Dobsons reunited at Tate Britain

Great news from Tate Britain this week! For the next three years, the gallery will be hosting William Dobson’s earliest known self-portrait alongside his own portrait of second wife, Judith.

WandJatTate

From at least the late 1700s, both portraits were hanging together at Howsham Hall, a stately home in Yorkshire. When the house and its contents were sold in 1948, the couple went their separate ways. They briefly came back together for the 1983 National Portrait Gallery exhibition of Dobson’s work, with Judith purchased by the Tate in 1992. William’s picture remained in private hands until it came up for auction last year, and although it was once again sold to a private collector, the current owner (in contrast to the previous one, who never lent it anywhere), has already shared it with viewers at the National Portrait Gallery, before moving it to the Tate for the new loan.

I’ll definitely be visiting the Tate soon, and look forward to seeing the Dobsons back together at last!  My only concern is that, last time I visited the gallery, specifically to see the artist’s wife, she was poorly displayed, high up on a wall with a shaft of light obscuring her face. Hopefully the curation will be better this time….

Judith was born Judith Sander, some time around 1609, in London. She became Dobson’s second wife in 1637, and their only surviving child, Katherine, was born in 1639.  Judith outlived her husband by a number of years, remarrying in 1648 and surviving until at least the Restoration of Charles II, when she was said to have discussed the King’s coronation outfit with antiquarian and friend, John Aubrey. It is not know when she died.

Tate are also planning a special display on Dobson next year. Hopefully they’ll have more details on that soon.

Portraits at the Tate

 

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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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