In need of some TLC

I sometimes wonder what goes through the mind of a sitter, as he poses in front of his chosen artist, watching them make the preliminary sketches on paper, or the first brushstrokes on canvas. In the case of those painted in the 16th or 17th centuries especially, did they ponder where their likeness would find itself, hundreds of years later? Did he or she hope it would survive the centuries unscathed, or were they unbothered, distracted by the more pressing concerns of the day?

A painting is always made more  interesting when its own history, and not just that of the sitter portrayed, offers up a question mark about its past, and sometimes it’s the overlooked and forgotten ones that offer the best stories.

Joseph Williamson

This dirty and neglected gentleman is Sir Joseph Williamson (1633-1701), an English MP whose other appointments included, among others, Fellow of Queen’s College, Oxford, a Secretary of State, President of the Royal Society, and Keeper of the King’s Library at Whitehall. He also made an appearance in Samuel Pepys’ diary.

The seller claims the picture came from a private Bedfordshire estate, and was for many years left in storage, gathering dust and taking damage to its original antique frame. For a man with such varied and important roles in the running of both his locality and the country itself, he may not have been amused to see how his self-assured and self-important portrait ended up.

I’d be curious to know how the unnamed Bedfordshire estate came to own the picture, and if it had any personal connection to Williamson. If it did, surely that would be a sadder neglect than if it had been simply purchased at auction. He isn’t alone, though. There will be countless similar images sitting in vaults, attics or warehouse storage today, their sitters’ original hopes or intentions for their posterity now long-forgotten.

Yet Williamson is luckier than most. This painted impression of him may have spent its recent years in obscurity, but unlike other such sitters whose identities are lost forever, his memory has survived into the modern age and lives on in the Mathematical School in Rochester bearing his name. He was also married to a cousin of the king, and later buried at Westminster Abbey,  so perhaps in this case some dust and cobwebs wouldn’t upset him too much.  History hasn’t forgotten him after all!

Sir Joseph’s portrait is for sale HERE  at the current asking price of just £366, with Sir Godfrey Kneller suggested as the artist. I’m not familiar enough with his work to judge, although it does seem a little understated and modest in comparison to the one below that is by Kneller, copyright of the Royal Society.  Perhaps if the first had a serious clean, though, we may be surprised!

Joseph Williamson by Kneller

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2 Comments

  1. Dorothy Lukinic

     /  July 17, 2018

    Hello, have been enjoying your blog very much. I have a 17th century English portrait that I purchased a few years ago of a young lady and I am wondering if I can send photos and give what information I know so far about the portrait. I am hoping someone may be able to add to what I know, and/or possibly even identify the sitter. Thanks in advance for your response.

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  2. Hi Dorothy! Thanks for posting! I’m so pleased you’re enjoying the blog! If you’ve got digital scans/copies of your picture, you can send them to thekingspainter@gmail.com and I’d be more than happy to offer my thoughts. 🙂

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