Press Release

Devoted husband and wife reunited at Tate after 150 years

Devoted husband and wife reunited at Tate after 150 years: Press related to past news.

Following the acquisition last year of Sir Anthony van Dyck’s portrait of Sir William Killigrew, Tate is delighted to announce that, with the crucial help again of the National Art Collections Fund (Art Fund), it has purchased the companion portrait of Killigrew’s wife Mary Hill, Lady Killigrew. The portraits, both painted by van Dyck in 1638, have certainly been separated for 150 years, but it is possible that they may not have been seen together for more than three centuries.

 Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641)
Portrait of Sir William Killigrew 1638
Tate. Accepted by H M Government in lieu of tax with additional payment (General Funds) made with assistance from the Patrons of British Art, Christopher Ondaatje and the National Art Collections Fund 2002. Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641)

Portrait of Mary Hill, Lady Killigrew 1638
Tate. Purchased with the assistance of the National Art Collections Fund and Tate Members 2003.

The devoted couple were married around 1625 and had seven children. Sir William Killigrew was a courtier and playwright at the court of Charles 1. He was knighted in May 1626 but during the Commonwealth period was evidently extremely poor, and although at the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, he regained his court post, his finances continued to be precarious. It is not known when his wife Mary died, but William seems to have been a widower by his own death in 1695. When penury forced the couple themselves to live apart in 1655, Sir William wrote of his love for his wife:

all our frends doe knowe that in thirty yeares beinge Maried we have never had one discontent or anger between us … [I] doe desire nothinge in this world more then to have my Wife live [with] me

It is thought that no other public museum in Britain has a pendant pair of English-period van Dyck husband and wife portraits. The two works are clearly conceived as a pair – Sir William Killigrew soberly dressed in black, his wife attired in russet-red. Their hands are positioned at the same low level in each work. The artist has included finely painted matching landscapes behind them: in this respect as an English pair of van Dyck works they are almost unique. The two works are virtually identical in size. Lady Killigrew stands before a characteristic van Dyck rock face, while Sir William is backed by a stone wall, and leans elegantly against a column – thus wild nature (the female) and classical civilisation (the male) are united.

Both works are inscribed in the same form of lettering, associated with a small number of van Dyck portraits that are linked with the Killigrew family, and both are dated 1638. When the family fell into poverty following the Civil War, or as a result of further money troubles later in the century, the paintings may have been impounded or sold. The history of both works is not known before the mid-nineteenth century, by which time all the Killigrew pictures were in different ownership. By 1856, Lady Killigrew’s portrait was probably in the collection of the 7th Earl of Stamford at Enville Hall, in Staffordshire, while Sir William’s had been owned by a William Carpenter during the early nineteenth century, before entering the collection of the Duke of Newcastle at Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire before 1857.

Until its reappearance in 2003 at auction in New York, the exact location of Mary’s picture had been unknown. The two works will go on display at Tate Britain later this Spring.