ART. XII. Private View of the Collection of Ancient and Modern Sculpture, in the Gallery of his Grace the
DUKE of BEDFORD, at Wooburn Abbey, in the County of Bedford.
LEARNING, during a recent sojourning at Bedford, in forwarding the works of the new county house of correction, that the Duke of Bedford liberally allowed his splendid mansion and magnificent grounds to be inspected by the public, under certain regulations, every Monday; we were induced to ride over to Wooburn, when we were abundantly gratified by the excursion, and the works of art that we saw there.
The day was fine, one of the finest in July; our companions agreeable, and our journey rendered more pleasant by passing through the beautiful grounds of Ampthill, one of the seats of Lord Holland.
The house was our first curiosity; and it is, in architecture, in size, in its offices, in its appearance and in its reality, a mansion worthy the head of such a family as the Russell. We put our names and residences down in the visiting-book, and were conducted, with due formality, by a portly, well-dressed housekeeper, around the splendid suite of apartments, that form four sides of a grand quadrangle. In glass cases, along one gallery, were a collection of coloured figures, representing the costume of Spain, in correct action; such as horse and foot soldiers, sportsmen, villagers, dancers, a bull-fight &c. &c.; and, in another, some very fine models in plaister and terra cotta, of curious and valuable cattle, most of them the property of the late and present Dukes of Bedford.
In the rooms, which are splendidiy furnished, particularly those inhabited by the Duke and Duchess, are numerous fine portraits and some good pictures. Two or three by Rembrandt and Titian are worth remembering; and a fine one by Rubens is well worth going to see. Some family portraits, by Vandyke, are graceful, prepossessing and excellent; and one of the late Duke Francis, by Hoppner, which, we remember, was exhibited at Somerset House, in the first exhibition we ever saw; was pronounced by a lady of our party, who remembered his Grace to be not half handsome enough for him. In one room was a beautiful collection of Canaletti; and in the library several portraits of eminent artists, one of which, a three-quarter, by Hayter, of Canova, was like in resemblance, but affected in attitude, and German in colour and finish.
After passing through these rooms, which we hastened over to reach our object, the statue gallery, we were conducted to the garden, where it stands parallel to the garden front of the house. In a handsome vestibule, where we waited while the keeper, who was rung for, came with the keys, was a framed collection of the fine Italian line engravings, after the best works of Canova. We entered the gallery by a vestibule that separates it from the newly-built circular temple of the Graces at one end, from which we had a full view of the fine gallery, terminated at the other end by the ascending steps and tetrastyle Ionic portico of the temple of Friendship. In this vestibule stands the lovely figure of one of their Graces’ little daughters, standing on tip-toe, fondling a dove, by Chantrey, that was the attraction of the sculpture-room at Somerset House, the year that Canova’s Hebe and Euphrosyne were exhibited. Opposite is a statue of another of the Duchess’s little beauties, by Thorwaldsen; and little as we thought of him compared with the exaggerated reports that had reached England, either as a sculptor per se, or as the rival of Canova, comparatively, when we saw his boasted Venus Exultans at Mr. Peel’s, he fell again in the scale of our estimation, when we compared him here in direct opposition with our countryman. Chantrey owes obligations to his Grace for thus putting his genius to the test, by the opposition of works of the same character and of nearly the same age.
Among the modern works are two bassi-rilievi, by Thorwaldsen, from the Iliad; one representing Priam begging the dead body of Hector from Achilles, and the other the wrath of Achilles for the loss of Briseis: composed with much simplicity, truth and feeling; superior to any thing for masculine vigour that we know of Canova, inferior we think to the compositions of Flaxman from the same poem for invention, inferior also to Canova for delicacy of execution and fine finishing, particularly in the hair and extremities; but superior to the generality of Flaxman’s in sculpturesque character and anatomical correctness.
Canova shines in his wonderful group of the graces, which his Grace has honoured by a temple to themselves. They are too well known to need our description; and the possession of them is as creditable to the Duke’s taste as to his liberality. They are seen through the latticed panels of the entrance-door, are lighted from the eye of a beautifully proportioned cupola, and possess a poetical and romantic effect, from not being permitted to approach too close to them, perfectly characteristic with the graces, who should not be intruded upon by the uninitiated; for it is not permitted to every one to enter their temple.
We forbear going into the detail of the collection, as we learn, with much pleasure, that a descriptive catalogue may be expected, ere long, from the competent and classic pen of the Rev. Dr. Hunt, who was with Lord Elgin at Athens, at the time of the happy salvation of the marbles which honour his name. But we cannot forget the splendid marble vase, nor the fine marble copy of the Apollo Belvidere. The cast from Canova’s Magdalene, kneeling and sunk on the ground in abject dejection, contemplating a skull, pleased us by its soft beauty: although the marble at Paris produced a totally different feeling on a friend of ours, on whose taste and judgment in female beauty we can rely.
Proceeding downwards through the collection, we approach the temple of Liberty, the portico of which projects into the room. The portico, of a beautiful and perfectly Grecian Ionic order, with a pediment of exquisite symmetry, the tympanum of which is embellished with alti-rilievi, by Westmacott. Under the portico, the temple is entered by a door. Facing the entrance is a half-length marble figure of Charles James Fox; and on his right and left, busts in marble, on handsome brackets, of his friends and companions in his political career.
Returning from this temple, the other end is terminated by the temple of the Graces, and the exit is made into the gardens. […]