Photo credit: Laing Art Gallery
Can you help us to identify this country house, possibly in Northumberland on the banks of the Tyne?
The Laing Art Gallery has very little information on this painting. We don't know where this house is/was – it was donated in 1938 by a local collector who didn't know either, is one of the few landscapes Carmichael produced (he specialised in seascapes and ship portraits), and all that our files tell us is that "this is a 'portrait' of a modest and unidentified house, probably in the Tyne valley."
We'd really like to be able to put a name to it. Any ideas?
This discussion is now closed. It was concluded that the painting is likely a generic landscape and does not represent a particular house.
Please see below all the comments that led to this conclusion. Thank you to all who participated in this discussion.
If anyone has any further information about this work, please propose a new discussion from the artwork's page on Art UK.
I suggest that this may be Close House Mansion at Heddon on the Wall.
It stands on the north shore of the Tyne, giving the front of the house a sunny southern aspect. It is 3 storeys high, with 5 windows across, and a large central chimney on the roof. Admittedly, the painting does not show the shallow central bay, nor the pediment, but the artist was drawing it at quite a distance. There is a ditch running parallel to the river which may explain the small stone bridge to the right. A current view of the property can be seen at
I think it is unlikely to be Close House. Carmichael was also known for his architecturally precise paintings of, for example, John Dobson's country houses, based on Dobson's drawings, and I do not believe would have taken such liberties with what is clearly intended to be a house 'portrait'. In addition to the significant architectural differences to Close House, old estate plans of Close House ( see http://heddonhistory.weebly.com/close-house.html) do not show the additional stream spanned by the bridge to the right.
Regarding the estate plans, the stream/ditch which runs almost parallel with the bank of the Tyne, is shown on the 1820 map as a field boundary. The feature can be seen more clearly on the 1864 six-inch O.S. map. You can view this on-line at
You can enlarge this image and find Close House towards the top of the map. The ditch appears as a double line, and is crossed by a track towards the east. If you look up this site on Google Earth you will find that the ditch is still there, and so is the track, with a bridge crossing the ditch.
Before the industrial revolution polluted the River Tyne, it was one of the best salmon rivers in the country. Salmon netting was allowed as far upstream as Bywell.
In the foreground of Carmichael's painting there is a large basket-like creel, and hanging over its side appears to be a fishing net. Hence this location is presumably downstream of Bywell. Close House is downstream of Bywell.
This plain but distinctive house with five evenly spaced bays, three stories, flat front, simple central porch or door surround, and central chimney must be identifiable. After more searching, the most likely match I can find is Biddlestone Hall, Northumberland, demolished 1957 (see attached photo from lostheritage.org.uk; the gothic chapel is obviously later). This is certainly not a 'modest' house but the architectural elevation and the surrounding landscape plausibly match. Dobson worked at Biddlestone around 1820 so Carmichael would have had some connection with it and, as with his other architectural paintings, may well have based this small painting on a drawing by Dobson, adding picturesque foreground detail. He need not have seen it in actuality.
Andrew, The architectural implausibility of the roof and chimney in the oil image tends to support your suggestion. A house of the period with that roof elevation, seen square on from the front, would have to be either (1) a single range two rooms deep (=30 rooms), and a longitudinal pitch. Even allowing the most contorted flue arrangements to have fires in all rooms of the three central bays, those in the outer two would have none, and who knows where the stairways would be - the main one typically rising on the axis of the front door: it simply doesn't work: or (2) a house of four ranges round a central courtyard each also two rooms deep, but that also wouldn't work for similar reasons and because each range would also require a similar chimney (not present). In other words, the
artist(s) have misunderstood the roof and the most likely explanation is that, as you suggest, it was really a square building with a pyramidal pitch rising round a central chimney core.
Lee Hall, Bellingham has been suggested. It is close to the river, though it doesn't have a central chimney.
Could Laing Art Gallery provide a high-res image of the painting? Maybe J.W.Carmichael painted it on the spot and the landscape gives us further clues (is there another river in the upper right corner?)
Could it be one of his views along the Newcastle-Carlisle line?
This is a detail of the painting. There is a stream with a bridge.
It seems a very tiny painting if it's intended to be an absolutely accurate house portrait.
Andrea, it's not one of the published views on the Newcastle- Carlisle line (see Google books), and I think your 'river' is smoke from an outbuilding chimney. Also I think it unlikely he painted oils on the spot - he was not that kind of artist. Peter, Biddlestone is evidence that a central chimney on a largish house is not that rare. I'll look for other examples.
The Laing is right that it is a small painting and thus unlikely to be a formal ‘house portrait’. I will concede that it may not in fact be intended to be a specific house, but if it is, then I believe it is likely to be an accurate portrayal, as argued a year ago. Only if we assume the house is an accurate portrayal do we have any reliable clues as to its identity!
There are many different elements in the picture. Might it be a demonstration of the kind of things that could appear in a commissioned painting?
Andrew, I'm not suggesting a single central chimney core on a largish house was rare; only that - at least for one on three floors and of five bays across the face - it presupposes structural considerations which make the roof form shown in the oil unlikely from a practical viewpoint - at least if the outer-bay rooms are going to have fires at all (i.e. an artist misunderstanding for some reason perhaps, and thereby supporting your Biddlestone suggestion, or a similar example). The painting does in fact show part of the right side too which is at least two bays deep.
Pieter, I'm not sure that the dark green area on the immediate right of the house is meant to represent the shaded right-hand side. On maximum magnification of the high-res detail, it looks more like some retouching to cover up damage - or even to reduce the width of an asymmetrical building. I imagine it originally matched the foliage behind, but seems to have aged to a different colour (though the colour balance in the image is also rather awry). There seems to be another smaller patch on the left.
This doesn't detract, though, from your original point; and while the chimney stack is too insubstantial, the visible pot(s) seem individually too large. I am beginning to wonder if the house hasn't been added later to make a more interesting composition. Enlarge as much as possible and look carefully at the foliage that lies visually in front of the house - both the odd branches coming in from the left, and (especially) the larger area of greenery that comes up from the tree bottom right. The latter is very clumsily painted, quite unlike Carmichael's adroit handling of foliage in other areas of the painting.
The picture certainly seems to have suffered some crude over-painting; and an added - or at least substantially altered - house would explain both the illogic of its construction and our inability to identify it. It could well be entirely fictive.
(I don't really buy Biddlestone, by the way - the steeply rising ground on its left in the photo is entirely absent here.)
Biddlestone Hall is(/was) nowhere near a river. The blue lines on this map are tiny streams:
Here's an aerial view.
This is the ford over the stream: https://goo.gl/maps/TBLbV
I’m surprised that no one has mentioned Nunwick Hall as a possibility. It is certainly of five bays and three stories and when viewed from the S Front appears to have a hipped roof. The present form of the house features a colonnaded portico/porch but this is thought to have been added by the architect Ignatius Bonomi in 1829. Bonomi made other changes to the house around this time so is it possible that the painting was executed from an earlier sketch or that the date given is wrong?
The painting style would appear to be somewhat stylised and this would fit in with the landscape in front of the building. To the south east of the house the Proctor Burn (which runs into the Tyne) is crossed by a single arched bridge constructed in the early 19th C. The perspective has been foreshortened but all of the elements are there.
Historic England’s entry on Nunwick is at http://www.historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1001051 and there are several photographs on here http://landedfamilies.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/107-allgood-of-nunwick-hall.html
The date on the Carmichael painting appears correct.
We have a print of 1826 of Nunwick Hall, inscribed: Drawn by T. Sopwith Engd. by J. Kerr./ NUNWICK HALL/NORTH.d/The Seat of L. Allgood Esqr./Published June 1826 by W. Davison. Alnwick. It already has a pillared portico plus decorative detail on the window above that doesn't appear on Carmichael's painting, as well as the mismatch on chimneys. details attached
I feel that the Carmichael painting has many features that are characteristic but not specific to many country houses and settings in Northumberland, and that as a tiny picture, it could have been used as a demonstration composition that would allow a patron to visualise and choose the features they wanted for a commissioned painting.
Unfortunately Richard, I am still not convinced; the central chimney, the relationship of house to river, and the other buildings between the house and river don't seem to relate well to Nunwick. Ineed the small size of the painting and the unconvincing group of buildiongs to the right are now suggesting to me that it may just be a picturesque landscape for commercial sale, rather than a specific country house 'portrait'
The Association of Northumberland Location History Societies were sent a link to this discussion. Responses:
'Could the house be Nunwick Hall, Simonburn before it was altered by Dobson in the 1820s? There is a nearby bridge like the one in the painting over the Proctor burn.'
'We have been searching through reference books about the house - any chance it could be Biddlestone Hall?'
They have both already been discussed, I'm afraid - even ignoring the differences in how the main house should or could look, neither Biddlestone nor Nunwick is possible topographically (assuming the painting is even remotely accurate).
This could only be the south front of Nunwick, but the substantial outbuildings (which should be to the left and behind the house from this angle) are missing; yes, there are several bridges near Nunwick, but their positions are wrong; and the house's relationship to the main river (from which, presumably, we are looking) is also wrong. A quick look at Google Earth is enough to see it's impossible.
Biddlestone has gone, and I don't know exactly where it lay - but it's clear from old photos it had steeply rising ground around it (absent here), and as noted by James Manning, there are only tiny streams in the vicinity.
Pieter pointed out the architectural implausibilities of it as a real building some time ago, and essentially I agree with Andrew that this is unlikely to be a view of a specific house. Some time ago, too, I suggested there are even signs (in the high-res detail) that the house may have been added to the picture (or at least or significantly altered) later.
Carmichael has made a point of hiding their faces of the figures in the foreground, which to me fits with anonymity for the background house.
This is a bit of a long shot, but could it be an overpainted picture of part of Cocken Hall, which was located on the River Wear between Durham and Chester-le-Street? One sketch in particular (see low-res image at http://www.theoldcem.co.uk/page12.php ) has some similarities, the overpainting on Carmichael's view would have altered the roof line and obscure the gable end of the south wing of the house.
Evidence in favour: Carmichael's landscapes include several located in the Wear Valley, including 'Victoria Bridge Over the River Wear' painted in the same year as this landscape (1838).
Evidence against: the foreground of Carmichael's painting, with outbuildings, stream and bridge, does not really match the topography of the land around Cocken Hall.
Dear Andrew, Interesting as it does have a central chimney, which is appropriate for such a large building. But I think the lack of correspondence in the topography and the fact that you'd have to cut parts of the house off mean that it would be difficult to link this painting particularly to Cocken Hall. There are also similarities to other buildings, for example, the White Lion at Houghton, also illustrated on the page you mention (http://www.theoldcem.co.uk/page12.php), (though with chimneys in the expected place for house size) and while I'm not suggesting that as the model, I think that highlights that the house in Carmichael's picture is probably a generic building.
Despite two years' discussion and many suggestions, no house has been identified convincingly. I recommend we conclude that this is most probably a generic North-East landscape and probably does not represent a particular house.