Thirlestaine House: A History Full of Art

Thirlestaine House Exterior

Thirlestaine House, Cheltenham

Thirlestaine House in Cheltenham once housed one of the greatest picture collections in the nineteenth century.  It was originally built by an amateur architect named J.R. Scott in 1820.  British Listed Buildings describes the house as follows: ‘Thirlestaine House represents the apogee of the Cheltenham villa and is the only surviving example of the grand villa within the town which compares well to the most outstanding examples of this type throughout the country.’

In 1838, Lord Northwick purchased the house and expanded it to house his extensive picture collection.  Lord Northwick was originally from Westminster and grew up loving antiquities and classical art, which led him on the Grand Tour with eminent scholars including Sir William Hamilton, Richard Payne Knight, and the sculptor Antonio Canova.

Thirlestaine House became an ideal place to display his growing collection, and by 1846 he produced a catalogue of his collection.  Visitors came from far and wide to view his collection.  The house was open every afternoon between one and three PM free of charge.


Robert Huskisson, Lord Northwick’s Picture Gallery at Thirlestaine House 
Collection of the Yale Center for British Art

The Yale Center for British Art has a painting of the picture gallery at Thirlestaine House shown above.  This view shows a depiction of the Madonna by Botticelli on the easel along with portraits by Titian on either side of the doorway.  The landscapes shown at the end of the room are by Claude Lorraine and Francis Darby.  On the righthand side of the room, there is a bronze depicting Samson Slaying the Philistines after a cast by Michelangelo.


Watercolour of the Library at Thirlestaine House attributed to either Miss Georgian or Miss Harriett Rushout-Bowles 
Mackinnon Fine Furniture Collection

We have a charming and rare watercolour in our collection depicting the library at Thirlestaine House, attributed to either Miss Georgiana or Miss Harriet Rushout-Bowles, one of Lord Northwick’s nieces.  The library is fitted with bookshelves with inlay and guilloche moulding.  The cornice in this room has decorative plasterwork that references ancient Rome, including guilloche, acanthus, and palm frond mouldings.  Interestingly, the overmantel mirror at the end of the room seems to reflect another similar mirror in its reflection.

On Lord Northwick’s death in 1859, his collection was dispersed.  Some of the most notable paintings in his collection included:

Titian, Virgin & Child and St John and Venus Reclining

Correggio (School) Venus & Satyr

H. Holbein (School) Portrait of Martin Luther

F. Guardi’s Venetian Scene with Figures

H. Holbein’s Small Full Length Portrait of Edward the Sixth

G. Bellini Portrait of a Lady in a Green Dress

L. Cranach Cupid Stung by Bees, Making his Lament to Venus


Thirlestaine House then served as the home of Sir Thomas Phillipps who used it to house his impressive collection of books and manuscripts.   In 1947, Cheltenham College purchased the house, and it continues to be used for educational purposes to this day.


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