Downing College : Sylvester Harding watercolours commissioned by Sir Busick Harwood

Downing College

<p>Miniatures of members of Cambridge University, 1790s, formerly mounted in a large volume but removed and remounted on individual pages following conservation work in 2013. The portraits have original annotations on their reverse, with details of the name and College of the sitter and, often, the date of the painting. This information was then used to create captions underneath each on the original mounts in the volume and has been copied across to the new conservation mounts. Portraits include members of the following colleges: Emmanuel; St John's; Trinity; Jesus; Queens'; Peterhouse; Pembroke Hall; Clare Hall; King's; Trinity Hall; Gonville & Caius and Christ's.</p> <p>These 134 miniatures were painted on card by Sylvester Harding for Sir Busick Harwood.</p> <p>Henry Gunning of Christ's College, Cambridge, a contemporary of Harwood recalled the portraits in his memoirs:</p> <p>Harwood's room [in Emmanuel College] was hung with portraits - in fact, the walls were nearly covered. He became possessed of them in a somewhat singular manner. A painter in water-colours, named Harding, came to Cambridge; he was patronised by Farmer, and Harwood was very desirous of serving him. He therefore requested all the members of the University with whom he was acquainted, of whatever age or station, to sit for their portraits; and as the charge was moderate, and the likenesses very striking, but few refused compliance. When they were completed, he had about six or eight placed in a frame, and hung in his room.</p> <p>[p.55 Reminiscences of the University, Town and Country of Cambridge from the year 1780 by the late Henry Gunning, MA in two volumes (London 1854)]</p> <p>Sylvester Harding (1754-1809) was an English painter. He began miniature painting in his 30th year, after an unsettled career (including as a strolling actor) and exhibited in the Royal Academy from 1777-1802. He seems to have made, in effect, yearly pilgrimages to Cambridge to paint miniatures for different clients, from 1788-1799. The dates of the Sir Busick miniatures run from 1790-99.</p> <p>The provenance note, written by a Mr V.P. Kitchin at the beginning of the volume originally recorded: This book contains ninety three water-colours.. The miniatures in this book came into the possession of V.P. Kitchin through the Casson family, who inherited them from the grand daughters of William Harwood (brother of Sir Busick), Mrs Charles Thick and Mrs Benjamin Gale. This book, however does not contain all that are still in existence (1915) as some are in the possession of Mrs Basil Barber, née Minna Casson.</p> <p> This information has been later amended, recording that the miniatures in the possession of Mrs Barber (crossed out to read Mrs V.W. Harke), were purchased by V.P. Kitchin in 1952, and therefore the album now contains 134. He adds that seven more are in the Fitzwilliam Museum. A note in the careful index Kitchin constructed reads: </p> <p>[names] occur in an early 19th century list made in an old album with metal clasp-lock, wherein were kept the miniatures themselves, not stuck in, but loose between the leaves. I surmise that there were several such albums and that the present compilation of names is incomplete.</p> <p>The current album seems to be 19th century and to have been in his possession from at least 1915 to 1952. </p> <p> In 1986 Mrs Jane Mathison, another direct descendant of Sir Busick Harwood's brother, William Harwood (1744-1802) wrote to Downing College to offer the collection as a gift. It is not clear how she came to possess them, or whether V.P. Kitchin was her relative. The Master of Downing at the time, Sir John Butterfield replied later to her that the watercolours had: already excited the interests of several members of the Fellowship and old Downing men.. And it is clear they are going to be one of the happiest treasures in the College's possession.. It is my hope we shall manage to raise the funds needed to construct a new library and when that arises I shall do everything I can to ensure that the Busick Harwood miniatures are properly displayed there.</p> <p>Initially there was activity to get the miniatures photographed and to provide other colleges with copies of their students and fellows. In fact at least two Colleges, Emmanuel and Christ's, wrote specifically to request this. Downing also contacted the National Portrait Gallery to inform them of the acquisition and to investigate the miniatures which appear to be missing (according to the index, about 20). The volume of miniatures was eventually conserved in 2013-14 and the miniatures removed from their mid-twentieth century acidic mounts.</p>


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