A late seventeenth-century house remodeled in 1927–9 for the oil magnate and philanthropist Walter Samuel, 2nd Viscount Bearsted (1882–1948). He was a passionate and discerning collector, acquiring such masterpieces as Pieter Brueghel The Elder’s Dormition of the Virgin, once owned by Rubens. Collecting over an astonishingly wide range and depth, in 1936 Lord Bearsted converted Upton’s squash court into a picture gallery to accommodate his growing collection of pictures. The paintings in the Long Gallery are nearly all sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Dutch: amongst the most appealing is the portrait attributed to Govert Flinck of a child in a fine yellow coat holding a little pet dog. Other works in the Long Gallery include Pieter Saenredam’s austere Interior of the Church of St Catherine, Utrecht, Melchoir de Hondecoeter’s sumptuous bird group with strutting turkey, four of the five senses by Jan Steen, and Boys Flying Kites, bought by Lord Bearsted as a Nicholaes Maes but now thought to be by Justus de Gelder.
Several of the best paintings at Upton are hung in the Picture Gallery and in the passageway leading up to it. There, in the passageway, Gabriel Metsu’s luxurious interior The Duet (‘Le Corsage Bleu’) is displayed together with Jacob van Ruisdael’s fantasy view of Alkmaar under a vast cloudscape, Jan Steen’s Tired Traveler, and an acutely observed portrait of the French statesman Martin Ruzé by Frans Pourbus. The Picture Gallery accommodates Lord Bearsted’s outstanding collection of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century paintings: with Brueghel’s Dormition hangs an Adoration triptych by Hieronymus Bosch; early Netherlandish panels by followers of Rogier van der Weyden, Gerard David and the Master of the Legend of Saint Lucy; nocturne nativity scenes by Jan Provoost and Michel Sittow; Abel Grimmer’s Four Seasons; and an exquisite portrait of a man in prayer by Hans Memling. The beguiling picture by Jan Lievens, A Magus at a Table, was painted when the artist shared a studio with his friend and collaborator Rembrandt van Rijn. This picture bears the latter’s false signature.
Walter Samuel was the son and heir of Sir Marcus Samuel (1853–1927), founder of the Shell Transport & Trading Co. In the 1930s and 40s he was appointed Trustee and Chairman of the National Gallery, and Chairman of the Tate Gallery and the Whitechapel Art Gallery, where his collection was exhibited in 1955. He gave Upton and its collections to the National Trust on the condition that they be made publicly accessible and wrote a catalogue of his treasured pictures in preparation for this gift.
Alice Rylance-Watson, Assistant Curator of Pictures and Sculpture, with contributions by other National Trust curators and staff members (April 2022)