Walter Fawkes, 1769 – 1825 Patron of the Arts. In two volumes

Bailey, Lucy Ann (2024) Walter Fawkes, 1769 – 1825 Patron of the Arts. In two volumes. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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In 1819 Walter Fawkes, a Yorkshire landowner and reformist Whig politician, staged an exhibition at his London townhouse of artworks drawn from his own private collection. It was the first display in a private residence comprised exclusively of watercolours by British artists. The event attracted great critical acclaim, not only for Fawkes, who was celebrated as a patriotic patron, but also for the artist J. M. W. Turner, whose work featured most prominently in the show. Moreover, commentators thought it a triumph for British artistic society more generally, not least by helping to promote painting in watercolour as the central component of a new national school of landscape art.

This thesis explores how Fawkes used his artistic interests and wider collection of books, pictures, and other objects, as well as events such as the exhibition staged in his London townhouse, in the promotion of his local and regional position and calls for parliamentary reform. Reform was a key word of the period, as much cultural as political, forward looking and progressive yet also retrospective, about the maintenance or restoration of established procedures and structures of society as well as their modernization. Indeed, Fawkes’ advocacy of reform was wide ranging, and concerned with the maintenance of the social order at a time when the traditional authority and governance of the landed classes was increasingly challenged by a range of forces. A focus on the hitherto little studied Fawkes opens fresh perspectives on the wider culture of early nineteenth-century reform, helping, for example, to highlight its often-underappreciated significance to an understanding of contemporary artistic patronage and collecting.

In some ways, what follows is as much a biography of a particular place as an individual. Fawkes’ collections were housed at Farnley Hall, his ancestral seat in Wharfedale, in the West Riding. His considerable financial investments in the improvement of the property as well as the collections displayed there were indicative of the value Fawkes placed on display and hospitality. It was a modest property in some ways, of the kind rarely featured in histories of the country house, but one Fawkes fashioned into a major cultural and political hub of national as well as regional repute.

Following an introduction establishing the motivations, methods and scope of the thesis, chapters each address individual, but related, aspects of Fawkes’ extensive collections and artistic patronage. The first considers the architectural and landscaping projects, initiated by his father, and developed with a Georgic sense of beauty and use by Fawkes. The second chapter investigates the items he amassed pertaining to the Civil Wars, their display and illustration; the conflicts of the seventeenth century having an autobiographical and political meaning for Fawkes as well as an antiquarian one. Fawkes’ assembly of his art collection is the subject of chapter three and is examined chronologically, while the fourth chapter focuses on the libraries at Farnley, the book collection and the natural history and literary interests revealed there. The fifth and final chapter looks closely at Fawkes’ patronage and friendship with Turner; here it is argued that the patronage of Fawkes came at a crucial time for the artist, marking a shift in Turner’s ambitions and the consolidation of his pre-eminence in the contemporary art world, the showcasing of his work in the 1819 exhibition being something of a ‘crowning’ moment in the painter’s early career.

While shedding new light on a previously little-known early nineteenth-century figure, until now only ever considered with regard to his relationship with Turner, this thesis also seeks to add to current debates around histories of the country house and collecting, highlighting the political dimensions that latter activity could at times come to have. The study furthermore brings attention to the growing importance and assertion of regional culture and identities in the period, noting the complexity of its exchanges with metropolitan society, as manifested in the exhibition Fawkes staged at his London townhouse; an event that showcased a series of views of the Farnley estate by Turner that celebrated the beauty and individuality of the local landscape under Fawkes’ stewardship.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
N Fine Arts > ND Painting
N Fine Arts > NX Arts in general
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Culture and Creative Arts > History of Art
Supervisor's Name: Bonehill, Dr. John and Willsdon, Professor Clare
Date of Award: 2024
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2024-84373
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 20 Jun 2024 08:04
Last Modified: 20 Jun 2024 08:10
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.84373

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