Research

I’ve been studying ECW painting for about 15 years (it’s all Colonel Gerard’s fault, but that’s another story…) and along the way I’ve collected copies of as many soldier portraits  as I can find from the period. What I now have is a fascinating scrapbook of paintings, many of which have an unidentified or uncertain sitter or artist. I’ll post them up here and hopefully readers will be able to offer suggestions as to who they might be, or by.  Likewise, if you’ve found a picture you can’t identify, let me know and I’ll put it up on the site. You can get in touch via the comments beneath each post.

First on the list is this gentleman:

(c) National Trust, Wimpole Hall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
©National Trust, Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire

The title of the painting is given as “Portrait of a Man (wrongly said to be Sir Thomas Chicheley, 1618-1699)”, and attributed to John Hayls. The date is unknown.

The National Trust entry says the following:

The sitter in this portrait has always been traditionally identified as Sir Thomas Chicheley, who was a member of one of the wealthiest families in Cambridgeshire. He was a zealous Royalist, who was heavily penalised during the Commonwealth. His ruinous extravagance forced him to sell Wimpole, where this picture now hangs. However, in the absence of any provenance or other evidence to support the identification of this painting as of Sir Thomas Chicheley, it must be regarded as a portrait of somebody else. The baton held by the sitter suggests that he held an actual military command. The painting used to be attributed to Sir Anthony Van Dyck. The pose was certainly used by him, but the picture looks later.

Compare with this one by William Dobson, also said to be of Sir Thomas Chicheley. (Apologies for the poor quality but I only have a black and white image available. I’m also unable to add a source, as I believe it was auctioned in 1992 and its whereabouts are unknown).

Thomas Chicheley
“Sir Thomas Chicheley”, possibly c.1642-1645

I can’t see any resemblance, and as the Dobson is more certainly attributed as Chicheley, I think the NT is right to doubt the identity of the other one. Any thoughts?

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We had a civil war?

It’s long been a frustration of mine that people know so little about the English Civil War (or ‘wars’, if we’re to be entirely accurate). Some don’t even know there WAS a civil war in the 17th century, or its massive consequences that we live with to this day. Everyone and their dog knows the Americans had a civil war, but ask about this particular one in Britain  and you’re likely to get either blank faces, or a comment such as ‘wasn’t that the one with Oliver Cromwell in it?’ The fact that a) we executed our king, b) the conflict changed forever the political and monarchical system in the country, and c) killed so many people that it is claimed a higher percentage of the population died in this conflict than were lost in WWI, seems to be lost between the education system and the publishing industry that makes an awful lot of money every year pushing out book after book on Anne Boleyn.  Yes, the Tudor period was important, and yes,  with the Reformation and Henry VIII splitting from Rome it was an incredibly important and turbulent century also, but it sometimes feel as if the Tudors were the ONLY royal family we ever had, that fat Henry was the only King of England, and that British history effectively stopped with the death of Elizabeth I.

But why? The 17th century was arguably as conflicted as the 16th, and I think the dissolution of the monasteries and Henry VIII’s quarrel with the Pope were just as devastating for the British Isles as Charles I’s quarrel with his Parliament and the consequences of regicide and Commonwealth that followed. Maybe the Tudors just tap into a more modern sense of voyeurism than the Stuarts do?  Henry VIII’s antics, from  wife-swapping  to wife-chopping, not to mention his tantrums and violent retributions, would seem far more appealing to the Game of Thrones generation than the complicated political and religious arguments that went on a century later under Charles, yet for my money the mid-17th century conflict is as much an essential part of our historical education as the Tudors are.

Walker et al

Dobson’s opposite number in the Parliamentarian army, Robert Walker, is as much a mystery as Dobson is.  We know nothing of his background, or how he came to be working in the Parliament camp, but it is said he was older than Dobson by  about a decade (he was allegedly born in 1599), and was a member of the Painter-Stainer’s Company. Here he is, in a self-portrait c.1645-1650…

Robert Walker
“Robert Walker”, c.1645-1650, ©National Portrait Gallery, London

While Dobson’s movements are easy to pin down, as he almost certainly didn’t move from Oxford until the Royalists surrendered and left it in 1646, it’s unclear whether Walker was similarly based in one location, or if he was on the move.  He was prolific, however,  with many of the Parliamentarian high command sitting for him, both during the war and afterwards under the Commonwealth. Walker’s most recognised painting is probably this one of Oliver Cromwell.

NPG 536; Oliver Cromwell by Robert Walker
“Oliver Cromwell”, c.1649, ©National Portrait Gallery, London

Although portraits  from this period tend to be, at first glance at least, simplistically attributed to either Dobson or Walker depending on whether the sitter looks like a Roundhead or a Cavalier, of course they weren’t the only painters trying to make a living during the conflict. Other names I’ve come across while researching Civil War portraits include Gerard Soest (attrib.):

Unknown possibly by Soest
“Portrait of a Royalist Officer”, c.1646-1649, ©The Samuel Cortauld Trust,
The Courtauld Gallery, London

John Weesop:

Marmaduke-Darcy Weesop
“Marmaduke d’Arcy”, c.1645-1648, ©The Huntington Library,
Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens

…and John Hayls:

Thomas Pigott
“Colonel Thomas Pigott”, c.1647, ©North Somerset Museum/North Somerset Council

I know nothing about the above painters, but would be very interested to learn more about them, and any others who where about during the wars and painting soldiers, from either side. Let me know!

Dobson

What I love about 17th century portraiture is that you can watch its artistic development changing as the decades pass,  from the end of the Tudors to the beginning of the Stuarts, through the Civil War and on into the Restoration.  Beginning with the likes of William Peake and John de Critz in the opening years of the century, to Daniel Mytens, Peter Paul Rubens, Antony Van Dyck, William Dobson, Godfrey Kneller and Peter Lely, each decade seems to have its own illustrator to tell its story.

You can also chart the events of the period through its art, from the death of Elizabeth and the end of the Tudor dynasty in 1603, through King James’s court to the unsettled and nervous reign of Charles I, into the austere war years, and on to the glamour of Charles II’s restored monarchy. For me, no other period in British history can be so well-defined by those that painted it.

There were many memorable artists  working in England during the 17th century, but my favourite of them all is William Dobson.

William Dobson
“Portrait of the Artist”, possibly c.1645/6, ©National Portrait Gallery, London

Dobson was an Englishman, born in St Albans in 1611 and trained in London with what seems to have been an ordinary painter’s apprenticeship. What is remarkable about him is that he wasn’t famous or well-travelled like Sir Antony Van Dyck or Rubens, both of whom worked for the most prestigious and influential people across Europe, nor did he have a distinguished education or career to recommend him, yet somehow, by the end of 1642, he had left London and was living in Oxford as the court painter to King Charles I. We have no idea how he got the job, but the works he produced of the Royalist supporters during four years of civil war became the eye-witness images of the conflict that we recognise today.  The Parliamentarian side had their own painter, Robert Walker, whose work we know by his many portraits of Oliver Cromwell, and other artists were also present during the period, but no name is as closely associated with the tragedy of the English Civil War as William Dobson. His ability to portray ‘real’ people, with their flaws and vulnerabilities,  is what makes his work so poignant and moving. Take this painting of the troubled King Charles, for example. I’ve not seen any other royal picture, of any king or queen, painted more honestly than this.

Charles I
“Charles I” c. 1642-1646, ©HistoricalPortraits.com/Philip Mould Ltd

About my blog

I started this blog because I wanted a place where I could share thoughts on my favourite kind of art, 17th century portraiture in Britain, particularly during the English Civil War. There are countless websites covering both subjects, but I couldn’t find much on the two together, so here it is. 🙂

Copyright note: The image in the site header is from “The Painter in his Workshop” by Adriaen Van Ostade, now at the Gemäldegalerie, Dresden. I have tried to give correct sources for the images used here, but if any are in error, please contact me.
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