With evocative portraits, dramatic seascapes, scenes of religious virtue and Vanitas still-lifes Fairfax House has a rich and varied collection of paintings on display throughout its rooms.

The fashionability of portraiture and its important function as a visual signal of wealth and status are illustrated by the number of portraits that hang within the public rooms. Amongst the collection are two works of Anne Fairfax and her mother Mary, both by Philippe Mercier (1689-1760), a leading artist who worked in York between 1739 and 1751. Mercier’s portrait of Anne Fairfax, on display in her bedroom, offers a glimpse of the young woman for whom Fairfax House was designed and built. Anne is shown on the brink of womanhood is dressed as a shepherdess. Set against an idealised landscape, she tends to her sheep with devotion, an action designed to reflect her maternal and feminine virtues.

The collection at Fairfax House also includes an exceptional conversation piece by Joseph Nollekens of the Tylney family gathered in the Saloon at Wanstead House (1740). This exquisite painting not only provides a rare image of the interiors at Wanstead House which was demolished in 1822, but also opens a window onto the exclusive world of everyday life in a wealthy Georgian home.

Other highlights of the collection include, maritime paintings by John Wilson Carmichael, portraits by Lely, Thomas Hudson, Jonathon Richardson and Thomas Lawrence, nudes by William Etty, still-lifes by Dutch masters Hermel Van Steenwyck and Jacob Marel, sentimental narrative paintings by Pieter van Host, as well as a wonderful range of devotional pieces by various European masters.