Art at Belvoir Castle

John, 3rd Duke of Rutland (between 1721-1779) was the first member of the family to collect Old Masters – including important works by Gaspard Poussin, Albrecht Dürer and Rubens. Unlike so many of his contemporaries, the 3rd Duke never actually went on the ‘Grand Tour’. But within ten years, his growing collection of paintings needed more wall space – so, in 1750 he extended the existing Castle, adding a ‘Picture Room’. Being more attractive on the inside than it was from the outside, this wing was the first to be demolished when his grandson, John Henry (the 5th Duke) began remodelling Belvoir in the early 1800s.

But the idea of a dedicated space to display the art collection was not lost – come upstairs to see Henry VIII after Holbein, Teniers’ Proverbs and three works by Gainsborough in the Picture Gallery. 

Charles, 4th Duke of Rutland (between 1779-1787) didn’t hold the title for very long – dying tragically young perhaps as a result of his convivial lifestyle as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in Dublin Castle. But he had a huge impact on the collection. When he was hard up in 1785, he splashed out on Poussin’s Seven Sacraments, and resisted all advice to sell them on at an instant 100% profit.

Charles also commissioned contemporary portrait painter Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) to paint his family and friends, pre-eminent animal artist George Stubbs (1724-1806) to immortalise his beloved dogs, and the famous British sculptor Joseph Nollekens (1737-1823) to model the busts that now adorn the Regent’s Gallery. To John Henry (the 5th Duke) and his children, these were not remote ancestors and great statesmen – they were people they had known and loved.

ohn Henry, 5th Duke of Rutland (between 1787-1856) and his Duchess, Elizabeth (between 1799-1825) created many of the Castle interiors which have survived to the present day. They mixed their own new acquisitions and commissions with heirlooms passed down mainly from John Henry’s father and great-grandfather.

Violet (Duchess between 1906-1925), the present Duke’s great-grandmother, was a portrait artist. There are portraits of (and by) her on display around the Castle. She also added and arranged furniture and ‘objets d’art’ in both the Castle and its gardens, in her own inimitable style.

Discover more in The Duchess’s engrossing book entitled “Belvoir Castle – 1000 years of family, art and architecture”. In addition to tracing 36 generations of family, the Duchess takes the reader on a personal tour of both the public and private rooms and describes what it is like to live in the Castle today with her five children. Her informative text is complemented by superb photographs, many of which were taken in rooms not open to the public.