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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