£2.5 million painting is most valuable in Essex County Council art collection
THIS is the most expensive oil painting owned by Essex County Council – valued at £2.5 million.
The artwork dates from 1750 and depicts three members of the aristocratic Barrett-Lennard family of Belhus, Essex, during a trip to Rome.
On the left is Thomas Barrett-Lennard, 17th Lord Dacre, next to him is his daughter, Anne Barbara Barrett-Lennard, and on the right is his wife, Anna Marie Barrett-Lennard, also known as Lady Dacre.
There is a smile on Anne's face – yet her beaming countenance serves only to mask the family tragedy which preceded the painting of this portrait.
For the young girl had died at the tender age of nine, the year before her parents visited the Eternal City.
The impressive portrait, painted by the Italian artist Pompeo Batoni, is one of 44 artworks which were donated to the council by Sir Thomas Richard Fiennes Barrett-Lennard in 1974.
This agreement, however, came with the caveat that the paintings would remain in the physical possession of his family until such a time that they wished to offload them.
That happened in December 2009, when the council collected the art from the family's mansion at South Molton, near Barnstaple, Devon.
Fast forward to the present and seven of these paintings are on permanent display to the public at the Essex Record Office in Chelmsford.
The rest of them, including the magnificent 1750 family portrait, are being stored in a repository at the Wharf Road facility while they await restoration.
The 44 paintings are among the 91 so-called heritage assets owned by the council and valued at a combined £14,311,599.92.
The Gazette first reported the existence of these assets on September 12 and further details of the authority's art collection have emerged on a weekly basis ever since.
To date, the council has refused to divulge the exact locations of all the oil paintings it owns, telling us we would need use Freedom of Information legislation to find out.
However, on Thursday the authority offered the Gazette a tour of the record office, giving us a chance to showcase some of the fine oil paintings which are owned by you, the taxpayer.
We were shown around by Jeremy Lucas, the Tory council's cabinet member for customer services, environment and culture, Miriam Stead, head of heritage and arts, and Stephen Dixon, the archive service manager.
Councillor Lucas described the Barrett-Lennard collection as "the sort of thing that you would see if you were to visit a National Trust property".
"They are an interesting collection of family and associated portraits and it is a privilege for us to hold any record which relates to the history of this county," he said.
Miss Stead, a former curator at the British Museum in London, added: "Not wishing to read anything into the mind of Sir Thomas, I think his purpose in donating the artwork to the county council via the record office was to keep the collection intact and thus to keep something of the heritage of his family intact."
Cllr Lucas said that anyone who wanted to see any of the Barrett-Lennard artwork that is not currently on display could make an appointment by calling the record office on 01245 435517.
He did, however, add that his department was in the process of carrying out a review of all of the council's art to see if more of it could be displayed for the benefit of Essex residents.
"We are looking at all aspects of the art collection and we would like to display all, or virtually all of it in some way at some time," he said.
"It isn't possible to display it all at once and where it is displayed needs to be considered.
"Some of it would need restoration work before it could be displayed and in some cases there might be a cost involved in that."
Mr Lucas added: "It isn't my intention that any of this art should be locked away.
"I don't believe in that."
Next week, the Gazette plans to bring you photographs of some of the portraits which adorn the walls in the headquarters of Essex County Council at County Hall in Chelmsford.