John Weesop

Known only for his portraits during the 1640s, John Weesop is, in my opinion, an artist who deserves a second look. Ellis Waterhouse’s “Painting in Britain 1530-1790” mentions him briefly (p.77), stating only that he was an imitator of Van Dyck and left the country not long after the end of the war. The art historian Sir Oliver Millar, however, found evidence that Weesop was still in London in 1653, but died shortly after.**  Believed to have been Flemish, we have an insight into his character from the antiquarian George Vertue*, who wrote that:

“Weesop arrived here in 1641, a little before the death of Vandyck, of whose manner he was a lucky imitator, and had the honour of having some of his pictures pass for that master’s. He left England in 1649, saying ‘he would never stay in a country where they cut off the King’s head and were not ashamed of the action.’ It had been more sensible to say, he would not stay where they cut off the head of a King that rewarded painters and defaced and sold his collection.”

Looked at collectively, the works attributed to him are of a quite recognisable style, particularly in the frequent use of gold decoration on his sitters’ outfits. We’ve already seen one portrait, which I posted on January 16th, and here are a few more.

Unknown Man by Weesop
An Unknown Man, c.1640 ©National Trust, Lacock Abbey, Fox Talbot Museum and Village
Lady by Weesop
Portrait of a lady, c.1648 (location unknown)
Jermyn by Weesop
Thomas, 2nd Baron Jermyn (date and location unknown)
Henry Gage by Weesop
Sir Henry Gage (date unknown) ©National Portrait Gallery, London
Jan_Weesop_-_Double_portrait_of_a_lady_and_a_gentleman
Double portrait of a Lady and a Gentleman (date and location unknown, sold at Sotheby’s in 2002)

*George Vertue, Anecdotes of Painting in England, With Some Account of the Principal Artists; and Incidental Notes on Other Arts, Volume 2, Thomas Farmer, 1762, p. 117

**O. Millar, ‘Weesop: flesh on a skeleton’, The Burlington Magazine 1183/143 (Oct. 2001), p. 625-630

Culture in the Conflict

Most of the paintings that make us think of  the English Civil War tend to be of soldiers, courtiers or royalty, those individuals closest to the fighting,  yet if you look around you’ll find a surprising number of poets, writers and musicians as well, keeping the arts alive while all around was falling apart. Here are just a few I’ve come across, dated either during the war, or just before/after.

Milton
I found this picture of (allegedly) the poet and writer  John Milton, in a 1932 edition of the Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs*. No date is given, but it is claimed to be a Dobson. This is, in my opinion, incorrect, not only because it just doesn’t LOOK like a Dobson, but Milton was strongly in favour of the Parliamentarian cause, and therefore highly unlikely to have had his portrait painted by the King’s principle artist over in Royalist HQ, Oxford. (If painted before 1642, of course. Before that, and before sides were drawn, there’s no great reason it couldn’t have happened).  I have no suggestions who did paint it though, or where it may be now. Any thoughts?

Evelyn
The diarist John Evelyn, by Robert Walker, 1648.
©National Portrait Gallery, London

Ben Jonson
Apologies for the poor quality of this one, but it’s the only copy I have. Also found in an old book, this (again, alleged) image of the playwright and poet Ben Jonson, is labelled as a Dobson. It would have to be a very early one if taken from the life, as Jonson died in 1637 and Dobson was only a few years out of his apprenticeship by then. I don’t know where this is now, but would love to see a clearer version.

Musician
Portrait of a Musician by William Dobson, c. 1644
©Ferens Art Gallery, Hull

Hobbes
The philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, by William Dobson, c. 1640s.
©The Royal Society

I’m not convinced by this attribution either…

*The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, Vol 60, no.346, Jan., 1932.

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