The Early Years

I’ve been focussing a lot on portraits from the 1640s, so I thought I’d take a look at some earlier painters, active during the reign of King James I, to illustrate how portraiture (and fashion) changed as the century went on.

First, we have Flemish-born John de Critz (1551/2-1642), who was employed by King James in 1603 as serjeant painter* (jointly at first with another painter named Leonard Fryer, who had held the post under Queen Elizabeth), and produced pictures of the royal family, their Court and the nobility.

In this picture of James’s queen, Anne of Denmark (date not given), both the art and fashion still strongly resemble the Elizabethan style, and the sometimes flat, static poses and brushwork. I do like the drapery and shine on her skirts, however, and the intricate patterning of the lace collar.

Anne of Denmark
Anne of Denmark,  by John de Critz the Elder, ©National Portrait Gallery, London
(c) Montacute House; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
James VI & I (1566-1625), by John de Critz the Elder,  date? © National Trust

Robert Peake the Elder (c.1551-1619) was an English artist employed by Queen Elizabeth, and after her death, by King James.  He shared the role of serjeant painter with John de Critz from 1607, and had also been appointed official picture-maker to the young heir, Prince Henry of Wales, of whom he created this unusually colourful portrait in 1603.

Henry Prince of Wales
Henry Frederick (1594–1612), Prince of Wales, with Sir John Harington (1592–1614), in the Hunting Field, 1603. ©The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Finally,  we have Paul van Somer (c1577-1621) another Flemish painter, who came to England around 1616 and began working at King James’s court.

James I van Somer I
James I of England and VI of Scotland, date? by Paul van Somer I, ©Museo del Prado, Madrid

Portraiture was developing, although not drastically so as yet. But with the 1620s came the period of Peter Paul Rubens, Daniel Mytens, and  Antony Van Dyck, all of whom would bring a new ‘look’ to English portraiture…



*The Serjeant Painters were employed, not only to paint original portraits and copies,  but also in the gilding and decorating of royal residences, coaches, barges, etc.

To Clean Or Not To Clean?

A reader has sent me a fascinating update regarding George Lisle, and before I move on from the Lisle and Lucas mysteries, I wanted to share it here.

We know that the George Lisle portrait was sold in 1990, looking shiny and spotless, and that it was auctioned with an attribution to “circle of John Michael Wright”.  Yet we now know it had also been up for sale a year earlier, selling at a different auction house, this time attributed to “studio of Sir Peter Lely”.

In that year it had also had a thorough cleaning.

Lisle 2 before and after clean

It’s not often we see a painting before and after cleaning, so this is a great example of how the judgement of whether to clean at all, and how much, can be a tricky decision. I personally prefer the dirtier version, perhaps because it looks like it really has been on a wall or in an attic for a few centuries, collecting the dust and dirt that betrays its true age and the passing of all that time. After cleaning, in my opinion it’s a little too scrubbed, too polished, and has lost some of its character in the process. Curious too, to note how attribution to a particular artist is also an inexact science. This portrait has gone from Lely’s circle to Wright’s in the space of a year, and still nobody seems to have a clue who painted it!


Many thanks to Tyger’s Head Books for the images and new information.

The Lisle & Lucas Picture Puzzle – Part 2

To the regular visitor of the National Portrait Gallery in London, the engraved image of Sir Charles Lucas (in the previous post) might seem familiar. The portrait it was taken from hangs there, surrounded by portraits of the man’s contemporaries, both friends and enemies, on a wall in Room 5.

 NPG 5382; Richard Neville by William Dobson
©National Portrait Gallery, London

Yet there is no mention of Sir Charles Lucas here. Instead, this painting (from c.1643) is displayed under the name of Richard Neville, a landowner from Billingbear in Berkshire. If you run an internet search for images of Charles Lucas, most of the results will be variations on this one, the one Vertue apparently borrowed from a connection of Lucas, and which was painted by William Dobson.

Yet there is another. Now in private hands and dated c.1645, it is inscribed with Lucas’s name, and is a confirmed work of William Dobson:

Dobson Lucas
Inscribed Sr.Charles Lucas /1645
Private collection

Clearly they are two different men. In the 1983 National Portrait Gallery catalogue for the Dobson exhibition of that year (get a copy, it’s a mine of information!), we read that the ‘Neville’ version, which had passed by descent through the Neville family until purchased by the NPG in 1981, was identified from family documents as Richard Neville as early as 1770. The catalogue also states that the same picture had however been identifed as Lucas as early as 1713 but, because it bore no resemblance to the other, inscribed Lucas (for which there are conveniently no earlier engravings, nor any clear descriptions in any books or documents I’ve found so far), ‘obviously’ the ‘Neville’ version cannot be Charles Lucas.

Still with me?

I have some questions about this. Firstly, on what evidence is the Neville attribution based? Perhaps in the family records there is an explanation which would resolve the whole thing, but as far as I can see he has only been identified as such since the late 18th century, while the Lucas identification existed as early as 70 years after the end of the Civil War. Secondly, close inspection of the Vertue engravings shows that, beneath them, in very, very small lettering on the frames, are written the names of those who lent Vertue both portraits. That of Lucas states that it was in the possession of a Lord Byron. Exactly which Lord Byron is unsure, but as Charles Lucas’s elder brother married a Mary Byron, I think it is safe to presume they are of the same family, and that the portrait was passed down by descent.  If this is true, is it likely they’d be passing down a painting of the wrong man? Unlikely, in my view, but not impossible. However, if the ‘Neville’ has actually been Lucas all along, where does that leave the 1645 Dobson, which is universally accepted as Lucas?

I have no answers, just a great big headache!!

The Lisle & Lucas Picture Puzzle – Part 1

In 1648, Royalist officers Sir George Lisle and Sir Charles Lucas were executed by Parliament for their part in the siege of Colchester. Following their deaths, in which outraged Royalists proclaimed them ‘martyrs’, their images (often more imagined than real) were printed, painted or engraved for newsbooks and pamphlets that related the controversial events in Essex.

In the 18th century, the engraver George Vertue produced these line drawings to illustrate a poster lamenting their deaths. (Lisle is on the left).

Lisle Lucas Vertue
©National Portrait Gallery, London

Vertue is said to have taken the likenesses from original paintings by William Dobson, which were themselves believed to have remained in the hands of descendants or acquaintances of the men, giving strength to their claim to be the authentic faces of Lisle and Lucas. Given that Lisle is known to have spent time in Oxford (and even lived in the same London street as Dobson, pre-war), it’s very likely he did sit for Dobson at some point, but as yet no painting resembling Vertue’s engraving has been located. There are a couple of paintings labelled as Lisle, however, including this one:

George Lisle 1

It went to auction in 1990 and the artist is unknown. The date, if taken from the life, is likely 1640s, but I’m certain it’s not a Dobson. There are troubling elements such as the hands, the right hidden behind that odd plumed helmet, and the left inelegantly fisted over what may be a faint sword pommel. This is not the source of Vertue’s engraving, and of the others I’ve seen (but don’t have an available image for) none are candidates either.

Elusive though Lisle’s true image may be, that’s nothing to the problems I’ve had identifying the real face of Charles Lucas. I’ll attempt to unravel that one for you in the next post. 🙂

Lady Halfhyde

Of course, it wasn’t only men that sat for portraits during the Civil War. There are many paintings of women too, from Queen Henrietta Maria and her ladies in-waiting, to the wives and daughters of courtiers and soldiers.

The below painting, yet another sold at auction and therefore untraceable at present, went under the hammer with the title “A portrait of a woman, thought to be Lady Halfhyde, wife of Sir Thomas Halfhyde’.

Lady Halfhyde

The artist is unknown, but  in the auction listing it is given as ‘circle of William Dobson’. There is no suggested date either, and I’ve been unable to find information on who Sir Thomas Halfhyde was. The painting was previously in the ownership of a US art museum, and without contacting them it’s anybody’s guess how she came to cross the seas to America, or why they believe her to be Lady Halfhyde.

I might controversially question this identity, however, as in my travels I have come across this engraving by William Faithorne of Lady Katherine Harington, wife of the Parliamentarian politician, Sir James Harington, an accused regicide who ended his days in exile after the return of Charles II.

Katherine Harington
©Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge

I was struck by the similarities of these two women. Apart from the fact that the lady in the portrait appears somewhat heavier – and this can perhaps be forgiven as they are depicted using two different mediums – to my eyes they could be the same woman, with a few minor alterations such as the addition of pearls on the dress in the painting. But the pearl necklace, the hairstyle and precise placement of the ringlets, the drapery of the outfit, and even the expression on the faces are much the same. While it could of course be argued there were common features that appeared across many pictures, so that two paintings of women in low-cut, draped dresses and pearl necklaces would hardly be a surprise, there are a lot of features that match almost exactly.

What do you think?


John Hayls

John Hayls is perhaps best known for his portrait of Samuel Pepys, and although he was said to be a contemporary and rival of Peter Lely and Samuel Cooper in the 1650s and 60s, a number of paintings from the 1640s war years have been tentatively attributed to him. He is mentioned in Pepys’ diary and was active up to and through the Restoration, but I’ve not found anything about his activities or movements during the Civil War.

The scant information available to us says that he was born in 1600, painted a portrait of Samuel Pepys’ wife in 1665/6, and died suddenly in London in 1679.* I love a good mystery, especially one involving art, so I’m going to start researching Hayls and see what I can find.  I’ve come across a number of paintings merely attributed to Hayls, and very few that are certainly named as his, which complicates any attempt to study his technique and gain a clear recognition of his works, but I did discover this fascinating portrait of Charles Needham, 4th Viscount Kilmoray.


I found the image on an auction site, so sadly there’s no way of knowing where it is now.  I’d hazard a guess it was painted in the latter part of the 1640s, but that can only be a guess as there are too few confirmed works to give a timeline of his artistic development during this period. The more I look at this the more I like it. The pose is unusual, very different from the familiar front-facing stance with one hand on a sword hilt, and I’d like to get a better look at the blackness by his raised left hand. Could better light show more detail of the background, or does it just need a really good clean? There must be some information on it somewhere, particularly the provenance, so if any readers can help me fill in a little more detail I’d love to hear from you.






*Cust, Lionel Henry (1891). “Hayls, John”. In Stephen, Leslie; Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography 25. London: Smith, Elder & Co.


I’ve received a request to add dates to the pictures, which I have now done. Thanks for letting me know! if you have any other suggestions or comments please do get in touch. Feedback always welcome. 🙂

Connoisseurship and History

There have been debates in recent years over the use and importance of connoisseurship in art. That is, the deeper knowledge of an artist that helps a researcher to ‘recognise’ a particular hand on a canvas, through extensive study and a lot of, well, looking. As Dr Bendor Grosvenor (of Fake or Fortune fame), puts it*:

“The word connoisseurship derives from the Latin cognoscere, which means ‘to get to know’. So a connoisseur of, say, Rembrandt, is someone who has got to know Rembrandt’s work so well that he or she can begin to discern what is and isn’t a Rembrandt.”

Historians studying the English Civil War through documents and archival research would be well advised to gain a little understanding of the period’s art too. A painting with a tentatively identified sitter may strengthen its case if a historian, knowing the sitter’s family tree, recognises a past owner of the painting as a distant relative nobody else would be aware of. Without an understanding of both the art AND the history, this information may never have been discovered.

I’ve already noted the lazy habit of attributing a c.1640s work to only Dobson or Walker,  irrespective of the fact that other artists were at work too, and that the brushwork may not even resemble their technique or style. With the arrival of the brilliant BBC Your Paintings** website that lists every artwork in public ownership in the UK, it’s been easy to contrast and compare pictures that are said to be by the same hand but are plainly not, and fascinating to observe how little connoisseurship is sometimes applied in suggesting an owner for that hand.

For example:

This is a Dobson.

Charles II
“Charles II as Prince of Wales”, probably 1642, © National Galleries of Scotland


FanshaweSir Simon Fanshawe”, c.1645, ©Valence House Museum

…is not, although its listing on Your Paintings claims it is. Can you tell the difference?



*Follow his excellent blog at

Picture of the Day

Edward Montague, 2nd Earl of Manchester (1602-1671)
Painted c. 1640, British School

 Edward Montagu
©The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology

Edward Montague succeeded his father as Earl of Manchester in 1642 and commanded the Puritan forces at the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644. He is shown in his late thirties or early forties, wearing a breastplate, and therefore presumably before his resignation in 1645.

For forther information:


In my study of the English Civil War and its art, I’ve picked up a library of invaluable books, many now out of print, that are a goldmine of detail and images not always available in modern publications. I wanted to share some of the best ones, in case they may be of use to others in their own research. I’ve also found they’re very useful in establishing provenance, as they list past owners of paintings that may have since been sold. They’re not so out of print that they’re impossible to find, and you can probably source a cheap copy somewhere like or Ebay.

  • A History of British Painting – Ernest Short –  What it says on the tin, with a good section on the Stuarts and mid-17th century art.
  • British Portraits – Royal Academy of Arts – Produced for an exhibition at the RA, 1956-7. A good catalogue with many black and white plates, and a small selection from Charles I’s reign.
  • Endymion Porter and William Dobson – William Vaughan, for The Tate Gallery – Published for an exhibition of the same name at the Tate Gallery, 1970. Dobson’s portrait of Porter is one of his most recognised paintings, and can today be viewed (hopefully, unless it’s been stored) at the Tate Britain in London. Includes biographical sections on both Porter and Dobson, many pictures, maps and illustrations, and a section about the conflict itself.
  • The Age of Charles I – Tate Gallery – Published for an exhibition in 1972-3. Many illustrations, including William Dobson, Robert Walker, John Hayls, and other lesser known painters. Unusually, it includes ECW miniatures as well.
  • An Illustrated Souvenir of the Exhibition of 17th Century Art in Europe, 1938 – Royal Academy of Arts. Again, what it says! Mostly black and white plates, with a few from the ECW period.
  • The Life and Times of Charles I – D.R.Watson – not strictly an art book, but full of paintings, maps, illustrations and a guide to the ECW.
  •  Last but not least, an essential book on the subject  (and my ‘bible’) – William Dobson, 1611-1646 – National Portrait Gallery, 1983. As well as both colour and black and white images of Dobson’s works from the exhibition, including detailed provenance and biographies of the sitters,  there’s an excellent biographical section that forms the most extensive research on Dobson published to date.*

Let me know if you have any other recommendations!


*A new biography of William Dobson is due for publication in 2016. More details soon.


Neil Jeffares

Fairness, candour & curiosity – from finance to art history

NT Knole Conservation Team Blog

An insight into the weird and wonderful life of a National Trust Conservation Team at one of England's greatest houses.

Cryssa Bazos

17th Century Enthusiast

Warring Words

Writing about the English Civil War

Painted Eloquence

An art history blog

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