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

Culture in the Conflict

Most of the paintings that make us think of  the English Civil War tend to be of soldiers, courtiers or royalty, those individuals closest to the fighting,  yet if you look around you’ll find a surprising number of poets, writers and musicians as well, keeping the arts alive while all around was falling apart. Here are just a few I’ve come across, dated either during the war, or just before/after.

Milton
I found this picture of (allegedly) the poet and writer  John Milton, in a 1932 edition of the Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs*. No date is given, but it is claimed to be a Dobson. This is, in my opinion, incorrect, not only because it just doesn’t LOOK like a Dobson, but Milton was strongly in favour of the Parliamentarian cause, and therefore highly unlikely to have had his portrait painted by the King’s principle artist over in Royalist HQ, Oxford. (If painted before 1642, of course. Before that, and before sides were drawn, there’s no great reason it couldn’t have happened).  I have no suggestions who did paint it though, or where it may be now. Any thoughts?

Evelyn
The diarist John Evelyn, by Robert Walker, 1648.
©National Portrait Gallery, London

Ben Jonson
Apologies for the poor quality of this one, but it’s the only copy I have. Also found in an old book, this (again, alleged) image of the playwright and poet Ben Jonson, is labelled as a Dobson. It would have to be a very early one if taken from the life, as Jonson died in 1637 and Dobson was only a few years out of his apprenticeship by then. I don’t know where this is now, but would love to see a clearer version.

Musician
Portrait of a Musician by William Dobson, c. 1644
©Ferens Art Gallery, Hull

Hobbes
The philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, by William Dobson, c. 1640s.
©The Royal Society

I’m not convinced by this attribution either…

*The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, Vol 60, no.346, Jan., 1932.

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/

Connoisseurship and History

There have been debates in recent years over the use and importance of connoisseurship in art. That is, the deeper knowledge of an artist that helps a researcher to ‘recognise’ a particular hand on a canvas, through extensive study and a lot of, well, looking. As Dr Bendor Grosvenor (of Fake or Fortune fame), puts it*:

“The word connoisseurship derives from the Latin cognoscere, which means ‘to get to know’. So a connoisseur of, say, Rembrandt, is someone who has got to know Rembrandt’s work so well that he or she can begin to discern what is and isn’t a Rembrandt.”

Historians studying the English Civil War through documents and archival research would be well advised to gain a little understanding of the period’s art too. A painting with a tentatively identified sitter may strengthen its case if a historian, knowing the sitter’s family tree, recognises a past owner of the painting as a distant relative nobody else would be aware of. Without an understanding of both the art AND the history, this information may never have been discovered.

I’ve already noted the lazy habit of attributing a c.1640s work to only Dobson or Walker,  irrespective of the fact that other artists were at work too, and that the brushwork may not even resemble their technique or style. With the arrival of the brilliant BBC Your Paintings** website that lists every artwork in public ownership in the UK, it’s been easy to contrast and compare pictures that are said to be by the same hand but are plainly not, and fascinating to observe how little connoisseurship is sometimes applied in suggesting an owner for that hand.

For example:

This is a Dobson.

Charles II
“Charles II as Prince of Wales”, probably 1642, © National Galleries of Scotland

This…….

FanshaweSir Simon Fanshawe”, c.1645, ©Valence House Museum

…is not, although its listing on Your Paintings claims it is. Can you tell the difference?

 

 

*Follow his excellent blog at http://www.arthistorynews.com
** http://www.bbc.yourpaintings.co.uk

Books

In my study of the English Civil War and its art, I’ve picked up a library of invaluable books, many now out of print, that are a goldmine of detail and images not always available in modern publications. I wanted to share some of the best ones, in case they may be of use to others in their own research. I’ve also found they’re very useful in establishing provenance, as they list past owners of paintings that may have since been sold. They’re not so out of print that they’re impossible to find, and you can probably source a cheap copy somewhere like http://www.abebooks.com or Ebay.

  • A History of British Painting – Ernest Short –  What it says on the tin, with a good section on the Stuarts and mid-17th century art.
  • British Portraits – Royal Academy of Arts – Produced for an exhibition at the RA, 1956-7. A good catalogue with many black and white plates, and a small selection from Charles I’s reign.
  • Endymion Porter and William Dobson – William Vaughan, for The Tate Gallery – Published for an exhibition of the same name at the Tate Gallery, 1970. Dobson’s portrait of Porter is one of his most recognised paintings, and can today be viewed (hopefully, unless it’s been stored) at the Tate Britain in London. Includes biographical sections on both Porter and Dobson, many pictures, maps and illustrations, and a section about the conflict itself.
  • The Age of Charles I – Tate Gallery – Published for an exhibition in 1972-3. Many illustrations, including William Dobson, Robert Walker, John Hayls, and other lesser known painters. Unusually, it includes ECW miniatures as well.
  • An Illustrated Souvenir of the Exhibition of 17th Century Art in Europe, 1938 – Royal Academy of Arts. Again, what it says! Mostly black and white plates, with a few from the ECW period.
  • The Life and Times of Charles I – D.R.Watson – not strictly an art book, but full of paintings, maps, illustrations and a guide to the ECW.
  •  Last but not least, an essential book on the subject  (and my ‘bible’) – William Dobson, 1611-1646 – National Portrait Gallery, 1983. As well as both colour and black and white images of Dobson’s works from the exhibition, including detailed provenance and biographies of the sitters,  there’s an excellent biographical section that forms the most extensive research on Dobson published to date.*

Let me know if you have any other recommendations!

 

*A new biography of William Dobson is due for publication in 2016. More details soon.

 

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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