Art at Hillsborough Castle

The display of art at Hillsborough Castle in Northern Ireland has been selected to represent both the history and the contemporary use of the house as a royal and government residence. It has been drawn from several sources, including The Royal Collection, The Schorr Collection and collections featuring contemporary Irish artists.

The paintings are displayed to reflect the themes and historical use of the rooms where appropriate, including rule, power, law and justice, and the Downshire family history. There are original works of art hanging alongside later copies, or interesting ‘after’ or ‘school of’ works, inspired by more famous artists.

Here is a more in-depth look at some of the highlights of the current Hillsborough Castle hang and the stories they depict.

Did you know?

Copies of original paintings referred to as ‘studio of’ or ‘school of’ have usually been created by artists in training under a famous painter.

The South Terrace, Hillsborough Castle on a clear day.

The history of art at Hillsborough

Paintings in an Irish ‘Big House’, as these aristocratic private homes were known, were usually created by minor jobbing artists.  These painters travelled around the country to paint for wealthy clients.

However, we know Hillsborough originally displayed work by one prominent artist, George Romney (1734-1802). From the house inventories going back as far as 1747, we can see that family portraits hung in the Dining Room, as was traditional.

Satirists were also popular, and these early inventories showed that the family owned many prints by William Hogarth.

The South Terrace, Hillsborough Castle, © Historic Royal Palaces

State Entrance Hall at Hillsborough Castle with artworks hanging on the walls.

State Entrance Hall

This room has always been the entrance to the building, and a space in which to welcome visitors, from Queen Elizabeth II to pop star Gary Barlow. 

The hang in the State Entrance Hall shows all the main protagonists involved in the history of the house, including Wills Hill, 1st Marquess of Downshire, painted in 1791 by George Romney.

© Historic Royal Palaces

A full-length portrait of Charles II wearing Garter robes, a dark blue velvet mantle lined with white silk and embroidered with the Garter badge. He looks towards the viewer.

Charles II, After Sir Peter Lely

This handsome Stuart was particularly important to the town, and to the Hill family.

During the 1660s Charles II granted Hillsborough borough status.

This gave the family important commercial and legal benefits, including the right to send representatives to parliament.

This copy of the 1672 original painting was commissioned by Queen Victoria in the 19th century.

Although the Queen was a Hanoverian, she took a keen interest in her glamorous Stuart ancestors.

We don’t know exactly when this picture was painted, but it was hanging in St James’s Palace by 1865.

Charles II, after Peter Lely (19th-century copy), Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019, RCIN 407684

Where to see it: State Entrance Hall

A full length portrait of a young Queen Mary II, when she was a princess, depicted in a flowing gown as the mythological goddess of hunting, Diana. She carries a bow and wears a crescent moon on her head.

Mary II when Princess

The Dutch artist Peter Lely depicts the 10-year-old Princess Mary, daughter of James II and sister to the future Queen Anne, as the Roman goddess Diana.

As well as being a huntress, Diana was also the virtuous protector of young women, and perhaps Lely evoked Diana for a reason.

Five years after this was painted, tall, attractive Mary was told she was to be sent away to the Netherlands to marry her cousin, Prince William of Orange, who was at least 10cm shorter than her, and considerably older.

The young Princess ‘wept all day that afternoon and all the following day’. 

Despite this unpromising start, the couple grew to love each other. Mary returned to England in 1668 after the ‘Glorious Revolution’ to rule jointly with her husband, William III. 

Mary II (1662-94) (above), when Princess by Peter Lely, c1672, Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019, RCIN 404918

Where to see it: State Entrance Hall

Did you know?

Mary II died of smallpox in 1694 aged only 32, leaving William heartbroken.

The Throne Room at Hillsborough Castle, with rich paintings on the walls and two red thrones at the end of the room.

Throne Room

This splendid space is the ceremonial heart of the castle, and when it was created in the early 19th century as a Saloon, it was the picture gallery of the house.

Traditionally, here was where the Downshire family, like other aristocrats, would hang their most prized ‘history’ paintings. These featured stories from the Bible, mythology and ancient history, to reflect an aristocratic classical education.

© Historic Royal Palaces

A painting of the family of Darius, King of Persia, kneeling to presented to Alexander the Great.

The Family of Darius before Alexander

This is another painting in the Throne Room chosen for its classical subject matter. The scene depicts the story of the captured family of the Persian Emperor Darius III pleading with Alexander the Great for their freedom.

It is a version of an earlier famous painting by Paolo Veronese, painted in 1565-7.

The original first hung in Venice, where it was much copied by aspiring artists on their ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe. This later reduced and simplified version was painted by an apprentice of Sebastiano Ricci, a celebrated Venetian artist of the 1700s, under supervision in his studio. 

The story has a happy ending: Darius had fled from the battlefield, allowing his family to be captured by Alexander, who refused to release them despite their desperate pleas. However, Alexander treated them generously and eventually married Darius’ daughter. 

The Family of Darius before Alexander (above), Studio of Sebastiano Ricci, c1700-30, Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019, RCIN 404768

Where to see it: Throne Room

Did you know?

You can see Veronese's original painting in the National Gallery in London.

The Red Room at Hillsborough Castle with rich red walls and paintings.

The Red Room

The paintings in this room appear as a ‘cabinet hang’, typical of the type where many small, highly-decorative paintings are densely displayed. 

A cabinet was usually a private room in which intimate discussion took place.

The cabinet hang was chosen here as it is particularly appropriate for the Red Room. During the 1980s and 1990s, many of the delicate negotiations of the Peace Process were held in here. 

It was in the Red Room that Queen Elizabeth II met Irish President Mary McAleese in 2005, for what was described at the time as ‘a historic event’. 

© Historic Royal Palaces

Did you know?

The round table was a deliberate choice, allowing equality of seating for all participants.

A painting of Francis Rawdon-Hastings wearing the red and white undress uniform of a colonel with the woods behind him. To his right, a fashionable red drape flows behind him.

Francis Rawdon-Hastings

A full-scale portrait of this kind is not usually found in a ‘cabinet hang’, but it is displayed here as it’s one of Reynold’s finest paintings in an impressive career, and Hastings has links with the area surrounding Hillsborough, as he was the 2nd Earl of Moira, the nearby town.

This portrait was commissioned by Rawdon-Hastings as a gift for the Duke of York. As required by courtly etiquette, the Duke gave Hastings a portrait in return. George IV (who had already also exchanged portraits with Hastings) purchased this painting in 1827.

Doubtless, the art-loving King appreciated the fine quality of Reynolds’ work in capturing the colonel in an intelligent and confident pose, despite the artist reportedly suffering from problems with his vision at the time.  

Francis Rawdon-Hastings, 2nd Earl of Moira and 1st Marquess of Hastings, by Sir Joshua Reynolds c1789-90, Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019, RCIN 407508

Where to see it: Red Room

The State Dining Room, Hillsborough Castle, painted in a light green colour with a long mahogany dining table and red drapes across the windows.

State Dining Room

This room has been the scene of many grand celebratory meals.

In 1829, Lord Downshire held a candlelit feast to celebrate the Twelfth Night of Christmas, with over 150 guests invited.

The hang in the State Dining Room reflects themes of food, dining and portraits, both royal and of the Downshires. 

© Historic Royal Palaces

A painting depicting a dead hare and patridges, the scene of an aftermath of a hunt.

Dead Hare and Partridges

Dutch artist Jan Weenix specialised in painting hunting-trophy pictures. A dead hare was one of Weenix’s repeated motifs.

This elaborate scene depicts the equipment associated with hunting, along with the dead game situated in parkland or a garden. This painting was part of a collection of 86 by Dutch and Flemish artists, bought by George IV.

Dead Hare and Partridges with Instruments of the Chase, Jan Weenix, 1704, Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019, RCIN 403375

Where to see it: State Dining Room

The State Drawing Room at Hillsborough Castle, design based on the inter-war feminine ideal of a country house drawing room, showcasing light neutral colours and paintings on the walls, as well as two marble columns.

State Drawing Room

This elegant space, with its wonderful view of the gardens, was originally designed as a library, holding many thousands of books, which were sold at auction in 1907. It dates from around 1810 but was rebuilt after a major fire at the castle in 1934.

The hang in the State Drawing Room shows works by famous contemporary and lesser known Irish artists, some with royal patronage.

© Historic Royal Palaces

Painting of Winston Churchill standign before an easel in Lady Paget's garden in Kingston Hill, Surrey.

Sir Winston Churchill Painting

The famous British Prime Minister with his easel and paints was captured in 1915 by his friend and art tutor, Sir John Lavery. 

Lavery was born in Belfast in 1856 and trained in Glasgow and Paris before moving to London, where he became an established society painter.

Churchill did not begin painting until he was 40 years old and learnt from friends such as Lavery and Lavery’s wife, Hazel.

He is depicted here in the garden of Lady Minnie Paget, who lived near London and was an American society friend and contemporary of Churchill's mother.

Sir Winston Churchill Painting, by Sir John Lavery, 1915, © Historic Royal Palaces

Where to see it: State Drawing Room

Lady Grey's Study, Hillsborough Castle, featuring paintings, furniture, and pastel blue walls.

Lady Grey's Study

This calm, cosy room was created in 1936, two years after the disastrous fire.

It is named after Lady Grey of Naunton, Esmé Burcher, wife of the last Governor of Northern Ireland.

© Historic Royal Palaces

Three quarter length portrait of Evelyn, the Marchioness of Downshire, who is looking over her shoulder towards the viewer.

Lady Evelyn Downshire

The glamorous Lady Evelyn was the second wife of the 6th Marquess of Downshire.

She was strikingly captured by the renowned Hungarian portrait artist, Philip de László, who painted many royals and aristocrats.

This portrait was commissioned by Lady Evelyn's close friend Colonel Repington in 1919, a year after she was widowed and the year Hungarian-born de László was released from internment after the First World War.

De László worked freehand and could create portraits at great speed using his fluid technique and vigorous brushwork, and many portraits were deliberately left unfinished.

Repington, who attended one of the sittings, was delighted by the painting, writing to the artist: ‘It seemed to me the work of a magician, and I still marvel that you could have transferred to canvas in one short half hour such an extraordinarily perfect representation of that charming lady’.

Lady Evelyn Downshire (above), by Philip de László, 1919, © National Museums NI. Donated by the trustees of the Downshire Estate

Where to see it: Lady Grey’s Study

Did you know?

Lady Grey's Study was used as the Sinn Féin office during the peace talks that culminated in the Hillsborough Agreement of 2010.

The Red Room at Hillsborough Castle with rich red walls and paintings.

Paintings at the palaces

The art at Hillsborough Castle is just one of many glorious displays of paintings that you can see at our other palaces.

For example, at Hampton Court Palace, along with astonishing works to be seen throughout the palace, the Cumberland Art Gallery houses a rotating display of paintings, ranging from Tudor and Renaissance portraits to Georgian landscapes and baroque allegories.

Fine works by Italian painters from the 16th and 17th centuries, among many more, feature at Kensington Palace, while at Banqueting House, Whitehall, you will find the world-famous ceiling canvases painted by Rubens in 1637 for Charles I.

Red Room looking into the State Dining Room, © Historic Royal Palaces

Throne Room with silk green damask walls, wooden floor and large rug. Two red and gold Chairs of State, or 'thrones' are situated at the far end of the room. Gold-framed paintings of landscapes adorn the walls and three large chandeliers hang above.
Things to see

Explore the ceremonial heart of the castle, where Her Majesty The Queen received guests at a coronation ball in 1953.


Hillsborough Castle

Included in combined castle tour and gardens tickets (members go free)

A lady stands in a Georgian room, looking around her at the gold-framed paintings adorning the Red Room. The walls are covered in deep red silk damask and a marble fireplace is visible. An older couple can be seen in the background, also looking at the paintings.
Things to see

Political history meets royal life and a spectacular collection of art, deep in the heart of Hillsborough Castle.


Hillsborough Castle

Included in combined castle tour and gardens tickets (members go free)

Visitors enjoying the State Drawing Room in Hillsborough Castle. A young couple are in the foreground sat on a 2-seater sofa, seemingly enjoying the views around them. The rest of the group are spread around the room; a HRP Explainer stands in the background.
Things to see

Discover contemporary Irish art from the collection of HRH The Prince of Wales in this elegant family space.


Hillsborough Castle

Included in combined castle tour and gardens tickets (members go free)

The Wildflower crystal and pearl tiara sparkles with florets of crystals and an elaborate foliage design.

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