A Look at the Works of George Howard, the 9th Earl of Carlisle

In 1977 I organized an exhibition at Morley College in South London of paintings by the then little known, and unappreciated, nineteenth-century painter George Howard, the  9th Earl of Carlisle (1843-1911), but in recent months his name keeps cropping up.  His delightful portrait of William Morris’s two daughters, Jenny and May, painted at Naworth, featured in the William Morris Gallery’s recent exhibition May Morris:  Arts & Crafts Designer, while his terracotta bust by Jules Dalou is currently on show until 7th May at Tate Britain – as is a bronze of his wife Rosalind – in the exhibition devoted to late nineteenth century French artists in exile.

In addition, when Elaine and I went to Rouen last month to see the exhibition of British Arts and Crafts in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, amongst the exhibits on loan from the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, was a section of the painted panelling designed by Morris and Company for George and Rosalind’s London House, 1 Palace Green, designed for them by Morris’s favourite architect, Philip Webb.   William Morris had preceded us to Rouen as he and Burne-Jones made a tour of Normandy in 1855. ’What a wonder of glory that was to me when I first came upon the front of the Cathedral rising above the flower-market’, he wrote.  Elaine and I plan to revisit Rouen this spring and scout out a tour for next year following in the footsteps of Ruskin, Morris and Burne-Jones, as well as visiting Edwin Lutyens’ magical manor house, Le Bois des Moutiers, in the environs of Dieppe. But more about that in due course.

George Howard had no expectations of inheriting the Earldombeing the son of the fifth son of the 6th Earl, but a sequence of deaths – worthy of Alec Guinness in Kind Hearts and Coronets, but without the sinister connotations –  led to him succeeding to the title on the death of his uncle, the 8th Earl.  Another uncle had briefly been the 7th Earl. This inheritance brought George vast wealth and estates across Yorkshire and Cumbria, including both Naworth Castle and Castle Howard, both of which feature in the June Garden Tour. Indeed the several nights we will spend at Naworth, a part mediaeval castle adapted by Philip Webb following a fire in the 1870s, is the ideal (and idyllic) setting in which to get a true sense of the erstwhile grandness as well as the eccentricity of the great English aristocrats of yesteryear.

As a schoolboy at Eton George had won a drawing prize for which he was given a volume of Ruskin’s Modern Painters; later, in the mid-1860s he studied painting under Burne-Jones at the South Kensington Schools. In the meantime he had married Rosalind, daughter of Lord Stanley of Alderley.   The Stanleys were among the more eccentric of English aristocrats – one of Rosalind’s brothers had been a parson in the Church of England, but when his father declined to give him the living at Alderley he not only left the priesthood but became a Mohammedan.  Another brother was a Roman Catholic Monsignor, while Rosalind became a Unitarian in order to have a platform from which to preach prohibition. The Dictionary of National Biography says of her ‘She would not be silent about convictions held with the intensity of a religion.’

Not everybody was so dispassionate.  My old friend Lawrence Toynbee, a great grandson of George and Rosalind’s, told a story of his grandmother, Lady Mary Murray, turning to one of her guests at a lunch party in her own home, and saying in stentorian tones ‘If you don’t believe in progress you may leave this house.’

In addition to many other delights the Garden Tour will give insights into this eccentric and aristocratic world.  Most of the bedrooms at Naworth, as well as staircases and corridors, are hung with George Howard’s beautiful oil landscapes, as well as sensitive portrait drawings.  He was a compulsive and sensitive artist, but conscious of his wealth he held back from selling his work in order not to compete with those who relied on sales for their living, which is why so much of his work remains in the family.