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Showcasing the Fitzwilliam Legacy

By Enid Saunders Candlin / May 21, 1990

THE Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England, which has spent the better part of two centuries contributing to the ``increase of learning,'' is truly called a ``Noble Foundation,'' and one of the first to have opened its doors to the public. This came about early in the 19th century through the enlightened vision of its generous founder, Lord Fitzwilliam, who endowed it with many of his own treasures, some acquired on his ``grand tour'' and subsequent travels. And over the years these have been augmented by gifts and purchases.

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Recently a selection from the collection - pictures, sculpture, furniture, ceramics, and other objects - were on view in New York at the National Academy of Design.

In the exhibit was this miniature of three of the children of Charles I, painted on vellum by John Hoskins about 1646. At the time, the young people were being held in Carisbrooke Castle under the surveillance of the Earl of Northumberland, from whose custody the central figure, the future James II, would escape, fleeing to France.

Little is known of the artist, except that he was court miniaturist to the ill-fated monarch, and that he died in 1665, never enjoying the ``enormous'' pension he had been awarded (L 200, a great sum in those days, and indicative of the painter's repute). Although Hoskins's style was considered ``virile and unaffected,'' this little triple portrait charms us with its evident sincerity, its clear tones, and perfect finish.

The children appear sad, but calm and fairly resolute. They are touching in their ignorance of what their destinies would be. We know that Elizabeth would pass away when she was only 15, that Henry, on the right of the group, would become a soldier and die young, and that James would be so maladroit on the throne that he would be forced to abdicate.

The artist could not have known these things, but the clarity and directness of this miniature is a valuable record. Artistically it is graceful and accomplished - and gives us pause.

Also in the Fitzwilliam exhibit was this exquisite watercolor by Richard Parkes Bonington (1802-1828), who was, after J.M.W. Turner, the greatest of all the English watercolorists. ``Boccadasse, Genoa, with Monte Fasce in the Background,'' executed in 1826, has also been called ``Port of Genoa and the Bay,'' and even ``Lake Garda.''

By any name it is beautiful, sensitive, and luminous, glowing with fresh and lovely colors, rich in its play of light and shade. The last feature was always a forte with this artist, and the composition - picturesque, vivid, and poetic - is typical of him.

BONINGTON was born in Arnold, a village near Nottingham, England. His father had been an unsuccessful portrait painter, and for a time the governor of a jail; his mother was a teacher. Mrs. Bonington seems to have been much more successful than her husband, and managed to secure a large house in Nottingham and establish a school in it.

Unfortunately the town was in the throes of the nascent Industrial Revolution, which created unemployment as machines took the place of manual workers. An important local occupation was lace-making, which was greatly affected by the changes taking place. The school lost its pupils and the Boningtons were once again in grave financial difficulties.

These were troubled times. The Napoleonic wars had raged for so long on the Continent that the English had been isolated from the European point of view.