Picture of the Day

RichardBoyle
Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Burlington and 2nd Earl of Cork, ©National Portrait Gallery, London

Born in 1612 in County Cork, Ireland, Richard Boyle was an Anglo-Irish nobleman who served as Lord High Treasurer of Ireland. A committed Royalist during the English Civil Wars, he fought for the King until Charles’s defeat. He was fined by the Commonwealth for his allegiance, before continuing his support of the monarchy into the reign of Charles II.

The NPG says this picture is possibly after Van Dyck, and based on a work of c. 1640. It caught my eye because, as with the portrait of Sir William Temple (see blog entry Sept 13th 2017), it displays a simple elegance while using only limited colours or shades. Painted in mostly muted browns, it has a straightforward composition with no extraneous props or embellishments to distract from the sitter’s direct gaze.

Another portrait of Boyle, also after Van Dyck but this time by the artist Jonathan Richardson the elder, is at Knole, in Kent (National Trust, on loan from the trustees of the Sackville estate). It is dated after 1685.

Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Burlington (1612 ¿ 1697/98) (after Van Dyck) by Jonathan Richardson the elder (London 1665 ¿ London 1745)

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A hidden portrait at Fawley Court

Some time in the mid-1860s, it is claimed, a civil engineer and a colleague began structural alterations to the roof and rooms of the ancient manor at Fawley Court, in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire.  Hidden in the oak timbering of the roof,  they found various items they believed had been concealed  by the family who lived there, stashed out of sight during the fighting and occupation of Fawley during the Civil War.  Behind some old oak panelling in the study, they found this painting.

William Whitelock

It is initialled “A.G. 1670 Sir William Whitelock Fawley Court”.

On the accompanying piece of paper, written in 1901, the unnamed engineer tells us that Fawley and another nearby manor,  Phyllis Court, were owned by the Whitelock family, its most famous member being the 17th century Parliamentarian and Lord Keeper of the Great Seal,  Bulstrode Whitelock.  Our finder says he compared the portrait with that of Sir William Whitelock, Bulstrode’s brother, and decided they were indeed the same man.  Sir William was in fact Bulstrode’s second son, not his brother, but given that the report was made in 1901, I think we can allow the writer – not a historian by trade – a little leeway!

Both the painting and its written history are on auction for £500 on ebay.

View sale

 

 

La Belle Stuart

If you’ve ever held a modern UK 50p piece, you’ll be familiar with the image of Britannia, seated with her spear and shield, appearing as the personification of Britain itself.

50p

What many do not know is the story behind it, and the real woman whose image would still be gracing our money over 350 years later.

When Charles II wanted to cast a medal in commemoration of his victory over the Dutch in 1664, the model he chose was a woman who had famously refused to become his mistress, and bucked the usual Restoration trend by saying no to the King’s advances.

Her name was Frances Stuart, and her father was a physician at Henrietta Maria’s court in exile. After the Restoration she returned to England, serving first as maid of honour to Henrietta Maria, and then lady-in-waiting to Charles’s new wife, Catherine of Braganza. Nicknamed “La Belle Stuart”, various 17th century commentators declared her the most beautiful woman they ever saw, including (unsurprisingly) Samuel Pepys, and besides the rebuffed monarch her suitors included the Duke of Buckingham and Francis Digby, son of the Earl of Bristol.

There are several portraits of Frances surviving today, including probably the most famous one (featured here previously), painted by Peter Lely and now in the Royal Collection.

Frances Stewart Richhmond

 

Frances Stewart 2
By Willem Wissing, 1687 ©historicalportraits.com

Frances Stewart vdv
By Jan van der Vaart ©National Portrait Gallery, London

I found the below painting on an auction site, named as Frances Stuart and attributed to Sir Peter Lely, although I think that’s unlikely, given the one above. Peter Lely was famous for his portrayal of glamorous, beautiful women. If Frances Stuart was as ravishing as it is claimed, I think Sir Peter could have done better than this uncharacteristically demure attempt!

Ebay Frances Stewart

Although Frances was a famed beauty, she wasn’t known for being all that bright. One man said of her that “it would be difficult to image less brain combined with more beauty”. Ouch. She married the Duke of Richmond and Lennox in 1667 and contracted disfiguring smallpox in 1669, but she continued to be a feature of court life and remained in the affections of the King.

So the next time you have a 50p in your pocket, turn it over and take a look at La Belle Stuart. She may have been, in words I once heard used for a mistress of Louis XV, ‘as beautiful as an angel, but as stupid as a basket’, but since she managed to avoid falling into bed with the notoriously skirt-chasing Charles II, she must have had some good sense!

Looking Good at the SNPG

SNPexhibition

A reader has kindly brought my attention to a new exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, which, among other themes, looks at ‘the elaborate hairstyles and fashions of the courtiers and cavaliers of the 16th and 17th centuries’.

With the newly saved-for-the-nation Van Dyck self-portrait as a centrepiece, the exhibition comprises 28 works of art from different eras, exploring male appearance and fashion to the present day.

Alongside the great Sir Anthony himself, and the doomed Lord George Stuart, 9th Seigneur of Aubigny (below, from National Portrait Gallery, London), contemporary Daniel Mytens also makes an appearance with his 1629 portrait of the 1st Duke of Hamilton. John Michael Wright’s Sir William Bruce is on display as well.

NPG 5964; Lord George Stuart by Sir Anthony Van Dyck

 

Mytens Hamilton
James Hamilton, 1st Duke of Hamilton, 1606-1649, Daniel Mytens, ©SNPG

Bruce by Wright
Sir William Bruce, c.1630-1710, Architect. By John Michael Wright. ©SNPG

I’ve heard mixed reviews about this exhibition, but if I were in the area I’d probably make the effort, if just for another look at Sir Anthony’s impressive self-portrait on its only stopover in Scotland at the end of a three year tour. If any readers have the opportunity to visit, let us know what you think!

The SNPG website has further details here and there is a review of the show here.

The exhibition runs until 1st October 2017.

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.

Charles I: King and Collector

Last December, I told you about a proposed exhibition to be held at the Royal Academy, which would reunite the ‘lost’ art collection of Charles I, sold-off and dispersed by Cromwell after the execution of the King. This week I am delighted that the RA has confirmed the dates for the exhibition, and that tickets are now available! The show runs from 27th January to 15th April 2018.

RACIExhibition

If ever there was a must-see exhibition, this is it. To summarise my original post, Charles I was an exceptional connoisseur of art, buying up the best works from across Europe, often from bankruptcy sales from fallen or defeated noble families. Following Charles’s defeat and execution in the Civil War, the Parliamentarians arranged a massive sale of royal goods to pay off his (alleged) debts. The great art collection was dismantled and sold at auctions, with much of it now residing in the best galleries in Europe, such as the Louvre and the Prado.

Now, a large part of this collection is to be reunited on the walls of the Royal Academy at Burlington House.  It offers a rare opportunity to appreciate the connoisseur King’s eye for art, and to see many of the world’s greatest works hanging together for the first time in over 350 years. It will probably never happen again, so get your tickets soon!

Royal Academy – book tickets

Blog entry Dec. 2016: Charles I art on display in 2018

Storytelling at the Ashmolean

This is the painting I mentioned last week, that has found a happy new home at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

AshDobson

It was acquired through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, whereby owners of significant works of art can surrender them to the UK government in exchange for their inheritance tax being written off. The work is then allocated to a public gallery or museum and beomes part of the national collection.  The Ashmolean put forward a bid to become the new hosts of the above portrait, with a very strong claim to be the best place for it. The triple portrait, made by William Dobson in the mid-1640s, was painted just a few streets away from where the Ashmolean stands today, in apartments Dobson was renting during the time King Charles and his entourage were resident in the city during the Civil War.

The sitter on the left is Prince Rupert, the King’s nephew and famed military commander. On the right is Colonel John Russell, an officer under Rupert. The man in the middle has been traditionally identified as a Colonel Murray, but the Ashmolean’s research has shown he is more likely to be Colonel William Legge, another Royalist officer and, from 1645, governor of Oxford.

The painting is significant because it relates to true events, after Rupert had fallen out of favour with the king for surrendering the city of Bristol to the Parliamentarians. The scene is full of symbolism, Dobson narrating in his own way Rupert’s enduring loyalty to the King despite their falling out.  You can read an in-depth study of it here.

The Ashmolean unveiled the portrait this week, and made it a centrepiece of their Live Friday event, celebrating the 400th birthday of founder Elias Ashmole. I was lucky enough to go, and thought it was a great success, with renactors parading through the streets, and actors at the museum playing figures such as King Charles, Prince Rupert and even William Dobson himself! What I found most important, though, from a 17th century art-lover’s perspective, was how many people crowded around the painting, watched the performances and seemed genuinely interested to know about the artist and the events in the 17th century. Hopefully Friday will have inspired people who may not ordinarily set foot in a museum or gallery to do so more often!

It also shows what a good idea the Acceptance in Lieu scheme is, bringing art out of the private realm where only a handful of people will see it, and into the public sphere where the whole world can enjoy it. Who can argue with that!

 

John Playford (maybe)

This week’s ebay find claims to depict a London gentleman named John Playford (1623-1686/7),  bookseller, publisher and composer.

Playford Jackson

It is attributed to Gilbert Jackson, whose life and works we looked at in a previous entry. I’m not a Jackson expert, but having compared this painting to Jackson’s known works, I’m sceptical. What do readers think?  The sitter and artist are identified by a label on the reverse, but something tells me it’s not original!

Playford Jackson reverse

As with most eBay art sales, no provenance or technical information is given, but at least this seller has posted images of the reverse, which is often a key source for the art detective.

Whoever painted it, I rather like Mr Playford, even if he does have disturbingly large hands…

Happy Birthday, Mr Ashmole!

If you’re lucky enough to be near Oxford this coming Friday, 19th May, join the party at the Ashmolean to celebrate the 400th birthday of its founder, Elias Ashmole.

The Ashmolean was the world’s first public museum, and this year hosts a programme of events to not only celebrate its founding, but to educate visitors about its place in Oxford history, and Ashmole’s royalist connections during the English Civil War. This Friday there will be a parade, led by King Charles I and his cavaliers and courtiers,  ending up at the Ashmolean, where a very special acquisition will be revealed.

In a rare purchase by a public institution (as such pictures hardly ever become available), the Ashmolean has acquired a canvas by none other than King Charles’s Royalist painter, William Dobson,  which will in due course hang in the permanent collection,  just streets away from where Dobson himself lived in the 1640s. I know which portrait it is, but I won’t spoil the surprise!

The event is free, but you’ll need to book a ticket. I’ve already got mine, so I’ll post an update next weekend and let you know how it went!

More details here:

Ashmolean Live Friday

Man’s Best Friend

I’ve had a reader request to look at the representation of our canine companions in art. When you actually look for them, there are a lot of dogs featuring in portraits, often gazing lovingly at the sitter and acting as symbols of faithfulness and loyalty.  In the 17th century, painted dogs could be found all over the place, especially in royal settings, so  I’ve posted some of the most endearing ones below.

Van Dyck 5 Eldest children of Charles I
The Five Eldest Children of Charles I (1637) by Sir Anthony Van Dyck
©Royal Collection

Eldest children of Charles I
The Eldest Children of Charles I, c.1640s, studio of Sir Anthony Van Dyck
©www.HistoricalPortraits.com

Phil and Elizabeth Cary Van Dyck
Philadelphia and Elizabeth Cary (c.1635), by Sir Anthony Van Dyck
At the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia

Weesop Esme Stewart
Esme Stewart, 5th Duke of Lennox & 2nd Duke of Richmond (c.1633)
by John Weesop

Arbella Stewart 1605v2
Lady Arbella Stewart (1605), by Sir Robert Peake

Dobson, William, 1611-1646; James Compton (1622-1681), 3rd Earl of Northampton
James Compton, 3rd Earl of Northampton, after William Dobson
©National Trust, Knole

Of course, one of the most famous dogs of the 17th century has to be Prince Rupert’s pet, Boy. Said to have been a Standard Poodle, Boy (or Boye) has nevertheless been depicted as may different breeds over the years. Parliamentarian newsbooks during the civil wars of the 1640s, made numerous references to Rupert’s best friend, making sensational claims he was a messenger of the devil, or a ‘familiar’, a witch’s companion.  His image in art or print as a black, rather than white, animal ,would have played into the supernatural suspicion of the time. The below picture is attributed to Rupert’s sister, Louise, and could therefore claim to be a more faithful likeness than some others.

Boy1

Dobson, William, 1611-1646; Prince Rupert (1619-1682), Colonel William Murray, and Colonel The Honourable John Russell (1620-1681)
Prince Rupert, Colonel William Murray and Colonel John Russell, by William Dobson

The dog in Dobson’s painting apparently bears the Prince’s initials on his collar, so it is  assumed it is meant to be Boy, even though this is clearly not a poodle. Sadly, despite bravely following his master into battle on numerous occasions, Boy was killed at the battle of Marston Moor in 1644.

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