The Northamptonshire County Council Collection reflects important aspects of the county’s judicial and political history since the late seventeenth century. The Collection falls into three parts: those relating to the authority of the courts, those reflecting the County Council’s role and history, and the more eclectic group furnishing the Judges’ Lodgings.
The first two groups clearly reflect the rise in political status of Northampton after a fire devastated the town’s centre in 1675. Two monarchs donated large sums of money towards reconstructing key buildings, and today the town still contains many fine examples of late seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Baroque and French Classical style architecture. The new town was captured in a marvellous painting of All Saint’s Church, Northampton by an artist of the British (English) School in the early nineteenth century and was kindly loaned to the County Council by Northamptonshire Libraries and Information Services. Of significance in the background of this painting is the Sessions House, completed in 1688, with its fine exterior carving and magnificent interior plaster ceilings. The Prius Nisi Court at its heart is dominated by full-length portraits of monarchs, including those of William III and Queen Mary II, painted by Brussels artist Wolfgang William Claret in 1689, as well as an unattributed painting of Queen Anne. Collectively, these portraits symbolise the source of judicial authority in the form of the monarchy.
Nearby, the nineteenth-century Council Chamber is lined with paintings of the later local democratic authority. Former chairmen and county councillors are depicted sitting earnestly at their desks, directing their authority firmly at the onlooker. Some 150 years of dedication to elected public service are recorded on the walls of a grand chamber still used for council meetings today. These paintings were commissioned from eminent artists of their day, such as Sir William Dring and Alice Mary Burton. The large three-quarter portrait of the 5th Earl Spencer, Chairman of the County Council in 1888, hangs in the centre. A copy of the original at Althorp House, it was painted by notable Victorian military artist John Charlton.
The small and eclectic picture collection in the Judges’ Lodgings reflects the building’s roles, and indicates the close relationship between the Council and other county bodies. Built originally as a townhouse, it was purchased in 1819 as a judge’s residence. Since then, the building, now owned by the County Council, has provided accommodation for senior visiting Judges and space for formal civic receptions.
Four paintings of former county Judge Robert Andrew hang in the Lodgings, including one featuring his full-bodied capture of a deer at nearby Harlestone Park for his friend Earl Spencer. Northamptonshire Records Society and the Spencer family have lent us two of these paintings because of the house’s connection with Judge Andrew. A mid-nineteenth-century romantic landscape by German artist Christian Morgenstern was also lent us by the Records Society, presumably to enhance the building’s role in dignified civic receptions.
We are committed to preserving and maintaining all the paintings in our collection. The current restoration of the Sessions House and the publishing of these paintings in The Public Catalogue Foundation book will go a long way to increasing public awareness of the splendid treasures to be found in Northampton.
Rowan Ellis, Inventory Project Coordinator
Text source: PCF / Northamptonshire County Council
This description was originally written for a catalogue.
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