Picture of the Day

RichardBoyle
Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Burlington and 2nd Earl of Cork, ©National Portrait Gallery, London

Born in 1612 in County Cork, Ireland, Richard Boyle was an Anglo-Irish nobleman who served as Lord High Treasurer of Ireland. A committed Royalist during the English Civil Wars, he fought for the King until Charles’s defeat. He was fined by the Commonwealth for his allegiance, before continuing his support of the monarchy into the reign of Charles II.

The NPG says this picture is possibly after Van Dyck, and based on a work of c. 1640. It caught my eye because, as with the portrait of Sir William Temple (see blog entry Sept 13th 2017), it displays a simple elegance while using only limited colours or shades. Painted in mostly muted browns, it has a straightforward composition with no extraneous props or embellishments to distract from the sitter’s direct gaze.

Another portrait of Boyle, also after Van Dyck but this time by the artist Jonathan Richardson the elder, is at Knole, in Kent (National Trust, on loan from the trustees of the Sackville estate). It is dated after 1685.

Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Burlington (1612 ¿ 1697/98) (after Van Dyck) by Jonathan Richardson the elder (London 1665 ¿ London 1745)

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Dobsons reunited at Tate Britain

Great news from Tate Britain this week! For the next three years, the gallery will be hosting William Dobson’s earliest known self-portrait alongside his own portrait of second wife, Judith.

WandJatTate

From at least the late 1700s, both portraits were hanging together at Howsham Hall, a stately home in Yorkshire. When the house and its contents were sold in 1948, the couple went their separate ways. They briefly came back together for the 1983 National Portrait Gallery exhibition of Dobson’s work, with Judith purchased by the Tate in 1992. William’s picture remained in private hands until it came up for auction last year, and although it was once again sold to a private collector, the current owner (in contrast to the previous one, who never lent it anywhere), has already shared it with viewers at the National Portrait Gallery, before moving it to the Tate for the new loan.

I’ll definitely be visiting the Tate soon, and look forward to seeing the Dobsons back together at last!  My only concern is that, last time I visited the gallery, specifically to see the artist’s wife, she was poorly displayed, high up on a wall with a shaft of light obscuring her face. Hopefully the curation will be better this time….

Judith was born Judith Sander, some time around 1609, in London. She became Dobson’s second wife in 1637, and their only surviving child, Katherine, was born in 1639.  Judith outlived her husband by a number of years, remarrying in 1648 and surviving until at least the Restoration of Charles II, when she was said to have discussed the King’s coronation outfit with antiquarian and friend, John Aubrey. It is not know when she died.

Tate are also planning a special display on Dobson next year. Hopefully they’ll have more details on that soon.

Portraits at the Tate

 

Picture of the Day: Sir William Temple

Sir William Temple

This beautiful painting is at the National Portrait Gallery in London, labelled after Sir Peter Lely, and based on a work of circa 1660. A lot of ‘after’ works are very obviously  not in the same league as the original, but I think this really evokes Sir Peter, and the painter was in my (admittedly inexpert) opinion, an accomplished and talented painter in their own right.  Are there any Lely fans in the readership who know more about it, or have any idea where the original might be? No date is given, so it could be this version is not even 17th century, although I’d hazard a guess it is.

Sir William Temple (1628-1629), was born in London, the son of Irish lawyer, courtier and politician, Sir John Temple, and was himself employed as a diplomat, travelling around Europe on behalf of the crown, one of his achievements being the successful negotiation of marriage between the Prince of Orange and Princess Mary. Although he was much respected and consulted by Charles II on matters of state, Temple disapproved of the crown’s anti-Dutch course, and retired from court.

He died in 1699 and was much mourned, with Swift lamenting that “all that was good and amiable in mankind departed with him”.

A hidden portrait at Fawley Court

Some time in the mid-1860s, it is claimed, a civil engineer and a colleague began structural alterations to the roof and rooms of the ancient manor at Fawley Court, in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire.  Hidden in the oak timbering of the roof,  they found various items they believed had been concealed  by the family who lived there, stashed out of sight during the fighting and occupation of Fawley during the Civil War.  Behind some old oak panelling in the study, they found this painting.

William Whitelock

It is initialled “A.G. 1670 Sir William Whitelock Fawley Court”.

On the accompanying piece of paper, written in 1901, the unnamed engineer tells us that Fawley and another nearby manor,  Phyllis Court, were owned by the Whitelock family, its most famous member being the 17th century Parliamentarian and Lord Keeper of the Great Seal,  Bulstrode Whitelock.  Our finder says he compared the portrait with that of Sir William Whitelock, Bulstrode’s brother, and decided they were indeed the same man.  Sir William was in fact Bulstrode’s second son, not his brother, but given that the report was made in 1901, I think we can allow the writer – not a historian by trade – a little leeway!

Both the painting and its written history are on auction for £500 on ebay.

View sale

 

 

La Belle Stuart

If you’ve ever held a modern UK 50p piece, you’ll be familiar with the image of Britannia, seated with her spear and shield, appearing as the personification of Britain itself.

50p

What many do not know is the story behind it, and the real woman whose image would still be gracing our money over 350 years later.

When Charles II wanted to cast a medal in commemoration of his victory over the Dutch in 1664, the model he chose was a woman who had famously refused to become his mistress, and bucked the usual Restoration trend by saying no to the King’s advances.

Her name was Frances Stuart, and her father was a physician at Henrietta Maria’s court in exile. After the Restoration she returned to England, serving first as maid of honour to Henrietta Maria, and then lady-in-waiting to Charles’s new wife, Catherine of Braganza. Nicknamed “La Belle Stuart”, various 17th century commentators declared her the most beautiful woman they ever saw, including (unsurprisingly) Samuel Pepys, and besides the rebuffed monarch her suitors included the Duke of Buckingham and Francis Digby, son of the Earl of Bristol.

There are several portraits of Frances surviving today, including probably the most famous one (featured here previously), painted by Peter Lely and now in the Royal Collection.

Frances Stewart Richhmond

 

Frances Stewart 2
By Willem Wissing, 1687 ©historicalportraits.com

Frances Stewart vdv
By Jan van der Vaart ©National Portrait Gallery, London

I found the below painting on an auction site, named as Frances Stuart and attributed to Sir Peter Lely, although I think that’s unlikely, given the one above. Peter Lely was famous for his portrayal of glamorous, beautiful women. If Frances Stuart was as ravishing as it is claimed, I think Sir Peter could have done better than this uncharacteristically demure attempt!

Ebay Frances Stewart

Although Frances was a famed beauty, she wasn’t known for being all that bright. One man said of her that “it would be difficult to image less brain combined with more beauty”. Ouch. She married the Duke of Richmond and Lennox in 1667 and contracted disfiguring smallpox in 1669, but she continued to be a feature of court life and remained in the affections of the King.

So the next time you have a 50p in your pocket, turn it over and take a look at La Belle Stuart. She may have been, in words I once heard used for a mistress of Louis XV, ‘as beautiful as an angel, but as stupid as a basket’, but since she managed to avoid falling into bed with the notoriously skirt-chasing Charles II, she must have had some good sense!

Looking Good at the SNPG

SNPexhibition

A reader has kindly brought my attention to a new exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, which, among other themes, looks at ‘the elaborate hairstyles and fashions of the courtiers and cavaliers of the 16th and 17th centuries’.

With the newly saved-for-the-nation Van Dyck self-portrait as a centrepiece, the exhibition comprises 28 works of art from different eras, exploring male appearance and fashion to the present day.

Alongside the great Sir Anthony himself, and the doomed Lord George Stuart, 9th Seigneur of Aubigny (below, from National Portrait Gallery, London), contemporary Daniel Mytens also makes an appearance with his 1629 portrait of the 1st Duke of Hamilton. John Michael Wright’s Sir William Bruce is on display as well.

NPG 5964; Lord George Stuart by Sir Anthony Van Dyck

 

Mytens Hamilton
James Hamilton, 1st Duke of Hamilton, 1606-1649, Daniel Mytens, ©SNPG

Bruce by Wright
Sir William Bruce, c.1630-1710, Architect. By John Michael Wright. ©SNPG

I’ve heard mixed reviews about this exhibition, but if I were in the area I’d probably make the effort, if just for another look at Sir Anthony’s impressive self-portrait on its only stopover in Scotland at the end of a three year tour. If any readers have the opportunity to visit, let us know what you think!

The SNPG website has further details here and there is a review of the show here.

The exhibition runs until 1st October 2017.

New book: “Portraits of the English Civil Wars”

I’ve just been alerted to a new picture book via Bendor Grosvenor’s Art History News blog.  Quite aside from the very fitting image of a Dobson on the front, this definitely looks like one for the 17th century art lover’s book shelf!

Book English Civil Wars

Written by Old Master dealer Angus Haldane and published by Unicorn Press, the site’s blurb tells us:

“This book provides insight and perspective about the lives, vanities, and relationships of those who fought in the English Civil Wars through the filter of portraiture, much of it painted as conflict raged.”

Price £18.75 through the publisher here: Unicorn Press

I can’t wait to read this!

 

 

John Greenhill

We’ve all heard of Sir Peter Lely, celebrated court painter to Charles II, and one of the most famous artists of the 17th century, but who has heard of his pupil, John Greenhill? I hadn’t, but after a little research I think he’s worthy of a discussion.

Here he is, in a self-portrait from late 1660s/early 1670s.

John Greenhill self portrait

Born in Salisbury sometime in the 1640s – source dates differ from 1642 to 1649 – he was the eldest son of John Greenhill, the registrar of the diocese of Salisbury, and Penelope Champneys of Orchardleigh, Somerset. Through his paternal uncles he was connected to the East India trade.

Greenhill came to London in around 1662 and began work as Lely’s pupil. He is said to have been a fast and talented student, learning much of Lely’s style and skill, with one commentator claiming his copy of Van Dyck’s portrait of “Thomas Killigrew and his dog” was so good it was hard to distinguish from the original, making his master jealous.

Although he began his career with such promise, and took a wife, the talented painter became very fond of the theatre, poetry and dramatic entertainment, gaining him a reputation for ‘irregular habits’. He died tragically young,  either in his late 20s or early 30s, after stumbling home drunk from the theatre. Falling into the gutter he was helped home, but did not survive the night.

I can’t help noticing that Greenhill’s life holds a curious parallel with that of his predecessor some 20 years before. As court painter to the previous king, William Dobson was said to have had similiarly ‘dissolute’ habits while enjoying a privileged lifestyle in Oxford, and would also die young after returning to London, his true potential lost.

Greenhill’s artistic style shows the clear training and influence of Sir Peter, and one can see how, had he lived longer and developed his art further, he could certainly have approached his master’s quality.

Here are some more of his works:

Seth_Ward_by_John_Greenhill
Seth Ward, Bishop of Exeter and Salisbury, c. 1673/4, © The Royal Society

 

Greenhill, John, c.1649-1676; John Clements (d.1705)

John Clements, 1673, ©National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

 

Greenhill, John, c.1649-1676; Portrait of a Lady as a Shepherdess
Portrait of a Lady as a Shepherdess, c. 1665, ©Dulwich Picture Gallery

 

Greenhill, John, c.1649-1676; James II (1633-1701), as Duke of York
James II as Duke of York, c. 1660, ©Dulwich Picture Gallery

 

Henry Fermor
Henry Fermor, date and location unknown

 

1676-lady-twisden-by-john_med
Lady Twisden, 1676, (pastel)  ©British Museum

John Souch

Leaving the mid-17th century and the Civil War artists for a bit, I’d like to look at an earlier English painter who was active in the north-west of England during the earlier years of the 1600s.

John Souch was Born in Ormskirk, Lancashire, in around 1593/4,  and in 1607 was apprenticed to a Herald painter in Chester. Although Herald painters mainly worked on pieces such as coats of arms and other heraldic devices, they also branched out into portraiture to satisfy the needs of local gentry who wanted a visual record of betrothals, births, etc.  Souch appears to have mastered the skills of both crafts, and joined the Chester Painters and Stainers Company in 1616, embarking on a successful and active career where he travelled to clients’ houses for heraldic and portraiture commissions.

Perhaps his most recognised work is that of “Sir Thomas Aston at the Deathbed of his Wife”, painted in 1635 and now held by Manchester Art Gallery:

SirThomasAstonAtWife'sDeathbed

It is very clearly a mourning painting, the living sitters wearing funerary black, adorned with black ribbons and mourning jewellery. The skull beneath Aston’s hand is a common symbol of death and mortality, while the inscriptions also refer to loss, one saying “The seas can be defined, the earth can be measured, grief is immeasurable”.

What I like about Souch is that he had the ability to move between the straightforward and uncluttered – some sitters standing alone in front of a plain background, without ornamentation or objects save perhaps a ring or a flower – to complicated scenes such as Aston’s, which were filled with symbolism and meaning.

Here are some more examples:

Souch, John, c.1593-1645; Portrait of an Unknown Couple
Portrait of an Unknown Couple, painted 1640. ©Grosvenor Museum Chester
Souch, John, c.1593-1645; Portrait of a Woman
Portrait of a woman, traditionally said to be Lucy Hutchinson, wife and biographer of Colonel Hutchinson, Governor of Nottingham Castle. c. 1643, ©National Army Museum

Souch, John, c.1593-1645; Portrait of a Man
Portrait of a man, traditionally said to be Colonel Hutchinson, Parliamentarian and Governor of Nottingham Castle. c.1643, ©National Army Museum

George Puleston (?) c.1625-30 by John Souch 1594-1644 or 5
George Puleston(?), date not given, ©Tate

Finally, my personal favourite (and ancestor!), Sir Pelham Corbet, painted c.1634. Sir Pelham was a Royalist of Leigh and Albright-Hussie in Shropshire. He was captured at Shrewsbury but appears to have survived the war and died around 1660.

Pelham Corbet

Souch himself was recorded by the Chester Guild as dead by 1645, and it has been suggested he may have been a Royalist, and died in Chester following the siege by the Parliamentarian army.

Charles I: King and Collector

Last December, I told you about a proposed exhibition to be held at the Royal Academy, which would reunite the ‘lost’ art collection of Charles I, sold-off and dispersed by Cromwell after the execution of the King. This week I am delighted that the RA has confirmed the dates for the exhibition, and that tickets are now available! The show runs from 27th January to 15th April 2018.

RACIExhibition

If ever there was a must-see exhibition, this is it. To summarise my original post, Charles I was an exceptional connoisseur of art, buying up the best works from across Europe, often from bankruptcy sales from fallen or defeated noble families. Following Charles’s defeat and execution in the Civil War, the Parliamentarians arranged a massive sale of royal goods to pay off his (alleged) debts. The great art collection was dismantled and sold at auctions, with much of it now residing in the best galleries in Europe, such as the Louvre and the Prado.

Now, a large part of this collection is to be reunited on the walls of the Royal Academy at Burlington House.  It offers a rare opportunity to appreciate the connoisseur King’s eye for art, and to see many of the world’s greatest works hanging together for the first time in over 350 years. It will probably never happen again, so get your tickets soon!

Royal Academy – book tickets

Blog entry Dec. 2016: Charles I art on display in 2018

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