Masterpieces of the Renaissance

Selections from the National Collection

Masterpieces of the Renaissance: Selections from the National Collection shines a light on the Bermuda National Gallery’s founding collection, in celebration of our 30th year. 

The works in the National Collection were bequeathed to the people of Bermuda by The Hon. Hereward T. Watlington upon his death in 1989. His gift acted as a catalyst for the completion of the Bermuda National Gallery, which had been birthed seven years earlier with the establishment of the Bermuda Fine Art Trust by Desmond Fountain. The Gallery was formally opened to the public in 1992, with the works from Watlington’s private estate, now the National Collection, on display.

In total, 18 paintings were gifted to the nation, with the addition of an Italian Renaissance chest. The collection focuses on European Renaissance works and 18th century British paintings. In this exhibition we have chosen to focus on the Renaissance pieces, which include works by artists such as Andrea Schiavone, Jacopo Palma il Vecchio and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo.

The word renaissance translates from the French as “rebirth”, and the period, which lasted from approximately 1400 to 1700, was a time of great cultural reawakening in the West. Spurred on by discoveries in science, mathematics and astronomy, the period changed the way that people saw the world around them and established the rebirth of classical Roman and Greek philosophy, culture and art.

Masterpieces of the Renaissance: Selections from the National Collection is on display at the Bermuda National Gallery through to March 29. 

A True Renaissance Man

The Honourable Hereward T. Watlington (Bermudian, 1902-1989) bequeathed his collection of paintings to the Bermuda government on the condition that they “establish a gallery suitable to house such paintings with such atmospheric control as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York”. Almost all the artists collected by Watlington were already held in The Met’s permanent collection, and the museum was identified as a second potential location for the deed of gift.

Watlington had been one of the Founding Trustees to establish the Bermuda Fine Art Trust, their mission being to create a national gallery for the island. His bequest acted as a catalyst for the completion of the project and in 1992 the Bermuda National Gallery was formally opened to the public.

Described as “the closest thing Bermuda has ever had to a true Renaissance man” by fellow BNG founding trustee Dennis Sherwin, the Hon. Hereward T. Watlington had originally planned to dedicate his life to the arts, and studied painting in Paris, but returned to Bermuda to run the family business after his eldest brother was killed in the first world war.

As well as being the owner of one of the most significant art collections on the island, Watlington was an avid painter and several of his own works were exhibited in Portrait of a Legacy at BNG in 1995. However, it is his gift to the nation of 17 European masterpieces from his private estate that forever changed the cultural landscape in Bermuda. Without it, the Bermuda National Gallery, which this year celebrates its 30th anniversary, may never have come to fruition.