National Trust curators are always looking for objects that have ‘escaped’ from the historic houses in their care. These objects sometimes turn up at auctions and sometimes those tracing their provenance get in touch. This week we were delighted to see the return of one such item to Oxburgh Hall…
Anna Forrest is Oxburgh Hall’s curator and reveals the story behind the return of a rather special portrait to the collection…
Oxburgh Hall was built and has been lived in by the Bedingfeld family since 1482. But in the years following the Second World War, Sir Edmund Paston-Bedingfeld, the 9th Baronet, was faced with rising repair bills and his father’s death duties. He was forced to sell Oxburgh. In total, 65 lots went up for auction including land, farms, cottages and the hall itself. Although much of the contents was sold, Sir Edmund’s mother, Sybil, Lady Bedingfeld, and two other relatives managed to save the house from demolition at the ‘eleventh hour’ and donated it to the National Trust.
This newly returned portrait was one of the items sold in the 1951 sale. Its location only recently came to light following the death of its previous owner, whose estate traced its provenance back to Oxburgh Hall. They got in touch with Sir Henry Bedingfeld, who still resides in his ancestral home here at Oxburgh, who brought it to our attention.
We have managed to re-acquire a number of the lost items from the 1951 sale over the years, as and when they have become available. We know this particular portrait would have originally hung at Oxburgh thanks to it being catalogued by Prince Duleep Singh at the start of the 20th century. But what makes this item all that more significant, is that it depicts one of Sir Henry’s ancestors.
An old transcription dates the portrait to 1659, in the sitter’s 23rd year. The painting is of Dorothy Plumpton of Plompton, Yorkshire, wife of Clement Paston of Barningham, Norfolk, and distant ancestor of Henry Bedingfeld of Oxbrugh Hall.
For many years the portrait was listed as being by Van Dyck. However, this is not the case. In the process of negotiating the purchase we asked an independent expert to look at the portrait and he has attributed it to the British (English) School. The prominent Paston family were associated with the known portrait artists of the period – John Hayls, Theodore Roussel, Henry Stone and Gerard Soest. However, although we can’t say with 100% certainty, a more likely candidate for its authorship on the basis of chromatic and stylistic assessment is Adraien Hanneman (circa 1603-1671), another known Van Dyck follower of the period.
The image can be compared with that of the slightly older Princess Mary, eldest daughter of Charles I and the Princess of Orange, painted in the very same year of 1659 by Hanneman, which today resides in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.
So do look out for the return of the portrait of Dorothy Plumpton at Oxburgh Hall this autumn, you’ll be able to enjoy a closer look as we display the painting on an easel, before it’s re-hung this winter.