Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough: A final note

Until this weekend, the Seattle Art Museum was proud to play host to Rembrandt van Rijn; Mary, Countess Howe; Mrs. Musters; and their “friends,”—the figures in the great paintings from Kenwood House, London. We spend quite a lot of time talking about these pictures, referring to the “characters” within, but don’t usually give deeper thought to the sitters portrayed, whose names give the pictures their titles. These were people who had lives, families, and legacies—of which we were wonderfully reminded last week.

On Friday, two days before Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough: The Treasures of Kenwood House, London closed to the Seattle public, we were paid a visit by Bob Chaworth-Musters, and his wife Barbara. Bob and Barbara had driven down to Seattle from British Columbia, just to see the show. Does their name sound familiar? It ought to—his five-times-great grandmother was the Mrs. Musters painted by both George Romney (a lady in a blue and white hat) and Joshua Reynolds (the larger-than-life Mrs. Musters as ‘Hebe’).

Bob and Barbara were kind enough to stay and speak with me for a few minutes. They talked about their explorations into family genealogy, the locations of other Musters family portraits, and Mrs. Musters’ storied life and loves—including the English King George III! It was a pleasure to hear from them, learn about their family, and see the exhibition with them before it closed.

Sometimes we forget that the characters in our favorite works of art were people, with real stories, and often with real descendants. Bob and Barbara Chaworth-Musters were a great reminder—and gracious guests at SAM!

Bob Chaworth-Musters with SAM curatorial staff member, Sarah Berman, and his ancestor Mrs. Musters (Photo: Barbara Chaworth-Musters)