Ickworth House is an estate near Bury St. Edmunds in the county of Suffolk. It is not as old as many of the estates in England, but it earns points for size and style.
The building of Ickworth began in 1795, by the 4th Earl of Bristol, Frederick Augustus Hervey. Hervey, who was also the Bishop of Derby, was an avid art lover. He was not only building Ickworth as a home, but mostly as a showcase for the art that he travelled to Italy to collect. During his travels, he was arrested as a spy and died in 1803, leaving the completion of Ickworth to his son, Frederick William Hervey, 1st Marquess of Bristol (5th Earl).
I will saying that when you take the guided tour of the main rooms that the guides are very aware of the titles and will refer to them as the 4th Earl and the 1st Marquess. It is very easy to get turned around with their stories. Anyway, Frederick William finished the Neoclassical Ickworth in 1829 and proceeded to try to track down the artwork his father had purchased on the continent. These pieces included this large statue (pictured below) that was commissioned by the 4th Earl and was later seized by the government when he was arrested. He used significant funds re-purchasing art that his father had purchased years before.
One thing that is noticed with a bit of the art when you tour is that some really is a treasure and the earl had been hoodwinked with some. There is one work that is in the library (if I remember correctly) that is very close to a daVinci, but is not. Any art lover will recognise many names from the plates under the works. If you check the National Trust website, they boast of works of art by Thomas Gainsborough, William Hogarth, and Sir Joshua Reynolds, but there are two artists that are not mentioned that should be. One is Angelica Kauffmann.
Angelica Kauffmann was a Swiss born painter, but found success in London and Rome. She was one of two women admitted into the Royal Academy (with Mary Moser). Most of the works I studied by her in school were mythological/allegorical, but her painting at Ickworth is a portrait of one of the daughter’s of the 4th Earl, Elizabeth Christiana Hervey. Elizabeth for those who saw the movie “The Duchess” was Lady Bess Turner. Elizabeth’s first marriage was to Irishman John Thomas Foster and her second was to William, the 5th Duke of Devonshire after the death of his wife and her friend Georgiana.
The second artist I refer to is Elisabeth Vigee-Le Brun. Vigee-Le Brun was best known painter for the French court and the artist who painted portraits of Marie Antoinette and her children. However, she fled France during the French revolution with her daughter and worked in Italy, Austria, and Russia. Frederick Hervey, the 4th Earl of Bristol commissioned her to paint his portrait (1790) and then asked her to paint her self-portrait to hang at Ickworth. According to the National Trust, the portrait is almost an exact replica to the one at the Uffizi and in my opinion, is incredible. I stood in front of it and stared for a while and then found myself coming back to it.
For any art lovers who wonder if I looked at the Gainsborough and the Reynolds. I did, but I did not find them as fascinating as the self-portrait of Vigee-Le Brun. The William Hogarth was on loan to an exhibit when we visited.
The grounds of Ickworth are lovely, but I feel that we probably visited at the wrong time of year to do them justice. My husband and I still enjoyed wandering around, especially the stump garden where the gardeners put the stumps dug up from around the estate. They become rather sculptural and fascinating when you look at them in that display.
In the mid-20th century, Ickworth was given over to the National Trust in lieu of death duties. The family had a 99 year lease on the east wing, but ended up selling it back to the National Trust. It is now used as a hotel.
Next up…Oxburgh House