Biographies: Collectors, Dealers, Family, Fellow Artists, Patrons

George Capel-Coningsby, 5th Earl of Essex (1757 - 1839)


George Capel-Coningsby, 5th Earl of Essex (1757–1839), succeeded to his title in 1799 and set about a major reconstruction of the family seat, Cassiobury House in Hertfordshire, engaging the services of the architect James Wyatt (1746–1813) and the landscape designer Humphry Repton (1752–1818). Early biographical accounts of Girtin suggest that the artist stayed at Cassiobury and made the estate the subject of his attention, but no watercolour can be associated with the Earl of Essex’s stewardship with any degree of confidence. The earl was also said to have been a major patron of the artist, but again just the one watercolour, A Lake Scene with Two Herons, Possibly in Cassiobury Park (TG1570), is known for sure to have originated from his collection. What happened to the six major watercolours by Girtin that were lent by the earl to the exhibition organised by the Society of Painters in Water Colours in 1823 is not known (Exhibitions: SPWC, 1823).

In contrast, the earl’s association with Girtin’s last project, the publication of the twenty aquatints that formed his Picturesque Views in Paris, is very well documented. Girtin and his brother, John Girtin (1773–1821), dedicated the publication to Essex, and John Girtin went on to sell the dedicatee a set of etchings hand-coloured by the artist shortly before his death for the price of £50 (see TG1871a figure 1) (Chancery, Income and Expenses, 1804). The financial records of John Girtin covering the income he received from the sale of the contents of his brother's studio, as well as from the Eidometropolis and the twenty aquatints of the Picturesque Views in Paris, together with a detailed account of the expenses from both projects, are transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1804 – Item 1). This presentation set, which has been confused with another set of the etchings hand-coloured for the four aquatinters to work from, was bequeathed to Richard Ford (1796–1858), who married the earl’s illegitimate daughter, and it remained intact until it was sold in 1947. Strictly speaking, therefore, the claim by John Girtin that the Paris prints were based on the ‘Original Drawings … now in his Lordship’s Collection’ was false, part of a marketing strategy designed to make the most of the earl’s support for Girtin (Smith, 2017–18, pp.32–37).

1798 - 1800

A Lake Scene with Two Herons, Possibly in Cassiobury Park



The Tuileries Palace and the Pont Royal, Taken from the Pont de la Concorde: Colour Study for Plate Six of ‘Picturesque Views in Paris’