George Gower

Lady Kytson


Not on display

George Gower c.1540–1596
Oil paint on wood
Support: 685 × 522 mm
frame: 810 × 655 × 60 mm
Purchased 1952


Elizabeth Cornwallis, Lady Kytson (c.1547-1628) married Sir Thomas Kytson (1541-1603), of Hengrave Hall in Suffolk in 1560. Of their three children, a son John died in infancy in 1562. Their elder daughter Margaret married Sir Charles Cavendish of Welbeck in 1582, but died in childbirth the same year. In 1583 their younger daughter - and sole heiress - married Thomas Darcy, later Earl Rivers, but separated from him in 1594.

In the present portrait, Lady Kytson wears the bright colours that had then just come into fashion, notably her red gown with its high-status fur collar. Her sleeves, beneath gauze oversleeves, are embroidered in black thread with roses, honeysuckle and carnations. She is probably dressed for outdoors, as she is wearing, rather than carrying, her gloves, as well as a tall, masculine hat with a jewelled band and linen undercap. The exact shape of this hat was only revealed when the painting was cleaned in 1995.

A payment in Kytson's surviving accounts for 1573 indicates that this portrait, and its companion image of Sir Thomas Kytson (Tate N06090) were painted in London by George Gower (Cambridge University Library: Hengrave Papers 82 (3); cited in John Gage, The History and Antiquities of Hengrave, London 1822, p.40). The Kytsons had a town house in Coleman Street, in the City of London.

These are the earliest extant works by Gower and, together with his Self-portrait of 1579 (private collection; see Dynasties, cat. no. 57), form a nucleus upon which further attributions to him have been based.

Nothing is known of Gower's training but he was descended from a Yorkshire gentry family. In 1581 he was appointed Serjeant Painter to Queen Elizabeth, the premier royal post for an artist, but one whose duties generally involved the control of applied and decorative painting for the monarch. In 1584 a patent was drafted that would have granted Gower the monopoly of all painted and engraved portraits of the Queen (while allowing another painter, Nicholas Hilliard, the monopoly of her portraits in miniature) but it is not clear whether this was ever enacted. Nevertheless, Gower seem to have been one of the most fashionable portraitists of the 1570s-1580s.

Further Reading:

Janet Arnold, Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlock'd, Leeds, 1988, pp.201-2
Karen Hearn (ed.), Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England 1530-1630, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1995, pp.102-3,107-8, cat. nos. 53, 54, 57, reproduced p.103 in colour

Karen Hearn
February 2001

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Display caption

Elizabeth Cornwallis (1546/7–1628) married Sir Thomas Kytson in 1560 (his portrait hangs nearby). As Roman Catholics under a Protestant ruler, Elizabeth I, the Kytsons were regularly fined. Indeed, Lady Kytson was briefly imprisoned for her faith. The couple were painted in London in 1573 by Gower, the foremost portraitist of the day. Subsequently, in 1584, Gower and the miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard tried to gain a monopoly to produce Elizabeth I’s portraits. As this painting demonstrates, Gower worked in the linear, shadowless style that the queen is known to have preferred.

Gallery label, February 2016

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