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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3 Comments

  1. Fascinating! I remember the Aston family portrait from the Age of Charles I catalogue (think it was that) and have the Puleston in a bw print in a fashion history, but hadn’t noted the artist’s name to connect them before. Good seeing the others, too.

    The Aston portrait is all the sadder because the little boy died not that long afterward, a couple of years iirc, and Aston himself died in captivity during the War.

    The Hutchinsons, eh? The Colonel, a regicide. 😒

    Glad your ancestor was a) a Royalist and b) survived it all!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  2. I’m very relieved he was a Royalist!! Not sure I’d have admitted it if it turned out we were Parliament! 😨

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