I took a short trip down to Warwick recently to see both the Castle but more particularly to view what is believed to be a portrait of the Marquis of Montrose (1612-1645) by the Studio of Sir Anthony van Dyck, that forms part of the art collection at Warwick. Montrose was a Scottish nobleman, poet and soldier known for his brilliant military tactics at the time of the Civil War. As a Royalist supporter he was eventually executed and his tomb is in St Giles in Edinburgh.
A fortification was established in Warwick by William the Conquerer in 1068 and it has been re-modelled and expanded many times since then. The Earls of Warwick have consisted of many different families over the centuries including the de Beaumonts, the de Beachamps, the Nevilles, the Dudleys and the Grevilles but it was finally handed over to a private company in the 1970s and today is owned and run by the Merlin Entertainment Group. The upside to this is that they also own Madame Tussauds so the Castle rooms are populated by some very convincing if distracting models, but the downside is that the emphasis is on family entertainment and there is a peculiar mix of history and fiction that includes dragons and witches and therefore many historical inaccuracies.
However, once inside the Castle, away from the relentless and vaguely ‘medieval’ music playing over their loudspeaker system, the interiors themselves were quite splendid. The painting I wanted to see was unfortunately difficult to view, hidden as it was behind an oddly placed line of waxworks of Henry VIII and his wives, and the poor lighting prevented a detailed viewing of the whole portrait. This is the second portrait of The Great Montrose I have seen and, I have to say, it looked nothing like the man I have come to know in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, although I am led to believe that this is in fact the Marquis painted by van Dyck’s studio, perhaps with some input from the great artist himself. It’s always enjoyable to see a painting you have only viewed online and I was not disappointed in the quality, only in the fact that he is not quite as handsome as the portrait in SNPG – which is of course not a sound basis for assessing a seventeenth century portrait ……
I was also shown another portrait, believed to be by van Dyck, of his fellow artist Jacob Jordaens. It was easy to spot as it shone out against all the other portraits in the Green Drawing Room and it should definitely be given more prominence and contextualisation. They are lucky to have it in their collection and should treasure it as a major part of their visitor attraction. Other beautiful rooms within the Castle included the Chapel, built in the 1600s by Sir Fulke Greville, and the Victorian Library and Kenilworth Bedroom both created at the time of Frances Greville, Countess of Warwick, who was affectionately known as Daisy and who inspired the song Daisy Daisy following her affair with Edward, Prince of Wales.
After a tour of the Castle I had a look at the grounds, the jousting arena, the birds of prey show and the story of the family at the time Wars of the Roses. Warwick is obviously aimed at entertaining families across a wide range of events and who am I to argue with its great success story. However, any small amount of research on Warwick Castle will inform you that the Merlin Group have sold several important artworks from their collection over recent years and I hope that this trend does not continue as there is no reason why they should not look to also attract visitors who are interested in the Castle, its history, its tapestries and impressive art collection. I would advise them to bring Montrose and Jacob out of hiding and into the spotlight where they deserve to be under the full glare of the Merlin PR machine. I’m sure the Great Montrose would approve.
For more information visit the Warwick Castle website here
- The two van Dyck portraits in the Red Drawing Room and the Green Drawing Room
- The impressive armour collection in the Great Hall
For more images and to see the SNPG painting of the Marquis visit our Facebook page here
For more detailed pictures visit our Instagram account here
For more information on Daisy, Countess of Warwick read Adam Busiakiewicz‘s blog here