The collection at Sudley House

Tranquil river scene with castle in the background and children fishing in the foreground

Detail from 'Rosenau', JMW Turner, 1841

George Holt began collecting seriously in middle age, around the late1860s. His early buying concentrated on English landscapes and genre pieces, prints and Chinese porcelain. After moving to Sudley in 1884, Holt spent less time on his various businesses. This semi-retirement meant he could concentrate more on his art collection. 

This period is marked by his purchase of Millais’s ‘Vanessa’ for £1,575 in 1885. After this there is a sense of his studying collecting fashions, learning the market and discovering his own tastes. He added to his collection works by Turner ('Schloss Rosenau' and 'The Wreck Buoy') and the Pre-Raphaelites. Towards the end of his life he followed the fashion for late 18th century British portraits and landscapes. It was during these years that he added works by Romney ('Mrs Sargent')and Gainsborough ('Viscountess Folkstone') to the collection.

Holt did not collect art simply as a status symbol, as some merchant collectors may have done. He paid a great deal of attention to the presentation of his works, from framing to glazing. He often weeded out works with which he was no longer satisfied. He would part exchange these paintings with dealers for fresh acquisitions. He favoured works with overt religious themes, or at least saintly overtones. Themes of work and honest country life are also well represented. Although some works may be a little sentimental, the luxurious, immoral or sensual are noticeably absent.

Above all, the scale of the pictures is small. This was governed by the size of the rooms in which they would hang. However, Holt’s taste for works that reflected everyday life made him unlikely to collect large and dramatic history paintings anyway.

At Sudley House, there is a real sense of a collection assembled to delight, instruct and give pride to a comfortable and right-thinking household.