The volume for 2023 will be an edition of the art and architectural correspondence of Frederick Hervey (1730-1803), Bishop of Derry and 4th Earl of Bristol. The author is Peter Fox, Fellow of Selwyn College, Cambridge, and former University Librarian at Cambridge, and the volume is edited by Dr William Aslet of Worcester College, University of Oxford.
Bristol was by all accounts an extraordinary character. He was simultaneously a promoter of religious toleration, an amateur vulcanologist, and a major benefactor of the arts. Although the majority of it has been dispersed, much of it during his own lifetime, the collection amassed by Bristol over some four decades of determined purchasing was vast, with one contemporary opining that ‘his Collection will Surprize all the World, there never having been Such things Sent into Ireland before, or Since’. As well as a collector, Bristol was the creator of three grand houses, Downhill and Ballyscullion in the north of Ireland and Ickworth in Suffolk. Only the last of these survives intact, but, thanks largely to the efforts of Bristol’s son, the 5th earl, to reassemble parts of his father’s collection, it stands as the monument to his patronage.
Over three hundred letters are to be published in this Volume, many for the first time. Compiled from a wide range of archives across the globe, including in Switzerland and the United States, they bring to light new details about the wide range of Bristol’s activities as a patron. In them, we see Bristol corresponding with collectors such as Sir William Hamilton, artists including Antonio Canova and Angelica Kaufmann, and the architects Placido Columbani and Sir John Soane. Of particular note is Bristol’s correspondence with Columbani and fellow-architect Michael Shanahan during the construction of Donwhill in the 1780s, which shows the intensity of his involvement in his commissions, even when they were being supervised remotely, with Bristol closely monitoring the ongoing work on his house even to the price of nails. Far from an easy patron to work with, these letters include Soane’s exasperated – and ultimately futile – attempts to recoup his expenses from Bristol, who had persuaded him to abandon his studies in Italy with a never-realised promise of work, these letters provide a detailed and in-depth insight into one of the most active patrons of the arts of late-eighteenth-century Europe.
Letter to the Earl of Bristol, 23 December 1785 [detail]
Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (D2798/2/81)