You may not have seen the Kenwood House exhibition at the MFAH yet, but you will be surprised to find out who already has: 18th-century Rienzi "residents" William and Millicent Watson.
Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough: The Treasures of Kenwood House, London brings to Houston masterworks by some of the greatest artists in 18th-century Europe. Of the English painters represented, five are artists in Rienzi’s own collection: Thomas Gainsborough, Thomas Lawrence, Joshua Reynolds, George Romney, and Joseph Wright of Derby. But this is not the first time we’ve rubbed elbows with English elite.
In 1961, Rienzi' s owners, Mr. and Mrs. Masterson, loaned two small George Romney portraits to the London County Council for an exhibition on the artist, held at Kenwood House alongside some of the very same paintings. The Watson pair (images 2 and 3 in the slideshow) was most likely painted as wedding portraits, and although small in size (8.25 x 7 inches), they are important as rare examples from Romney’s early career. In loaning the works to Kenwood, the Mastersons joined a prestigious list of patrons, including the Provost and Fellows of Eton, His Grace the Duke of Leeds, the Countess of Lichfield, the National Gallery of Scotland, and the Trustees of the Earl of Wharncliffe, to name only a few.
Kenwood itself has an illustrious history. The original 17th-century house was remodeled in the mid-18th century by architect and designer Robert Adam, champion of the Neoclassical style (or “Adam Style” as he might have preferred). In 1925, brewing magnate Edward Cecil Guinness, the first Earl of Iveagh, bought the estate, and two years later bequeathed it to the nation, under the management of English Heritage. The Iveagh Bequest, as the art collection is called, is on loan in the United States—first stop MFAH—as a rare treat while Kenwood undergoes a major roof repair this coming year. The show is organized by the American Federation of Arts and English Heritage.
Over the course of the summer, we will be highlighting artists from the Kenwood House exhibition who figure largely in the Rienzi Collection. It’s what any good host would do.
Get out your white gloves, and join us in welcoming our venerable guests.