A lesson in knowing your art!

I was trawling the internet today, looking for subjects to include in my next blog, and I came across this painting on a UK auctioneer’s website.

copy-killigrew

I immediately recognised him as Sir William Killigrew, uncle of the artist Anne, who featured in a recent blog entry. This is clearly a later copy of Van Dyck’s original, now held at the Tate Gallery:

van-dyck-killigrew

It’s definitely the same man, isn’t it? Or perhaps not, according to the gallery which sold the first picture as “A French Cavalier”. A cavalier, maybe, but certainly not French! It’s listed as a portrait by the 19th century English school.

I know we should give smaller auctioneers some leeway when attributing paintings, especially when they may not be specialist in a particular era or genre, but the Van Dyck is hardly an obscure or unknown picture. Perhaps if they’d known they were selling an admittedly poor copy of a Van Dyck original of a member of a well known English family, rather than some random French bloke, they may have got more than £190 for it!

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The Collectors

The 17th century  is notable not only for showcasing some of the most famous painters and paintings we are familiar with today, but also for the way in which the purpose and value of art was changing. Where art was once created for purely religious purposes, commissioned as family heirlooms, or used to make a statement of one’s wealth or influence, during the 1600s the practice of gathering the best works for prestige or personal connoisseurship created some of the greatest art collections in history.

Across Europe the battle was on to secure the most valuable pieces by  giants such as Titian and Raphael whenever a ruling family went bankrupt, lost their estate through war, or simply died, leaving their collections ‘up for grabs’. One of the most successful and notorious of these opportunists was King Charles I himself, who despite his other, less successful traits, had an excellent eye for art, and had his agents travel the continent scooping up the best to be had, often under the noses of other royal families or wealthy enthusiasts who were hot on his heels. Charles’s art collection – today considered to have been one of the most remarkable gatherings of western art to date – was sold off by Oliver Cromwell and the Commonwealth after the king’s death.

Another famous English collector was the courtier Thomas Howard, 2nd Earl of Arundel, painted here by Peter Paul Rubens in 1629/1630. Arundel spent many years touring Europe, negotiating and corresponding with agents and advisers in order to purchase the very best on offer. At his death, he left behind several hundred paintings, in addition to sculptures, drawings, prints and jewellery.

arundel
©National Gallery, London

Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke, also amassed an impressive art collection of over 100 paintings, including more than 20 by Van Dyck, for whom he sat in around 1634.

pembroke
Philip Herbert by Van Dyck, ©National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Others with smaller but no less impressive collections included the ill-fated Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, who had works by Van Dyck, Mytens and Honthorst, and James, 1st Duke of Hamilton, who was particularly fond of Venetian paintings. These accounted for over half of his collection of 600+ works when inventoried in early 1643.

If you’re interested in the adventures and travels of the collectors and their prized possessions, I’d  really recommend a read of “The Sale of the Late King’s Goods” by Jerry Brotton, which describes the European art scene in the 17th century, and the fate of King Charles’s famed collection after his death. (Spoiler: Charles II managed to buy much of it back, where it now hangs in the Royal Collection. Phew!)

The Laurel Wreath

In around 1630-1632, the Dutch artist Daniel Mytens, at the time in the employ of King Charles, was commission to paint a double portrait of the monarch and his queen, Henrietta Maria. On this canvas, now part of the Royal Collection, the King is being passed a laurel wreath by his wife, as ‘a symbol of their union and a public statement of tenderness and intimacy.’  The result is below…

DM C and H

History tells us that the King was less than impressed, however, and another painter, a certain Antony Van Dyck, was asked to produce his own version…

AVD C and H
© Archiepiscopal Castle and Gardens, Kromeríž, Czech Republic

Van Dyck’s offering was better received, and replaced Mytens’ attempt on the royal wall. Within two years, Mytens had left England and returned to the Netherlands. Whether this was a direct result of the King’s snub or merely a matter of timing, we can’t be completely sure, but it marked the end of Mytens’ career as a royal painter, and he never worked in England again.

Uunfortunately for Mytens, I can see why Charles wanted an alternative. For starters, the background is drab and empty, offering none of the majesty, intensity or intimacy Charles was looking for. The royal couple’s expressions come across as slightly reluctant, with Charles gingerly reaching to take the wreath as if not entirely sure what to do with it, while Henrietta Maria looks rather bored with the whole affair.

Van Dyck’s, by comparison, ticks all the boxes. There is colour, glamour, a blue sky. Charles watches the queen with an intimacy Mytens completely omitted, and Henrietta Maria looks directly at the viewer, with an expression of satisfaction and the certainty of her role. Charles may be the king, but here the main player is definitely his wife! During the English Civil War she was mistrusted by many, being French and Catholic, and accused of holding a dangerous influence over Charles. Looking at Van Dyck’s double portrait, I wonder if the clever and gifted painter was also making subtle, foreshadowing allusions to this? He fulfilled the brief to Charles’ satisfaction, but may also have offered us a glimpse of the real dynamic in their relationship, and the second power behind the throne.

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Dobson Portrait and Biography

Two big updates!

Those who follow the movements of English Civil War paintings at auction will know how rarely a portrait by William Dobson comes up for sale, so the recent announcement that one of only three known self-portraits will be sold at Bonhams this July is incredibly exciting! Alongside the portrait at Alnwick Castle, in which Dobson appears with his friend Sir Charles Cotterell and the musician Nicholas Lanier, and another recently returned to Osterley Park in Middlesex by the Earl of Jersey, is the earliest known self-portrait, which has not been seen in public since it was displayed at the National Portrait Gallery exhibition in 1983.

WDSPBonhams
©Bonhams/ZCZ Films

I’m hoping against hope that a national institution might consider buying it, so that it can go on public display rather than disappear into a private collection again. The National Portrait Gallery would be the perfect home, given that Dobson lived in the same street, and was buried at the church of St Martin in the Fields, right on the NPG’s doorstep – the NPG also has some of his works on display – but anything can happen at auction, so fingers will be firmly crossed on 6th July…!

The second big news is that my biography “William Dobson: The King’s Painter” will be available from next week through the publisher’s website. The book covers the early origins of the Dobson family, and charts their journey through the 17th century, including William’s career and work for King Charles I in Oxford. It also attempts to unravel a number of unchallenged claims about Dobson’s life, such as the suggestion he was a pupil of Sir Antony Van Dyck.

Here is the link. The publication date will be posted shortly.

Tyger’s Head Books

I hope you enjoy it!

Childhood

This latest blog has been my most difficult to date. I wanted to do a study of children in England during the 17th century, and while there are numerous examples I could use, they are, for the most part, restricted to a single demographic, which is children of the nobility or royalty. For obvious reasons, this section of society was the most able to afford to commission portraits of their children, so it has been very hard to find representatives of those in the lower classes or poorer families from this period. If readers can point me in the direction of any, please feel free to leave a comment at the end of the post.

So with apologies for the somewhat one-sided view, I’ll start with with one of the most famous children of all at the start of the 1600s…

Charles I as Duke of York
Charles I when still Duke of York, by Robert Peake the Elder, 1605
Bristol Museum and Art Gallery

 

Lady Mary Feilding
Lady Mary Feilding, as Countess of Aran, later Marchioness and Duchess of Hamilton (1613-1638), by Daniel Mytens, 1620

I like this one very much. I’ve never seen it before, and it’s quite unusual with the striking orange dress and feathered hair around the side of her face. Can any costume experts suggest what the white hair decoration would be made of? It looks to me like a lace headband, perhaps a comb, but as I know nothing about clothing in this period, I am happy to be corrected. Incidentally, for anyone interested in family connections, Lady Mary was a niece of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, the favourite courtier of both King James and Charles I.

 

Browne family
A Family Group, called Sir Thomas Browne and his Family, perhaps in part by William Dobson, c.1640s(?), The Chatsworth House Trust

 

Princess Mary
Princess Mary, Daughter of Charles I, c.1637, by Van Dyck
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

3rd Viscount Cary

This is my favourite. I have seen this portrait by Cornelius Johnson described as Lucius Cary, 2nd Viscount Falkland (the subject of an earlier blog post), but this has to be wrong as Johnson was mainly working from the 1640s onwards, much too late to have painted King Charles’s wartime Secretary of State as a child. Another source says that this is Falkland’s son, Lucius Cary, the 3rd Viscount (1632-1649), which must be correct. Whoever the boy is, it’s a very endearing picture, complete with Johnson’s signature wide lace collar. I like that there is nothing behind or around him, and other than his hat, there are no distracting props to take your attention from the face or the pink colouring of his outfit.

 

Esme Stewart
Esme Stewart, 5th Duke of Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond, by John Weesop, 1653
©historicalportraits.com

 

Esme Stuart and sister Mary
Esme Stewart, 2nd Duke of Richmond, and his sister Mary, by John Michael Wright, c.1660
(section of larger portrait including their mother, Mary Villiers, Duchess of Lennox
and Richmond)

 

Basil Dixwell
Sir Basil Dixwell, bt.(1665-1750), by Mary Beale, 1681

Unfinished Works

There are many surviving examples of unfinished 17th century portraits. Some were small-scale studies for larger compositions, others were begun but left in limbo waiting for either the sitter or painter to find the time (or the money) to complete them, while others remained on the easel when the painter died. These works are sometimes even more interesting than the completed article, as they give insight into the painter’s composition process and how he or she approached their task.

VD Magistrate

Van Dyck’s 1634/1635 work entitled “Magistrates of Brussels”, which depicted several magistrates in council, was destroyed during French bombardment of Brussels in 1695, but several head sketches survive, including the above which is in a private collection. (I know, it’s not strictly English portraiture, but I think Sir Anthony can have a free pass on this one!)

VD Princesses.jpg
Anthony van Dyck,  Princess Elizabeth and Princess Anne, 1637,
©Scottish National Portrait Gallery

In this beautiful double portrait,Van Dyck depicts two daughters of King Charles I and Henrietta Maria. This was a study for part of his 1637 work “The Five Eldest Children of King Charles I” (below), now in the Royal Collection.

NPG 267; Five Children of King Charles I after Sir Anthony van Dyck

WD Rupert
Prince Rupert by William Dobson (private collection), begun in Oxford during the Royalist occupation of the 1640s, but remaining unfinished when the Prince left the city in early 1646.

Cooper Cromwell
Miniature of Oliver Cromwell, C.1650, by Samuel Cooper, private collection

Soest, Gerard, c.1600-1681; 20th Earl of Oxford
20th Earl of Oxford (called’Aubrey de Vere, 1626-1703)
c.1656/1657, ©Dulwich Picture Gallery

Lely poss Anne Hyde
Portrait of a Lady, probably Anne Hyde, Duchess of York (1637-1671)
Studio of Sir Peter Lely

Picture of the Day

Red scarf Van Dyck
Portrait of a Man in Armour with Red Scarf, c.1625-1627, by Anthony Van Dyck,
©Gemäldegalerie, Dresden

 

Another example of Van Dyck at his best, in my opinion. I prefer him when he steps away from the familiar high-society lords and  ladies and gives us something a little different. In this case the sitter is looking away from the viewer at something in the distance behind us,  and the background gives no clues at all as to who he may be. A gentleman soldier, maybe?  Perhaps someone with a knowledge of 17th century European armour might be able to offer some insight. Comments welcome!

 

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

Lucius Cary, 2nd Viscount Falkland

On the 20th September 1643, at the first battle of Newbury, King Charles’s 33-year-old Secretary of State was killed by enemy fire, having charged his horse at a gap in a hedge which was lined by the enemy’s musketeers. Many believe his actions were deliberate, a suicidal act by a sensitive poet unable to bear the burden of his position, and the bloody destruction of war, any longer. There are a number of surviving portraits of Falkland, many of which show a thoughtful but melancholy man. Unlike other paintings in which statesmen have the artist depict them as proud, often arrogant individuals of status and position, he is clearly not a man of war or violent ambition, but an intellectual more drawn to philosophy, writing and poetry.

I think this is shown very clearly in Van Dyck’s beautiful painting below.

Falkland by VanD
c.1638-1640 ©The Trustees of the Chatsworth Settlement

He was also painted on more than one occasion by Cornelius Johnson:

Falkland CJ1
1635, ©Birmingham Museums Trust
Falkland CJ2
©National Trust, Montacute House

This one is attributed to John Hoskins:

NPG 6304; Lucius Cary, 2nd Viscount Falkland attributed to John Hoskins

Watercolour on vellum, 1630s
©National Portrait Gallery, London

None of the images I’ve found of Cary are from the civil war period after 1642, and most are either copies of, or after, Van Dyck’s earlier original above. I’ve long wondered if he ever sat for Dobson, with whom he would almost certainly have been acquainted at Oxford. Given Dobson’s ability to capture the true character of his sitters (in my view better than Van Dyck, at times), I would imagine a portrait of the tragic Viscount Falkland might have been one of his most moving. If there is a Dobson ‘Holy Grail’, this is it!

If you’re interested in reading more about Falkland, there’s an old but readable biography by J.A.R Marriott, entitled “Falkland and his Times 1610-1643”, published in 1907 (copies are available on Abe Books). Recommendations for a more recent biography gratefully received. 🙂

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
Jan_Weesop_-_Double_portrait_of_a_lady_and_a_gentleman
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

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