John Michael Wright

A contemporary of Sir Peter Lely in England during the second half of the seventeenth century, Wright was a British born painter who was apprenticed in Edinburgh (although whether he was English or Scottish has been disputed), and later lived and worked in Rome. Unlike Dobson before him, he had the opportunity to travel and learn from some of the best Italian painters of the day, and was enrolled at the Academy of St Luke in Rome. Returning to England in 1655 or 1656, he worked as court painter both before and after the Restoration.*

Although Wright is not among my favourite painters of the period, I like the variety in his choice of sitters and themes, as shown below.

Charles II JMW
King Charles II, c.1661-1662, ©The Royal Collection


Catherine Dormer JMW
Lady Catherine Dormer (d.1659)


Willoughby Aston JMW
Sir Willoughby Aston, 2nd Baronet (1640-1702)


Mrs Salesbury
Mrs Salesbury with her grandchildren Edward and Elizabeth Bagot, c.1676
©Tate Collection


Neil ONeil JMW
Sir Neil O’Neil, 1680, ©The Tate Collection


7th Earl Pembroke JMW
Portrait of a boy, possibly Philip, 7th Earl of Pembroke, in the robes of the Order of the Bath


NPG 6854; John Dryden by John Michael Wright
John Dryden, poet and dramatist, c.1668

Mary Knatchbull
Mary Knatchbull (1610-1696)


Sir John Corbett JMW
Sir John Corbet of Adderley, c.1676, ©Yale Center for British Art


Thomas Hobbes JMW
Thomas Hobbes, c.1669-1670, ©National Portrait Gallery, London



*Further information on Wright can be found in “Painting in Britain, 1530-1790”, by Ellis Waterhouse (1994), p106-p110


Hidden Gems

Say what you like about the internet, but it is a goldmine if you’re looking for lesser-known portraits that you won’t find on the walls of a gallery or stately home. We can now follow in real-time the progress of paintings selling at auction, view catalogues online, and note how the provenance or identity of a work can change when a picture is sold. Remember the George Lisle portrait I blogged about a few months ago? This went to auction twice in as many years, and both times it was attributed to a different painter. Even sales catalogues and auction results from hundreds of years ago can be found, allowing anyone with an interest to not only learn about a picture’s personal history and condition in the past, but also to see how differently sale-rooms or private assessors were (and are) able to judge a picture’s identity and worth as it changes hands over the years.

Connoisseurship comes very much into play here, and the skill or knowledge of a seller can be the difference between a master work slipping through a sale unrecognised (known as a ‘sleeper’), and bought by a sharp-eyed expert for a bargain price, or being attributed to a completely incorrect painter because the people making the labels have only vague knowledge of the period. Dobson and Walker, as I’ve pointed out before, are often the ‘go to’ painters for labelling 1640s portraits, despite there being innumerable other artists at work at the same time.

You can find some surprisingly good portraits to look at on eBay, as long as you take the sales-blurb with a pinch of salt;  you’re unlikely to have found a long-lost Lely or Van Dyck! So here are some of the nicer ones I’ve found on eBay and other auction websites.

Unknown gentleman
Unknown Gentleman in Armour, by a Follower of Robert Walker


Gentleman circular
Portrait of an Unknown Gentleman of the Civil War era


Arabella Churchill
Portrait of a Lady, Attributed to John Hayls (1600-1679)

Although the sitter is unnamed in the title, the auction site’s more detailed description claims she is likely to be Arabella Churchill (1648-1730), mistress of King James II and mother to four of his children. She was an ancestor of Sir Winston Churchill, and sister to the first Duke of Marlborough.


Jonson follower
Portrait of a Gentleman, by a Follower of Cornelius Johnson, dated 1629

Does the coat of arms give any further information?


2nd Earl Holderness
Portrait of 2nd Earl Holderness, from 10th Duke of Leeds, Hornby Castle, c.1640


Beville Grenville
Sir Beville Grenville (no further details given)


Unknown woman
Portrait of a Lady, by a Follower of Sir Peter Lely, c.1650s or 1660s


Elizabeth Jennings

I had to hunt down an identification for this lady, as the first site I found her on gave none, but a second says that  her name, inscribed on the back, is Elizabeth Jennings, daughter of Jonathan Jennings of Rippon, wife firstly to Christopher Hodgson of Newhall, and secondly to Henry Watkinson, Chancellor of York 1664. The artist is given as circle of Sir Peter Lely.


Wharncliffe portrait
Portrait of a Gentleman, circle of William Dobson

This painting came from the collection of the Earls of Wharncliffe, and although here it is listed as circle of William Dobson, and a different sale site says merely ‘British School, 17th century’, it was offered for sale as recently as 1958 (at Christie’s, no less) as by William Dobson himself. It isn’t, however, and I think ‘British School’ is the most appropriate description for it.


Edward Master
Portrait of Sir Edward Master (1574-1648), circle of Gilbert Jackson (fl. 1621-1642)


This latest blog has been my most difficult to date. I wanted to do a study of children in England during the 17th century, and while there are numerous examples I could use, they are, for the most part, restricted to a single demographic, which is children of the nobility or royalty. For obvious reasons, this section of society was the most able to afford to commission portraits of their children, so it has been very hard to find representatives of those in the lower classes or poorer families from this period. If readers can point me in the direction of any, please feel free to leave a comment at the end of the post.

So with apologies for the somewhat one-sided view, I’ll start with with one of the most famous children of all at the start of the 1600s…

Charles I as Duke of York
Charles I when still Duke of York, by Robert Peake the Elder, 1605
Bristol Museum and Art Gallery


Lady Mary Feilding
Lady Mary Feilding, as Countess of Aran, later Marchioness and Duchess of Hamilton (1613-1638), by Daniel Mytens, 1620

I like this one very much. I’ve never seen it before, and it’s quite unusual with the striking orange dress and feathered hair around the side of her face. Can any costume experts suggest what the white hair decoration would be made of? It looks to me like a lace headband, perhaps a comb, but as I know nothing about clothing in this period, I am happy to be corrected. Incidentally, for anyone interested in family connections, Lady Mary was a niece of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, the favourite courtier of both King James and Charles I.


Browne family
A Family Group, called Sir Thomas Browne and his Family, perhaps in part by William Dobson, c.1640s(?), The Chatsworth House Trust


Princess Mary
Princess Mary, Daughter of Charles I, c.1637, by Van Dyck
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


3rd Viscount Cary

This is my favourite. I have seen this portrait by Cornelius Johnson described as Lucius Cary, 2nd Viscount Falkland (the subject of an earlier blog post), but this has to be wrong as Johnson was mainly working from the 1640s onwards, much too late to have painted King Charles’s wartime Secretary of State as a child. Another source says that this is Falkland’s son, Lucius Cary, the 3rd Viscount (1632-1649), which must be correct. Whoever the boy is, it’s a very endearing picture, complete with Johnson’s signature wide lace collar. I like that there is nothing behind or around him, and other than his hat, there are no distracting props to take your attention from the face or the pink colouring of his outfit.


Esme Stewart
Esme Stewart, 5th Duke of Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond, by John Weesop, 1653


Esme Stuart and sister Mary
Esme Stewart, 2nd Duke of Richmond, and his sister Mary, by John Michael Wright, c.1660
(section of larger portrait including their mother, Mary Villiers, Duchess of Lennox
and Richmond)


Basil Dixwell
Sir Basil Dixwell, bt.(1665-1750), by Mary Beale, 1681

Unfinished Works

There are many surviving examples of unfinished 17th century portraits. Some were small-scale studies for larger compositions, others were begun but left in limbo waiting for either the sitter or painter to find the time (or the money) to complete them, while others remained on the easel when the painter died. These works are sometimes even more interesting than the completed article, as they give insight into the painter’s composition process and how he or she approached their task.

VD Magistrate

Van Dyck’s 1634/1635 work entitled “Magistrates of Brussels”, which depicted several magistrates in council, was destroyed during French bombardment of Brussels in 1695, but several head sketches survive, including the above which is in a private collection. (I know, it’s not strictly English portraiture, but I think Sir Anthony can have a free pass on this one!)

VD Princesses.jpg
Anthony van Dyck,  Princess Elizabeth and Princess Anne, 1637,
©Scottish National Portrait Gallery

In this beautiful double portrait,Van Dyck depicts two daughters of King Charles I and Henrietta Maria. This was a study for part of his 1637 work “The Five Eldest Children of King Charles I” (below), now in the Royal Collection.

NPG 267; Five Children of King Charles I after Sir Anthony van Dyck

WD Rupert
Prince Rupert by William Dobson (private collection), begun in Oxford during the Royalist occupation of the 1640s, but remaining unfinished when the Prince left the city in early 1646.

Cooper Cromwell
Miniature of Oliver Cromwell, C.1650, by Samuel Cooper, private collection

Soest, Gerard, c.1600-1681; 20th Earl of Oxford
20th Earl of Oxford (called’Aubrey de Vere, 1626-1703)
c.1656/1657, ©Dulwich Picture Gallery

Lely poss Anne Hyde
Portrait of a Lady, probably Anne Hyde, Duchess of York (1637-1671)
Studio of Sir Peter Lely

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