John Greenhill

We’ve all heard of Sir Peter Lely, celebrated court painter to Charles II, and one of the most famous artists of the 17th century, but who has heard of his pupil, John Greenhill? I hadn’t, but after a little research I think he’s worthy of a discussion.

Here he is, in a self-portrait from late 1660s/early 1670s.

John Greenhill self portrait

Born in Salisbury sometime in the 1640s – source dates differ from 1642 to 1649 – he was the eldest son of John Greenhill, the registrar of the diocese of Salisbury, and Penelope Champneys of Orchardleigh, Somerset. Through his paternal uncles he was connected to the East India trade.

Greenhill came to London in around 1662 and began work as Lely’s pupil. He is said to have been a fast and talented student, learning much of Lely’s style and skill, with one commentator claiming his copy of Van Dyck’s portrait of “Thomas Killigrew and his dog” was so good it was hard to distinguish from the original, making his master jealous.

Although he began his career with such promise, and took a wife, the talented painter became very fond of the theatre, poetry and dramatic entertainment, gaining him a reputation for ‘irregular habits’. He died tragically young,  either in his late 20s or early 30s, after stumbling home drunk from the theatre. Falling into the gutter he was helped home, but did not survive the night.

I can’t help noticing that Greenhill’s life holds a curious parallel with that of his predecessor some 20 years before. As court painter to the previous king, William Dobson was said to have had similiarly ‘dissolute’ habits while enjoying a privileged lifestyle in Oxford, and would also die young after returning to London, his true potential lost.

Greenhill’s artistic style shows the clear training and influence of Sir Peter, and one can see how, had he lived longer and developed his art further, he could certainly have approached his master’s quality.

Here are some more of his works:

Seth_Ward_by_John_Greenhill
Seth Ward, Bishop of Exeter and Salisbury, c. 1673/4, © The Royal Society

 

Greenhill, John, c.1649-1676; John Clements (d.1705)

John Clements, 1673, ©National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

 

Greenhill, John, c.1649-1676; Portrait of a Lady as a Shepherdess
Portrait of a Lady as a Shepherdess, c. 1665, ©Dulwich Picture Gallery

 

Greenhill, John, c.1649-1676; James II (1633-1701), as Duke of York
James II as Duke of York, c. 1660, ©Dulwich Picture Gallery

 

Henry Fermor
Henry Fermor, date and location unknown

 

1676-lady-twisden-by-john_med
Lady Twisden, 1676, (pastel)  ©British Museum

John Souch

Leaving the mid-17th century and the Civil War artists for a bit, I’d like to look at an earlier English painter who was active in the north-west of England during the earlier years of the 1600s.

John Souch was Born in Ormskirk, Lancashire, in around 1593/4,  and in 1607 was apprenticed to a Herald painter in Chester. Although Herald painters mainly worked on pieces such as coats of arms and other heraldic devices, they also branched out into portraiture to satisfy the needs of local gentry who wanted a visual record of betrothals, births, etc.  Souch appears to have mastered the skills of both crafts, and joined the Chester Painters and Stainers Company in 1616, embarking on a successful and active career where he travelled to clients’ houses for heraldic and portraiture commissions.

Perhaps his most recognised work is that of “Sir Thomas Aston at the Deathbed of his Wife”, painted in 1635 and now held by Manchester Art Gallery:

SirThomasAstonAtWife'sDeathbed

It is very clearly a mourning painting, the living sitters wearing funerary black, adorned with black ribbons and mourning jewellery. The skull beneath Aston’s hand is a common symbol of death and mortality, while the inscriptions also refer to loss, one saying “The seas can be defined, the earth can be measured, grief is immeasurable”.

What I like about Souch is that he had the ability to move between the straightforward and uncluttered – some sitters standing alone in front of a plain background, without ornamentation or objects save perhaps a ring or a flower – to complicated scenes such as Aston’s, which were filled with symbolism and meaning.

Here are some more examples:

Souch, John, c.1593-1645; Portrait of an Unknown Couple
Portrait of an Unknown Couple, painted 1640. ©Grosvenor Museum Chester
Souch, John, c.1593-1645; Portrait of a Woman
Portrait of a woman, traditionally said to be Lucy Hutchinson, wife and biographer of Colonel Hutchinson, Governor of Nottingham Castle. c. 1643, ©National Army Museum

Souch, John, c.1593-1645; Portrait of a Man
Portrait of a man, traditionally said to be Colonel Hutchinson, Parliamentarian and Governor of Nottingham Castle. c.1643, ©National Army Museum

George Puleston (?) c.1625-30 by John Souch 1594-1644 or 5
George Puleston(?), date not given, ©Tate

Finally, my personal favourite (and ancestor!), Sir Pelham Corbet, painted c.1634. Sir Pelham was a Royalist of Leigh and Albright-Hussie in Shropshire. He was captured at Shrewsbury but appears to have survived the war and died around 1660.

Pelham Corbet

Souch himself was recorded by the Chester Guild as dead by 1645, and it has been suggested he may have been a Royalist, and died in Chester following the siege by the Parliamentarian army.

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