The collection of Lord Hertford in London

           “Charles Yriarte[1], writing in 1897, claimed that Lord Hertford was un précurseur, one of those who had revived the taste for eighteenth century French painting after it had fallen from favour with the onset of the Revolution and David Neo-classicism”[2]. Having spent huge amount of money to acquire Watteau, Boucher and Fragonard’s paintings, the fourth Marquess of Hertford (1800-1870) is often seen, by critics and art historian, as a forerunner in his collecting of ancien regime works of art[3]. In the Editorial of Burlington magazine, it is written that “he was almost alone among the great nineteenth century collectors in attaching supreme value to eighteenth century art”.[4]

            Nevertheless, these affirmations seem questionable regarding the context in France at that time, and other aristocratic collectors. The main issue is then to know to what extent we can consider Lord Hertford as a precursor of the eighteenth century revival. By studying the Romantic reflection on the XVIII French century, and the revival of Rococo painting on the art market, a nuance will be introduced in the previous widespread statements.

            The first part will then tackle the subject of taste, and the recovery of fashion for ancien regime works of art in aristocratic collection during the nineteenth century. The second issue will be to consider the evolution of the value of these eighteenth century paintings, in order to understand the rise of prices and the emulation on the market.





            It is a matter of fact that, for about sixty years after the Revolution, the taste for eighteenth century art vanished. French rocaille painting became soon unfashioned with the rise of neo-classical style, which aesthetics advocate the pursuit of moral seriousness. Besides, Enlightenment philosophy tended to reject Rococo style and its playfulness seen as corruption. It is also true that French literary artistic circle had prejudiced the ancien régime’s style and art. Instead, the taste of the Restoration was for vague imitation of the great Venetians in painting, and for the High Renaissance in furniture. “At the beginning of his reign Napoleon III, like Napoleon I, had not been all partial to memories of the last years of the ancien regime”.[5] The official style of the Second Empire was High Renaissance; and Parisian styles of architecture tended to be early sixteenth or middle seventeenth century. New furniture, in England and France, were following sixteenth century models and a sort of tous les Louis style.          Regarding this vanishing of ancien regime taste, one can wonder when and who awakened the collecting of French furniture and rocaille painting again. In other words, who were the arbiters of taste at that time?


            Not until the 1840s did the French begin to reappraise their eighteenth century ancien regime artists, just fifty years after the traumatic Revolution. The beginning of the nineteenth century was the heyday of Romanticism, when poets, painters, historian and philosophers started to look back in the past. These artists were the first, by the 1840s, in reconsidering eighteenth century glorious history. The reappraisal of Rococo painters started, thus, at the Salon, with for instance Gault de Saint-Germain « a prolific and polemical writer of considerable interest».[6] In his review, the Salon of 1819, his appraisal of the forgotten Fragonard seems very avant-garde: “…un homme de génie. Dans l’exécution fugitive de ses pensées on y reconnaît ce goût léger de l’homme du monde donc l’éclat brillant et fleuri abonde en vices agréable”.[7] In the early nineties, writing on eighteen century art was unavoidable, it seems, for Romantic poets and writers, such as Gérard de Nerval, Théophile Gautier, Arsène Houssaye, amongst others, “men who looked back nostalgically to a pre-Revolutionnary douceur de vivre, and who found in Watteau above all an artist who had faithfully portrayed the frivolous pastimes of an aristocratic, elegant and licentious society long-since submerged by vulgarity, commerce and political upheaval”.[8] Ten years later, Stendhal, as well, joints this movement of eighteenth century revival, being convinced that French painting was going back to the old ways of Boucher and Van Loo.[9] Alongside with writers, painters themselves played an important part in the revival of rocaille style. Stendhal compared the Delacroix’s Massacre de Scio with Watteau’s Embarquement pour Cythère. It is said that Watteau had been rediscovered essentially by artists, amongst whom Delacroix had played a major part. Furthermore, Delacroix is said to have had a prominent role in the revival of eighteenth century painting, whose he appraised in his Journal. Besides, the most famous of them are undoubtedly the Goncourt’s brothers, who wrote L’Art du Dix-huitième Siècle (1857 - 1875). In their history of eighteenth century painting, the Goncourt pay tribute to Rococo French painters, starting by Watteau, Chardin, Boucher, then, La Tour, Greuze, Les Saint Aubin, and finally Fragonard and Prud’hon. According to them, Boucher embodies the ideal of French eighteenth century art:

« Boucher est un de ces hommes qui signifient le goût d’un siècle, qui l’expriment, le personnifient et l’incarne. Le goût français du XVIIIème siècle s’est manifesté en lui dans toute la particularité de son caractère : Boucher en demeurera non seulement le peintre, mais le témoin, le représentant, le type »[10].

Describing Greuze’s talent, the brothers made a reference to the Miroir brisé, acquired by the fourth Marquess of Hertford (figure 1). Watteau and Fragonard are described as the only two poets of the XVIIIth century. The Goncourt’s brothers also evoke Fragonard’s depiction of children, especially the Dites donc, s’il vous plait (figure 2) now displayed in the Wallace Collection; they described it as a portrayal “qui prête, avec un peu de bistre, tant d’embarras et une si jolie moue au bambino en chemise courte”.[11] However, these romantic thoughts on the past century can not be considered as the only foundation for the revival in collecting ancien regime works of art. Not only French Romantics were interested in this revival, but also some aristocrat families.


            If the eighteen century generated a poetic melancholy from the 1830’s, it also produced a politic nostalgia, a reminiscence of the glorious Royal French history. Together with a taste for the pleasure of Rococo pictures, these aristocratic collectors found in ancien regime works of art, the revival of French celebrated history, and expressed their preference for the old royal style. This historical interest in French olden times was characteristic of a social group, especially the prestigious aristocratic families such as the Hertford, the Rothschild and Edouard André (in Paris). In his Reminiscences the Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild evokes this disappearance of the French ancien regime style with nostalgia:

“In France the style of decoration remained French, but it was a bastard nineteenth century style, graceless and tasteless, borrowing hardly a single feature from its predecessors. Whether it is to the credit of my family or not may be a matter of opinion, but the fact remains that they first revived the decoration of the eighteenth century in its purity, reconstructing their room out of old material, reproducting them as they had been during the reigns of the Louis”. [12]

As a matter of fact, the increasing valuation for eighteenth century French art must have owed a great deal to the aristocratic English and French collectors, particularly after 1840s, when they began to look for historical works of art. It was at this time that Vienna-born Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild (1874 – 1898) started to begin the furnishing of Waddesdon Manor, “decorated internally in the strictness, most perfect mid eighteenth-century French taste”.[13] Regarding this aspect, one can also compare these collections with Edouard André’s (1833 – 1894) taste while furnishing his first “hotel André”, 3 rue Roquépine: “L’appartement privé d’Edouard semble avoir été composé d’une vaste chambre ornée de boiseries de style Rocaille et d’une cheminée Louis XV”[14]. The decoration of this apartment is typical of the aristocratic taste for luxury and ornamentation of that time. According to the contemporary fashion, he purchased Le sommeil de Vénus (figure 3) by Boucher and Les début du modèle (figure 4) by Fragonard, alongside with Chardin and Nattier (figure 7). As far as Lord Hertford is concerned, J. Ingamells enhanced that

“as an expatriate he felt no scruples in his enjoyment of the tastes of that politically unsatisfactory period and, almost a generation before the French themselves, he was buying Sèvres porcelain and furniture such as had once amused Marie-Antoinette, together with pictures which would have delighted the Duc of Choiseul. From no other period could he have found works of decorative art so expressive of a high aesthetic sense and so lightly touched by the cares of function or necessity (an obvious parallel with his own life)”.[15]

Besides, he showed “a spontaneous preference for a form of decoration that best suited his own aristocratic mode of life”[16].


            What emerges from this context is that Lord Hertford was collecting in line with the leading taste, following the Romantic fashion for historic revival and according with his aristocratic birth. Bearing in mind these main motivations for eighteen century revival, as well as the dominance of aristocratic family on the art market, one can disagree with the idea that Lord Hertford was a precursor. Innovation, though, was to be found in his determination to buy, and the sums he spent for his favourite painting on the market. Thus, the consideration of the marketplace is quite different, and the following demonstration will focus on the value of Rocaille painting on the French and English market during the nineteenth century. If he was not a precursor by his taste, there is little doubt that he was a precursor in his purchases, buying ancien regime works of art at a quite furious pace, from the 1840’s.






            If eighteenth century works of art were merely one section of the vast panorama of art which Lord Hertford, in a lifetime of collecting, surveyed, he attached to it a supreme value and the highest prices. What characterized the most Lord Hertford was is determination to buy French painting and his awareness of quality and provenance. In order to understand the prices on the art market, the following survey will consider the four major painters collected by Hertford: Greuze, Watteau, Boucher and Fragonard. These four examples shows very well the predilection of the Marquess and his determination to purchase French art.

            As a starting point, it should be remembered that the French Revolution caused a significant decrease of prices on the market. As a consequence of the split up of many great French collections, eighteenth century art overflowed on the European market, and so tainted by its association with a despised regime, it became comparatively cheap. “The majority of the great French private collections of the eighteenth century were impounded between 1793 and 1795, when so many of their owners met their death at the guillotine, and despite a number of official sales, works of art were freely looted and privately sold”[17]. Fragonard’s Swing and Greuze’s Votive Offering (figure 9), for instance, were seized in 1794 from the collection of the tax farmer Ménage de Pressigny and the Comte d’Artois respectively. Consequently, the market for French ancien régime works of art was quasi-inexistent until the 1840s and paintings of the Fragonard generation could have been bought for a pound or two. Likewise, Watteau and Boucher were either forgotten or detested.

            However, paradoxically, the French Revolution which overturned the ancien regime also created the opportunity for Lord Hertford to amass his collection of French art. The prices followed a pattern common to all the French Rococo; a complete eclipse fully a generation before the French Revolution, from which there was scarcely a vestige of recovery until the 1840’s; a frenzied boom in the 1860’s 1870’s thought the competition of Dudley, Hertford and the Rothschilds. The most direct measure of rising interest lay thus in the salerooms, where the increasingly high prices paid by Lord Hertford were frequently the subject of amazed or angry comment. “During the thirty years Lord Hertford was buying, 1840 – 1870, interest in French eighteenth century painting increased considerably”[18].


            It was after his succession to the Marquisat in 1842 that Hertford became a serious collector, and with a legacy of £2 million and an annual income of at least £250,000, he could buy whatever he pleased. “It is true that he acquired some of the finest works of art of all periods that appeared over twenty years on the European art market”.[19] Starting to buy in the Parisian saleroom before everybody, he created such emulation for eighteenth century art that their value increased very quickly. Thus, the prices rose through the competition of the aristocratic collectors and the prominence of Lord Hertford on the market. For instance, the vast forced clearance of the Duke of Buckingham at Stowe in 1848 was remarkable both for the profusion of objects of this kind and for the competition of several aristocrats dynasties: Hertford and Rothschild[20]. And to emphasize the rising of price at that time, it seems right to remember that the objects in the heavy Stowe taste cost Hertford and Rothschild, by the 1860s, twenty time as much as they had had to pay in 1848.

            Hertford’s reputation also created emulation in itself, which is why he often sent his agent to bid for him anonymously. Moreover, the Marquess preferred to buy pictures in the sale-room rather than from dealers. He also preferred to bid through agents in an attempt to preserve anonymity, or sometimes using the names of “Richard” or “Montgomery”. In Paris, he employed a number of representatives to bid on his behalf, although he relied more and more, after 1857, on the assistance of Sir Richard Wallace. In London he employed Samuel Mawson to keep him informed of forthcoming sales and to bid for him in London and on the Continent. However, “the appearance of his agent in a London or Paris saleroom would doubtless cast gloom over his rivals”[21]. His reclusive life in Paris meant that he relied on dealers to keep him informed. He favoured items with French royal connection and considered quality, good condition and established provenance with a particular care.

            The best testimony of his determination to buy and his strength of mind is the letters he addressed to Samuel Mawson whom he employed from 1848 to 1862; he was the professional agent with whom he probably established the closest relationship[22]. What emerged clearly from the reading of these letters is his taste for “pleasure” and “delight”; he often employed adjectives like “pretty” and “pleasing” and stressed the role of “fancy”. He enjoyed feminine subjects such as Coucher du soleil by Boucher (figure 5), Le sommeil de Vénus, or women portraits alike The broken Mirror (figure 1) by Greuze, amongst many others. Undoubtedly, Lord Hertford was part of a new emulation for ancien regime painting and furniture. Besides, his taste in painting reflected the prevailing canons of taste among wealthy and established collectors in each city, and the strengths of the London and Paris art markets. However, it was in his collecting of later French pictures that the Marquess differed from his compatriots:


            By the end of his life, the fourth Marquess was in possession of 42 paintings by Watteau and his pupils Lancret and Pater, 26 by Greuze and 32 by Boucher. And it is widely acknowledged that, at that time, no other Englishman was seriously collecting such pictures. This is why, Lord Hertford can be considered as a precursor, having revived, not the taste, but the market for eighteenth century French painting after it had fallen from favour with the onset of the Revolution. “The fourth Marquess was not a pioneer of the nineteenth-century rococo revival. But he was to be one of the wealthy Parisian collector, including Baron James de Rothschild and the Duc de Morny, who during the second Empire, pushed prices for paintings by eighteenth-century masters to unprecedented heights”[23]. The main achievement of Lord Hertford, in terms of collecting, was to create emulation on the market, and the rise of prices. In facts, Lord Hertford “is known to have acquired between 1841 and 1853 – that is, during less than half his time as a collector – a Fragonard, a Lancret, two Paters, two Le Moines, two Watteaus, and at least six pictures by Boucher and seven by Greuze”.[24] And these painters just started to be fashionable amongst literary criticism, and became popular amongst aristocrats only as the Marquess was assembling his collection

            To start with Watteau, it is commonly said that he is associated with France and the Rococo. Moreover, English taste during the first three decades of the nineteenth century was for loose, painterly brush strokes in style, and for genre and landscape in subject matter[25]. In the light of such preoccupation, there is little doubt that Watteau was sought-after by English collectors and highly considered by Lord Hertford. The considerable sums spent by the Marquess for Watteau’s painting were still contentious by the 1840’ss. For instance, in 1826, Watteau’s Carnival, sold at the death of the Baron Vivant-Denon, made only £26. The revival of Watteau really began with the Cardinal Fesch sale of 1845 when the Fête in a Park and Halt during a Hunt made £1,175 the pair (bought by Horsin Denon)[26]. Three years later, in 1848, the Marquess of Hertford paid £945 at Phillips’s rooms for the Champs Elysées; the Art Union Magazine described the prices as outrageous and the climax of imbecile judgement[27]. The taste for Watteau was still controversial under Lord Hertford’s period and the recovering taste for his pagan and frivolous subject was not yet established. The history of Watteau’s Gilles provides another illustration of the evolution of prices and taste at that time. Denon bought the painting for 150 francs shortly after the Revolution. When Brunet-Denon purchased it as it uncle’s sale in 1826, it was valued at 650 francs. A few years later, he sold it to the Marquis de Cypierre for 1,200 francs. In 1845, little more than a decade after this, La Caze paid 1,600 francs for it at the Cypierre sale. In 1869, when the doctor presented the painting to the Louvre, he revealed that he had recently refused 300,000 francs from an English collector. One would like to think that the anonymous Englishman was Lord Hertford himself[28]. Watteau’s prices are thus the best example to prove Hertford’s  avant-garde position on the market, prepared to pay unexpected sums of money to acquire an “outdated” painting.

            Alongside with Watteau, Lord Hertford showed a great enthusiasm for Lancret and Pater. He purchased the Italian comedian by a fountain in 1853 for £735, through Mawson, at the at the Standish sale. The letter he addressed to his agent on this occasion revealed not only his determination, but also his accurate knowledge of painting and the art market; the 24th May 1853 he wrote: “I must have the Lancret, called Watteau in the Standish Collection”, and the day after: “I depend upon you getting the Lancret for me. I have no doubt it will sell for a good sum, more likely more than it is worth, but we must have it, as I suppose it will not dépassé thousand pounds”[29]. He also bought at the Comte de Pourtalès-Gorgier sale in 1865, Girls Bathing by Lancret, for 7,300 francs.

            Considering the market for Greuze, it has been said that, “by shuttle cocking between Hertford and Dudley, Geuze’s young women, generally tearful and always enceinte, stayed in the higher region of the art market for the next thirty years”.[30] Hertford bought at least twenty nine Greuze heads, not all of them in the Wallace Collection and spent on them more than £20,000. A proper example of the rise of price is given by Greuze’s Votive offering to Cupid (figure9), which was originally in the Choiseul collection. It cost 5,650 livres to the Prince de Conti in the 1830s. Lord Hertford bought it at the Cardinal Fesch sale, in Rome 1845, for 34,797 francs. At the same sale he bought the Broken Mirror (figure 1) for 18,693 francs. In 1852 La Pelotonneuse cost him £3,360. In a letter to Mawson, the 28th of April 1857, Hertford wrote “The Cuyp also, fine but I have seen some I much prefer – a pretty head of Greuze”, soon after, he purchased Greuze’s Psyche for £1,100 (figure 8). In 1870 Les oeufs cases cost him £5,040. However, this rise of Greuze’s price on the market reached its summit when Dudly paid £6,720 for A Girl carrying a puppy, now in the Bearsted Collection at Upton. In comparison, Edouard André for his private collection bought two Greuze at the Delessert sale in 1869, Un enfant à la pêche, and Portrait du graveur Jean Georges Wille for 29,000 francs[31]. As Reitlinger concluded, the market for Greuze was made by the competition of Lord Hertford and Lord Dudley, but it survived both these collectors and did not decline until well into the 1890’s.[32]

            “No English collector before or since has displayed anything approaching the fourth Marquess’s enthusiasm for Boucher and Fragonard”.[33] Boucher can be considered as the key-painter of this change of taste and price in nineteenth century Europe. At the Montlouis sale in Paris in 1851 the oval panels, Diana and Calisto and Angelica and Medora made only £130 the pair! In 1855, at the sale of Baron de Comailles, Lord Hertford bought his two most celebrated Boucher, The Rising of the Sun and the Setting of the Sun (figure 6), which belonged to Madame de Pompadour for less than a thousand pounds. Two years later, he paid £580 for the two panels Autumn and Spring now displayed in the Wallace Collection. The first important price for Boucher was paid in 1860, £1,260 for Sir Culling Eardley’s large painting of the nymphs. However, in the nineteenth century Boucher’s panels were sought after, mainly for their decorative qualities. In another letter to Mawson (Paris 28 July 1860), Hertford wrote that he is interested in “a couple of Boucher to put over my great doors if I ever finish my Piccadilly house”. He acquired them for 14,500 francs. In 1782, the Duc de Chaulnes (1741 – 1793) bought the famous portrait of Madame de Pompadour at the Marquis de Marigny sale for 154 livres. Seventy years later, in 1869, Lord Hertford purchased it for 15,000 francs. They are now twenty authentic works by Boucher in the Wallace collection.

            The works of Jean Honoré Fragonard (1732 – 1806) show very much the same pattern. “In 1841, when the Paris art market was dominated by Murillo and Greuze and the modern romantic painters, the small schoolmistress cost Hertford no more than £15”[34]. In 1822, Le Souvenir was sold for 60 francs at an anonymous sale in Paris. Forty years later, at the Duc de Morny sale (1865) Lord Hertford bought it for 35,000 francs. Likewise, The Swing which had been valued at 400 livres in 1794 by J P B Lebrun, was bought by Lord Hertford for 30,200 francs, in 1865 (Duc de Morny sale). Furthermore, Fragonard’s Fountain of love (figure 6) offers one of the best example of the temperamental French art market: in 1795, it had cost 37,600 francs at the Duclos-Dufresnoy sale. Only eleven years later, after the French Revolution, it lost all its value, and was purchased for 601 francs at Vuilleminot’s auction (1807). Finally, Lord Hertford bought it in 1870 for 31,500 francs at the Anatole Demidoff sale[35]. It is now displayed in the Wallace Collection.

            These four painters were collected by the Fourth Marquess for their symbol (French history) but also for their quality and provenance. However, considering these prices, it is worth remembering that nineteenth century prices for the best works of the French Eighteenth Century School were certainly not high even by the standards of the day, and, despite their greater rarity, “they seldom competed with the most expensive of the English portraits”[36].






            The revival of eighteenth century French art was, in fact, initiated by art critics and artists (Delacroix, Goncourt’s brothers, Stendhal, amongst others) and by a poetic romantic nostalgia. It was then taken over by the wealthy aristocrats willing to decorate their palace (Waddesdon, Jacquemart-André). There is thus little doubt that Lord Hertford’s taste is typical of the mid-nineteenth century.

            Besides, what the fourth Marquess initiated was the rise of prices on the French art market. If he was not a precursor by his taste, there is little doubt that Lord Hertford created emulation amongst the wealthiest collectors, buying valuable ancien regime works of art at a quite furious pace, from the 1840’s. Furthermore, to this day, French eighteenth century paintings in the Wallace Collection (Greuze, Watteau, Fragonard and Boucher particularly) remain without compare in Britain.

            Therefore, “Lord Hertford was neither a fashionable nor an Academic collector, but one who bought to confirm a taste for quality, luxury and pleasure, and perhaps to find some companionship among the pictures he termed his children”[37].

[1] Charles Yriarte was a connoisseur and art critic who wrote about Lord Hertford just after his death.

[2]Ingamells, The Wallace Collection, Catalogue of Picture in three volumes (London, 1989) p13.

[3] See, amongst others, F. Haskell, Rediscoveries in Art: Some Aspects of Taste, Fashion and collecting in England and France (The Wrightsman Lectures, Phaidon, 1976).

[4] The Wallace Collection 1900 1950 ‘Lord Hertford and the eighteenth century’ (Burlington magazine, June 1950). 

[5] Reitlinger, The economics of taste (Hacker Art Books, New York, 1982) p130.

[6] Haskell, F. (Phaidon, 1976) p60.

[7] Gault de Saint Germain, 1819, pp 63, 106.

[8] Haskell, F. (Phaidon, 1976) p60.

[9] Stendhal Salon de 1824, p143.

[10] Edmond et Jules de Goncourt L’Art du dix-huitième siècle. Deuxième édition, volume I (Paris, 1873),  p177.

[11] Edmond et Jules de Goncourt (Paris, 1873), p373.

[12] Mrs James de Rothschild, The Rothschilds at Waddesdon Manor (Collins, 1979) p33.

[13] G. Reitlinger (New York, 1982) p186.

[14] Virginie Monnier, Edouard André, un homme, une famille, une collection  (les Editions de l’Amateur, 2006) p117.

[15] Ed Ingamells, J, The Hertford Mawson Letters (Wallace Collection, 1981) p9.

[16] Burlington magazine, June 1950.

[17] Ingamells, The Wallace collection (Scala books, 1994) p66.

[18] Ingamells, The Wallace Collection, Catalogue of Picture in three volumes. (London, 1989) p13.

[19] Burlington magazine (June 1950).

[20] Reitlinger, p135.

[21] Ingamells, J. The Wallace Collection, Catalogue of Picture in three volumes. (London, 1989) VIII, p25.

[22] Ed Ingamells, J. The Hertford Mawson Letters (Wallace Collection, 1981).

[23] Duffy, S Hedley The Wallace Collection’s pictures. (Unicorn Press and Lindsay Fine Art, 2004) pXXVII.

[24] Burlington magazine, June 1950.

[25] Haskell p57.

[26] Ingamells, J. The Wallace Collection, Catalogue of Picture Volume III, Watteau. (London, 1989).

[27] Gerald Reitlinger (New York, 1982) p184.

[28] Apollo “The Wallace Collection”, June 1965.

[29] Ed Ingamells, The Hertford Mawson Letters (Wallace Collection, 1981).

[30] Gerald Reitlinger (New York, 1982) p185.

[31] V. Monnier, Edouard André, un homme, une famille, une collection  (les Editions de l’Amateur, 2006). P132.

[32] Reitlinger, the Economics of Taste p334.

[33] J. Ingamells

[34] Gerald Reitlinger (New York, 1982) p185.

[35] Ingamells, J. The Wallace Collection, Catalogue of Picture in three volumes. (London,1989)

[36] Gerald Reitlinger (New York, 1982) p186.

[37] Ed Ingamells The Hertford Mawson Letters (Wallace Collection, 1981) p11.