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

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Telling A Story

The turbulence of the 17th century gave its painters plenty of inspiration, and allowed its portraitists scope to tell far more interesting stories than the straight-forward display of personal wealth or influence often requested by their patrons. While these commissioned portraits tell us something of the sitter, narrative portraits such as the one below illustrate the events of the times themselves.

NPG 1961; King Charles I; Sir Edward Walker by Unknown artist

Sir Edward Walker (1612-1677) served Charles I closely during the 1640s, wearing a number of different hats, including Secretary to the Council of War, Clerk Extraordinary of the Privy Council, Garter King of Arms and Secretary of War.  He would remain loyal to the royal family through the years of exile and into the Restoration.

I’ve not found much to explain what is going on in this picture, and the National Portrait Gallery website gives no detail at all.  I’ve stood in front of it countless times at the NPG and it’s worth stopping in for a look if you’re in the area.  There are several of versions in existence, with explainer text saying that Windsor Castle is visible in the background, as is some sort of battle and possibly an encampment. What is Walker writing for the King? The scene must be an imagined one, given that the picture is believed to date from 1650, after the King’s death,  but could there have been an event that inspired it? If anyone knows anything more about this painting, please let us know in the comments section!

 

 

 

 

Kings and Queens

Royal portraiture was a tricky thing. In a world where an official painting (or an engraving of it) was, for many people, the only opportunity they had to lay eyes on their monarch, the portrayal of royalty had to show strength, power and confidence, not just to the people they ruled, but to relatives, friends and, most importantly, adversaries and enemies. Think of Henry VIII’s supremely arrogant, hands-on-hips ‘don’t mess with me’ poses. Even today that image gives us a sense of the character and reputation of the man, and adds colour and shape to what we know of him on paper.

The Stuarts, too, commissioned numerous portraits, although some were more reluctant than others. James I was said to be uncomfortable with the process, and this comes across in awkward and stiff poses. While he was merely unenthused by the whole idea, there is little suggestion that he was uncertain of his role as king, only that he wouldn’t have been the kind of ruler who liked pasting selfies all over Instagram. Compare this with the images we have of Charles I, trying his best to appear strong and capable, when he frequently appears uncertain and troubled, particularly during the conflict in the 1640s when chaos reigned rather than him. In such times we would expect his portraits to show a man absolutely confident and in control, a king who needed his people to get behind him, yet Dobson’s portraits give us a man who is far from confident or assured of victory, despite the haughty expression and rich clothes of state.

So here’s a look at how the Stuart kings and consorts showed us their game-faces, some with more success than others!

James I van Somer I
King James I of England, before 1621, by Paul van Somer
©Museo del Prado, Madrid

Anne of Denmark2
Queen Anne of Denmark, 1614, attrib. Marcus Gheerearts the Younger
©The Royal Collection

Charles I Hamptn Ct Dobson
King Charles I, c.1640-1646, by William Dobson
©The Royal Collection

Van Dyck Henrietta Maria em MN575 l
Queen Henrietta Maria, c. late 1630s, by Anthony Van Dyck
©Philip Mould Ltd

Charles II NPG
King Charles II, c. 1660-1665, by John Michael Wright
©National Portrait Gallery, London

490px-Catherine_of_Braganza_-_Lely_1663-65
Queen Catherine of Braganza, wife of King Charles II, 1665, by Sir Peter Lely
©Philip Mould Ltd

James II Kneller
King James II, 1683, by Sir Godfrey Kneller
©Government Art Collection

Anne_Hyde_by_Sir_Peter_Lely
Anne Hyde, Duchess of York  (first wife of the future King James II), c.1662, by Sir Peter Lely

484px-Mary_of_Modena_Pietersz
Mary of Modena, second wife and Queen Consort of King James II, 1680, by Simon Petersz Verelst

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?

 

Connoisseurship and History

There have been debates in recent years over the use and importance of connoisseurship in art. That is, the deeper knowledge of an artist that helps a researcher to ‘recognise’ a particular hand on a canvas, through extensive study and a lot of, well, looking. As Dr Bendor Grosvenor (of Fake or Fortune fame), puts it*:

“The word connoisseurship derives from the Latin cognoscere, which means ‘to get to know’. So a connoisseur of, say, Rembrandt, is someone who has got to know Rembrandt’s work so well that he or she can begin to discern what is and isn’t a Rembrandt.”

Historians studying the English Civil War through documents and archival research would be well advised to gain a little understanding of the period’s art too. A painting with a tentatively identified sitter may strengthen its case if a historian, knowing the sitter’s family tree, recognises a past owner of the painting as a distant relative nobody else would be aware of. Without an understanding of both the art AND the history, this information may never have been discovered.

I’ve already noted the lazy habit of attributing a c.1640s work to only Dobson or Walker,  irrespective of the fact that other artists were at work too, and that the brushwork may not even resemble their technique or style. With the arrival of the brilliant BBC Your Paintings** website that lists every artwork in public ownership in the UK, it’s been easy to contrast and compare pictures that are said to be by the same hand but are plainly not, and fascinating to observe how little connoisseurship is sometimes applied in suggesting an owner for that hand.

For example:

This is a Dobson.

Charles II
“Charles II as Prince of Wales”, probably 1642, © National Galleries of Scotland

This…….

FanshaweSir Simon Fanshawe”, c.1645, ©Valence House Museum

…is not, although its listing on Your Paintings claims it is. Can you tell the difference?

 

 

*Follow his excellent blog at http://www.arthistorynews.com
** http://www.bbc.yourpaintings.co.uk

Dobson

What I love about 17th century portraiture is that you can watch its artistic development changing as the decades pass,  from the end of the Tudors to the beginning of the Stuarts, through the Civil War and on into the Restoration.  Beginning with the likes of William Peake and John de Critz in the opening years of the century, to Daniel Mytens, Peter Paul Rubens, Antony Van Dyck, William Dobson, Godfrey Kneller and Peter Lely, each decade seems to have its own illustrator to tell its story.

You can also chart the events of the period through its art, from the death of Elizabeth and the end of the Tudor dynasty in 1603, through King James’s court to the unsettled and nervous reign of Charles I, into the austere war years, and on to the glamour of Charles II’s restored monarchy. For me, no other period in British history can be so well-defined by those that painted it.

There were many memorable artists  working in England during the 17th century, but my favourite of them all is William Dobson.

William Dobson
“Portrait of the Artist”, possibly c.1645/6, ©National Portrait Gallery, London

Dobson was an Englishman, born in St Albans in 1611 and trained in London with what seems to have been an ordinary painter’s apprenticeship. What is remarkable about him is that he wasn’t famous or well-travelled like Sir Antony Van Dyck or Rubens, both of whom worked for the most prestigious and influential people across Europe, nor did he have a distinguished education or career to recommend him, yet somehow, by the end of 1642, he had left London and was living in Oxford as the court painter to King Charles I. We have no idea how he got the job, but the works he produced of the Royalist supporters during four years of civil war became the eye-witness images of the conflict that we recognise today.  The Parliamentarian side had their own painter, Robert Walker, whose work we know by his many portraits of Oliver Cromwell, and other artists were also present during the period, but no name is as closely associated with the tragedy of the English Civil War as William Dobson. His ability to portray ‘real’ people, with their flaws and vulnerabilities,  is what makes his work so poignant and moving. Take this painting of the troubled King Charles, for example. I’ve not seen any other royal picture, of any king or queen, painted more honestly than this.

Charles I
“Charles I” c. 1642-1646, ©HistoricalPortraits.com/Philip Mould Ltd
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