The four great collectors at Petworth
Petworth has been home to branches of the same family for 900 years. The Earls of Northumberland, Dukes of Somerset and Earls of Egremont between them built up an extraordinary collection of art. The Petworth art collection is the finest and most important in the care of the National Trust.
Algernon Percy, 10th Earl of Northumberland (1602-1668)
The 10th Earl was among a small group of massively wealthy British collectors during the mid-1600s who amassed an extraordinary collection of European paintings. He was a major patron of Anthony van Dyck and Peter Lely, which is why their paintings are found throughout our state rooms. Most of the 10th Earl’s pictures were displayed in his London home, Northumberland House (now demolished), in his own time.
Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset (1662-1748) and Elizabeth Percy (1667-1722)
In 1682 Elizabeth Percy, sole heiress to the family fortune married Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset. By the early 1700s they had completely rebuilt Petworth in the fashionable baroque style, employing many leading craftsmen and artists of the day including Grinling Gibbons and Louis Laguerre. The 6th Duke bought few paintings, but his purchases did include masterpieces by van Dyck and Claude Lorraine, which are still in the house. He also seems to have acquired by inheritance, as a descendant of Jane Seymour, Petworth’s full-length portrait of Henry VIII.
Charles Wyndham, the 2nd Earl of Egremont (1710-1763)
Inheriting Petworth in 1750 when his uncle the 7th Duke of Somerset died without a direct male heir, the 2nd Earl assembled one of the most important collections of antique marble sculpture in the country, nearly 100 pieces of which remain in the house today. He was also an active collector of European old master paintings.
George O’Brien Wyndham, the 3rd Earl of Egremont (1751-1837)
The 3rd Earl will forever be best remembered as a major patron of JMW Turner, from whom he bought and commissioned 20 paintings. Egremont was also a wider champion of British art at a time when most people preferred to buy European painting. He acquired important pictures by Gainsborough, Reynolds and Blake and works by contemporaries like the neo-classical sculptor John Flaxman. In the 1820s the Earl built the North Gallery to house his collection here.