Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough: The Treasures of Kenwood House, London

Four-Venue National Tour Begins June 3, 2012, at Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Houston—June 2012—On June 3, 2012, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, will debut the exhibition Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough: The Treasures of Kenwood House, London, whose four-venue national tour was announced by the American Federation of Arts in New York. An exhibition of 48 masterpieces, this will be the first tour of this important group of works from the Iveagh Bequest and will provide a unique opportunity to see these superb paintings outside the United Kingdom. Most of these paintings have never traveled to the States before, and many of them have rarely been seen outside Kenwood.

Donated to the nation by Edward Cecil Guinness (1847–1927), 1st Earl of Iveagh and heir to the world’s most successful brewery, the Iveagh Bequest resides at Kenwood House, a neoclassical villa in London that was remodeled by Robert Adam in the eighteenth century. The collection was shaped by the tastes of the Belle Epoque—Europe’s equivalent to America’s Gilded Age—when the earl shared the cultural stage and art market with other industry titans such as the Rothschilds, J. Pierpont Morgan and Henry Clay Frick. Acquired mainly from 1887 to 1891, the earl’s purchases reveal a penchant for the portraiture, landscape and seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish works typically found in English aristocratic collections. While the majority of the paintings in the exhibition are from the Iveagh Bequest, several are drawn from the works acquired specifically for display at Kenwood. Pauline Willis, AFA’s Director, remarked, “We are extremely proud to be able to give greater exposure to this magnificent selection of paintings while Kenwood undergoes a major refurbishment.” Simon Thurley, Chief Executive for English Heritage, commented, “The collection of works of art on display at Kenwood is one of the most important in England, and we are thrilled that works from this collection will travel across the Atlantic for the first time and find new audiences in the United States.”

Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough: The Treasures of Kenwood House, London will follow this schedule:

  • Museum of Fine Arts, Houston: June 3–September 3, 2012
  • Milwaukee Art Museum: October 4, 2012–January 6, 2013
  • Seattle Art Museum: February 14–May 19, 2013
  • Arkansas Arts Center: June 6–September 8, 2013

Exhibition Details
The collection is particularly strong in works by such Golden Age eighteenth-century English portraitists as Sir Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough and George Romney, whose depictions of society beauties of the Georgian era, also known as England’s “Age of Aristocracy,” held a great appeal for Lord Iveagh. Among the several fine Gainsboroughs in the exhibition is the sumptuous full-length portrait Mary, Countess Howe (c. 1764), an image of both aristocratic elegance and of a landowner among her properties. Such full-length portraits of ladies in nature were very popular during this period, owing to a great admiration for the aristocratic portraits of Van Dyck. Along with such aristocratic women, the collection’s “virtual harem” of English portraits features celebrity demimondes, among them Emma Hart—later Lady Hamilton—who served as Romney’s muse, and Kitty Fisher—one of the most celebrated courtesans in London society.

Among the works by Dutch and Flemish masters in the exhibition is Rembrandt's sublime Portrait of the Artist (c. 1665), one of the artist’s last self-portraits and one of only a few of his many self-portraits that show him in the act of painting. Fifty-two years old when he created it, he found little reason to dress formally or pretend to be something other than the great painter that he was. The several paintings of children purchased by Lord Iveagh often served as vanitas-like reminders of the fleeting innocence of youth. When painting Miss Murray (1824–26), a portrait of a three-year-old girl gathering flowers, Thomas Lawrence wrote to his patron, Miss Murray’s father, “All I can do is snatch (and I hope for some century or so secure) this fleeting beauty and expression so singular in the child before the change takes place that some few months may bring.”

The taste for Dutch and Italian landscapes and seascapes among English eighteenth-century collectors was inspired by their travels in Europe on the Grand Tour. The influx of such works into England influenced a number of English painters, including Reynolds and Gainsborough, both of whom collected Dutch landscape paintings. Joseph Mallord William Turner’s particular interest in Dutch Old Master seascapes is exemplified in A Coast Scene with Fishermen Hauling a Boat Ashore (1803–04).

Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough: The Treasures of Kenwood House, London presents a selection of exceptional paintings, among them some of the world’s great masterpieces. Prior to the opening of the exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Rembrandt’s haunting masterpiece Portrait of the Artist will be on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (early April–late May 2012). It will hang near the museum’s own Self-portrait by Rembrandt (1660), providing a rare opportunity to compare the two works, which, although close in date, are very different in scale, format and expression. 

Public Programs 
Throughout the exhibition, cell phone audio tours, tours for adults, and self-guided visits for students will be available, as well as access to the Kinder Foundation Education Center (KFEC), located in the lower level of the Caroline Wiess Law Building. The KFEC serves as a support center for visitors, where museum guests can utilize the Art-To-Go lending library of DVDs, curriculum kits, books, family packs, and collection-based interpretive materials, all free for loan. Additional public program highlights are listed below:

  • Friday and Saturday Afternoon Lecture Series, June 2012
    • Friday, June 1, at 1:30 pm, and repeated on Saturday, June 2, at 4 p.m.: Van Dyck and Gainsborough: Painters to Royalty , presented by David E. Brauer, Senior Lecturer, Glassell School of Art, MFAH
    • Friday, June 8, at 1:30 pm, and repeated on Saturday, June 9, at 4 p.m.: From Guinness to Gainsboroughs: A Brewer Collects in the Gilded Age, presented by Julius Bryant, Keeper of Word & Image Department, Victoria and Albert Museum, London
    • Friday, June 15, at 1:30 pm, and repeated on Saturday, June 16, at 4 p.m.: Sir Joshua Reynolds and the Creation of the Grand Style in English Painting, presented by David E. Brauer, Senior Lecturer, Glassell School of Art, MFAH
    • Friday, June 22, at 1:30 pm, and repeated on Saturday, June 23, at 4 p.m.: Rembrandt, presented by Peter C. Sutton, Director, The Bruce Museum
  • June 11–August 10, 2012: Picture Books: Summer Art Camp with Harris County Library and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston: Treasures of Kenwood House, London. During the summer, MFAH Family Programs collaborates with Harris County Public Library to introduce children and their parents to great art and children’s literature. Each week-long Summer Art Camp (8 weeks total) pairs a book with a work of art, and features discussions and art-making activities. Children and parents also visit the museum to view original works of art and create their own masterpieces in the museum’s studio, led by an MFAH teaching artist.
  • Thursday, July 19, 2012: MFAH Art Detectives Summer Program: Gallery Investigations + Studio: Stormy Weather: Investigating a Seascape by J.M.W. Turner. Every Thursday in the summer, the MFAH Art Detectives program gives families the chance to investigate new works of art through various interactive activities and experiences. 

Exhibition Credit Line: 
This exhibition is organized by the American Federation of Arts and English Heritage. It is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities, with additional funding from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. In-kind support is provided by Barbara and Richard S. Lane.


Generous funding in Houston is provided by: Mr. Fayez Sarofim; M. D. Anderson Foundation; Fayez Shalaby Sarofim and Meredith J. Long Endowment for Exhibitions; Mr. and Mrs. Rodney H. Margolis; and Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff.

Guest Curator: The guest curator is Susan Jenkins, a curator at English Heritage who selected the works in the exhibition in tandem with other English Heritage curators.

Publication: The AFA publication will include an illustrated checklist and texts by the guest curator, Julius Bryant, Keeper of Word and Image at the Victoria & Albert Museum and formerly Chief Curator at English Heritage, and Walter Liedtke, Curator of European Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

American Federation of Arts: The AFA is a nonprofit institution that organizes art exhibitions for presentation in museums around the world, publishes exhibition catalogues and develops educational materials and programs for children and adults. The AFA’s mission is to enrich the public’s experience of art and understanding of culture by organizing and touring a diverse offering of exhibitions embracing all aspects of art history. The AFA has organized or circulated approximately 3,000 exhibitions with presentations in museums in every state, Canada, Latin America, Europe, Asia and Africa that have been viewed by more than 10 million people. For more information about its exhibitions, publications, artist talks (ArtTalks), membership, cultural travel program (ArtScapes) and online resources, including family guides and podcasts, see

English Heritage: English Heritage is the government's lead advisory body for the historic environment in England and is responsible for the national collection of historic sites and monuments, as well as their contents and archives. The collection comprises more than 400 historic places and spans 5,000 years of architecture, from prehistoric sites to nuclear bunkers. It includes Stonehenge and much of Hadrian's Wall, the ruins of the greatest medieval abbeys, the world's first iron bridge, Charles Darwin's diaries and the Duke of Wellington's boots.

Kenwood House, London: Set in beautiful landscaped parkland in the midst of Hampstead Heath, Kenwood House is one of the most magnificent visitor attractions in London. This elegant villa, remodeled by Robert Adam in the eighteenth century, houses a superb collection of paintings that includes masterpieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Turner and Gainsborough, as well as the Suffolk collection of rare Jacobean portraits. While the exhibition is on tour, Kenwood House will be undergoing a major repair and conservation program. The work will make the roof wind and weather tight—protecting the magnificent interior and important art collection from serious leaks and damp—and will also repair and revive Kenwood's beautiful exterior. The project will be complete in 2013.

Upcoming Exhibitions at the MFAH

  • Unrivaled Splendor: The Kimiko and John Powers Collection of Japanese Art June 17­­–September 23, 2012
  • Duncan Phyfe, Master Cabinetmaker in New York June 24–September 9, 2012

MFAH Collections
Founded in 1900, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is among the ten largest art museums in the United States. Located in the heart of Houston’s Museum District, the MFAH comprises two gallery buildings, a sculpture garden, library, theater and two art schools, with two house museums, for American and European decorative arts, nearby. The encyclopedic collection of the MFAH numbers some 63,000 works and embraces the art of antiquity to the present. The MFAH photography collection comprises 26,000 photographs.

For more information, please contact:
MFAH Communications