An Unhappy Lady?

This portrait caught my attention on an auction site, because of the sitter’s unusually sombre expression. Is she sad? Bored? Annoyed? Whoever the artist was – an unnamed painter of the English School, acording to the website – they’ve really captured a mood, whether it was genuine, or merely a case of artistic licence.

Often, sitters’ expressions can easily be discerned as proud, arrogant, or uncertain (think of the worried face of Charles I, captured by Dobson), but this lady’s face is quite enigmatic, so that it’s hard to know whether the painter wanted to convey a sense of melancholy over some unexplained sadness in her life, or if she was just in a grumpy mood on the day she sat for the portrait and the artist merely painted what he saw.

There is also something strange about the canvas. It is described as an oval, but it looks more like two pieces have been glued together, and the join inexpertly painted over, possibly by a different (later?) painter. Could the portrait have started life as a more regular square or rectangular canvas, and been cut down for some convenience of the owner? If so, perhaps there were originally more clues as to her identity, and to the cause of her sadness.



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  1. Is the painting dated? My first thought was that if it’s from the 1650s, the whole post-Civil War situation might be reason enough to look sad and stressed.

    Or she might be trapped in an unhappy marriage – not unusual at all.

    Or she might just have the sombre-seeming expression many poeple have naturally when the face is at rest if she’s been stuck sitting for a portrait for any length of time. Which painter was it who recommended having entertainment on hand for sitters to keep them looking lively?


    • Unfortunately the auction site I got it from had very little information, but given it’s clearly been cut down and messed around with, I’m not surprised there’s no date or signature.. I suspect it was once a 3/4 length and was heavily cut down to make it an oval. One art historian said it looks like a Soest.


  2. Auction sites! 🙄 (I know, I know, the info just isn’t there to be found …)



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