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)

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