’ (the Reform Bill was finally passed the following year).

Published in:
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984