Unique Singer Sargent painting acquired for historical home Ightham Mote

A Game of Bowls, by American painter John Singer Sargent, has been acquired for the National Trust’s Ightham Mote in Kent following a successful campaign to raise funds to purchase it for the nation.

The large-scale painting is a rare and original piece of Ightham Mote’s history, capturing a unique view of the 14th century moated manor house, still very much in evidence today.

A Game of Bowls depicts the house in 1889, with its American tenant at the time Mary Lincoln ‘Queen’ Palmer and her daughter Elsie enjoying a game of bowls on the North Lawn with their friends, including Singer Sargent’s sister Violet.

The painting, measuring 229cm x 143cm, has been on loan to Ightham Mote as part of the property’s current John Singer Sargent exhibition.

The painting became available for a private sale brokered by Sotheby’s [1] and the necessary funds were raised thanks to funding from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, who donated £175,000, and Art Fund, who donated £100,000. A further £75,000 was raised thanks to the generosity of visitors and supporters of Ightham Mote.

The painting is an example of Sargent in his experimental mode. It is a large-scale landscape in the English manner, but painted in a modernist French style. Due to the size of the painting, it was clearly composed with exhibition in mind, and it appeared in Joe Comyns Carr’s New Gallery the year after it was painted.

A friend and protégé of Claude Monet and a member of the British avant-garde, Sargent’s work was yet to be fully accepted by either critics or the public at the time A Game of Bowls was painted. As with many of his previous pictures, this was classed as ‘eccentric’.

Bernadette Gillow, General Manager at Ightham Mote, commented: “We are so delighted to secure this wonderful portrayal of a moment in Ightham Mote’s history for our visitors. “I would like to extend my immense gratitude to the National Heritage Memorial Fund and Art Fund for their sizeable contributions to our fundraising campaign, but also notably to our visitors and supporters for recognising the significance of keeping A Game of Bowls at Ightham Mote and for giving so generously. I must also thank the property team of staff and volunteers for their vigorous championing of the cause.”

Richard Ormond, art historian and great nephew of John Singer Sargent, said: “The opportunity to bring this exceptional picture back to the place where it was painted was too good to miss. It is a record of a place and its occupants at a particular moment in history. It is strong in atmosphere and character and is a remarkable work of art.”

Sir Peter Luff, Chair of NHMF, said: “Ightham Mote has a long and illustrious history and A Game of Bowls captures it at perhaps one of its most important periods, when it was a centre to the painters and writers of the influential Aesthetic Movement. It is also a particularly rare Singer-Sargent, who was better known for portraiture and so we at the National Heritage Memorial Fund felt it appropriate it should return to the place it so beautifully depicts.”

Stephen Deuchar, Director of Art Fund said: “Ightham Mote is the perfect home for Sargent’s A Game of Bowls, truly part of the house’s history. We’re delighted to support its acquisition.”

The John Singer Sargent exhibition will remain at Ightham Mote until the end of October 2018.

For further information and opening times visit or call 01732 810378.


[1] A Game of Bowls was previously in the collection of American businessman A. Alfred Taubman, who purchased the painting at auction in 1987.  Following his death in 2015, the painting was entrusted to Sotheby’s for sale and its potential availability was brought to the National Trust’s attention by Sargent expert and former director of the National Maritime Museum Richard Ormond.

About John Singer Sargent

 John Singer Sargent was an American-born artist, considered one of the leading portraitists of his generation. He was particularly known for his portrayals of society figures in Paris, London, and New York. However, his work was not limited to portraits and also included impressionistic landscapes, executed en plein air, sometimes alongside his friend Claude Monet.