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, 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


Lady Twisden, 1676, (pastel)  ©British Museum


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:


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.


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.


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

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.


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.

Those Killigrews again!

Browsing the National Trust’s paintings on its website today, I came across this very likeable portrait, filled with symbolism and character (not to mention a devoted dog).

Thomas Killigrew (1612 - 1683) by William Sheppard (England c.1602 - Italy c.1660)

I was surprised to find I already knew who the man was, having seen his face countless times during my arty travels, but I’d never seen this painting before.

His name was Thomas Killigrew, and he was a Royalist, a Roman Catholic, a renowned wit, a theatre manager and dramatist.  You may be more familiar with him from Van Dyck’s elegant portraits of him:

Thomas Killigrew 2
Thomas Killigrew and (possibly) Lord William Crofts, from the Royal Collection

Thomas Killigrew 3
At Weston Park, Shropshire (Another version is at the NPG)

The artist of the top portrait is William Sheppard, painted in around 1650, in Venice, where Killigrew was living as a Royalist exile.  The image of Charles I tells of his loyalty to the recently executed king, and if you can see closely enough, on the table is a copy of Eikon Basilike (“The Image of the King”), which was said to have been written by Charles himself.

At the Restoration of Charles II, Killigrew returned from the continent and saw his loyalty rewarded with a position at Court, his sharp wit earning him a place in Samuel Pepys’ diary,  where it was noted that he held “the title of the King’s Foole or jester; and may with privilege revile or jeere any body, the greatest person, without offence, by the privilege of his place.” He was also an important player in the revival of English drama,  penning numerous plays himself, receiving a warrant to open a theatre company in 1660, and becoming Master of the Revels in 1673.

I always enjoy portraits such as this one, where the sitter is seen in his preferred environment, showing us not just his face but his occupation and pleasures, rather than a formulaic (if beautiful) depiction that tells us nothing of the man behind it. And I just love the dog!


Is this King James II?

A reader has kindly alerted me to a late 17th century miniature that is coming up for auction.

Painted by Peter Cross (1645-1724), it dates from around 1685, and apart from a few minor wear issues, appears to be in very good condition for its age.

Miniature said J2

He looks like a typical late Restoration gentleman, but on the reverse it is written that he is not just an ordinary man, but royalty, in the form of “James, Duke of York”, later King James II. Who wrote the label is unknown, but doubts exist about the claim thanks to, of all things, the size of his nose.

King James II was known to have a rather large and unflattering nose, while this man’s is quite ordinary and inoffensive.

Here’s James’s…

James II nose

I would have to agree that the miniature is unlikely to be James, and the label most likely added by some unknown scribe in hope more than certainty, but it is a lovely picture all the same! I hope it finds a good home when it sells in a few days.

Camden New Journal

Hampstead Auctions 

Now showing at NPG London

I had a happy morning in London today (not something I can often claim…), on a visit to the National Portrait Gallery to see a very special painting.

You might remember that William Dobson’s earliest self-portrait, which had been in private hands since it was painted, reappeared last year at auction and was sold for nearly £1m. I had been concerned that it would go abroad and into another private collection, never to be seen again, but thankfully that didn’t happen, and the owner has now generously lent it to the NPG so that everyone can go and see it.

WD at NPG2

It really is a remarkable portrait when seen in person, and easily grabs your attention thanks to the intricate gold frame and those expressive Dobson eyes that follow you around the room. What I find most fascinating, and I’ve never seen this before, is that if you look closely at the left side of his face (the viewer’s left, Dobson’s right), you can see the slight distortion that appears when you look at a face in a mirror. You know how the symmetry is always slightly ‘off’ when you view someone’s reflection? Dobson seems to have added this to his portrait, so that one side – particularly the nose – is ever so slightly tilted, giving an intriguing little hint into how he worked. I can just see him, sitting at his easel with paint brushes and a mirror…

Maybe I’m imagining things? If you have the chance to visit the gallery,  let me know if you see it too!

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