Room 2 in Walk Through British Art

1650

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Art in 1650

Still Life with a Volume of Wither’s ‘Emblemes’

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Edward Collier
Still Life with a Volume of Wither’s ‘Emblemes’
1696

In this still-life painting the musical instruments, wine and jewels represent the fleeting pleasures of life, while the skull and hour-glass symbolise the inevitability of death. The open book shows a brief poem emphasising the theme of mortality. The Latin inscription in the top left corner comes from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes: ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity’. This is why such pictures are known as vanitas paintings. Born in the Netherlands, Collier arrived in England in 1693 to produce still-life paintings like this to sell to the English market. He died in London in 1708.

Gallery label, February 2016

Elizabeth, Countess of Kildare

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Sir Peter Lely
Elizabeth, Countess of Kildare
c.1679

Elizabeth Jones, eldest daughter of the 1st Earl of Ranelagh, was one of the great beauties of the Restoration court. The orange blossom that she holds, and the cupids on the pot to the left, may refer to her readiness to marry. However, in the late 1670s, when it is thought this painting was made, she was rumoured to be mistress to Charles II. She was not to marry the Earl of Kildare until 1684. Citrus fruits were a rare and expensive food, the plants cultivated by only the wealthiest households.

Gallery label, February 2016

Susanna and the Elders

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Sir Peter Lely
Susanna and the Elders
c.1650–5

The subject is taken from the Old Testament. Two community elders have been spying on Susanna by hiding in her garden. When she comes out to bathe, they threaten that unless she has sex with them, they will publicly accuse her of adultery. The penalty for adultery was death. She refuses and their accusations lead to her being arrested. However, the prophet Daniel proves the elders are lying and she is released. Lely was born in Germany, though his family came from the Netherlands. After training in Haarlem, he arrived in England in the early 1640s. Lely was appointed Principal Painter to King Charles II in 1660 and became the leading portrait painter in Britain.

Gallery label, October 2019

Two Ladies of the Lake Family

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Sir Peter Lely
Two Ladies of the Lake Family
c.1660

The precise identity of these women is unknown but they have traditionally been associated with the Lake family of Cannons house and estate in Middlesex, later the property of the Duke of Chandos. Portraits of women by Lely, like this one, tend to conform to the standards of ideal beauty which were current at court. In such paintings, the artist was more concerned with asserting a sense of glamour and sophistication than conveying individual personalities. The woman on the left is shown playing a French-made guitar, the latest fashion to arrive from Paris.

Gallery label, February 2016

Portrait of Mrs Salesbury with her Grandchildren Edward and Elizabeth Bagot

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John Michael Wright
Portrait of Mrs Salesbury with her Grandchildren Edward and Elizabeth Bagot
1675–6

This is one of six family portraits commissioned by Walter Bagot, a wealthy barrister and landowner. It shows Bagot's mother-in-law Elizabeth Salesbury, with his son Edward (holding a wooden horse), and his daughter Elizabeth. Bagot commissioned the portrait as a piece of visual evidence in a row with his wife’s family about who owned the land in Wales that is depicted in the background. Mrs Salesbury's pointed hat is of a type worn by affluent women throughout Britain at this date. Wright's composition is similar to religious paintings of the Madonna and infant Christ with John the Baptist.

Gallery label, January 2019

Portrait of a Young Girl

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Mary Beale
Portrait of a Young Girl
c.1681

Mary Beale was the most prolific professional female portraitist working in England in the 17th century. This engagingly informal oil sketch was probably an experiment in attempting to finish a work in one session, rather than the more costly and time-consuming four or five. Mary Beale used members of her family and studio as models for such works. In 1681, for example, her female studio assistant and her godchild were painted ‘in side face’, as here.

Gallery label, February 2016

Sir Neil O’Neill

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John Michael Wright
Sir Neil O’Neill
1680

Both the man shown here, Sir Neil O’Neill, and the artist, John Michael Wright, were Catholics. As a result of anti-Catholic legislation Wright was exiled from London to Dublin in 1679, where this work must have been painted. Sir Neil (?1658–1690) is shown in the richly ornamented costume of an Irish chieftain. Beside him is an Irish wolfhound, a valuable breed of dog whose export from Ireland was forbidden in 1652. At his feet is a rare suit of Japanese armour. This may be seen as a trophy representing victory over persecutors of Catholicism, among whom the Japanese were notorious at the time.

Gallery label, February 2016

A Peacock and Other Birds in a Landscape

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Marmaduke Cradock
A Peacock and Other Birds in a Landscape
c.1700

Marmaduke Cradock was one of the few British-born painters of birds and animals active in the late-17th century. This composition of turkeys, rock doves, a peacock and a jay shows the artist’s careful observation of birds. The calm of the dovecote is disturbed by the danger of a predatory fox. However, the central focus of the painting is the peacock, a rare and exotic bird which could have been observed in London parks. Its rich and colourful plumage speaks of wealth and opulence.

Gallery label, February 2016

View of a House and its Estate in Belsize, Middlesex

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Jan Siberechts
View of a House and its Estate in Belsize, Middlesex
1696

When this painting was made the area of Belsize belonged to the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey. The Abbey can be seen on the horizon. Today Belsize Park is part of north-west London, but in 1696 it was a distant country retreat for affluent Londoners. The painting was probably commissioned by John Coggs, a London goldsmith and banker to act as a ‘portrait’ of his house. The Antwerp-born painter Jan Siberechts arrived in London in the 1670s and was one of the leading landscape painters, specialising in ‘birds-eye’ views of country estates.

Gallery label, February 2016

Ships in Distress in a Storm

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Peter Monamy
Ships in Distress in a Storm
c.1720–30

Peter Monamy was born in London, though his family were originally from the Channel Island of Guernsey and probably of Huguenot (French Protestant) ancestry. He was the first English-born marine painter of note, the genre having been brought to Britain by Dutch artists in the late 17th century. This scene of a storm at sea follows the Dutch tradition of such pictures. Although disaster seems inevitable, the clearing blue sky offers hope. It does not necessarily relate to an actual event, though for contemporary viewers it may have brought to mind the ‘Great Storm’ of 1703 which wrecked many ships at sea.

Gallery label, February 2016

The Schutz Family and their Friends on a Terrace

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Philip Mercier
The Schutz Family and their Friends on a Terrace
1725

In this emblematic marriage portrait, the groom in the centre, probably Augustus Schutz, leads his bride towards his family as she takes a backward glance at her own. Several members of the Schutz family held positions at the court of Hanover and it may be that this portrait also acts as an endorsement of the Hanoverian succession. Thus, the orange tree in the garden urn may symbolise William III and the House of Orange, while the white horse could represent the House of Hanover, whose heraldic device was a horse courant argent (a silver or white running horse).

Gallery label, February 2016

Monkeys and Dogs Playing

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Francis Barlow
Monkeys and Dogs Playing
1661

Barlow is the earliest known British-born animal painter. He began a tradition that reached a high point in the work of George Stubbs a century later. During Barlow’s lifetime animal paintings were still largely associated with decorative arts and the interior design of houses. This painting, like many animal pictures, was probably produced to hang over a door. The spaniels shown here may be portraits of particular dogs, so the painting may have been commissioned by their owner. Wealthy families often kept exotic pets as well, and the African monkeys may highlight the patron’s cultivated affluence.

Gallery label, February 2016

Portrait of Mrs Haire

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Michael Dahl
Portrait of Mrs Haire
1701

An inscription on the back of this portrait identifies the woman as ‘Mary Haire’, but we don’t know exactly who she was. The stark background of the portrait, with its prominent cast shadow, is typical of Dahl. He also often used bright, unexpected colour, such as the fresh pale emerald green; this may once have been even brighter. Dahl was a Swedish painter who trained in Stockholm but settled in London in 1689. He headed a large and successful studio, rivalling Godfrey Kneller’s, and was a favourite at Queen Anne’s court.

Gallery label, February 2016

A Cavalry Battle below a Fortress

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Jan Wyck
A Cavalry Battle below a Fortress
after 1672

Portrait of John Banckes

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Sir Godfrey Kneller
Portrait of John Banckes
1676

This portrait is of John Banckes, Kneller’s first English patron, who probably brought the painter to London from Hamburg. Banckes was described as a 'Hamburg merchant & banker'. He is wearing the kind of gown that would have been worn in the home and in coffee houses and meeting places to do business. Kneller was ambitious and soon abandoned his middle-class patron in favour of the Duke of Monmouth. Before long, Kneller was England's foremost portrait painter to the aristocracy and the royal family, a position he was to hold for the next fifty years.

Gallery label, January 2019

A Musical Assembly

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Marcellus Laroon the Younger
A Musical Assembly
c.1720

This is Laroon’s earliest-known oil painting. Trained as an artist by his father, also a painter, he specialised in social genre scenes, particularly the world of actors and painters around Covent Garden in London. The gentleman standing behind the table in semi-profile wearing a blue garter sash and star is Charles Mordaunt, 3rd Earl of Peterborough (1658–1735). The gathering may be at his house in Fulham. The woman at his side is possibly Anastasia Robinson, a distinguished singer then at the outset of her operatic career.

Gallery label, February 2016

Elizabeth Panton, Later Lady Arundell of Wardour, as Saint Catherine

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Benedetto Gennari
Elizabeth Panton, Later Lady Arundell of Wardour, as Saint Catherine
1689

In 1681 Elizabeth Panton left England for France to escape the persecution she faced as a Roman Catholic. This work was painted there eight years later. As a symbol of her Catholic beliefs, artist Gennari presents Panton as St Catherine. St Catherine was killed for refusing to give up her faith. In one hand she holds a palm leaf, a symbol of martyrdom, peace and victory. In the other is the wheel on which she was to be tortured. According to legend, this miraculously broke at her touch.

Gallery label, August 2019

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Samuel Cooper
Sir Thomas Smith
1667

This miniature of Sir Thomas Smith is signed with initials of the artist and dated, lower left: SC./1667. Samuel Cooper was one of the leading miniature painters of the 17th century. His career began in London during the 1640s and the civil wars, Cooper producing the famous ‘warts and all’ image of Oliver Cromwell. This did not stop him finding favour with Charles II when his was restored to the throne, the painter being appointed the ‘king’s limner’ in 1663 confirming his position as the pre-eminent miniaturist in Britain.

Gallery label, February 2016

Foxhunting in Wooded Country

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Peter Tillemans
Foxhunting in Wooded Country
c.1720–30

This hunting scene shows the moment just before the kill: the fox is cornered by the hounds, for the winding river on the left leaves no way out. The Flemish painter Tillemans was one of the first artists to produce sporting pictures in Britain. Scenes of hunting and racing were to become a stock subject in British art. The idea of ordinary men and wealthy landowners working in harmony with their dogs and horses provided an enduring, and to many people reassuring, ideal of country life.

Gallery label, February 2016

Portrait of Katherine Hoby

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Peter Borseller
Portrait of Katherine Hoby
c.1670

Katherine Hoby was married to Peregrine Hoby of Bisham Abbey, Berkshire. Painted when she must have been at least in her sixties, the finely detailed hand and the ability to convey the sheen and texture of Hoby’s clothes are characteristic of Borseller’s distinctive style. The sitter’s costume, which incorporates expensive silk and fashionable ribbons, identifies Hoby as a wealthy woman of high social position. Borseller was a Dutch artist who trained in Antwerp. He was active in England from 1664 but left in or soon after 1679, possibly due to religious persecution as a Roman Catholic.

Gallery label, January 2019

Art in this room

Still Life with a Volume of Wither’s ‘Emblemes’
Edward Collier Still Life with a Volume of Wither’s ‘Emblemes’ 1696
Elizabeth, Countess of Kildare
Sir Peter Lely Elizabeth, Countess of Kildare c.1679
Susanna and the Elders
Sir Peter Lely Susanna and the Elders c.1650–5
Two Ladies of the Lake Family
Sir Peter Lely Two Ladies of the Lake Family c.1660
Portrait of Mrs Salesbury with her Grandchildren Edward and Elizabeth Bagot
John Michael Wright Portrait of Mrs Salesbury with her Grandchildren Edward and Elizabeth Bagot 1675–6
Portrait of a Young Girl
Mary Beale Portrait of a Young Girl c.1681

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