attributed to Sir William Segar

Portrait of a Man in a Slashed Black Doublet


Not on display
Attributed to Sir William Segar active 1580 or 5–1633
Oil paint on oak
Support: 1000 x 806 mm
frame: 1202 x 1019 x 115 mm
Purchased 1983


The subject of this unusually well preserved portrait, painted on wooden panel, remains unidentified. His hairstyle and his costume with its open double collar date from about 1605. The blackness of his attire, which includes the tall hat in his right hand, is relieved mainly by the bright colours of his finely embroidered sword-belt. A nineteenth-century label formerly on the back of the panel suggests that this work may once have hung in a building connected with the Wyndham family, at Clearwell in Gloucestershire.

The three-quarter-length image, with one hand on the hip and the other either hanging free or holding a glove or sword-hilt, had been the characteristic format for male portraits in Britain between about 1555 and 1590. This is a late example.

More is known about William Segar’s career as a herald than about his work as a painter, and few works by him can definitely be identified. In 1598, a contemporary (Francis Meres, Palladis Tamia, London 1598, p.287) named two brothers, Francis and William Segar, as outstanding painters, but nothing is otherwise known about Francis’s career in this field. An inventory of the collection of John, 1st Lord Lumley (c.1534-1609), drawn up in 1590, refers to a portrait ‘of the second Earle of Essex [Robert] Devereux. Master of the Horse, done by Seigar’. This is presumed to allude to William. The Lumley portrait of Essex survives and is now in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin. Comparable in style, it can be used to attribute the Tate work to Segar because the subject’s facial features are handled in a similarly strong, linear manner.

Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex (1566-1601) was the most favoured courtier of Queen Elizabeth I (reigned 1558-1603) in her old age. He was the stepson of her principal lifelong favourite Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester who had died in 1588, and who is known also to have employed Segar. Thus Segar clearly worked for the most elite court patrons.

Segar became Garter King of Arms in 1607 and was knighted in 1617. He was not particularly scrupulous in compiling family pedigrees - a main function of the heralds - and was briefly gaoled in the Marshalsea Prison in London for selling heraldic arms to the public hangman (British Heraldry, British Museum exhibition catalogue, London, 1978, p.50).

Further reading:
Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1986, pp.55-6
On Segar, ‘The 1590 Lumley Inventory: Hilliard, Segar and the Earl of Essex’, Burlington Magazine, vol.99, 1957, pp.224-31, 299-303

Karen Hearn
November 2001

Display caption

The sitter of this well-preserved portrait remains unidentified; his costume dates from about 1605. The three-quarter-length format, with one hand on the hip and the other either hanging free or holding a glove or sword-hilt, was common for Elizabethan male portraits; some may have been full-lengths, now cut down. This is a late example.
More is known about William Segar's career as a herald than about his work as a painter. One picture, listed in a contemporary inventory, is definitely thought to be by him: the 'Portrait of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex', dated 1590, in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin. The Tate Gallery portrait is attributed to Segar because it is similar in style to that work.

Gallery label, August 2004

Catalogue entry


Oil on oak panel 39 3/8 × 31 1/4 (924 × 806)
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1983
Prov: ...; ? at Clearwell Court, Gloucestershire, by the nineteenth century, and by descent to the Earl and Countess of Dunraven, Adare Manor, Limerick; Dunraven sale, Christie's 9 June 1982 (78, repr., as by unknown follower of Custodis) bt Wilkins and Wilkins, from whom bt by the Tate Gallery

The sitter in this unusually well-preserved and strongly-drawn portrait remains unknown. The tall hat, narrow sleeves and open double collar of his costume can be dated to the first decade of the seventeenth century; the focal point is a finely embroidered sword belt and an additional dagger or short sword at his right side, partly covered by a blue tassel. Attached to the back of the panel is a nineteenth-century label stating that the ‘Unknown’ sitter comes ‘From Clearwell Court’. If correct, this would suggest that the painting was once at Clearwell Court or Castle in Gloucester-shire, one of the properties of the Wyndham family. The already distantly related Wyndham and Dunraven families merged when Caroline, only daughter and heir of Thomas Wyndham of Clearwell, married Windham Henry, 2nd Earl of Dunraven, in 1810.

Although Segar's heraldic career is fairly well charted, from his appointment as Portcullis Pursuivant in 1585, to Garter King of Arms in 1603 and the granting of a Knighthood in 1617, his oeuvre as a painter of life-size portraits has to be reconstructed from a few contemporary references and one documented work, the portrait of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, 1590, now in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin (repr. Roy Strong, The English Icon, 1969, fig. 175). The attribution of this painting to Segar or his circle has been suggested by Strong on grounds of a similarity of style which it shares with a group of slightly earlier portraits seen as related to the Dublin portrait.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986


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