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'Penelope and Euriclea' returns to Stourhead

Conservator April Johnson looks over at the fine oil painting 'Penelope and Euriclea' by Angelica Kauffman displayed inside the picture gallery, Stourhead, Wiltshire
Conservator surveying 'Penelope and Euriclea' by Angelica Kauffman, Stourhead, Wiltshire | © National Trust/Petra Mirosevic-Sorgo

A race against time brings 'Penelope and Euriclea', by Angelica Kauffman, back to Stourhead after 140 years.

Uncovering the artist

Henry Hoare II ‘the Magnificent’ (1705–1785), the creator of Stourhead’s landscape garden, was an enthusiastic art collector and greatly admired the work of Kauffman - a leading female artist working in a male-dominated sphere who became a prominent figure in the art and cultural worlds. 

Although she only spent 15 years in England, her artistic contributions had a significant impact on the eighteenth-century English art scene. She went on to become one of only two female Founder Members of the Royal Academy. In the 1770s, Kauffman drew upon the epics of Homer and Virgil for subjects. The resulting works were widely exhibited and among her first commercial successes with history paintings in England.

Painting 'Penelope'

In this fine oil painting, Angelica Kauffman depicts Penelope in a scene inspired by the ancient Greek epic poem the Odyssey by Homer. Faithful servant Euriclea wakes Penelope, bringing news that Penelope’s husband Odysseus has finally returned after ten years fighting in the Trojan War and a perilous ten-year journey home. Kauffman particularly favored the character Penelope, inventing several compositional themes centered on the loyal wife of Odysseus.

'Penelope and Euriclea' by Angelica Kauffman on display in the picture gallery, Stourhead, Wiltshire
'Penelope and Euriclea' on display in the picture gallery, Stourhead | © National Trust/Petra Mirosevic-Sorgo

History and heritage

In April 1773, Henry Hoare II purchased Penelope and Euriclea and displayed the painting in the Skylight Room, a picture gallery containing some of his finest and favourite works. Henry’s grandson, Sir Richard Colt Hoare was also a collector and his catalogue of pictures records Penelope hanging in the Dining Room in 1822, suggesting that it was still regarded as an important work of art.  

A century later, debts and falling income forced Sir Henry Ainslie Hoare to auction off many valuable items from the Stourhead collection. On 2 June 1883, Penelope and Euriclea sold for the modest sum of 7 guineas. After the 1883 sale, Penelope and Euriclea went into private collections and largely disappeared from public view, re-emerging briefly at auction in 1992. 

Conservator April Johnson applies touch up paint to the fine oil painting 'Penelope and Euriclea' by Angelica Kauffman displayed inside the picture gallery, Stourhead, Wiltshire
'Penelope and Euriclea' undergoing conservation work, Stourhead, Wiltshire | © National Trust/Petra Mirosevic-Sorgo

Bringing 'Penelope' home

Earlier this year, Stephen Ponder, National Trust Cultural Heritage Curator, heard that the painting was to be auctioned in New York, on 24 May - in just 12 days’ time.

At Stourhead a key priority is retrieving objects lost in the 1880s sales to share them with visitors. All financial options were explored, and thanks to the generous support of a National Trust fund (set up by the late Simon Sainsbury) and a member of the Hoare family, the conservation charity was able to secure the painting.

Following preliminary conservation work to the frame and canvas by paintings conservator, April Johnson, to prepare the painting for display, it will be on view in the Picture Gallery from Monday 2nd October to Sunday 5th November.  The picture will then feature in a wider exploration of Kauffman’s work in 2024.

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The painting Penelope and Euriclea by Angelica Kauffman, on display at Stourhead

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