The grand family from the North Yorkshire town were members of the nobility but rose to fame in in the 1920s when three siblings (Edith, Osbert and Sacheverell Sitwell) formed a literary and artistic clique in London.
The portrait depicts Colonel Hely-Hutchinson (1790-1874), great-grandfather to that trio, and the museum paid a hammer price of £1100 plus 25% buyer’s premium at Dreweatts’ Weston Hall and the Sitwells: A Family Legacy sale on November 16-17.
Woodend (now a gallery, museum and creative hub) was the summer home of the Sitwells and the portrait is now on show to the public there. It once hung in the drawing room and the museum has a c.1900 photograph in its collection showing the portrait hanging over a fireplace (which no longer exists).
Woodend was sold to Scarborough council in 1934.
While the more famous Renishaw Hall in Derbyshire has been owned by the Sitwells since it was built in 1625, Weston Hall in Northamptonshire came into possession of an ancestor of the Sitwells in 1714. The last Sitwell owners - food critic and broadcaster William and his brother Sir George (grandsons of Sacheverell) - sold the manor and 50-acre estate with an asking price of £4.5m in 2021 and Dreweatts auctioned the contents.
Hely-Hutchinson, a member of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy (his father was the second Earl of Donoughmore), served in the army and was a godson to the Duke of Wellington. He was a keen diarist and had an interest in art and architecture.
The picture is by Valentine Cameron ‘Val’ Prinsep (1838-1904) who was part of the Pre-Raphaelite school of Victorian painters and the nephew of photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. He was friends John Everett Millais and Edward Burne-Jones and travelled in Europe.
Andrew Clay, chief executive of Scarborough Museums Trust, said: “We’re delighted to welcome Colonel Hely-Hutchinson back to his original home – he’s an important addition to the town’s collections.”
The portrait is now on display in the former dining room at Woodend, which is now the café Sitwell by Eat Me.