New book: “Portraits of the English Civil Wars”

I’ve just been alerted to a new picture book via Bendor Grosvenor’s Art History News blog.  Quite aside from the very fitting image of a Dobson on the front, this definitely looks like one for the 17th century art lover’s book shelf!

Book English Civil Wars

Written by Old Master dealer Angus Haldane and published by Unicorn Press, the site’s blurb tells us:

“This book provides insight and perspective about the lives, vanities, and relationships of those who fought in the English Civil Wars through the filter of portraiture, much of it painted as conflict raged.”

Price £18.75 through the publisher here: Unicorn Press

I can’t wait to read this!

 

 

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Charles I art on display in 2018

It has been announced today that the Royal Academy (in partnership with the Royal Collection) is planning to mark its 250th anniversary in 2018 with an exhibition of paintings that were formerly in the art collection of King Charles I. Today I’m so stupidly excited about this I can barely type! I heard a rumour some time ago that such an exhibition was in planning, but then all went quiet and I thought it had been shelved. The sheer logistics of this particular undertaking are eye-watering, to say the least, and if they can pull it off it could well be one of the most remarkable shows in recent years.

As readers may know (and I’ve talked about this before), Charles was a prolific collector of art, and had his agents scour Europe to buy the very best paintings available, often scooping them from under the noses of other monarchs or wealthy nobility. By the time of his death, the quality and scale of his collection is said to have been one of the greatest in Europe, rendering what happened afterwards a painful and, to some eyes,  unforgiveable act of cultural vandalism. Following the fall of the Royalist cause, and the flight of surviving royals and retainers into exile, Oliver Cromwell’s parliament decided to sell the late King’s goods, including his extensive art collection,  to pay off Charles’s debts. Palaces, apartments and other royal buildings were opened up, their contents catalogued, and for the first time in British history, a monarch’s possessions were flogged to the public. From the insignificant and ordinary to the grand and priceless, everything went on sale (except for some religious-themed paintings that were considered blasphemous, torn to pieces and thrown into the Thames).

Much went abroad, and can be seen today in some of the most famous art galleries in the world, including the Louvre in Paris, and the Prado in Madrid. Charles II was able to reclaim (either with money, or with his own special brand of ‘gentle persuasion’) a large number of canvases, which now form part of the Royal Collection. Over hundreds of years, other  works will have been lost, destroyed by fire, war, or some other unfortunate mishap. Some survivors will have fallen from view entirely, their presence in the collection forgotten, waiting for their true provenance to be uncovered.

This is the task faced by the Royal Academy as they put together their exhibition. Known works in British galleries, including the Royal Collection, will be loaned,  while galleries abroad may be likewise persuaded to send their paintings back to London for the show. Still more must be hunted down through old inventories and centuries-old documents, in hopes of uncovering those that have gone astray.

The end result will be astonishing. The reconstruction, as far as is possible, of a royal art collection that was dispersed over 350 years ago. Masterpieces by Titian, Rubens, Van Dyck and Mantega will be seen together for the first time since the mid-1600s. It will surely be a once-in-a-lifetime event, as I can’t foresee this kind of reunion ever happening again, so if you can get to the Royal Academy between January and April 2018, this is one exhibition you cannot miss!

charles-i-equestrian

Here are the full details of the exhibition: Theartnewspaper.com

Further reading: “The Sale of the Late King’s Goods” by Jerry Brotton (2006), pub. Pan MacMillian.

The Collectors

The 17th century  is notable not only for showcasing some of the most famous painters and paintings we are familiar with today, but also for the way in which the purpose and value of art was changing. Where art was once created for purely religious purposes, commissioned as family heirlooms, or used to make a statement of one’s wealth or influence, during the 1600s the practice of gathering the best works for prestige or personal connoisseurship created some of the greatest art collections in history.

Across Europe the battle was on to secure the most valuable pieces by  giants such as Titian and Raphael whenever a ruling family went bankrupt, lost their estate through war, or simply died, leaving their collections ‘up for grabs’. One of the most successful and notorious of these opportunists was King Charles I himself, who despite his other, less successful traits, had an excellent eye for art, and had his agents travel the continent scooping up the best to be had, often under the noses of other royal families or wealthy enthusiasts who were hot on his heels. Charles’s art collection – today considered to have been one of the most remarkable gatherings of western art to date – was sold off by Oliver Cromwell and the Commonwealth after the king’s death.

Another famous English collector was the courtier Thomas Howard, 2nd Earl of Arundel, painted here by Peter Paul Rubens in 1629/1630. Arundel spent many years touring Europe, negotiating and corresponding with agents and advisers in order to purchase the very best on offer. At his death, he left behind several hundred paintings, in addition to sculptures, drawings, prints and jewellery.

arundel
©National Gallery, London

Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke, also amassed an impressive art collection of over 100 paintings, including more than 20 by Van Dyck, for whom he sat in around 1634.

pembroke
Philip Herbert by Van Dyck, ©National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Others with smaller but no less impressive collections included the ill-fated Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, who had works by Van Dyck, Mytens and Honthorst, and James, 1st Duke of Hamilton, who was particularly fond of Venetian paintings. These accounted for over half of his collection of 600+ works when inventoried in early 1643.

If you’re interested in the adventures and travels of the collectors and their prized possessions, I’d  really recommend a read of “The Sale of the Late King’s Goods” by Jerry Brotton, which describes the European art scene in the 17th century, and the fate of King Charles’s famed collection after his death. (Spoiler: Charles II managed to buy much of it back, where it now hangs in the Royal Collection. Phew!)

Dobson Portrait and Biography

Two big updates!

Those who follow the movements of English Civil War paintings at auction will know how rarely a portrait by William Dobson comes up for sale, so the recent announcement that one of only three known self-portraits will be sold at Bonhams this July is incredibly exciting! Alongside the portrait at Alnwick Castle, in which Dobson appears with his friend Sir Charles Cotterell and the musician Nicholas Lanier, and another recently returned to Osterley Park in Middlesex by the Earl of Jersey, is the earliest known self-portrait, which has not been seen in public since it was displayed at the National Portrait Gallery exhibition in 1983.

WDSPBonhams
©Bonhams/ZCZ Films

I’m hoping against hope that a national institution might consider buying it, so that it can go on public display rather than disappear into a private collection again. The National Portrait Gallery would be the perfect home, given that Dobson lived in the same street, and was buried at the church of St Martin in the Fields, right on the NPG’s doorstep – the NPG also has some of his works on display – but anything can happen at auction, so fingers will be firmly crossed on 6th July…!

The second big news is that my biography “William Dobson: The King’s Painter” will be available from next week through the publisher’s website. The book covers the early origins of the Dobson family, and charts their journey through the 17th century, including William’s career and work for King Charles I in Oxford. It also attempts to unravel a number of unchallenged claims about Dobson’s life, such as the suggestion he was a pupil of Sir Antony Van Dyck.

Here is the link. The publication date will be posted shortly.

Tyger’s Head Books

I hope you enjoy it!

Books

In my study of the English Civil War and its art, I’ve picked up a library of invaluable books, many now out of print, that are a goldmine of detail and images not always available in modern publications. I wanted to share some of the best ones, in case they may be of use to others in their own research. I’ve also found they’re very useful in establishing provenance, as they list past owners of paintings that may have since been sold. They’re not so out of print that they’re impossible to find, and you can probably source a cheap copy somewhere like http://www.abebooks.com or Ebay.

  • A History of British Painting – Ernest Short –  What it says on the tin, with a good section on the Stuarts and mid-17th century art.
  • British Portraits – Royal Academy of Arts – Produced for an exhibition at the RA, 1956-7. A good catalogue with many black and white plates, and a small selection from Charles I’s reign.
  • Endymion Porter and William Dobson – William Vaughan, for The Tate Gallery – Published for an exhibition of the same name at the Tate Gallery, 1970. Dobson’s portrait of Porter is one of his most recognised paintings, and can today be viewed (hopefully, unless it’s been stored) at the Tate Britain in London. Includes biographical sections on both Porter and Dobson, many pictures, maps and illustrations, and a section about the conflict itself.
  • The Age of Charles I – Tate Gallery – Published for an exhibition in 1972-3. Many illustrations, including William Dobson, Robert Walker, John Hayls, and other lesser known painters. Unusually, it includes ECW miniatures as well.
  • An Illustrated Souvenir of the Exhibition of 17th Century Art in Europe, 1938 – Royal Academy of Arts. Again, what it says! Mostly black and white plates, with a few from the ECW period.
  • The Life and Times of Charles I – D.R.Watson – not strictly an art book, but full of paintings, maps, illustrations and a guide to the ECW.
  •  Last but not least, an essential book on the subject  (and my ‘bible’) – William Dobson, 1611-1646 – National Portrait Gallery, 1983. As well as both colour and black and white images of Dobson’s works from the exhibition, including detailed provenance and biographies of the sitters,  there’s an excellent biographical section that forms the most extensive research on Dobson published to date.*

Let me know if you have any other recommendations!

 

*A new biography of William Dobson is due for publication in 2016. More details soon.

 

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