To Clean Or Not To Clean?

A reader has sent me a fascinating update regarding George Lisle, and before I move on from the Lisle and Lucas mysteries, I wanted to share it here.

We know that the George Lisle portrait was sold in 1990, looking shiny and spotless, and that it was auctioned with an attribution to “circle of John Michael Wright”.  Yet we now know it had also been up for sale a year earlier, selling at a different auction house, this time attributed to “studio of Sir Peter Lely”.

In that year it had also had a thorough cleaning.

Lisle 2 before and after clean

It’s not often we see a painting before and after cleaning, so this is a great example of how the judgement of whether to clean at all, and how much, can be a tricky decision. I personally prefer the dirtier version, perhaps because it looks like it really has been on a wall or in an attic for a few centuries, collecting the dust and dirt that betrays its true age and the passing of all that time. After cleaning, in my opinion it’s a little too scrubbed, too polished, and has lost some of its character in the process. Curious too, to note how attribution to a particular artist is also an inexact science. This portrait has gone from Lely’s circle to Wright’s in the space of a year, and still nobody seems to have a clue who painted it!


Many thanks to Tyger’s Head Books for the images and new information.

The Lisle & Lucas Picture Puzzle – Part 2

To the regular visitor of the National Portrait Gallery in London, the engraved image of Sir Charles Lucas (in the previous post) might seem familiar. The portrait it was taken from hangs there, surrounded by portraits of the man’s contemporaries, both friends and enemies, on a wall in Room 5.

 NPG 5382; Richard Neville by William Dobson
©National Portrait Gallery, London

Yet there is no mention of Sir Charles Lucas here. Instead, this painting (from c.1643) is displayed under the name of Richard Neville, a landowner from Billingbear in Berkshire. If you run an internet search for images of Charles Lucas, most of the results will be variations on this one, the one Vertue apparently borrowed from a connection of Lucas, and which was painted by William Dobson.

Yet there is another. Now in private hands and dated c.1645, it is inscribed with Lucas’s name, and is a confirmed work of William Dobson:

Dobson Lucas
Inscribed Sr.Charles Lucas /1645
Private collection

Clearly they are two different men. In the 1983 National Portrait Gallery catalogue for the Dobson exhibition of that year (get a copy, it’s a mine of information!), we read that the ‘Neville’ version, which had passed by descent through the Neville family until purchased by the NPG in 1981, was identified from family documents as Richard Neville as early as 1770. The catalogue also states that the same picture had however been identifed as Lucas as early as 1713 but, because it bore no resemblance to the other, inscribed Lucas (for which there are conveniently no earlier engravings, nor any clear descriptions in any books or documents I’ve found so far), ‘obviously’ the ‘Neville’ version cannot be Charles Lucas.

Still with me?

I have some questions about this. Firstly, on what evidence is the Neville attribution based? Perhaps in the family records there is an explanation which would resolve the whole thing, but as far as I can see he has only been identified as such since the late 18th century, while the Lucas identification existed as early as 70 years after the end of the Civil War. Secondly, close inspection of the Vertue engravings shows that, beneath them, in very, very small lettering on the frames, are written the names of those who lent Vertue both portraits. That of Lucas states that it was in the possession of a Lord Byron. Exactly which Lord Byron is unsure, but as Charles Lucas’s elder brother married a Mary Byron, I think it is safe to presume they are of the same family, and that the portrait was passed down by descent.  If this is true, is it likely they’d be passing down a painting of the wrong man? Unlikely, in my view, but not impossible. However, if the ‘Neville’ has actually been Lucas all along, where does that leave the 1645 Dobson, which is universally accepted as Lucas?

I have no answers, just a great big headache!!

The Lisle & Lucas Picture Puzzle – Part 1

In 1648, Royalist officers Sir George Lisle and Sir Charles Lucas were executed by Parliament for their part in the siege of Colchester. Following their deaths, in which outraged Royalists proclaimed them ‘martyrs’, their images (often more imagined than real) were printed, painted or engraved for newsbooks and pamphlets that related the controversial events in Essex.

In the 18th century, the engraver George Vertue produced these line drawings to illustrate a poster lamenting their deaths. (Lisle is on the left).

Lisle Lucas Vertue
©National Portrait Gallery, London

Vertue is said to have taken the likenesses from original paintings by William Dobson, which were themselves believed to have remained in the hands of descendants or acquaintances of the men, giving strength to their claim to be the authentic faces of Lisle and Lucas. Given that Lisle is known to have spent time in Oxford (and even lived in the same London street as Dobson, pre-war), it’s very likely he did sit for Dobson at some point, but as yet no painting resembling Vertue’s engraving has been located. There are a couple of paintings labelled as Lisle, however, including this one:

George Lisle 1

It went to auction in 1990 and the artist is unknown. The date, if taken from the life, is likely 1640s, but I’m certain it’s not a Dobson. There are troubling elements such as the hands, the right hidden behind that odd plumed helmet, and the left inelegantly fisted over what may be a faint sword pommel. This is not the source of Vertue’s engraving, and of the others I’ve seen (but don’t have an available image for) none are candidates either.

Elusive though Lisle’s true image may be, that’s nothing to the problems I’ve had identifying the real face of Charles Lucas. I’ll attempt to unravel that one for you in the next post. 🙂

Neil Jeffares

Fairness, candour & curiosity – from finance to art history

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