My Favourite Painting: Henrietta, Duchess of Bedford

'I have had a print of it in every house I have ever lived in'

The Arab Tent, about 1865/66, 61in by 89in, by Sir Edwin Landseer (1802–73), Wallace Collection, London. Bridgeman Images.

The Duchess of Bedford says:
‘I was about 12 the first time I saw this painting at the Wallace Collection. As a child, I found it utterly magical, and I still do–the composition, the emotion, the feeling that comes across. I have had a print of it in every house I have ever lived in and it is the picture in the entire world I would most like to own. I can never tire of looking at it. The monkeys, the dogs, the furnishings: it represents to me the whole meaning of love, home, warmth and affection.’

The Dowager Duchess of Bedford is a leading racehorse owner and breeder.

Art critic John McEwen comments:
‘Landseer was the youngest son of the seven surviving children of John Landseer, an associate engraver of the Royal Academy. His father was a deaf, ear-trumpet wielding, cantankerous, opinionated, and, therefore, unpopular agitator for engravers to have full academic status. His children were devoted to him and he took great pride in them. He subjected them to a rigorous artistic training from a young age and eagerly promoted their careers.

Only one married and all but two were artists. Edwin was the most talented. From when he was four, his drawings, mostly of animals, were assiduously dated and annotated by his father, who persuaded B. R. Haydon, friend of Keats and champion of ‘history painting’, to accept the Landseer boys as pupils. At 14, Edwin entered the Royal Academy Schools; soon after, he was a regular contributor to the Summer Exhibition and by 15 was attracting the attention of the leading collectors of the day. His professional advance to be Queen Victoria’s Court painter was matched by his social ascent as a wit, mimic, dandy and sportsman. ‘Rely on seeing you with your gun for the last ten days of shooting,’ wrote the 6th Duke of Bedford, the most important of his early patrons.

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It was said Landseer had at least one child by the Duke’s second wife, Georgiana, a confidante until her death in 1853. In his last decade, he painted a number of horse subjects. The Arab Tent (exhibited in 1866 as Mare and Foal—Indian Tent) in equal measure displays his humour, love of animals and mastery at conveying various textures.’

This article was first published in Country Life, August 22, 2012