Charles I art on display in 2018

It has been announced today that the Royal Academy (in partnership with the Royal Collection) is planning to mark its 250th anniversary in 2018 with an exhibition of paintings that were formerly in the art collection of King Charles I. Today I’m so stupidly excited about this I can barely type! I heard a rumour some time ago that such an exhibition was in planning, but then all went quiet and I thought it had been shelved. The sheer logistics of this particular undertaking are eye-watering, to say the least, and if they can pull it off it could well be one of the most remarkable shows in recent years.

As readers may know (and I’ve talked about this before), Charles was a prolific collector of art, and had his agents scour Europe to buy the very best paintings available, often scooping them from under the noses of other monarchs or wealthy nobility. By the time of his death, the quality and scale of his collection is said to have been one of the greatest in Europe, rendering what happened afterwards a painful and, to some eyes,  unforgiveable act of cultural vandalism. Following the fall of the Royalist cause, and the flight of surviving royals and retainers into exile, Oliver Cromwell’s parliament decided to sell the late King’s goods, including his extensive art collection,  to pay off Charles’s debts. Palaces, apartments and other royal buildings were opened up, their contents catalogued, and for the first time in British history, a monarch’s possessions were flogged to the public. From the insignificant and ordinary to the grand and priceless, everything went on sale (except for some religious-themed paintings that were considered blasphemous, torn to pieces and thrown into the Thames).

Much went abroad, and can be seen today in some of the most famous art galleries in the world, including the Louvre in Paris, and the Prado in Madrid. Charles II was able to reclaim (either with money, or with his own special brand of ‘gentle persuasion’) a large number of canvases, which now form part of the Royal Collection. Over hundreds of years, other  works will have been lost, destroyed by fire, war, or some other unfortunate mishap. Some survivors will have fallen from view entirely, their presence in the collection forgotten, waiting for their true provenance to be uncovered.

This is the task faced by the Royal Academy as they put together their exhibition. Known works in British galleries, including the Royal Collection, will be loaned,  while galleries abroad may be likewise persuaded to send their paintings back to London for the show. Still more must be hunted down through old inventories and centuries-old documents, in hopes of uncovering those that have gone astray.

The end result will be astonishing. The reconstruction, as far as is possible, of a royal art collection that was dispersed over 350 years ago. Masterpieces by Titian, Rubens, Van Dyck and Mantega will be seen together for the first time since the mid-1600s. It will surely be a once-in-a-lifetime event, as I can’t foresee this kind of reunion ever happening again, so if you can get to the Royal Academy between January and April 2018, this is one exhibition you cannot miss!

charles-i-equestrian

Here are the full details of the exhibition: Theartnewspaper.com

Further reading: “The Sale of the Late King’s Goods” by Jerry Brotton (2006), pub. Pan MacMillian.

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Women of the 17th Century

It’s interesting to watch the change in fashions and attitudes to women, through the paintings that represented them during the 1600s. It’s easy to forget that from the formal, stiff poses, and the ruffs and hoop skirts that carried over from the Tudor years into post-Elizabethan England, through the plain, austere attire of the Commonwealth and its more zealous puritannical adherents,  to the flirty, half-naked, often scandalous women in Lely’s portraits after the Restoration, was only 60 or 70 years. Was it the nature of the times that brought about this alteration in fashion in such a dramatic manner, or would it have happened anyway? The 1600s in England were a turbulent rollercoaster between freedom and oppression (both literally and in a religious sense), the almost total breakdown of society into civil war, then a swing from royalty to republic and back to royalty again. It’s not surprising attitudes to dress and, on a wider scale, the position of women in English life, was likewise unsettled.

Perhaps it is not so uncommon, though. Think of the events of the 20th century, that took Britain from the pre-war years with formal, conservative clothes (hats, gloves, respectability, etc), to austerity and ‘make do and mend’ in the 1940s,  to a post-WWII new world when freedom of expression came into its own, the 1960s being the obvious example.

With that in mind, here’s a look at how our view of women changed during the 1600s.

Elizabeth of Bohemia
Princess Elizabeth Stuart, c.1606, by Robert Peake the Elder, ©Metropolitan Museum of Art
Anne of Denmark2
Anne of Denmark, 1614, by Marcus Gheerhaerts the Younger, ©The Royal Collection
Portrait of Mary Hill, Lady Killigrew 1638 by Sir Anthony Van Dyck 1599-1641
Mary Hill, Lady Killigrew, 1638, Sir Anthony Van Dyck
©Tate Britain
Catherine Pye
Lady Catherine Lucas, Lady Pye, “Dame Catherine Pye”, 1639, Henry Giles
©National Trust, Bradenham Manor
Countess of Loudon
Portrait of a lady, said to be the Countess of Loudon, attrib. John Hayls, date not given
©Collection of The Great Steward of Scotland’s Dumfries House Trust
Poss Lady Salkeld
An unknown woman, possibly Lady Salkeld, date unknown, William Dobson
©C.Cotterell-Dormer. Esq (private collection)
Elizabeth Cromwell
Elizabeth Cromwell (Oliver’s mother), c.1640-1655, Robert Walker
©Museum of London
Nell Gwynn
Nell Gwynn, c.1675, by Sir Peter Lely

School, Circle or Studio?

A reader has asked for an explanation of the many different forms of attribution used in art, such as ‘circle of’, ‘manner of’, ‘after’, etc. It’s no easy task to definitively link a painting with a particular painter (unless it’s one of the great Masters who have institutes and world experts on hand to do it), so such terms give galleries and auction houses space to offer a qualified guess, or cover up the fact that they actually don’t have a clue, and don’t want to stick their necks out and get it wrong.

I’ve taken the following terminology from one auction house’s website,* and although they caution that every house or gallery has their own individual cataloguing terms and house style, those below are quite standard terms I’ve seen used across the board.

“Attributed to” –  In our opinion, probably a work by the artist

For example… (although this one is definitely NOT by Dobson!):

Rachel Wriothesley

Rachel Wriothesley (1636-1723) by William Dobson (attributed to)
©Carmarthenshire Museums Service Collection , no date given

 


Circle of”
In our opinion, a work by an unidentified artist working in the artist’s style and during the period of the artist’s life.

Anne Cecil
Lady Anne Cecil, c. 1635, sold at auction as circle of Van Dyck

 

“After”In our opinion, a copy by an unidentified artist of a named work by the artist.

 After Walker
Portrait of Oliver Cromwell, After Robert Walker

 

“Follower of”In our opinion a work by an unidentified artist, working in the artist’s style, contemporary or near contemporary.

Follower of Lely
Portrait of a gentleman, bust-length, in a black robe and a white lawn collar, feigned oval, Follower of Peter Lely

 

“School of” – In our opinion, a work executed at that time and in the style associated with that artist.

“Manner of” – In our opinion, a work by an unidentified artist working in the artist’s style but at a later date, although not of recent execution.

“Studio of” – In our opinion, a work likely to come from the studio of the artist or closely associated with the artist.

So as you can see, it’s not always a straight-forward matter when trying to identify a painter! Some pictures are of far better quality than others, requiring a second-glance and a closer inspection to be sure it is NOT by the original artist. In other cases, however, it is patently obvious that the picture concerned is not by the artist claimed, and that the attribution has probably been made by someone who has little knowledge of the period or its painters. This brings  us back to the argument on connoisseurship and the need for people who study and become intimately familar with an artist’s signature brushstrokes and mannerisms. Surely we can’t truly know our great painters without them?

 

*https://www.roseberys.co.uk/

We had a civil war?

It’s long been a frustration of mine that people know so little about the English Civil War (or ‘wars’, if we’re to be entirely accurate). Some don’t even know there WAS a civil war in the 17th century, or its massive consequences that we live with to this day. Everyone and their dog knows the Americans had a civil war, but ask about this particular one in Britain  and you’re likely to get either blank faces, or a comment such as ‘wasn’t that the one with Oliver Cromwell in it?’ The fact that a) we executed our king, b) the conflict changed forever the political and monarchical system in the country, and c) killed so many people that it is claimed a higher percentage of the population died in this conflict than were lost in WWI, seems to be lost between the education system and the publishing industry that makes an awful lot of money every year pushing out book after book on Anne Boleyn.  Yes, the Tudor period was important, and yes,  with the Reformation and Henry VIII splitting from Rome it was an incredibly important and turbulent century also, but it sometimes feel as if the Tudors were the ONLY royal family we ever had, that fat Henry was the only King of England, and that British history effectively stopped with the death of Elizabeth I.

But why? The 17th century was arguably as conflicted as the 16th, and I think the dissolution of the monasteries and Henry VIII’s quarrel with the Pope were just as devastating for the British Isles as Charles I’s quarrel with his Parliament and the consequences of regicide and Commonwealth that followed. Maybe the Tudors just tap into a more modern sense of voyeurism than the Stuarts do?  Henry VIII’s antics, from  wife-swapping  to wife-chopping, not to mention his tantrums and violent retributions, would seem far more appealing to the Game of Thrones generation than the complicated political and religious arguments that went on a century later under Charles, yet for my money the mid-17th century conflict is as much an essential part of our historical education as the Tudors are.

Walker et al

Dobson’s opposite number in the Parliamentarian army, Robert Walker, is as much a mystery as Dobson is.  We know nothing of his background, or how he came to be working in the Parliament camp, but it is said he was older than Dobson by  about a decade (he was allegedly born in 1599), and was a member of the Painter-Stainer’s Company. Here he is, in a self-portrait c.1645-1650…

Robert Walker
“Robert Walker”, c.1645-1650, ©National Portrait Gallery, London

While Dobson’s movements are easy to pin down, as he almost certainly didn’t move from Oxford until the Royalists surrendered and left it in 1646, it’s unclear whether Walker was similarly based in one location, or if he was on the move.  He was prolific, however,  with many of the Parliamentarian high command sitting for him, both during the war and afterwards under the Commonwealth. Walker’s most recognised painting is probably this one of Oliver Cromwell.

NPG 536; Oliver Cromwell by Robert Walker
“Oliver Cromwell”, c.1649, ©National Portrait Gallery, London

Although portraits  from this period tend to be, at first glance at least, simplistically attributed to either Dobson or Walker depending on whether the sitter looks like a Roundhead or a Cavalier, of course they weren’t the only painters trying to make a living during the conflict. Other names I’ve come across while researching Civil War portraits include Gerard Soest (attrib.):

Unknown possibly by Soest
“Portrait of a Royalist Officer”, c.1646-1649, ©The Samuel Cortauld Trust,
The Courtauld Gallery, London

John Weesop:

Marmaduke-Darcy Weesop
“Marmaduke d’Arcy”, c.1645-1648, ©The Huntington Library,
Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens

…and John Hayls:

Thomas Pigott
“Colonel Thomas Pigott”, c.1647, ©North Somerset Museum/North Somerset Council

I know nothing about the above painters, but would be very interested to learn more about them, and any others who where about during the wars and painting soldiers, from either side. Let me know!

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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