By Neil McKenna, Amazon, July 2004, Customer Reviews
If anything, the title of Anne Sebba’s new book is a little misleading.The Exiled Collector: William Bankes and the Making of an English Country House only suggests part of a much richer and more facsinating life. The exile in question happened in 1841 after Bankes was caught in compromising circumstances with a guardsman in London’s Green Park. Bankes fled to Europe fearing for his life and spent the next fourteen years based in Venice buying works of arts and architectural embellishments for his family seat, Kingston Lacy in Dorset, running the house by remote control. The house still exists and is under the care of the National Trust.
But as Anne Sebba reveals in this entertaining and readable biography, there were many sides to William Bankes: he was a friend and contemporary of Lord Byron; a friend of the Duke of Wellington; an explorer, a traveller and an egyptologist. He was a self-taught connoisseur, travelling through war-torn Spain cannily buying paintings by Spanish artists. He was also a lover of men. Anne Sebba’s portrait of Bankes is vivid and immediate, and mercifully unencumbered by the dead hand of dry scholarship. Good books should always whet the appetite, and leave you a little hungry for more. My appetite has certainly been whetted. A terrific tale, well told.