Hospitalfield’s Masterpiece focus of BBC Television Programme

A mysterious painting held within Hospitalfield’s collection will be the focus of the BBC’s Britain’s Lost Masterpieces TV programme at 9pm on 18 October 2017.

In-depth research conducted by Bendor Grosvenor, the art historian who presents the television programme, seeks to find out if the large portrait can be attributed to the highly respected 16th century painter Antonis Mor. 

Hospitalfield House in Arbroath is one of Scotland’s most significant arts & crafts country houses. Left in trust in 1890 by the artist Patrick Allan Fraser, his vision was to bequeath his extraordinary home, collections and estates to support artists and education in the arts.

Over the last 5 years under the directorship of Lucy Byatt, the Trust, now chaired by Sir Mark Jones, former Director of the V&A in London, have been working on a Future Plan. Hospitalfield has had a dynamic and renowned influence on Scottish art history through the 19th and 20th centuries, this Future Plan, which will include major capital investment in to the existing grade A listed historic buildings along with the development of new buildings, will make Hospitalfield one of the most fascinating, active and robust cultural organisation in Scotland for the 21st century and beyond. The architects leading the design team are award winning practice Caruso St John. Supported through The Heritage Lottery Fund, Creative Scotland and many other stakeholders, the project is also part of the Tay City Deal Bid.

Through in-depth research conducted by Dr Bendor Grosvenor, the art historian who presents the television programme, the team ask; could this be a work by the highly respected 16th century painter Antonis Mor?

Director Lucy Byatt saidWith all the work that we are doing for Hospitalfield’s future there could not be a better time for Bendor Grosvenor’s team of sleuths to have visited Hospitalfield and to be researching in to the background of one of the paintings within the collection that we know least about – in doing so they enlarge upon the extraordinary 19th century history. This is so exciting.”

Dr Bendor Grosvenor, presenter of Britain’s Lost Masterpieces; art historian and writer:

“Finding such a potentially extraordinary painting in a place as magical as Hospitalfield would be an immense privilege. As a portraitist, Mor rivalled the likes of Titian, and I think it’s no exaggeration to say that, if this work proves to be by Mor, this would be one of the finest 16th Century portraits on display in Scotland.”

Sir Mark Jones, Chair of Hospitalfield Governors:

“What a tribute to Patrick Allan Fraser, the artist who built Hospitalfield, that a portrait that he acquired for his collection could now, thanks to Bendor Grosvenor, be identified as a possible work by Antonis Mor. A very exciting discovery which highlights the quality of Hospitalfield’s wonderful collection and indeed, the insightful legacy that Allan Fraser left and that we are so committed to continuously following and renewing.”

Grosvenor visited Hospitalfield initially in 2015 and conducted research on subsequent visits and through consultation with other experts which leads him to be able to make the analysis during the programme.

The research process has included the restoration of the oil painting which has revealed more of the colour and the careful detailing on the subject’s clothing. It is now hanging in a central position within the extensive collection of mainly Victorian paintings at Hospitalfield House.

The identity of the subject of the portrait, an upright, bearded figure, holding a sheaf of documents, still remains a mystery, as does its provenance and how it was acquired in to this collection. Whilst Allan Fraser was committed to portraiture his collection mainly includes works by artists who were his friends and contemporaries, many of who were part of a group formed in the mid 19th century by the painter Richard Dadd called The Clique.

In 1843, after his marriage to the last heir to the estate, Elizabeth Fraser, Patrick moved from London to his new home on the east coast of Scotland just south of Arbroath. The couple embarked upon a long architectural project to extend the house, building a series of ornate rooms including the vaulted Picture Gallery which is considered one of the most important Victorian rooms in the UK. He removed the medieval buildings that remained from the 12th century hospital and commissioned craftspeople to create extensive carvings inside and outside some referring back to the earlier history of the site that connects Hospitalfield’s history to Arbroath’s most wonderful abbey. He developed his collection by commissioning paintings from his peer group, including John Philip, Augustus Egg and William Powel Frith who were active members of The Clique.

The couple left the estate in trust to support living artists, much as they had through commissions during their life time. The focus on the educational value of the collection and the predominance of portraiture within it, gives an indication of Patrick Allan Fraser’s motivations for acquiring the Mor portrait. We don’t know but he may well have felt the necessity to bring an impressive, historic example of early portraiture into the collection.

The programme is made by Tern TV and broadcast by BBC on Wednesday 18 October at 9pm.

The painting will be on show during Heritage Tours on Wednesday 25 October, Wednesday 8 November and Wednesday 6 December 2017 and Hospitalfield can also host group tours made by appointment. Please get in touch if you would like to book to see the portrait for yourself info@hospitalfield.org.uk

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Emma Dabiri and Bendor Grosvenor next to Painting

Residents viewing the Painting

Images: Emma Dabiri and Bendor Grosvenor, the two presenters of the programme, were joined by Artists in Residency and Friends of Hospitalfield for the filming. Photos: Madiha Aijaz.