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April 4, 2011

Provenance & Art Collections: The Huntington's Scandalous Gainsborough Portrait

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

Provenance research, establishing the history of an artwork, involves studying various art collections and how the art in each collection was funded and selected. Residents of Pasadena have walking access to two prominent art collections, The Norton Simon Museum and The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. A recent item on The Huntington Library's blog provoked interest with the title, "A Lurid Lady and Two Petulant Painters," posted by Thea Page who provided provenance information on the painting by Thomas Gainsborough to the ARCA blog:
Penelope (Pitt), Viscountess Ligonier
Canvas, 94 1/2 x 61 3/4 in. (238.76 x 156.85 cm)
Painted for the sitter's father, George Pitt, later 1st Baron Rivers, of Stratfield Saye, Hampshire, and Sudeley Castle, Gloucestershire; by descent to Horace, 6th and last Baron Rivers; General Pitt-Rivers of Rushmore, Salisbury, 1880; A.C. Rivers; W. Pitt Rivers; Charles John Wertheimer of Norfolk Street, Park Lane, c. 1908; sold by his trustees to Duveen, 1911; acquired by Henry E. Huntington, 1911
Henry Edwards Huntington inherited a fortune built on the one of the transcontinental American railways and married his uncle's widow, Arabella Huntington.  The Huntingtons provided an endowment and more than 500 acres for the premier collection guided by art dealer Joseph Duveen.