Wet paint?

Here’s something a bit different. In 2011, this picture was sold at Christie’s in London, achieving the unremarkable price of £938.

shipwreck-picture

What is remarkable is the story of survival that apparently lies behind it. The sitters are unknown, but it was listed as a family portrait by someone of the English School in the 17th century. If you can’t read the inscription, it says:

‘This oil painting washed ashore at Rottingdean with other wreckage from the Australian Ship “Simla”, run down by the ship City of Lucknow, Feb 25th 1884.’

A quick internet search reveals that the Simla was on its way from London to Sydney when it collided with the City of Lucknow near The Needles on either December 25th 1883, or in January or February 1884. Reports differ as to the date. She sank off the Isle of Wight, with the loss of 20 crew, while  survivors were rescued  by the City of Lucknow and another steamer, named Guernsey.

We often wonder what stories an old painting can tell, hanging on a wall for centuries, silently watching history take place in front of it. What tales could this one tell? It not only saw history, it actively took part in it, travelling on a ship, perhaps being taken to a new home in Australia, when the vessel sank beneath it, and it drifted amongst other wreckage before being saved and brought ashore.

There are so many questions to answer. Who owned it at the time of the sinking, and why was it being taken so far across the sea?  Who are the family depicted? What date was it painted? What happened to the canvas after it was rescued, and where had it been prior to the sale in 2011?

The Christie’s auction page gives no further information than the above, apart from its size (12 7/8 x 22 1/8 in. / 32.7 x 56.2 cm) and that it is oil on panel.

It makes me wonder about other 17th century art that may not have been so lucky, attempting similar journeys to this one, but ending up at the bottom of the sea rather than on somebody’s wall. What is most moving, is that the painting may well be the only tangible reminder that this family even existed. Perhaps it held pride of place in their home, and was passed down through the generations as a precious heirloom. We may never know where it came from, or the names of the sitters,  but thanks to the watery rescue of a piece of canvas 200 years later, the memory of that one family was also kept alive.

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Picture of the Day…

john-lowin

Today’s picture comes from the collection at the Ashmolean in Oxford. Our sitter is John Lowin, who was a celebrated actor and associate of William Shakespeare, and managed the King’s Players from 1623-1642.  It is inscribed 1640, but no artist is attributed.

There is a little more information here: John Lowin

Incidentally, if you’re ever in Oxford, I would really recommend a visit to the Ashmolean. It’s a wonderful mix of art and archaeology, and they put on many excellent exhibitions that easily challenge the insane crowds and stress at the London galleries. As an added bonus, their cafe also serves an excellent cheese and onion quiche!

Witness to an Execution

On 30th of January 1649, King Charles I of England stood on a temporary scaffold built outside the Banqueting House at Whitehall in London. He had been charged with treason by his enemies in Parliament, led by Oliver Cromwell, and now faced his own execution in front of a massed crowd in the street below.

The King’s death has been studied and discussed ever since, but it is not Charles that I wanted to look at on this sombre anniversary. Standing with him on the scaffold was the Bishop of London, William Juxon, who would become Archbishop of Canterbury at the Restoration in 1660. Juxon was respected and trusted by Charles I, who selected him to attend that day and administer the last rites.

There are a few known portraits of Juxon, although few that I’ve found are of high quality, or by known artists. Lambeth Palace has several, including the below from 1633, attributed only to the British (English) School:

juxon
Another, at the National Portrait Gallery in London, is said to be a copy of a 1640 original, both artists unknown:

juxon-2

Next is a copy after Van Dyck, from St John’s College, University of Oxford:

juxon-3

The final portrait, from the Captain Christie Crawfurd English Civil War Collection, has the curious attribution of ‘circle of Robert Walker’. I’m not convinced, but you can make up your own minds! Unlike all of the other portraits, which are oil on canvas, this one is oil on paper laid on panel, and as with most of the Christie Crawfurd Collection, no date is given.

juxon-4

Soon after the King’s death, Juxon was deprived of the bishopric by Cromwell, and went into retirement until recalled to public life by Charles II a decade later. He held the position of Archbishop of Canterbury until his death in 1663.

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.

On This Day…..

I couldn’t let today pass without marking the 370th anniversary of the passing of William Dobson.  On 28th October 1646, the King’s former court painter, now returned home from Oxford following the defeat of Charles and his royalist supporters,  was buried at his home church of St Martin in the Fields, London. He was just 36 (or 35, depending on which calendar you use).

William Dobson

It’s quite fitting that the likely place of his burial is almost certainly within sight of the National Portrait Gallery, where some of his works now hang. The church has changed, and the St Martin’s Lane he lived on altered far beyond his recognition, but head up to Room 5 of the NPG and you’ll find some wonderful works by one of the Lane’s most talented residents. I wonder what he would have thought to see his own paintings on the walls of a national institution, so close to his home, alongside those of the great Van Dyck, and portraits of the King who undoubtedly changed the direction of his life.

I hope he’d be pleased!

Lady With An Ermine

No,  not Da Vinci’s lady and her pet!  This is another eBay find, offered up by the same people who presented Lady Middleton for sale back in June. (See blog entry “Lady Who?”).

ebay-ringlets

This  new canvas is entitled “Portrait of a lady with an ermine cape”, and is attributed, thanks to an inscribed plaque and an old label, to Lady Middeton’s claimed painter, Sir Peter Lely. For a supposed  work of the great Sir Peter, our lady in ringlets is going surprisingly cheap, with a ‘buy it now’ price of  £4,500. There are no hints as to the sitter’s identity, sadly.

I’m not convinced by the attribution, although it’s a very sweet painting, but I’d like to know its provenance, and why persons unknown were so certain of the artist. What do readers think of this one?

Click to view on Ebay

Update 5th October: I’ve had a dig around the internet to try to find out more, and Artnet.com has listed it from a past auction as ‘follower of Sir Peter Lely’, which I think is more accurate (and honest) than the sale listing on eBay.

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