From diamond heists to a dazzling new exhibition which shines a light on the extraordinary women of an illustrious aristocratic family, the story of the Portland Collection is nothing short of remarkable.  

Like most people in Nottinghamshire and beyond, Visit Nottinghamshire were horrified to hear about the theft of the dazzling Portland Tiara from the Portland Collection gallery last November. The Welbeck Estate is one of the jewels in Nottinghamshire’s crown, and this event sent shockwaves not only through the local community but through art galleries and museums worldwide. The gallery underwent an extended closure following the raid, so Visit Notts were very excited to be invited along to its official re-opening almost a year later.

Portland Tiara

The Portland Collection comprises of the treasures collected by the Dukes of Portland and their families, who have made the Welbeck Estate their home since 1607. The Portland Tiara was one such priceless artefact, a diamond encrusted work of art commissioned in 1902 for the coronation of Edward VII and created by renowned French jewellers Cartier. It had been on display for two years and admired by over 100,000 before the shocking jewellery heist, and as we settled down with a glass of locally produced elderflower cordial, we were more than a little intrigued to find out more about this remarkable story.

Sounding more like a script for a Hollywood heist movie than something which happened in such a charmingly rural enclave, we learn the thieves had clearly been planning their raid for some time. The wire fence had been cut several days in advance and their getaway vehicle was parked carefully out of the view of the security cameras. In a mere 8 and a half minutes, armed with diamond-and-titanium-tipped electric saws and crowbars, the thieves had broken through various security doors, sawed their way into the tiara’s armoured glass case and made their escape. 

Had the larcenists taken just 90 seconds longer to execute their plan they would have been caught red handed by the authorities as they arrived on the scene. Much to the dismay of the custodians of the Portland Collection and the wider art world, the perpetrators remain at large, and the investigation is still ongoing. A £100,000 reward has been offered for information which would lead to the recovery of this priceless piece of the family’s history.  

In the aftermath of such a terrible event, the Portland Gallery would be forgiven for becoming insular, possessive and protective, but if anything, the opposite is true. Following an extensive overhaul of their safety measures, the gallery has reopened with a fresh new look and a renewed determination to help everyone enjoy its international significant collection of rare works and masterpieces. The team are looking to set up a network of loans between collections and galleries, hoping to gradually build the idea that objects can move to another gallery and be experienced by people elsewhere, making our nation’s art and history more accessible to all and inspiring the next generation of curators, artists and historians.




The new “Men, Women and Things: A World of Worlds” exhibition shines a spotlight on the extraordinary – yet often overlooked - women in the family’s ancestry. We learn the remarkable story of Margaret Cavendish Bentinck, 2nd Duchess of Portland, a truly trailblazing woman years ahead of her time. Not only is she credited with the first book of poetry published under a woman’s name, her utopian travel story ‘The Blazing World’ is seen as the first work of science fiction. Other women in this illustrious lineage included a natural historian with the most important collection of seashells in Europe, and a great conservationist, philanthropist and founder member of the RSBP. Their masterful portraits and personal objects collected by these pioneering women brings their stories to life in powerful way.

Empty Portland Tiara Case - The Portland Collection.

Jarring with these exquisite, elegant treasures, the Portland tiara’s empty display cabinet - complete with the jagged, roughly cut square in the glass and the bleakly empty stand behind it - remains exactly as it was left following the raid. Curator Sophie Littlewood explains that rather than simply removing the exhibit – and thus consigning this important piece of family history to, well, history - they wanted to “address the violence of the act” directly by keeping the empty cabinet on display. She tells us that the theft “affected everyone on the estate”, and the loss of this valuable family heirloom felt “personal”, more like having your house burgled than your workplace.

The free admission gallery, situated within the country estate on the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire border, gives visitors the chance to see world-class art in a beautiful rural location and delve into the history of one of the Midlands’ most intriguing ancestral country estates. The gallery is open from 11am – 4pm daily, and when paired with a visit to the Welbeck Farm Shop, Harley Gallery and the School of Artisan Food, guarantees a lovely day out for all. We’ll certainly be back soon!

This blog was written by Sophie Milne, Communications Executive, and Claire Jones, Marketing Assistant at Visit Nottinghamshire.

Related

Men, Women and things: A World of Worlds
Exhibition
Men, Women and things: A World of Worlds

An all-new display of objects from Welbeck's historic Portland Collection of fine and decorative art, built up by the Dukes of Portland and their families who have been at the country estate since 1607.

The Harley Gallery
Gallery
The Harley Gallery

Situated on the ducal Welbeck estate, the award-winning Harley Gallery shows contemporary exhibitions by leading visual artists. Exhibitions change five times a year, and range from ceramics to photography.

Welbeck Farm Shop
Farm Shop
Welbeck Farm Shop

The award-winning Welbeck Farm Shop is found at the heart of a vibrant artisan food community. Two thirds of the shop’s impressive product range is sourced from or prepared at the historic Welbeck estate, described by the Great Food Club as ‘the capital of Britain’s artisan food and drink movement’.

The School of Artisan Food
Cookery School
The School of Artisan Food

The School of Artisan Food has passion, expertise and understanding - all under one roof.

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