Further Stories of Kenwood House

The Speaker at our Monthly Meeting on Wednesday 28 February 2024 was John Cooper, who is an ‘Explainer’ for English Heritage at Kenwood House in the North West London. John had lived in Kenton, and had addressed Kenton & District u3a when all its Monthly Meetings were being held on Zoom during the Covid Lockdown.

This time, his story was all about the Ladies in Kenwood House, not only in terms of the subjects of the paintings (of which there is an abundance) but also in terms of the artists, and in terms of the occupiers of Kenwood House. John started with a potted history of Kenwood House, starting with the first family to occupy the premises – William Murray, later Lord Mansfield, who moved into the house in 1754. The house that we see today has been somewhat embellished, much of it by Robert Adam, including the famous library (below).

We learned about the history of Dido Elizabeth Belle who had lived there as a companion to Lady Elizabeth Murray. A feature film – Dido Belle (2006) – was familiar to many in the audience. John was able to provide some new discoveries concerning Dido’s life and children following her marriage to Jean Louis Davinière.

Kenwood House fell into disrepair during the 19th Century and was purchased by Edward Guinness (grandson of the brewer) in the early 20th Century. As 1st Earl of Iveagh, he restored the building and extended the art collection, including the famous painting by Vermeer of the Guitar Player from 1672 (above). There is an amazing collection of Dutch art in Kenwood House today. But we then returned to the ladies for a picture Mary, Countess Howe by Gainsborough, Mrs Tollemache as Miranda by Reynolds, and Emma Hart (later Lady Hamilton) painted by Romney. There was also the portrait of Marguerite Leiter by John Singer Sargent.

Towards the end we had Two Girls Dressing a Kitten (Joseph Wright) and Little Miss Murray (by Thomas Lawrence). The audience were invited to analyse both pictures for the characters of the subjects in the paintings, and what was the story being told in the paintings.

This was a very interesting talk, and will be linked for our members with a visit to Kenwood House later in the year.

Post Details: