Dobsons reunited at Tate Britain

Great news from Tate Britain this week! For the next three years, the gallery will be hosting William Dobson’s earliest known self-portrait alongside his own portrait of second wife, Judith.

WandJatTate

From at least the late 1700s, both portraits were hanging together at Howsham Hall, a stately home in Yorkshire. When the house and its contents were sold in 1948, the couple went their separate ways. They briefly came back together for the 1983 National Portrait Gallery exhibition of Dobson’s work, with Judith purchased by the Tate in 1992. William’s picture remained in private hands until it came up for auction last year, and although it was once again sold to a private collector, the current owner (in contrast to the previous one, who never lent it anywhere), has already shared it with viewers at the National Portrait Gallery, before moving it to the Tate for the new loan.

I’ll definitely be visiting the Tate soon, and look forward to seeing the Dobsons back together at last!  My only concern is that, last time I visited the gallery, specifically to see the artist’s wife, she was poorly displayed, high up on a wall with a shaft of light obscuring her face. Hopefully the curation will be better this time….

Judith was born Judith Sander, some time around 1609, in London. She became Dobson’s second wife in 1637, and their only surviving child, Katherine, was born in 1639.  Judith outlived her husband by a number of years, remarrying in 1648 and surviving until at least the Restoration of Charles II, when she was said to have discussed the King’s coronation outfit with antiquarian and friend, John Aubrey. It is not know when she died.

Tate are also planning a special display on Dobson next year. Hopefully they’ll have more details on that soon.

Portraits at the Tate

 

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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

Anne Killigrew: artist, poet, courtier

Amid the turbulence and instability of much of the seventeenth century, there was still room for education and culture to flourish, and women in particular were proving they could be just as skilled and talented as men, even if opportunity or gender bias meant that these talents were often left unrealised.

History has left us the names of several woman from this time who defied conventions and became poets, artists, writers, philosophers  or scientists. One such remarkable lady was Anne Killigrew, a member of a large and successful noble family that was close to the royal courts of Charles I and Charles II.

In the below portrait by Peter Lely, Anne is portrayed while painting,  in what is believed to be the only such-themed portrait by Sir Peter, as well as a rare depiction of a female artist at work. The picture and its significance are described in greater detail by the current holders Philip Mould & Co.

anne-killigrew
Portrait of a Lady, traditionally identified as Anne Killigrew (1660-85)

Although remembered more for her poetry, of which a collection was published after her death, she was also a skilled painter and portraitist. A self-portrait hangs at Berkeley Castle, and although I have been unable to find an image of it online, here is a mezzotint said to be based on the original:

anne-killigrew-self-portrait

Only a handful of her paintings are known to survive today, including this, of James II, now part of the Royal Collection.

james-ii-by-ak

Sadly, Anne died of smallpox at around 25 years old, yet another talent cut off too soon. If her poetry and portraits are examples of what she achieved in those short years, we can only imagine what  she might have produced had she had more time.  We do not know  where she gained her skills in painting, or who, if anyone, instructed her, but being so close to the royal court she would have had easy access to the great works in that collection, works by almost an entirety of celebrated male artists, and I think her own paintings stand up well against them. Not as the paintings of a woman, but as an artist the equal, in my view, of many of those men that came before.

 

On This Day…..

I couldn’t let today pass without marking the 370th anniversary of the passing of William Dobson.  On 28th October 1646, the King’s former court painter, now returned home from Oxford following the defeat of Charles and his royalist supporters,  was buried at his home church of St Martin in the Fields, London. He was just 36 (or 35, depending on which calendar you use).

William Dobson

It’s quite fitting that the likely place of his burial is almost certainly within sight of the National Portrait Gallery, where some of his works now hang. The church has changed, and the St Martin’s Lane he lived on altered far beyond his recognition, but head up to Room 5 of the NPG and you’ll find some wonderful works by one of the Lane’s most talented residents. I wonder what he would have thought to see his own paintings on the walls of a national institution, so close to his home, alongside those of the great Van Dyck, and portraits of the King who undoubtedly changed the direction of his life.

I hope he’d be pleased!

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!)

The Laurel Wreath

In around 1630-1632, the Dutch artist Daniel Mytens, at the time in the employ of King Charles, was commission to paint a double portrait of the monarch and his queen, Henrietta Maria. On this canvas, now part of the Royal Collection, the King is being passed a laurel wreath by his wife, as ‘a symbol of their union and a public statement of tenderness and intimacy.’  The result is below…

DM C and H

History tells us that the King was less than impressed, however, and another painter, a certain Antony Van Dyck, was asked to produce his own version…

AVD C and H
© Archiepiscopal Castle and Gardens, Kromeríž, Czech Republic

Van Dyck’s offering was better received, and replaced Mytens’ attempt on the royal wall. Within two years, Mytens had left England and returned to the Netherlands. Whether this was a direct result of the King’s snub or merely a matter of timing, we can’t be completely sure, but it marked the end of Mytens’ career as a royal painter, and he never worked in England again.

Uunfortunately for Mytens, I can see why Charles wanted an alternative. For starters, the background is drab and empty, offering none of the majesty, intensity or intimacy Charles was looking for. The royal couple’s expressions come across as slightly reluctant, with Charles gingerly reaching to take the wreath as if not entirely sure what to do with it, while Henrietta Maria looks rather bored with the whole affair.

Van Dyck’s, by comparison, ticks all the boxes. There is colour, glamour, a blue sky. Charles watches the queen with an intimacy Mytens completely omitted, and Henrietta Maria looks directly at the viewer, with an expression of satisfaction and the certainty of her role. Charles may be the king, but here the main player is definitely his wife! During the English Civil War she was mistrusted by many, being French and Catholic, and accused of holding a dangerous influence over Charles. Looking at Van Dyck’s double portrait, I wonder if the clever and gifted painter was also making subtle, foreshadowing allusions to this? He fulfilled the brief to Charles’ satisfaction, but may also have offered us a glimpse of the real dynamic in their relationship, and the second power behind the throne.

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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!

John Michael Wright

A contemporary of Sir Peter Lely in England during the second half of the seventeenth century, Wright was a British born painter who was apprenticed in Edinburgh (although whether he was English or Scottish has been disputed), and later lived and worked in Rome. Unlike Dobson before him, he had the opportunity to travel and learn from some of the best Italian painters of the day, and was enrolled at the Academy of St Luke in Rome. Returning to England in 1655 or 1656, he worked as court painter both before and after the Restoration.*

Although Wright is not among my favourite painters of the period, I like the variety in his choice of sitters and themes, as shown below.

Charles II JMW
King Charles II, c.1661-1662, ©The Royal Collection

 

Catherine Dormer JMW
Lady Catherine Dormer (d.1659)

 

Willoughby Aston JMW
Sir Willoughby Aston, 2nd Baronet (1640-1702)

 

Mrs Salesbury
Mrs Salesbury with her grandchildren Edward and Elizabeth Bagot, c.1676
©Tate Collection

 

Neil ONeil JMW
Sir Neil O’Neil, 1680, ©The Tate Collection

 

7th Earl Pembroke JMW
Portrait of a boy, possibly Philip, 7th Earl of Pembroke, in the robes of the Order of the Bath

 

NPG 6854; John Dryden by John Michael Wright
John Dryden, poet and dramatist, c.1668

 
Mary Knatchbull
Mary Knatchbull (1610-1696)

 

Sir John Corbett JMW
Sir John Corbet of Adderley, c.1676, ©Yale Center for British Art

 

Thomas Hobbes JMW
Thomas Hobbes, c.1669-1670, ©National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

*Further information on Wright can be found in “Painting in Britain, 1530-1790”, by Ellis Waterhouse (1994), p106-p110

Spotted at auction…

This is quite exciting! Two portraits said to be by John Hayls recently went up for auction together in the US. I have found records and images of only a handful of Hayls paintings, many of them merely attributed to him rather than confirmed works, so these are a lovely addition to the list, especially as they have managed to stay together where other couples have gone their separate ways over the centuries.

hayls couple

They are inscribed with the following:

 “Michael Warton Esq Son in law of John first Lord Poulett Hales Pint”, and “Susanna daughter of John first Lord Poulett and Wife of Michael Warton Esq of Beverly in Yorkshire Hales Pint”.

 

We are told that Susanna (b. pre-1649), was daughter of John 1st Baron Poulett (1585-1549) and Elizabeth (daughter of Christopher Ken of Ken-Court). She married Michael Warton Esquire (1623-1688) circa 1646, Michael being the son of Sir Michael Warton (1593-1645) (who died in the Great Siege of Scarborough Castle) and Catherine Maltby, co-heiress of Christopher Maltby of Maltby-in-Cleveland. The listing also says that the most recent provenance was in the estate of a man in Atlanta, Georgia. I’d be fascinated to know how and when this pair travelled so far, and would hope, as I always do with such sales, that one day a future owner might bring them back home to Britain. I can dream!

Here are the descriptions from the sale listing:

A pair of formal portrait paintings each depicting one of a couple from the noble class of 17th and 18th century Great Britain comprising Susanna standing turned slightly to left wearing a deep blue and pale blue silk gown off the shoulder with a string of large pearls to her throat, drop earrings to each ear, and a jeweled headpiece in her dark curled hair, the figure reaching one hand to grasp a fruit on tray carried by a finely dressed black girl at left adorned in rich red silk dress with golden jewels to her neck and ears; and Michael standing turned slight to right in mirrored stance to his wife and wearing light armor and tied lace collar with his left hand perched on a stone and right arm bent forward with hand clutching a cylindrical wooden handle, the figure set before a dark rocky outcropping covered in moss with colorful landscape in view to right.

 

I wonder how many other husbands and wives from this era remain side by side today? Two portraits of William Dobson and his wife Judith were still hanging together as late as the mid-2oth century until a house sale split them up, with Judith ending up on her own at the Tate Britain (rarely on display, sadly). Happily for the Wartons, though, they were sold as a single lot, and so will hopefully remain together for a good while yet!

 

Ahlers & Ogletree auction

Happy Birthday, Mr Dobson!

Well, sort of.  On this day in 1611, William Dobson was baptised at St Andrew’s church in Holborn, the first son of an eventual 12 surviving siblings. His actual date of birth is unknown, so 4th March (and not 28th February – I’m looking at you, Dictionary of National Biography) –  is the day I like to mark as his birthday.

As it’s his anniversary, I went to the National Portrait Gallery in London today to see some of his works. Sadly only one was on display (Richard Neville), thanks to the NPG’s new brainchild of mixing art from different periods so you can ‘compare and contrast’. It’s a bloody awful idea, as it meant the space normally occupied by genuine Stuart-era portraits (in the room entitled “The Stuart Room”, oddly enough) was taken up by two large, modern 21st century paintings, and a number of 17th century works had been removed. Being a pure traditionalist I don’t hold with mixing genres in a normally chronological space, as it spoils the ‘feel’ of a period and is frankly pretty jarring. I won’t even start on the inclusion of an underwear clad, modern actress on the wall in the next room, designated for 19th century portraiture…What I love about NPG, normally, is that it tends to stick to chronological hanging, allowing you to immerse yourself in a style or period rather than viewing by genre or theme. Mixed hangings may work in other galleries, just please knock it off here!

But back to William 🙂

Here’s a lesser-known self-portrait from the late 1630s, and my favourite of all of his works. It’s in a private collection, sadly, but was included in the 1983 exhibition catalogue.

WD self portrait bandw

As it’s his birthday, I thought this would be the perfect time to announce the title of my new biography. “William Dobson: The King’s Painter” will be published soon by Tyger’s Head Books, and covers his childhood, family, career and, of course, his life during the English Civil War. A lot of commonly held beliefs about the man are debunked, and previously undiscovered surprises are revealed. (The Archbishop of Canterbury? Really?!!))

I’ll give more details and a publication date as soon as they are available!

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