A Tour Of The Trent Building Senate Chamber’s Historic Paintings

paintings on a wall
Charles Catmur

One day, Charles wandered through the Senate Chamber in University Park’s iconic Trent Building, when he stumbled across paintings by William Hoare of Bath. After a some independent research, he details the history and importance of these historic portraits, and encourages you to go and see them for yourself.  

In the early 1990s, the Trustees of the Estate of the Duke of Newcastle gifted UoN a set of artworks to accompany the Newcastle family papers which the university has held since 1955. The canvases underwent restoration work before being exhibited at the then recently opened Djanogly Art Gallery in 1992. Amongst them were four portraits executed by William Hoare of Bath (1707-92), a significant portrait painter in English art history, who helped found the Royal Academy of Arts in 1768. The portraits show several members of the Pelham-Clinton family from the 1700s, who were a prominent family in the Nottingham at the time and provide a view into the city’s history. They were the owners of Nottingham castle and the Park estate, as well as significant properties in Newark. These paintings are now displayed in the Senate Chamber of the Trent Building (Room LG101 on the university map). You can find other paintings from the Duke of Newcastle collection around campus, in Lincoln Hall for example.

Henry Fiennes-Clinton Pelham-Clinton, 9th Earl of Lincoln, later 2nd Duke of Newcastle under Lyne, K.G., 1720-94 (circa. 1955)

Henry Fiennes-Clinton Pelham-Clinton (1720-1794) was the second Duke of Newcastle under Lyne. He inherited the title from the 4th Duke of Newcastle upon Tyne, who created it specifically for him in 1756. The title survived until 1988. He is shown here wearing clothes that display his position as a Knight of the Garter. Despite descending from important political figures, Henry steered mostly clear of politics. He used the influence of his new title on a pair of significant occasions, to promote the careers of two figures in Britain at the time. The first was Sir Henry Clinton, who would become the commander-in-chief of the British forces during the American Revolution. The second was William Pitt the Younger, who famously became prime minister at the age of 24. However, Henry’s greatest legacy was the work he oversaw and paid for at Clumber Park, which lies north of Nottingham, not far from Sheffield, and is now owned by the National Trust. Unfortunately, after multiple fires, which destroyed much, including some important paintings, the grand house there no longer exists. However, the gardens and chapel are still open to visitors.

Catherine Pelham, Countess of Lincoln, 1727-1760 (circa. 1955)

Henry’s wife was Catherine Pelham (1727-60). By the time this image of her was painted, she had given birth to four sons, and experienced the tragic loss of the eldest, George, when he was just 7 years old. Shawe-Taylor, who was a lecturer at UoN, comments on the seamless manner with which Hoare managed to place a “megalithic column” in this portrait, showing the countess as a pillar of the family. The drapery of her clothing draws on classical sculpture, helping give the painting a timeless look, protecting it from the rapid changes of fashion during the era. According to letters held by the University, the eldest son George would often look at Hoare’s picture of his mother and cry when she was away. When she died in 1760, at the age of just 33, her husband found great consolation in looking at the portrait. This throws light on the personal importance these representations held at the time.

Lady Frances Seymour Conway, Countess of Lincoln, 1751-1820 (circa 1775)

This third painting celebrates the marriage of Frances to Henry, the second son of Catherine Pelham. Due to his older brother George’s early death, Henry inherited the title of Earl of Lincoln, and accordingly, Frances became the countess when they married. The tilt of her head and the harmony of the music help her embody the all-important eighteenth-century virtue of sensibility. Her stacked hairstyle was in vogue in the 1770s. Strangely, the carpet on the floor appears to lead straight outdoors, an example of the unusual surroundings often invented by portrait painters of the era (or perhaps it was just a sumptuous doormat). Of the four painting here, this was the last to be executed. It shows the influence of the painters Gainsborough and Reynolds upon Hoare, especially in the manner that Frances no longer seems posed, but caught unaware by the artist whilst playing the harp. The painter is thought to have exhibited this painting at the Royal Academy in 1776.

The Children of the 2nd Duke of Newcastle under Lyne, Henry (1750–1778), Thomas (1752–1795) and John (1755–1781) (circa. 1757)

Three of Henry and Catherine’s children are also shown in a painting in the Senate Chamber. Their first child, George, died very young, before this was painted. Henry, the eldest of the three and therefore the heir, stands to the side, demonstrating the responsibility he carries, whilst the other two pet a dog. The golden dusk echoes the evocative landscapes which were fashionable in art at the time. Thomas, in the middle, who would become the 3rd Duke due to Henry’s untimely death in 1778, looks admiringly at his older brother. The youngest, John, is placed lowest and looks slightly upward, showing perhaps his more innocent and youthful status in the trio. All three wear ruffled shirt collars, a typical trend of the 1750s, and a detail which helped historians establish the paintings date.

If you are on University Park and have a moment to spare, I recommend heading over

The Senate Chamber where the portraits hang is used for conferences, meetings and smaller ceremonies, and the paintings help provide a nice atmosphere for these events. If you are on University Park and have a moment to spare, I recommend heading over to have a look at the portraits. You’ll find them on the lower ground floor of the Trent Building, on the opposite side to Trent Café, underneath the Great Hall. The room is usually open. Unfortunately, the room is dim, due to poor light fittings, which certainly don’t do the paintings the justice they deserve. Furthermore, they often have tables and chairs placed in front of them, which obstruct the view. However, the Trent building is due for a £1.5 million refurbishment which will include better light fittings in the Senate Chamber, hopefully making viewing the paintings in future a considerably nicer experience. Hopefully, the chairs and tables will be better placed too.

Charles Catmur

Featured image courtesy of Andrew Neel via Unsplash. Image License can be found here. No changes were made to this image.

In-article images courtesy of University of Nottingham. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to these images.

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