A Stuart mansion on the banks of the Thames, with an outstanding and well-documented collection of seventeenth-century furniture and paintings. Charles I leased Ham to William Murray (ca .1600–1655), 1st Earl of Dysart, after which it was inherited by William’s daughter Elizabeth Murray (1626–1698), Countess of Dysart, and her first and second husbands Sir Lionel Tollemache (1624–1669) and John Maitland, 1st Duke of Lauderdale (1616–82). Elizabeth Murray extended and lavishly redecorated the house after her second marriage, furnishing it with inset and hanging pictures by Willem van de Velde II, Thomas Wyck (e.g. An Alchemist), Cornelis Bega, Dirck van Bergen and Hendrick Danckerts.
The early provenance of the Dutch easel paintings at Ham is often unclear. It is assumed that most were acquired via agents or on the art market. One picture which can be traced almost to its origin is Frans Post’s Village in Brazil, produced in Haarlem after the artist’s seven-year stint in the Dutch colonies of north-east Brazil. First described in the Private Closet of Elizabeth Murray, according to the 1683 inventory the picture was bought between 1677 and 1679, and therefore during Post’s lifetime. It is the oldest record of a painting by Post in England, where his work is still fairly rare.
Other notable Dutch pictures include Abraham Bloemaert’s gloriously vivid Baptism of Christ and Angel Appearing to the Shepherds – among the earliest documented works by or after the artist in England – and Ambrosius Bosschaert II’s exquisite still life Blackbird, Butterfly and Cherries, whose richly-carved oak frame was produced by one of the Dutch or German cabinetmakers working at Ham.
Cornelius Johnson’s double portrait of William Hamilton, 2nd Duke of Hamilton, and John Maitland, Earl (later Duke) of Lauderdale was painted in The Hague in 1649. Hamilton and Maitland had fled there for discussions with the new de jure king Charles II, Maitland later becoming a member of his ‘Cabal’ ministry. Both sitters owned versions of the portrait and Maitland brought his to Ham following his marriage to Elizabeth Murray in 1672. The Long Gallery houses an extensive collection of portraits by Sir Peter Lely, whose reputation Murray helped to secure at the Restoration court. (see, for example, NT 1139764, 1139783, 1139789, 1139940). Lely painted the portraits of several of Elizabeth’s friends and political allies, such as John Leslie, Duke of Rothes, and Sir William Compton.
Under a ceiling by Franz Cleyn, the Green Closet at Ham is a unique late seventeenth-century survival created to display prized cabinet pictures and miniatures. Four works by Hendrick van Steenwyck were recorded there in 1683, including The Interior of a Cathedral, which was recently repurchased by the National Trust with grants from the Art Fund and Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts. This important work continued to influence collecting at Ham House well into the eighteenth-century, as evidenced by the purchase of Peter Neef’s The Interior of the Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp by the 4th Earl of Dysart in 1748.
Alice Rylance-Watson, Assistant Curator of Pictures and Sculpture, with contributions by other National Trust curators and staff members (April 2022)