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
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

The Early Years

I’ve been focussing a lot on portraits from the 1640s, so I thought I’d take a look at some earlier painters, active during the reign of King James I, to illustrate how portraiture (and fashion) changed as the century went on.

First, we have Flemish-born John de Critz (1551/2-1642), who was employed by King James in 1603 as serjeant painter* (jointly at first with another painter named Leonard Fryer, who had held the post under Queen Elizabeth), and produced pictures of the royal family, their Court and the nobility.

In this picture of James’s queen, Anne of Denmark (date not given), both the art and fashion still strongly resemble the Elizabethan style, and the sometimes flat, static poses and brushwork. I do like the drapery and shine on her skirts, however, and the intricate patterning of the lace collar.

Anne of Denmark
Anne of Denmark,  by John de Critz the Elder, ©National Portrait Gallery, London
(c) Montacute House; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
James VI & I (1566-1625), by John de Critz the Elder,  date? © National Trust

Robert Peake the Elder (c.1551-1619) was an English artist employed by Queen Elizabeth, and after her death, by King James.  He shared the role of serjeant painter with John de Critz from 1607, and had also been appointed official picture-maker to the young heir, Prince Henry of Wales, of whom he created this unusually colourful portrait in 1603.

Henry Prince of Wales
Henry Frederick (1594–1612), Prince of Wales, with Sir John Harington (1592–1614), in the Hunting Field, 1603. ©The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Finally,  we have Paul van Somer (c1577-1621) another Flemish painter, who came to England around 1616 and began working at King James’s court.

James I van Somer I
James I of England and VI of Scotland, date? by Paul van Somer I, ©Museo del Prado, Madrid

Portraiture was developing, although not drastically so as yet. But with the 1620s came the period of Peter Paul Rubens, Daniel Mytens, and  Antony Van Dyck, all of whom would bring a new ‘look’ to English portraiture…



*The Serjeant Painters were employed, not only to paint original portraits and copies,  but also in the gilding and decorating of royal residences, coaches, barges, etc.


I’ve been studying ECW painting for about 15 years (it’s all Colonel Gerard’s fault, but that’s another story…) and along the way I’ve collected copies of as many soldier portraits  as I can find from the period. What I now have is a fascinating scrapbook of paintings, many of which have an unidentified or uncertain sitter or artist. I’ll post them up here and hopefully readers will be able to offer suggestions as to who they might be, or by.  Likewise, if you’ve found a picture you can’t identify, let me know and I’ll put it up on the site. You can get in touch via the comments beneath each post.

First on the list is this gentleman:

(c) National Trust, Wimpole Hall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
©National Trust, Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire

The title of the painting is given as “Portrait of a Man (wrongly said to be Sir Thomas Chicheley, 1618-1699)”, and attributed to John Hayls. The date is unknown.

The National Trust entry says the following:

The sitter in this portrait has always been traditionally identified as Sir Thomas Chicheley, who was a member of one of the wealthiest families in Cambridgeshire. He was a zealous Royalist, who was heavily penalised during the Commonwealth. His ruinous extravagance forced him to sell Wimpole, where this picture now hangs. However, in the absence of any provenance or other evidence to support the identification of this painting as of Sir Thomas Chicheley, it must be regarded as a portrait of somebody else. The baton held by the sitter suggests that he held an actual military command. The painting used to be attributed to Sir Anthony Van Dyck. The pose was certainly used by him, but the picture looks later.

Compare with this one by William Dobson, also said to be of Sir Thomas Chicheley. (Apologies for the poor quality but I only have a black and white image available. I’m also unable to add a source, as I believe it was auctioned in 1992 and its whereabouts are unknown).

Thomas Chicheley
“Sir Thomas Chicheley”, possibly c.1642-1645

I can’t see any resemblance, and as the Dobson is more certainly attributed as Chicheley, I think the NT is right to doubt the identity of the other one. Any thoughts?

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