Haerman Verelst

Portrait of a lady, thought to be Dionesse Cullum, wife of Robert Colman


Not on display

Haerman Verelst 1641 or 2 –1699
Oil paint on canvas
Unconfirmed: 750 × 630 mm
Presented by Mrs Gilbert Cousland to celebrate the Tate Gallery Centenary 1997


This work comes from a group of Colman, Barnardiston, Ranby and other family portraits, formerly at Brent Eleigh Hall, near Sudbury in Suffolk. The antiquarian, Rev. Edmund Farrer, viewed the whole group there in 1903, shortly after which they were partially dispersed. This work, together with portraits thought to depict the sitter's husband Robert and his kinsman Richard Colman (now Tate T07240 and T07113) continued to descend in the Brown family, until they were presented to the Tate Gallery in 1997.

The portrait bears, bottom left, a later inscription identifying the sitter as: 'Dionesse Daught[er] to William Cullum Esq[ui]r[e] Wife of Robert Colman Esq[ui]r[e] 1680'. Dionesse was baptised on 21 August 1660. The date of her marriage is uncertain, but it seems to have occurred only a few months before her death on 30 June 1697, at the age of thirty-six. An altar-tomb in the churchyard at Brent Eleigh, against the south wall of the church, formerly bore on its top surface Dionesse's married heraldic arms and an inscription giving the dates of her death and that, 33 years later, of her husband. Time and weather have now completely erased this, but one side of the tomb still bears a crudely carved, but lively, skeleton between two parted curtains.

The youthful sitter's costume, in the draped, 'antique' style introduced to British portraiture by Sir Peter Lely (1618-80) dates from about 1685. If she really is Dionesse Cullum, she would therefore be aged about 25, well before she married into the Colman family in the 1690s. The painting was attributed by Farrer to the Netherlandish-born artist Harman Verelst (c.1643-1702) who in 1683 signed two portraits in the Brent Eleigh collection, those thought to depict Edward Colman (died 1684) and Richard Colman (died 1709, son of the sitter in Tate T07113). The present portrait is not consistent with Verelst's style, although the sitter's pose was sometimes used by him, for example in the signed and dated portrait of an unknown girl of 1696, formerly no.2965 in the collection of J. D. Monnett (Witt Library photograph).

Farrer (p.142) recorded a copy of this portrait at Hardwick House, Hawstead, which was associated with the Cullum family. This was probably the rather coarse copy now in the collection of the Manor House Museum, Bury St Edmunds.

Further Reading
Rev. Edmund Farrer, Portraits in Suffolk Houses (West), London, 1908, p.46, no.10
G. Gery Milner-Gibson-Cullum, Genealogical Notes Relating to the Family of Cullum, London, 1928, pp.18, 20, 23

Karen Hearn
November 2000

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Technique and condition

Harman Verelst’s Portrait of a Lady, was painted on a fine linen canvas, sized with glue and primed with a white ground, possibly oil and lead white. Above the white ground there is a warm ochre coloured imprimatura, which is still visible in the corners of the rectangle around the oval shape. These corners have been merely brushed over with a translucent brown wash allowing the ochre colour to show through. Verelst has also used this technique in the thinly painted dark shadows, where the ochre is used as a warm background.

The pigments used seem to be generally translucent but the flesh and the fabric have a high quantity of white which renders them opaque. The lights have a low impasted texture and seem to have been added last of all. There would have been much more glazing in the flesh and fabrics but it has been worn by cleaning and lining.

There is a slightly disturbing yellowed varnish that has cotton fibre embedded in its surface and a significant quantity of surface dirt. The painting has a distinct torque caused by the distorted frame. The frame is in poor condition both structurally and decoratively. The wood is warped causing this diagonal twist and the moulding and gilding are flaking with ongoing losses. Major restoration would be required to the frame.

The painting was consolidated with isinglass, surface cleaned and re-varnished with MS2A. The frame received velvet covered slips to accommodate the painting in a reduced sight size and was fitted with plates and screws, a build up and a backboard.

Annette King
November 1997

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