Telling A Story

The turbulence of the 17th century gave its painters plenty of inspiration, and allowed its portraitists scope to tell far more interesting stories than the straight-forward display of personal wealth or influence often requested by their patrons. While these commissioned portraits tell us something of the sitter, narrative portraits such as the one below illustrate the events of the times themselves.

NPG 1961; King Charles I; Sir Edward Walker by Unknown artist

Sir Edward Walker (1612-1677) served Charles I closely during the 1640s, wearing a number of different hats, including Secretary to the Council of War, Clerk Extraordinary of the Privy Council, Garter King of Arms and Secretary of War.  He would remain loyal to the royal family through the years of exile and into the Restoration.

I’ve not found much to explain what is going on in this picture, and the National Portrait Gallery website gives no detail at all.  I’ve stood in front of it countless times at the NPG and it’s worth stopping in for a look if you’re in the area.  There are several of versions in existence, with explainer text saying that Windsor Castle is visible in the background, as is some sort of battle and possibly an encampment. What is Walker writing for the King? The scene must be an imagined one, given that the picture is believed to date from 1650, after the King’s death,  but could there have been an event that inspired it? If anyone knows anything more about this painting, please let us know in the comments section!

 

 

 

 

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5 Comments

  1. Can’t help with info, but here’s a question: do you think the King was based on the Lely (I think) portrait of him and the duke of York?

    It’s an interesting contrast with Dobson’s portrait of Walker, too. I read the notes on that in the NPG book and thought, oh dear!

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    • It is similar, yes! It only adds to the puzzle over who painted it. Would they have had access to the Lely, which was apparently painted in 1647? I don’t know the Lely’s early provenance. It may be though that there were so many likenesses taken of the King, they all bear a close resemblance in pose or position. I’ve always found the Dobson of Walker a bit of a tricky one. Something’s gone wrong somewhere – the head and the left arm are very oddly placed.

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      • That’s a jolly good point about access, and the King’s poses in general, because don’t they both hark back to the Mytens and then Van Dyck versions of Charles and Henriette, where she is handing him a (?) laurel wreath? I hadn’t thought of that before.

        I agree about Dobson’s portrait of Walker. Looks like a bit of photoshopping gone wrong, that head and that body don’t seem to quite fit! 🙂

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  2. Anonymous

     /  August 10, 2016

    The drum has been said, on rather uncertain grounds to be one of those of the King’s Lifeguard of Foot. The picture has been claimed as a Dobson, though that seems unlikely. My feeling is that it may be intended as a reference to the Oxford Army campaign of 1644, when King Charles was with the army throughout, and which saw the victories at Cropredy Bridge and Lostwithiel.. So the kIng is presumably dictating a letter or order to Walker in the field.

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  3. Thanks for the info! The Oxford Army campaign would definitely make sense. I’ve never taken it for a Dobson either, but the more I look at it the more I wonder if the figures might be by different artists? The King is much more accomplished – the hands, for example, are very good, and his whole bearing is well put together. Walker looks flatter, especially in the face, and his composition is very awkward. But if not Dobson, who would be the obvious choice were he not already dead by 1650, I can’t suggest any names that might fit. It’s an ambitious piece, and apart from Walker’s weaker area, it works well.

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