Anne Killigrew Discovery

Readers may remember an entry from 2016 about the remarkable Anne Killigrew, one of several members of a successful 17th century family that were, among other things, courtiers, dramatists, poets and artists during the reigns of both Charles I and Charles II.

At a time when autonomy and independence for women was still a rare and suspiciously-received aspiration, nevertheless several names have come down through the centuries as females who refused to yield to accepted conventions, and carved their own path as cultured, educated and talented women in their own right.

Anne Killigrew was one such pioneer, remembered as a poet, artist and, most importantly for us, a portraitist. Very few of her paintings are known to survive, and we looked at them in the earlier post, but a previously unknown work has come to light after it was identified last year in a minor Italian auction.

Anne Killigrew new

Labelled “Portrait of a Lady”, and thought likely to be the artist herself, this lovely picture was apparently painted in the 1680s, shortly before she died of smallpox in 1685.  It’s a fascinating composition, from the bare foot peeking out from under her dress, to the tilted urn full of fruit, and the tiny (tiny!) little dog almost hidden beneath her right knee.

I can’t help but contrast this with other British portraits of women from the mid to late 17th century, in particular, and most obviously, with those of the superstar court painter of the age, Sir Peter Lely. Most of us will have seen at least a few of Lely’s ‘Painted Ladies’, and will recognise the standard look of the women he captured on canvas: the loose, low-cut gowns that often left little to the imagination, the rich, shimmering silks, and the trademark sultry expressions. While beautifully produced, they can often appear formulaic and by rote, beautiful women painted to a specific and rather repetitive order. This is understandable, given that Lely was painting for the court of King Charles II, a man notorious for his pursuit of the fairer sex, and a man who would hardly have wanted warts-and-all likenesses in his royal apartments.

Our sitter here is quite different. She still wears beautiful drapery, and her expression challenges the viewer as much as Lely’s ladies’ do, but here, Anne (if it is indeed her) is no mistress or sultry courtier. She seems demure to the point of boredom, sitting in an unidentified, allegorical landscape, with a slim, boyish figure one imagines Lely would certainly have enhanced with extra curves in the most strategic of places.

Is this really how she looked? Was she aiming for a more ‘real’, less fantastical, idealised image of herself than a man such as Lely would have painted? Her scenery is fantasy,  yes, but was the likeness her true self, or was it how she wanted or believed herself to be? It’s a shame there are so few surviving paintings from the time, of women, by women, as we could learn much about the public and private attitudes surrounding the female image as interpreted by women themselves. Most of what remains is by men, giving unequal emphasis on the male viewpoint, as was ever the case.

Can readers suggest any other female portraitists from the late 1600s? I only know of Mary Beale and Joan Carlile. Let me know in the comments section below.

Lyon and Turnbull exhibition

Pioneer Women of the 17th Century

Today is International Women’s Day, so it’s the perfect time to showcase two of the 17th century’s most memorable female pioneers.

Portraitist Mary Beale (1633-1699) was not only a talented painter, but she turned her skills into a successful business, becoming the family bread-winner and earning the praise of Richard Gibson and Sir Peter Lely.  She also turned her hand to writing, penning a manuscript called “Discourse on Friendship”,  four poems, and even an instructional guide to painting apricots.

Beale, Mary, 1633-1699; Self Portrait
Self-Portrait, c.1675. © St Edmundsbury Museum

Margaret Lucas (1623?-1674) was the sister of Civil War royalist officers John and Charles Lucas of Colchester, and married William Cavendish, the Duke of Newcastle. An intelligent and inquisitive woman, Margaret is today known as a poet, a philosopher, essayist, and playwright, turning her mind to topics such as gender, power, the sciences and romantic fiction. She is believed to be one of the first writers in what we would now call the science-fiction genre.

1665-margaret-duchess-of_med
Margaret Cavendish (nee Lucas), c.1665, by Sir Peter Lely

Charlotte Stanley, Countess of Derby

In February 1644, Parliamentarian forces besieged Lathom House in Lancashire, one of the last remaining Royalist strongholds in the county.  The defence of the castle by its defiant mistress, Lady Stanley, become one of the famous events of the English Civil Wars, when for three months, the Countess, in the absence of her husband,  who was away defending the Isle of Man, repeatedly refused to surrender her home, and instead fortified the castle against the enemy.  The siege was broken when Royalist help arrived in May,  led by the King’s nephew, Prince Rupert.

She fled to the Isle of Man, but after her husband’s capture at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, and his subsequent beheading, she surrendered the island to her enemies, and in the words of an 18th century writer, became  “the last person in the three kingdoms, and in all their dependent dominions, who submitted to the victorious rebels”.

The below portrait of Lady Stanley is said to date from the 17th century,  and is attributed to a follower of Van Dyck. (source: ebay)

CountessofDerby

A woman of noble birth – the daughter of a French nobleman, and granddaughter of William I, Prince of Orange – the Countess would endure great trials following the war, with the execution of her husband, James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby, leaving her widowed with 5 children, and a seemingly endless legal fight with Parliament over the seizure and dispersal of her estate. She claimed be ‘the only woman that ever was sequestered for acting on that side to which her husband adhered,” and complained she was being treated more severely than others for her “crazy life”.

james_seventh_earl_of_derby_his_lady_and_child
James Stanley, Lord Strange, Later Seventh Earl of Derby, with his Wife, Charlotte, and their daughter, c. 1636, Anthony Van Dyck. ©The Frick Collection

Despite these struggles, Charlotte survived until 1664,  with Sir Peter Lely capturing a last image of her a few years before her death.

Charlotte,_Countess_of_Derby_by_Sir_Peter_Lely 1657
Portrait after Sir Peter Lely, based on a work of 1657. ©National Portrait Gallery, London

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.

 

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!)

Lady Who?

If you have $35,000 down the back of your sofa (and $400 for postage), you could be the proud owner of this rather nice portrait of Lady Middleton by Peter Lely.

Lady Middleton

So far, so simple, right? Well, yes and no. The above painting is listed on Ebay, which always makes me sceptical of both the seller and the item. It’s not that I automatically mistrust someone trying to sell an old master (if it is one) on Ebay, but for me it raises a number of questions about both.

First, I am not in anyway suggesting the seller here is anything but an honest and professional member of the art trade. From the given description of their business and practice they seem genuine, and without investigating them further I have no immediate reason to be suspicious of them. However, if you believed you had a genuine work of art by Peter Lely, one of the greatest painters in European art history, why would you choose to flog it on Ebay, a generalist online auction site from which you can also buy socks for 25p, or a multipack of Ribena cartons for £1? I don’t know the going rate for a Lely at auction these days, but I’m pretty sure $35,000 would be a bargain price. Why would you not go to one of the big auction houses and try and get a few hundred grand for it?

The seller posts a disclaimer that they are wholesale art dealers, and are not in the practice of authentication. Fair enough, they admit they just sell the items, and don’t make any claims as to the correct identification of the works they sell, arguing caveat emptor to avoid any accusations of misselling. Yet they have listed the item as ‘by Peter Lely’, rather than ‘attributed to’ or ‘we’ve been told it’s by Lely but you’ll have to google it yourself’,  which seems like a pretty straightforward claim of authenticity to me. Cannily covering all bases, perhap? They also give no details of the sitter, beyond that she was a 17th century woman name Lady Middleton. Even if they do not authenticate works, if they are hoping for a 6-figure sale, one would surely expect some basic information to be sought and included before listing?

They close with “Original origin is unknown. Selling as is without certificate of authenticity.” Not being in the art world, I’m not sure what a certificate of authenticity entails (perhaps someone in the know can explain?) but it makes me wonder even more why a work that has the possibility of being proven a genuine work by a popular and sought-after artist is on a buy now’ or ‘make offer’ online auction, where a serious buyer cannot inspect the work in person, as they can at an auction house, before offering large sums of money. I found what appears to be the same picture listed on Artnet as a past auction, and the only new information is that it was ‘collab. w/studio’, suggesting, I presume, that here it was not thought to be 100% by Lely himself.

Whatever the origin, provenance and authenticity of this portrait, I’m not sure Ebay would be my first thought when looking for a quality old master to purchase, yet clearly other people are happy to do so. What do readers think?

Click to view on Ebay

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Women of the 17th Century

It’s interesting to watch the change in fashions and attitudes to women, through the paintings that represented them during the 1600s. It’s easy to forget that from the formal, stiff poses, and the ruffs and hoop skirts that carried over from the Tudor years into post-Elizabethan England, through the plain, austere attire of the Commonwealth and its more zealous puritannical adherents,  to the flirty, half-naked, often scandalous women in Lely’s portraits after the Restoration, was only 60 or 70 years. Was it the nature of the times that brought about this alteration in fashion in such a dramatic manner, or would it have happened anyway? The 1600s in England were a turbulent rollercoaster between freedom and oppression (both literally and in a religious sense), the almost total breakdown of society into civil war, then a swing from royalty to republic and back to royalty again. It’s not surprising attitudes to dress and, on a wider scale, the position of women in English life, was likewise unsettled.

Perhaps it is not so uncommon, though. Think of the events of the 20th century, that took Britain from the pre-war years with formal, conservative clothes (hats, gloves, respectability, etc), to austerity and ‘make do and mend’ in the 1940s,  to a post-WWII new world when freedom of expression came into its own, the 1960s being the obvious example.

With that in mind, here’s a look at how our view of women changed during the 1600s.

Elizabeth of Bohemia
Princess Elizabeth Stuart, c.1606, by Robert Peake the Elder, ©Metropolitan Museum of Art
Anne of Denmark2
Anne of Denmark, 1614, by Marcus Gheerhaerts the Younger, ©The Royal Collection
Portrait of Mary Hill, Lady Killigrew 1638 by Sir Anthony Van Dyck 1599-1641
Mary Hill, Lady Killigrew, 1638, Sir Anthony Van Dyck
©Tate Britain
Catherine Pye
Lady Catherine Lucas, Lady Pye, “Dame Catherine Pye”, 1639, Henry Giles
©National Trust, Bradenham Manor
Countess of Loudon
Portrait of a lady, said to be the Countess of Loudon, attrib. John Hayls, date not given
©Collection of The Great Steward of Scotland’s Dumfries House Trust
Poss Lady Salkeld
An unknown woman, possibly Lady Salkeld, date unknown, William Dobson
©C.Cotterell-Dormer. Esq (private collection)
Elizabeth Cromwell
Elizabeth Cromwell (Oliver’s mother), c.1640-1655, Robert Walker
©Museum of London
Nell Gwynn
Nell Gwynn, c.1675, by Sir Peter Lely

Lady Halfhyde

Of course, it wasn’t only men that sat for portraits during the Civil War. There are many paintings of women too, from Queen Henrietta Maria and her ladies in-waiting, to the wives and daughters of courtiers and soldiers.

The below painting, yet another sold at auction and therefore untraceable at present, went under the hammer with the title “A portrait of a woman, thought to be Lady Halfhyde, wife of Sir Thomas Halfhyde’.

Lady Halfhyde

The artist is unknown, but  in the auction listing it is given as ‘circle of William Dobson’. There is no suggested date either, and I’ve been unable to find information on who Sir Thomas Halfhyde was. The painting was previously in the ownership of a US art museum, and without contacting them it’s anybody’s guess how she came to cross the seas to America, or why they believe her to be Lady Halfhyde.

I might controversially question this identity, however, as in my travels I have come across this engraving by William Faithorne of Lady Katherine Harington, wife of the Parliamentarian politician, Sir James Harington, an accused regicide who ended his days in exile after the return of Charles II.

Katherine Harington
©Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge

I was struck by the similarities of these two women. Apart from the fact that the lady in the portrait appears somewhat heavier – and this can perhaps be forgiven as they are depicted using two different mediums – to my eyes they could be the same woman, with a few minor alterations such as the addition of pearls on the dress in the painting. But the pearl necklace, the hairstyle and precise placement of the ringlets, the drapery of the outfit, and even the expression on the faces are much the same. While it could of course be argued there were common features that appeared across many pictures, so that two paintings of women in low-cut, draped dresses and pearl necklaces would hardly be a surprise, there are a lot of features that match almost exactly.

What do you think?

 

Neil Jeffares

Fairness, candour & curiosity – from finance to art history

NT Knole Conservation Team Blog

An insight into the weird and wonderful life of a National Trust Conservation Team at one of England's greatest houses.

Cryssa Bazos

17th Century Enthusiast

Warring Words

Writing about the English Civil War

Painted Eloquence

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