Collector of Genius:
A Life of Sir George Beaumont

David Blayney Brown, Felicity Owen

Publicaton Date
May 1998
Standard Number
Yale University Press
260 pages

Friend and patron of Constable, Wordsworth and Coleridge, successful painter, and a collector whose acquisitions became the nucleus of the National Gallery, Sir George Beaumont was a central figure in the artistic and literary worlds of late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England. However, until now there has never been a comprehensive biography of this multifaceted and talented man. Now Felicity Owen and David Blayney Brown have remedied this omission, providing a balanced and sensitive portrayal of the man, his works, and his times. 

According to Owen and Brown, Beaumont developed a love of landscape painting during his education at Eton and Oxford. At first, falling under the influence of Sir Joshua Reynolds, he believed that the British school should develop on the lines of the old masters. After Reynolds’s death, however, when Beaumont became a member of Parliament and an ardent follower of Pitt, he began to support new artistic development. He gave vital encouragement to a younger generation of painters including Girtin and Constable (although he withheld this support from Turner, whose innovative technique he considered ‘in false taste’). Beaumont and his wife developed a circle of artists, actors, connoisseurs and poets who benefitted from the friendship of this influential couple. He became a director of the British Institution, an organization formed to help artists, but criticism of his role there caused him to withdraw somewhat from the London art world. He now spent more time at his Leicestershire seat, Coleorton Hall, where Wordsworth designed the winter garden and a memorial was erected to Reynolds, later the subject of Constable’s painting The Cenotaph. Late in his life, Beaumont became devoted to the idea of a national collection of paintings. His presentation of his own pictures to the government as the foundation of the National Gallery was a final act of benefaction that ensured him a permanent place in the history of British art.