Lucius Cary, 2nd Viscount Falkland

On the 20th September 1643, at the first battle of Newbury, King Charles’s 33-year-old Secretary of State was killed by enemy fire, having charged his horse at a gap in a hedge which was lined by the enemy’s musketeers. Many believe his actions were deliberate, a suicidal act by a sensitive poet unable to bear the burden of his position, and the bloody destruction of war, any longer. There are a number of surviving portraits of Falkland, many of which show a thoughtful but melancholy man. Unlike other paintings in which statesmen have the artist depict them as proud, often arrogant individuals of status and position, he is clearly not a man of war or violent ambition, but an intellectual more drawn to philosophy, writing and poetry.

I think this is shown very clearly in Van Dyck’s beautiful painting below.

Falkland by VanD
c.1638-1640 ©The Trustees of the Chatsworth Settlement

He was also painted on more than one occasion by Cornelius Johnson:

Falkland CJ1
1635, ©Birmingham Museums Trust
Falkland CJ2
©National Trust, Montacute House

This one is attributed to John Hoskins:

NPG 6304; Lucius Cary, 2nd Viscount Falkland attributed to John Hoskins

Watercolour on vellum, 1630s
©National Portrait Gallery, London

None of the images I’ve found of Cary are from the civil war period after 1642, and most are either copies of, or after, Van Dyck’s earlier original above. I’ve long wondered if he ever sat for Dobson, with whom he would almost certainly have been acquainted at Oxford. Given Dobson’s ability to capture the true character of his sitters (in my view better than Van Dyck, at times), I would imagine a portrait of the tragic Viscount Falkland might have been one of his most moving. If there is a Dobson ‘Holy Grail’, this is it!

If you’re interested in reading more about Falkland, there’s an old but readable biography by J.A.R Marriott, entitled “Falkland and his Times 1610-1643”, published in 1907 (copies are available on Abe Books). Recommendations for a more recent biography gratefully received. 🙂


John Weesop

Known only for his portraits during the 1640s, John Weesop is, in my opinion, an artist who deserves a second look. Ellis Waterhouse’s “Painting in Britain 1530-1790” mentions him briefly (p.77), stating only that he was an imitator of Van Dyck and left the country not long after the end of the war. The art historian Sir Oliver Millar, however, found evidence that Weesop was still in London in 1653, but died shortly after.**  Believed to have been Flemish, we have an insight into his character from the antiquarian George Vertue*, who wrote that:

“Weesop arrived here in 1641, a little before the death of Vandyck, of whose manner he was a lucky imitator, and had the honour of having some of his pictures pass for that master’s. He left England in 1649, saying ‘he would never stay in a country where they cut off the King’s head and were not ashamed of the action.’ It had been more sensible to say, he would not stay where they cut off the head of a King that rewarded painters and defaced and sold his collection.”

Looked at collectively, the works attributed to him are of a quite recognisable style, particularly in the frequent use of gold decoration on his sitters’ outfits. We’ve already seen one portrait, which I posted on January 16th, and here are a few more.

Unknown Man by Weesop
An Unknown Man, c.1640 ©National Trust, Lacock Abbey, Fox Talbot Museum and Village
Lady by Weesop
Portrait of a lady, c.1648 (location unknown)
Jermyn by Weesop
Thomas, 2nd Baron Jermyn (date and location unknown)
Henry Gage by Weesop
Sir Henry Gage (date unknown) ©National Portrait Gallery, London
Double portrait of a Lady and a Gentleman (date and location unknown, sold at Sotheby’s in 2002)

*George Vertue, Anecdotes of Painting in England, With Some Account of the Principal Artists; and Incidental Notes on Other Arts, Volume 2, Thomas Farmer, 1762, p. 117

**O. Millar, ‘Weesop: flesh on a skeleton’, The Burlington Magazine 1183/143 (Oct. 2001), p. 625-630

Culture in the Conflict

Most of the paintings that make us think of  the English Civil War tend to be of soldiers, courtiers or royalty, those individuals closest to the fighting,  yet if you look around you’ll find a surprising number of poets, writers and musicians as well, keeping the arts alive while all around was falling apart. Here are just a few I’ve come across, dated either during the war, or just before/after.

I found this picture of (allegedly) the poet and writer  John Milton, in a 1932 edition of the Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs*. No date is given, but it is claimed to be a Dobson. This is, in my opinion, incorrect, not only because it just doesn’t LOOK like a Dobson, but Milton was strongly in favour of the Parliamentarian cause, and therefore highly unlikely to have had his portrait painted by the King’s principle artist over in Royalist HQ, Oxford. (If painted before 1642, of course. Before that, and before sides were drawn, there’s no great reason it couldn’t have happened).  I have no suggestions who did paint it though, or where it may be now. Any thoughts?

The diarist John Evelyn, by Robert Walker, 1648.
©National Portrait Gallery, London

Ben Jonson
Apologies for the poor quality of this one, but it’s the only copy I have. Also found in an old book, this (again, alleged) image of the playwright and poet Ben Jonson, is labelled as a Dobson. It would have to be a very early one if taken from the life, as Jonson died in 1637 and Dobson was only a few years out of his apprenticeship by then. I don’t know where this is now, but would love to see a clearer version.

Portrait of a Musician by William Dobson, c. 1644
©Ferens Art Gallery, Hull

The philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, by William Dobson, c. 1640s.
©The Royal Society

I’m not convinced by this attribution either…

*The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, Vol 60, no.346, Jan., 1932.

School, Circle or Studio?

A reader has asked for an explanation of the many different forms of attribution used in art, such as ‘circle of’, ‘manner of’, ‘after’, etc. It’s no easy task to definitively link a painting with a particular painter (unless it’s one of the great Masters who have institutes and world experts on hand to do it), so such terms give galleries and auction houses space to offer a qualified guess, or cover up the fact that they actually don’t have a clue, and don’t want to stick their necks out and get it wrong.

I’ve taken the following terminology from one auction house’s website,* and although they caution that every house or gallery has their own individual cataloguing terms and house style, those below are quite standard terms I’ve seen used across the board.

“Attributed to” –  In our opinion, probably a work by the artist

For example… (although this one is definitely NOT by Dobson!):

Rachel Wriothesley

Rachel Wriothesley (1636-1723) by William Dobson (attributed to)
©Carmarthenshire Museums Service Collection , no date given


Circle of”
In our opinion, a work by an unidentified artist working in the artist’s style and during the period of the artist’s life.

Anne Cecil
Lady Anne Cecil, c. 1635, sold at auction as circle of Van Dyck


“After”In our opinion, a copy by an unidentified artist of a named work by the artist.

 After Walker
Portrait of Oliver Cromwell, After Robert Walker


“Follower of”In our opinion a work by an unidentified artist, working in the artist’s style, contemporary or near contemporary.

Follower of Lely
Portrait of a gentleman, bust-length, in a black robe and a white lawn collar, feigned oval, Follower of Peter Lely


“School of” – In our opinion, a work executed at that time and in the style associated with that artist.

“Manner of” – In our opinion, a work by an unidentified artist working in the artist’s style but at a later date, although not of recent execution.

“Studio of” – In our opinion, a work likely to come from the studio of the artist or closely associated with the artist.

So as you can see, it’s not always a straight-forward matter when trying to identify a painter! Some pictures are of far better quality than others, requiring a second-glance and a closer inspection to be sure it is NOT by the original artist. In other cases, however, it is patently obvious that the picture concerned is not by the artist claimed, and that the attribution has probably been made by someone who has little knowledge of the period or its painters. This brings  us back to the argument on connoisseurship and the need for people who study and become intimately familar with an artist’s signature brushstrokes and mannerisms. Surely we can’t truly know our great painters without them?



Sir Peter Lely

Dutch artist Peter Lely is probably best known for his work in the service of Charles II during the Restoration, and in particular for his portraits of the King’s mistresses and other fashionable, high-society ladies.*

Frances Stewart Richhmond
Frances Stuart, Duchess of Richmond (1648-1702)  before 1662
Royal Collection Trust/©Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

His sitters weren’t only women, and in an English career that probably began in the early 1640s, and lasted until his death, he would paint a vast number of portraits of men and women, royalty and aristocracy, as well as a memorable collection of 13 naval officers,  known as the “Flagmen of Lowestoft”. One of my very favourite paintings by any artist is in this group, and belongs to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.  Although my great love in art is William Dobson, this gorgeous portrait by Lely has earned Sir Peter a place on my wall as well. 🙂

Admiral Sir John Harman
Flagmen of Lowestoft: Admiral Sir John Harman, d.1673.
©National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Greenwich Hospital Collection

Little is known about Lely’s early years in England, although he is said to have arrived in London around 1641. Where he was during the wars is largely speculative, but a number of paintings from that time have been attributed to him, and after the death of King Charles he served under the Cromwells too. Yet it was in the 1660s that he really made his name, and memorably brought back much of the courtly elegance and beauty that had been lost following Van Dyck’s death, and through the grim and grey years of the civil wars and Commonwealth.


*An exhibition of Lely’s ‘Painted Ladies: Women at the Court of Charles II’ was held at the National Portrait Gallery in London in 2001-2002, and if you’re a fan it’s well worth getting hold of a copy of the catalogue (try Ebay or Abe Books).


Sir Anthony van Dyck

No discussion of 17th century portraiture in England would be complete without mentioning the great Sir Anthony van Dyck. A student of Rubens (who painted the ceiling of the Banqueting House in Whitehall, London, which still stands today), he came to England in the 1620s to work as court painter to King Charles I, and remained there until his own death in 1641.

Unlike his successor in Charles’ employ, William Dobson, Van Dyck was fortunate to have  worked in the studio of the great Master, Peter Paul Rubens, and to have employed his talent in Europe, painting for wealthy and influential patrons across the continent. In England he produced some of the most recognised works in the history of English portraiture, such as this one of King Charles:

Charles I three
Dated c.1635/1636, ©The Royal Collection, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

….and his own self-portrait, which was recently purchased by the National Portrait Gallery in London after a successful publicity campaign to save it from being sold abroad or into private hands.

Van Dyck self portrait
Painted c.1640, ©National Portrait Gallery, London

Van Dyck’s death in 1641, shortly before the King left London for the final time as the Civil War began, leaves us with an intriguing question. Had he lived, would he have followed the King, and continued painting portraits of what was left of the Royalist aristocracy in exile from London? Or would he have looked to his own comfort and self-preservation and fled back to the safety of Europe? I don’t know enough about him to be able to offer an answer, but the timing of his death seems oddly fitting, as if he was no longer needed by the times, with war and ugliness on the horizon, and was making way for someone else. Would his beautiful and elegant style have ‘fit’ in the middle of such a fight? I’d love to know how his work would, by necessity and austerity, have changed had he lived and remained by the King’s side to paint the Royalists at war, but then if he had, we wouldn’t have had Dobson, and the visual memory of the conflict that has been passed down to us would be strikingly different.

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