Essay

The First Marquess of Tweeddale 1695 By Godfrey Kneller

Rica Jones and Joyce H. Townsend

Read technical information about this painting resulting from examination and scientific analysis by conservators and conservation scientists at Tate

Fig.1 Sir Godfrey Kneller 1646−1723 The First Marquess of Tweeddale 1695 Oil paint on canvas 752 x 638 mm N03272

Fig.1
Sir Godfrey Kneller 1646−1723
The First Marquess of Tweeddale
1695
Oil paint on canvas
752 x 638 mm
N03272

This painting is in oil on canvas measuring 752 x 638 mm (fig.1). The linen is plain woven with 14 vertical threads and 12 horizontal per square centimetre. A great many slubs in the horizontal direction give a very variable thread thickness. There is cusping at the left and right edges of the painting but none at the top and bottom (fig.2).1 As the original tacking edges are no longer present, we cannot tell whether the painting has been trimmed in size but if it had been it seems unlikely that the amount of loss was great. It is possible that this piece of canvas was cut from a long, narrow, pre-primed roll, which would have been kept taut along its long edges for priming, hence the cusping there.

Fig.2 X-radiograph of The First Marquess of Tweeddale

Fig.2
X-radiograph of The First Marquess of Tweeddale

The ground is greyish tan colour and its surface has uniform striations all over; they are visible under magnification as horizontal ridges approximately 0.5 mm apart (fig.3). This ridged surface was produced by the tool with which the ground was applied. Inspection of the cross-sections in ultraviolet light suggests that there were three applications of ground (figs.4 and 5). All three layers are consistent in pigmentation but have slight variations in the particle size of the blacks and in the proportion of yellow ochre, with the uppermost layer containing more yellow and fine black whilst the lowest layer contains less yellow and a large, irregularly shaped black particles. Pigments identified with polarised light microscopy were lead white, chalk, red earth colour, raw sienna earth, black and a trace of vermilion.2

Fig.3 Detail under magnification of the sitter’s black robe, showing the horizontal ridges in the ground showing through the black paint on top of them

Fig.3
Detail under magnification of the sitter’s black robe, showing the horizontal ridges in the ground showing through the black paint on top of them

Fig.4 Cross-section through the red seal at the lower left edge, photographed at x320 magnification. From top to bottom it shows: three applications of tan coloured ground; opaque red paint of the seal; an accumulation of varnish and dirt

Fig.4
Cross-section through the red seal at the lower left edge, photographed at x320 magnification. From top to bottom it shows: three applications of tan coloured ground; opaque red paint of the seal; an accumulation of varnish and dirt

Fig.5 The same cross-section as fig.4 photographed in ultraviolet light. It shows the three coats of ground more clearly, ditto the varnish and dirt

Fig.5
The same cross-section as fig.4 photographed in ultraviolet light. It shows the three coats of ground more clearly, ditto the varnish and dirt

No underdrawing was detectable with infra-red reflectography or with microscopic examination. Like many of Kneller’s ‘Kit-cat’ portraits of this period, this face was accomplished with a spirited, economical technique.3 Starting with thin, reddish brown paint, Kneller would lay in the contours of the face and features. Then, using flesh tones mixed on his palette, he would paint the face with direct, bravura brushwork, leaving the greyish tan coloured ground visible in many areas to work as a neutral half-tone or half-shadow. This may be seen in figs.6−8. The ground, lightly glazed here and there with brown paint, also forms the mid-tone of the wig. The final paint layer of flesh paint is stiff and textured, though applied quite thinly. The pink flesh tones are fairly simple mixtures of lead white with vermilion, black and earth colours. As visible in fig.8, red lake was used for the deepest shadows. The brown background contains yellow ochre, sienna, black, umber, vermilion, lead white and pipeclay. The yellow highlights on the brocade contain lead white, lead tin yellow, earth colours, chalk, ground glass and pipeclay.

Fig.6 Detail of the face and lace cravat, showing the direct, unmodified brushwork describing the planes of the face and the greyish tan coloured ground left visible as the linear definition of the features. It also forms the neutral mid-tone of the crava

Fig.6
Detail of the face and lace cravat, showing the direct, unmodified brushwork describing the planes of the face and the greyish tan coloured ground left visible as the linear definition of the features. It also forms the neutral mid-tone of the cravat

Fig.7 The sitter’s left eye, photographed at x8 magnification, showing the economical brushwork and the ground left visible as a neutral tone. The striations in the ground are visible beneath the thin paint of the eye

Fig.7
The sitter’s left eye, photographed at x8 magnification, showing the economical brushwork and the ground left visible as a neutral tone. The striations in the ground are visible beneath the thin paint of the eye

Fig.8 The end of the nose and part of the philtrum, photographed at x8 magnification

Fig.8
The end of the nose and part of the philtrum, photographed at x8 magnification, showing the spirited brushwork, unmodified once on the painting. The ground has been left visible to form neutral half-shadows. The striations in the ground are visible beneath the thin paint

Unusually in a seventeenth-century picture the paint has developed microcissing in the troughs of the brushstrokes in the face and also in the black costume (figs.9 and 10). Microcissing is the formation of microscopic craters in the whites and flesh tones, and small islands of paint in the dark areas.4 Lead soap aggregates, probably originating from the ground, are visible at high magnification on the surface of the red areas and in the thinnest passages of black in the robe.5

Fig.9 The face, photographed at x16 magnification, showing microcissing in the troughs of the brushwork

Fig.9
The face, photographed at x16 magnification, showing microcissing in the troughs of the brushwork

Fig.10 Cross-section through the black costume, photographed at x320 magnification

Fig.10
Cross-section through the black costume, photographed at x320 magnification

Fig.11 The same cross-section as fig.10, photographed in ultraviolet light, showing the microcissing in the black paint

Fig.11
The same cross-section as fig.10, photographed in ultraviolet light, showing the microcissing in the black paint

Since this study was undertaken, the painting has been cleaned and restored.

March 2005

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Tudor and Stuart Technical Research

May 2003 – October 2005

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