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!

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

Spotted at auction…

This is quite exciting! Two portraits said to be by John Hayls recently went up for auction together in the US. I have found records and images of only a handful of Hayls paintings, many of them merely attributed to him rather than confirmed works, so these are a lovely addition to the list, especially as they have managed to stay together where other couples have gone their separate ways over the centuries.

hayls couple

They are inscribed with the following:

 “Michael Warton Esq Son in law of John first Lord Poulett Hales Pint”, and “Susanna daughter of John first Lord Poulett and Wife of Michael Warton Esq of Beverly in Yorkshire Hales Pint”.

 

We are told that Susanna (b. pre-1649), was daughter of John 1st Baron Poulett (1585-1549) and Elizabeth (daughter of Christopher Ken of Ken-Court). She married Michael Warton Esquire (1623-1688) circa 1646, Michael being the son of Sir Michael Warton (1593-1645) (who died in the Great Siege of Scarborough Castle) and Catherine Maltby, co-heiress of Christopher Maltby of Maltby-in-Cleveland. The listing also says that the most recent provenance was in the estate of a man in Atlanta, Georgia. I’d be fascinated to know how and when this pair travelled so far, and would hope, as I always do with such sales, that one day a future owner might bring them back home to Britain. I can dream!

Here are the descriptions from the sale listing:

A pair of formal portrait paintings each depicting one of a couple from the noble class of 17th and 18th century Great Britain comprising Susanna standing turned slightly to left wearing a deep blue and pale blue silk gown off the shoulder with a string of large pearls to her throat, drop earrings to each ear, and a jeweled headpiece in her dark curled hair, the figure reaching one hand to grasp a fruit on tray carried by a finely dressed black girl at left adorned in rich red silk dress with golden jewels to her neck and ears; and Michael standing turned slight to right in mirrored stance to his wife and wearing light armor and tied lace collar with his left hand perched on a stone and right arm bent forward with hand clutching a cylindrical wooden handle, the figure set before a dark rocky outcropping covered in moss with colorful landscape in view to right.

 

I wonder how many other husbands and wives from this era remain side by side today? Two portraits of William Dobson and his wife Judith were still hanging together as late as the mid-2oth century until a house sale split them up, with Judith ending up on her own at the Tate Britain (rarely on display, sadly). Happily for the Wartons, though, they were sold as a single lot, and so will hopefully remain together for a good while yet!

 

Ahlers & Ogletree auction

Kings and Queens

Royal portraiture was a tricky thing. In a world where an official painting (or an engraving of it) was, for many people, the only opportunity they had to lay eyes on their monarch, the portrayal of royalty had to show strength, power and confidence, not just to the people they ruled, but to relatives, friends and, most importantly, adversaries and enemies. Think of Henry VIII’s supremely arrogant, hands-on-hips ‘don’t mess with me’ poses. Even today that image gives us a sense of the character and reputation of the man, and adds colour and shape to what we know of him on paper.

The Stuarts, too, commissioned numerous portraits, although some were more reluctant than others. James I was said to be uncomfortable with the process, and this comes across in awkward and stiff poses. While he was merely unenthused by the whole idea, there is little suggestion that he was uncertain of his role as king, only that he wouldn’t have been the kind of ruler who liked pasting selfies all over Instagram. Compare this with the images we have of Charles I, trying his best to appear strong and capable, when he frequently appears uncertain and troubled, particularly during the conflict in the 1640s when chaos reigned rather than him. In such times we would expect his portraits to show a man absolutely confident and in control, a king who needed his people to get behind him, yet Dobson’s portraits give us a man who is far from confident or assured of victory, despite the haughty expression and rich clothes of state.

So here’s a look at how the Stuart kings and consorts showed us their game-faces, some with more success than others!

James I van Somer I
King James I of England, before 1621, by Paul van Somer
©Museo del Prado, Madrid

Anne of Denmark2
Queen Anne of Denmark, 1614, attrib. Marcus Gheerearts the Younger
©The Royal Collection

Charles I Hamptn Ct Dobson
King Charles I, c.1640-1646, by William Dobson
©The Royal Collection

Van Dyck Henrietta Maria em MN575 l
Queen Henrietta Maria, c. late 1630s, by Anthony Van Dyck
©Philip Mould Ltd

Charles II NPG
King Charles II, c. 1660-1665, by John Michael Wright
©National Portrait Gallery, London

490px-Catherine_of_Braganza_-_Lely_1663-65
Queen Catherine of Braganza, wife of King Charles II, 1665, by Sir Peter Lely
©Philip Mould Ltd

James II Kneller
King James II, 1683, by Sir Godfrey Kneller
©Government Art Collection

Anne_Hyde_by_Sir_Peter_Lely
Anne Hyde, Duchess of York  (first wife of the future King James II), c.1662, by Sir Peter Lely

484px-Mary_of_Modena_Pietersz
Mary of Modena, second wife and Queen Consort of King James II, 1680, by Simon Petersz Verelst

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

Picture of the Day

This unknown man, painted c.1640, is currently resident at the Heckscher Museum of Art in New York.

Unknown 1640
Portrait of a Man, c. 1640, Unknown Artist (English, Seventeenth Century)

Oil on wood panel, 15-1/2 x 11-3/4 in., August Heckscher Collection. 1959.122

The museum website (www.heckscher.org) gives the following information:

“Although neither the artist nor the subject of this portrait has been identified, the armor worn by the sitter is typical of English manufacture during the first half of the seventeenth century. The hinged shoulder clasps distinguish the fine quality of the armor and suggest that it may have been produced at the royal workshops in Greenwich that were established by Henry VIII in 1514. While the noble bearing of the officer and the sensitive delineation of the textures is characteristic of portraiture of the period, the small scale of the portrait is uncommon in mid-17th century England, raising the possibility that it is a replica of an unidentified larger-scale portrait.

I really like this painting. The salmon/pink sleeve under the shorter upper sleeve (is that a buff coat under the armour?) is an unusual combination, and I haven’t seen anything similar except in regard to the colour, which reminds me of the pink silk shirt on Dobson’s unidentified naval officer at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. No obvious artist names jump out at me though,  and sadly there are no hints around the sitter to offer any guess at his identity, but from the fashion,  could we tentatively add a few years to the estimated date and suggest he is a Royalist officer…?

I’d never heard of the The Heckscher Museum, but it looks like one that would be worth a visit if you’re in the neighbourhood, especially as they offer visitors and supporters a great way of helping conserve the collection. By adopting a work of art you can help pay for repairs or other necessities, such as in this case, damage to the frame. What a brilliant idea! If I had $2,550 spare I’d definitely be adopting this one!

Happy Birthday, Mr Dobson!

Well, sort of.  On this day in 1611, William Dobson was baptised at St Andrew’s church in Holborn, the first son of an eventual 12 surviving siblings. His actual date of birth is unknown, so 4th March (and not 28th February – I’m looking at you, Dictionary of National Biography) –  is the day I like to mark as his birthday.

As it’s his anniversary, I went to the National Portrait Gallery in London today to see some of his works. Sadly only one was on display (Richard Neville), thanks to the NPG’s new brainchild of mixing art from different periods so you can ‘compare and contrast’. It’s a bloody awful idea, as it meant the space normally occupied by genuine Stuart-era portraits (in the room entitled “The Stuart Room”, oddly enough) was taken up by two large, modern 21st century paintings, and a number of 17th century works had been removed. Being a pure traditionalist I don’t hold with mixing genres in a normally chronological space, as it spoils the ‘feel’ of a period and is frankly pretty jarring. I won’t even start on the inclusion of an underwear clad, modern actress on the wall in the next room, designated for 19th century portraiture…What I love about NPG, normally, is that it tends to stick to chronological hanging, allowing you to immerse yourself in a style or period rather than viewing by genre or theme. Mixed hangings may work in other galleries, just please knock it off here!

But back to William 🙂

Here’s a lesser-known self-portrait from the late 1630s, and my favourite of all of his works. It’s in a private collection, sadly, but was included in the 1983 exhibition catalogue.

WD self portrait bandw

As it’s his birthday, I thought this would be the perfect time to announce the title of my new biography. “William Dobson: The King’s Painter” will be published soon by Tyger’s Head Books, and covers his childhood, family, career and, of course, his life during the English Civil War. A lot of commonly held beliefs about the man are debunked, and previously undiscovered surprises are revealed. (The Archbishop of Canterbury? Really?!!))

I’ll give more details and a publication date as soon as they are available!

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. 🙂

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