Dyrham Park (NT) Acquires Painting of the Port of Bridgetown, Barbados

Posted in on site by Editor on December 17, 2022

A View of the Port of Bridgetown, Barbados with Extensive Shipping, Anglo-Dutch or Anglo-Flemish School, 1695–1715, oil on canvas, 112 × 282 cm (National Trust, Dyrham Park, acquired in 2022). The painting hung at Dyrham Park, the home of William Blathwayt (c.1649–1717), the leading colonial administrator of his age, in a house intended to project his colonially derived status and prestige.

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Rupert Goulding’s catalogue entry for the painting, an extract of which appears here, was prepared with assistance from Phillip Emanuel, Peter van der Merwe, Louis Nelson, and Gabriella de la Rosa.

This large panorama depicts Bridgetown, the principal port city of Barbados, the most prosperous English Caribbean colony of the early eighteenth century. It was an economy based on sugar—visible through the presence of wind-powered cane mills, warehouses, wharves, and ships—and the toil of enslaved Africans, who are notably absent from the scene.

Substantial in scale, the painting is amongst very few known paintings depicting Barbados from the early eighteenth century. [1] It shows the second largest city in the English colonies, after Boston, and the town before it was partially destroyed by fire in 1766. [2]

The view is landward, showing the town and harbour beneath green hills with sugar processing windmills. Three land defences are identified with flags: James Fort to the left, Willoughby Fort in the centre, and to the right at the end of Needham’s Point lies Charles Fort jutting into Carlisle Bay. The townscape includes wharfs, stores, houses, and some substantial buildings including the Nidhe Israel Synagogue (left of centre) and St Michael’s church (right of centre). There are small rowing boats aside the shore, but no people are represented. Within the harbour are multiple armed galleons or warships, most at anchor, and flying English flags except a single Spanish ship at the centre of the composition, identifiable by the Cross of Burgundy naval, mercantile, and colonial ensign. Several ships have numerous people standing on their decks depicted in simple silhouette form, with occasional flashes of colour to indicate hats and dress. Some of the ships appear to be firing cannon in salute; they may represent a Barbados-based naval squadron or warships protecting merchant convoys. Amongst them small boats move passengers and goods in bales and barrels.

The painting is by an unknown Anglo-Dutch or Anglo-Flemish School artist of the early eighteenth century. There is a possible association with an engraving by Johannes Kip (1653–1722) A Prospect of Bridgetown in Barbados, drawn by Samuel Copen in 1695, considered the earliest view of an English Caribbean colony, which offers a similar perspective and composition. [3] Little is known about Copen, who may be part of a Flemish ‘Coppens’ family of artists active at this date. It may be coincidental that Kip also engraved Dyrham Park for inclusion in Sir Robert Atkyn’s The Ancient and Present State of Glostershire (1712), with Kip’s fee paid by William Blathwayt. [4] . . . .

The full essay is available here»

Provenance: Likely acquired by William Blathwayt as Auditor General of Plantation Revenues; potentially listed in a sale catalogue of 1765 as ‘A View of a Sea Port, Large’ (Lot 14, Day 2), or related to ‘A View of a Sea Port with Carriages, Horses, and Figures, Bridge-town, Barbados’ (Lot 21, Day 2), or to ‘A Sea View, very large, with Shipping, also Figures’ (Lot 30, Day 3); by descent to Justin Blathwayt (1913–2005), who sold Dyrham Park to the Ministry of Works in 1956; Private Collection; purchased  in 2022 with support from the Art Fund, Arts Council England/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, a fund set up by the late Hon. Simon Sainsbury, and Mr John Maynard.

1. A picture was sold from Dyrham Park in 1765 with a similar description: A View of a Sea Port with Carriages, Horses, and Figures, Bridge-town, Barbados (Lot 21, Day 2); see the provenance above for other possible matches (it seems that not everything in the catalogue sold, and some items that did sell may have returned to the house later). A painting similar to the new acquisition—and of similar size—is in the Barbados Museum and Historical Society collection: Governor Robinson Going to Church, by an unknown early eighteenth-century artist, oil on canvas, 124 × 297 cm.
2. See Frederick Smith and Karl Watson, “Urbanity, Sociability, and Commercial Exchange in the Barbados Sugar Trade: A Comparative Colonial Archaeological Perspective on Bridgetown, Barbados in the Seventeenth Century,” International Journal of Historical Archaeology 13.1 (2009): 63–79.
3. Examples found within the Library of Congress and John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.
4. NT 452643.

Dr Rupert Goulding, FSA is Senior National Curator for Research, and the South West at the National Trust. He is the author of the guidebook William Blathwayt and Dyrham Park (National Trust, 2018); he co-edited (with David Taylor) the exhibition catalogue Prized Possessions: Dutch Paintings from National Trust Houses (National Trust, 2018); and he contributed a chapter to the collected volume Interim Report on the Connections between Colonialism and Properties Now in the Care of the National Trust, Including Links with Historic Slavery (National Trust, 2020). More recently, he co-authored, with Phillip Emanuel, “‘The Whole Story of the Cocoa’: Dyrham Park and the Painting and Planting of Chocolate in Jamaica,” Arts, Buildings, and Collections Bulletin (Autumn 2021): 5–9 (available for free download from the National Trust here); and, with Louis Nelson, the forthcoming essay “Cartography, Collecting, and the Construction of Empire at Dyrham Park,” in Global Goods and the Country House, c.1650–1800, edited by John Stobart (UCL Press, 2023). Rupert also serves on the editorial board for the National Trust’s Cultural Heritage Publishing.


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