Masterpieces from National Trust houses go on display at the Holburne Museum

Press release
A Magus at a Table by Jan Lievens
Published : 23 May 2018 Last update : 25 May 2018

Dutch seventeenth-century paintings by some of the finest masters of the ‘Golden Age’ from National Trust collections around the country are to go on display together for the first time at the Holburne Museum in Bath. (From Friday 25 May)

The Trust cares for one of the largest and most significant collections of art in the UK including many important seventeenth-century Dutch paintings acquired by country house owners for over 300 years. 

Prized Possessions will celebrate the enduring British taste for collecting Dutch paintings and explore how and why this style of art was desired, commissioned and displayed.

The exhibition will include works by celebrated artists such as Rembrandt van Rijn, Peter Lely, Gabriel Metsu, and Cornelis de Heem alongside less well-known names such as Simon Pietersz Verelst and Adriaen van Diest. 

David Taylor, Curator of Pictures and Sculpture at the National Trust explains, 

“The Dutch gained independence from Spain in 1648 and in a relatively short period of time there was a new confidence and prosperity that saw a burgeoning middle class with money and an interest in commissioning and displaying art. 

“The artists who were flourishing at this time mastered various painting genres, from portraits, still lives and landscapes, to religious, maritime, and subject pictures, and the quality of their work attracted patrons and collectors from across Europe. Examples of all those types of Dutch pictures will be showcased in the exhibition.”

Highlights of the exhibition, which is curated by Rupert Goulding and David Taylor of the National Trust, include:

  • Rembrandt van Rijn’s Self-Portrait, Wearing a Feathered Bonnet 
  • Jan Lievens’ A Magus At a Table 
  • Gabriel Metsu’s The Duet 
  • Pieter Jansz. Saenredam’s The Interior of the Church of St Catherine, Utrecht [1]

Amina Wright, Senior Curator at the Holburne notes, “We are delighted to be working with the National Trust on this exciting exhibition of some of the finest Dutch paintings from country houses. The display in the Museum’s purpose-built exhibition gallery will allow the paintings to be seen at their very best and in a new and inspiring context. Sir William Holburne’s eclectic collection of Dutch paintings is one of the jewels of the Museum founded in his name, and he would have been proud to see such an outstanding group of works alongside his own.”

There will be 22 works in the exhibition chosen from National Trust houses. They include seventeenth-century mansion Dyrham Park in Gloucestershire, designed and decorated in the Dutch style by owner William Blathwayt, and Ham House in Richmond which includes the Peter Lely portrait of the Duchess of Lauderdale who encouraged the artist’s career.

Later houses include Upton House in Warwickshire, the twentieth-century home of Shell Oil chairman Lord Bearsted, whose eclectic collecting included some of the finest examples of Dutch art.

David Taylor continues, “Works from our collections are loaned to exhibitions across the world, but this is the first time in over twenty years that paintings from around the country have left their homes to appear together in a dedicated National Trust exhibition. 

“We are thrilled that the Holburne Museum will be hosting this exhibition and we hope that the works we have chosen will delight not only enthusiasts of Dutch art but anyone who is discovering the joy of ‘Golden Age’ paintings for the first time.”

For further information and opening times for the exhibition visit

A catalogue for the exhibition will be available [2]. 

Following the exhibition at the Holburne Museum, Prized Possessions will move to the Mauritshuis in The Hague in October 2018, and then to Petworth House in West Sussex in January 2019. 


Images are available to download from the following link. Please credit National Trust/ photographer’s name. Please only use to accompany this story.

Notes to editors:

[1] Highlights of the exhibition include: 

  • Rembrandt van Rijn’s Self-Portrait, Wearing a Feathered Bonnet (from Buckland Abbey)

This intriguing self-portrait was painted c 1635 and shows Rembrandt at a period in his life when he was successful and rich - he had recently married and moved from his native Leiden to Amsterdam, where he had been made a burgess of the city, and where he was taking on pupils and studio assistants to learn his painting techniques.  The portrait shows a confident man, aware of his importance and his skills as an artist.

Rembrandt was no stranger to self-portraits (it seems he depicted himself in over forty extant paintings, thirty two etchings and seven drawings), but this one is an example of a ‘tronie’ where he wears a theatrical, fanciful costume and appears like a figure from a history painting, rather than being a straightforward portrait.

This tells us that he considered role play in his portraiture, which we can see with his fanciful costume, including the gorget (a metal band worn round the neck) from a suit of armour. His jewelled bonnet has elegant yellow and white ostrich feathers, attached in the centre with a large gem. He is standing in a starkly-lit interior and his shadow with the feathers is playfully depicted on the wall behind. 

Every self-portrait by this great painter is important, and this particular work exemplifies his evolving painting style in the 1630s, when he experimented with how to paint different surfaces and materials (such as the curls of hair, described by scratching into wet paint with the wrong end of a paint brush). This self-portrait has only recently been reattributed as being by Rembrandt himself.  As such it adds another picture to the known body of work painted by this celebrated and much-loved artist.

  • Jan Lievens’ ‘A Magus At a Table’ (from Upton House) 

Jan Lievens’ atmospheric panel depicts a priest or magus, who stands and reads at a table.  The skull cap that he wears, as well as the large books, suggests he might be a scholar, but his elaborate gold gown and the gold brocade table cover are unusually opulent for someone in this role.

The strange canopy of green fronds and the circular insertion in the floor suggest overtones of magic or alchemy, which is why the term ‘magus’ has been used in its current title. The picture was painted near the end of a period when Lievens collaborated with his friend Rembrandt, in the latter’s studio in Leiden.  He subsequently moved to England, before eventually settling in Amsterdam.  At the time the magus was painted the two artists’ painterly styles were very close and the picture was thought to be by Rembrandt in the past.  Lievens is one of the Dutch Golden Age’s most enigmatic artists – a child prodigy, who was eclipsed by the great Rembrandt, and who died in poverty – and this is one of his most enigmatic pictures.

  • Gabriel Metsu’s ‘The Duet’ (from Upton House)

Metsu is best-known for painting scenes of everyday life, set in domestic interiors.  These were clearly influenced by Metsu’s master, Gerard Dou, and by his contemporaries Ter Borch and De Hooch, and the exquisite The Duet is no exception.

In this picture, various symbols hint at amorous activity between the the elegant woman and the young gentleman. The glass of wine, clearly being drunk by the woman, and the footwarmer, which usually alludes to the warmth of passion, might be interpreted in these terms. Likewise, the man tuning his lute has connotations of sexual activity, and in turn the little dog trying to get the woman’s attention may be warning her of her moral conduct.  

The alternative title of the picture is ‘Le corset bleu’ which, refers to the woman’s brilliant blue, fur-trimmed jacket, and it, and the woman’s silver skirt emphasises Metsu’s great skill in depicting the play of light over different fabrics and surfaces.

  • Pieter Jansz. Saenredam’s ‘The Interior of the Church of St Catherine’, Utrecht (from Upton House)

This striking piece by Saenredam depicts the interior of the Church of St Catherine in Utrecht. Saenredam is known best for his detailed architectural pictures, particularly of church interiors. He used carefully-observed and rendered pencil and chalk drawings, as well as painted cartoons, as part of his preparation for painting his large-scale paintings, such as this.

Saenredam depicted churches that, following a period of religious turmoil and change during the Reformation, had been stripped of much of their decoration.  This is clearly seen in The Church of St Catherine, where the artist concentrates on the perspective of the interior space and on capturing the effect of light on the whitewashed walls.

While some of the figures in Saenredam’s pictures are by other artists, and it has been suggested the figures here are by Isaak van Nickleen, this picture is a fine example by one of the most important of the seventeenth-century Dutch church interior painters.

[2] Prized Possessions: Dutch Paintings from National Trust Houses. Edited by Rupert Goulding and David Taylor. With essays by Quentin Buvelot and David Taylor.

May 2018 (June USA)
Paperback, 260 x 216 mm
192 pages, 150 colour illus.
ISBN 978 1 911300 24 3

About the National Trust’s art collection

The National Trust looks after some of the finest painting collections in the UK with over 12,000 easel paintings, along with miniatures, watercolours and wall paintings. These include masterpieces by artists such as Titian, Van Dyck, Rembrandt, Velázquez, Reynolds and Gainsborough.

About the National Trust

The National Trust is a conservation charity founded in 1895 by three people who saw the importance of our nation’s heritage and open spaces, and wanted to preserve them for everyone to enjoy.  More than 120 years later, these values are still at the heart of everything the charity does.

Entirely independent of Government, the National Trust looks after more than 250,000 hectares of countryside, 778 miles of coastline and hundreds of special places across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

More than 24 million people visit every year, and together with 5 million members and over 65,000 volunteers, they help to support the charity in its work to care for special places for ever, for everyone. 

For more information and ideas for great seasonal days out go to:

About the Holburne Museum

The Holburne Museum’s mission statement is 'Changing Lives Through Art'. This reflects our commitment to opening up the enjoyment of art to people of all ages and from every walk of life. 

The Holburne Museum houses an important art collection formed by Sir William Holburne in the early nineteenth century, which includes paintings, silver, sculpture, furniture and porcelain of national and international significance. Artists in the collection include Gainsborough, Guardi, Stubbs, Ramsay and Zoffany and, following a successful fundraising campaign in 2016, the collection also includes an early oil sketch by Sir Thomas Lawrence. 

The Museum reopened in May 2011 after ambitious renovations and a new extension by Eric Parry Architects. The Holburne has fast gained a reputation as an outstanding regional museum which holds critically acclaimed exhibitions.

  • Winner of the Museums & Heritage Award for the re-display of the permanent collection.
  • Winner of the RIBA Building of the Year, south west.
  • Winner of the Civic Trust’s Michael Middleton Special Award for a restoration/extension project within a conservation area.