Charles I: King and Collector

Last December, I told you about a proposed exhibition to be held at the Royal Academy, which would reunite the ‘lost’ art collection of Charles I, sold-off and dispersed by Cromwell after the execution of the King. This week I am delighted that the RA has confirmed the dates for the exhibition, and that tickets are now available! The show runs from 27th January to 15th April 2018.


If ever there was a must-see exhibition, this is it. To summarise my original post, Charles I was an exceptional connoisseur of art, buying up the best works from across Europe, often from bankruptcy sales from fallen or defeated noble families. Following Charles’s defeat and execution in the Civil War, the Parliamentarians arranged a massive sale of royal goods to pay off his (alleged) debts. The great art collection was dismantled and sold at auctions, with much of it now residing in the best galleries in Europe, such as the Louvre and the Prado.

Now, a large part of this collection is to be reunited on the walls of the Royal Academy at Burlington House.  It offers a rare opportunity to appreciate the connoisseur King’s eye for art, and to see many of the world’s greatest works hanging together for the first time in over 350 years. It will probably never happen again, so get your tickets soon!

Royal Academy – book tickets

Blog entry Dec. 2016: Charles I art on display in 2018


Storytelling at the Ashmolean

This is the painting I mentioned last week, that has found a happy new home at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.


It was acquired through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, whereby owners of significant works of art can surrender them to the UK government in exchange for their inheritance tax being written off. The work is then allocated to a public gallery or museum and beomes part of the national collection.  The Ashmolean put forward a bid to become the new hosts of the above portrait, with a very strong claim to be the best place for it. The triple portrait, made by William Dobson in the mid-1640s, was painted just a few streets away from where the Ashmolean stands today, in apartments Dobson was renting during the time King Charles and his entourage were resident in the city during the Civil War.

The sitter on the left is Prince Rupert, the King’s nephew and famed military commander. On the right is Colonel John Russell, an officer under Rupert. The man in the middle has been traditionally identified as a Colonel Murray, but the Ashmolean’s research has shown he is more likely to be Colonel William Legge, another Royalist officer and, from 1645, governor of Oxford.

The painting is significant because it relates to true events, after Rupert had fallen out of favour with the king for surrendering the city of Bristol to the Parliamentarians. The scene is full of symbolism, Dobson narrating in his own way Rupert’s enduring loyalty to the King despite their falling out.  You can read an in-depth study of it here.

The Ashmolean unveiled the portrait this week, and made it a centrepiece of their Live Friday event, celebrating the 400th birthday of founder Elias Ashmole. I was lucky enough to go, and thought it was a great success, with renactors parading through the streets, and actors at the museum playing figures such as King Charles, Prince Rupert and even William Dobson himself! What I found most important, though, from a 17th century art-lover’s perspective, was how many people crowded around the painting, watched the performances and seemed genuinely interested to know about the artist and the events in the 17th century. Hopefully Friday will have inspired people who may not ordinarily set foot in a museum or gallery to do so more often!

It also shows what a good idea the Acceptance in Lieu scheme is, bringing art out of the private realm where only a handful of people will see it, and into the public sphere where the whole world can enjoy it. Who can argue with that!


John Playford (maybe)

This week’s ebay find claims to depict a London gentleman named John Playford (1623-1686/7),  bookseller, publisher and composer.

Playford Jackson

It is attributed to Gilbert Jackson, whose life and works we looked at in a previous entry. I’m not a Jackson expert, but having compared this painting to Jackson’s known works, I’m sceptical. What do readers think?  The sitter and artist are identified by a label on the reverse, but something tells me it’s not original!

Playford Jackson reverse

As with most eBay art sales, no provenance or technical information is given, but at least this seller has posted images of the reverse, which is often a key source for the art detective.

Whoever painted it, I rather like Mr Playford, even if he does have disturbingly large hands…

Happy Birthday, Mr Ashmole!

If you’re lucky enough to be near Oxford this coming Friday, 19th May, join the party at the Ashmolean to celebrate the 400th birthday of its founder, Elias Ashmole.

The Ashmolean was the world’s first public museum, and this year hosts a programme of events to not only celebrate its founding, but to educate visitors about its place in Oxford history, and Ashmole’s royalist connections during the English Civil War. This Friday there will be a parade, led by King Charles I and his cavaliers and courtiers,  ending up at the Ashmolean, where a very special acquisition will be revealed.

In a rare purchase by a public institution (as such pictures hardly ever become available), the Ashmolean has acquired a canvas by none other than King Charles’s Royalist painter, William Dobson,  which will in due course hang in the permanent collection,  just streets away from where Dobson himself lived in the 1640s. I know which portrait it is, but I won’t spoil the surprise!

The event is free, but you’ll need to book a ticket. I’ve already got mine, so I’ll post an update next weekend and let you know how it went!

More details here:

Ashmolean Live Friday

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