Portraits from the past given seal of approval

Joanne Parker from Beningbrough Hall looks at a portrait of the 4th Earl of Chesterfield , Philip Dorner Stanhope, by George Knaptin in 1745 in the Saloon, main picture; the Hall is exhibiting a number of paintings from the National Portrait Gallery collection.
Joanne Parker from Beningbrough Hall looks at a portrait of the 4th Earl of Chesterfield , Philip Dorner Stanhope, by George Knaptin in 1745 in the Saloon, main picture; the Hall is exhibiting a number of paintings from the National Portrait Gallery collection.
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With its grand entrance hall and spectacular rooms, there can surely be few better places to showcase some of the nation’s artworks.

Many art galleries are blank canvases, stark and simply designed to show off works to their best effect, but for the last 35 years Beningbrough Hall, near York, has been displaying some of the nation’s artworks from the National Portrait Gallery in a period setting.

Since the partnership began in 1979, the National Trust’s stately home has exhibited more than 100 portraits dating from the 18th century from the national collection.

The marketing and events co-ordinator at the hall, Joanne Parker, said: “An art gallery is almost like a blank canvas whereas here you are seeing a painting as the family would have seen it.

“We are seeing things where they were intended to be viewed.”

Offering the opportunity to see works outside of London is not always a straight forward operation. Because Beningbrough is no ordinary gallery a number of factor have to be taken into consideration.

When paintings are moved around or new portraits arrive, care has to be taken to protect the building and its historic walls.

Miss Parker revealed that discussions have to be held between the trust and portrait gallery about how best to display the artworks, and added: “They want to show off their art in the best way and we want to conserve because that’s what we do.”

Plenty of planning was needed when a portrait of King George 1 was moved to a new location in the Great Hall to make way for John Wonnacott’s The Royal Family: A Centenary Portrait, which is part of its Royals: Then and Now exhibition, a collection of contemporary Royal portraits on loan from the National Portrait Gallery.

Miss Parker revealed a number of solutions have to be found - a false wall has been put up to help showcase one particular portrait.

The paintings feature people who have made, and are making, British history and culture and many have a story to tell.

Many of the works are by Sir Godfrey Kneller, who was the leading portrait painter in England during the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and was court painter to monarchs from Charles II to George I. He also produced a series of portraits of leading politicians and men of letters, who were members of the Kit-Cat Club, which had strong political associations and was committed to the promotion of Whig ideals.

Some of these are on loan to the hall as part of the collaboration.

The joint endeavour is one of a number of projects which the National Portrait Gallery has with a small number of country houses with other partners including include Montacute House, in Somerset, that shows work from the Tudor/Jacobean collection and Bodelwyddan Castle, in Denbighshire, North Wales, showing works from the 19th century.

The director of the National Portrait Gallery in London, Sandy Nairne, said: “The National Portrait Gallery is immensely proud of its regional partnerships and 35 years of working with Beningbrough Hall is an important milestone.

“We look forward to developing this fruitful and creative collaboration.”

The Royals: Then and Now exhibition has proved a huge success and Miss Parker said the John Wonnacott portrait would be staying in 2015, while selected Royal portraits remain on view throughout the winter season.

The general manager of the York Area Properties, which includes Beningbrough Hall, David Morgan, said: “We are delighted to be working with the National Portrait Gallery, bringing some of the nation’s most important art to York and displaying the portraits in a unique setting of a Baroque Hall and beautiful tranquil gardens.”

The hall is open throughout the winter at weekends. Much of the hall and grounds are open, but some areas are closed off during the winter season to allow conservation work to take place.