An affordable sleeper. The 4th Earl of Southampton by Mary Beale?

On Monday morning before work I went through the upcoming sales. There were two paintings that caught my eye that day. This portrait of a lady, called Early Ninteenth Century, at Barber’s Auctions in Woking, estimate £800 – 1200,

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(c) Barber’s Auctions, Worthing

and this small (15 x 12 inches) portrait called ‘After Van Dyck’ at Mallam’s in Abingdon, estimate £300 – 500.

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(c) Mallam’s Auctioneers, Abingdon.

The lady at Barber’s must be by Thomas Hudson (1701 – 1779), probably painted c.1750. She looks in good condition, in a good period frame, and she would have been a treat at £800. But she sold for £3,400 (not including commission) which is getting on for what she would be worth at South Kensington fully catalogued as Hudson.

The Mallam’s painting only sold for £350, and I think whoever bought that got a bargain. The sitter is the courtier 4th Earl of Southampton, and it is a small-scale copy of the Earl’s portrait by Sir Peter Lely (1618 – 1680), painted in the mid-1660s. Here is a studio version of it formerly with Philip Mould and Co, on the scale of life at 50 x 40 inches.

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(c) Philip Mould and Co.

As you can see, the Mallam’s painting has been trimmed at the top and sides. Small copies of life-size three-quarter lengths usually measure about 18 x 15 inches. I wonder if it was painted by Mary Beale (1633 – 1699), who did a busy trade in small-scale portraits, with a virtual monopoly on copying works by her friend Lely. The characterisation looks like her work, as does the beautiful modelling of the hands, and the richly-pained draperies. Someone’s put a lot of care into this painting.

A good selection of Beale’s small-scale works can be viewed here on Historical Portraits Archive. Mary Beale’s self-portrait, shown below, was painted on sacking to save money, but the works produced for private clients used the finest-grade canvas and the best pigments. They were often as expensive as works painted on the scale of life, as Tabitha Barber explains in the catalogue to the 1999 exhibition, Mary Beale: Portrait of a Seventeenth-Century Painter, Her Family and Her Studio.

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(c) Philip Mould and Co.

King Charles II, after the portrait by Lely at Lamport Hall was presumably painted for a member of the Isham family, since it was paired until recently with a small copy of Sir Justinian Isham’s portrait, also by Lely, at Lamport.

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(c) Philip Mould and Co.

This portrait of King Charles II’s mistress Barbara Villiers Countess of Castlemaine, Duchess of Cleveland is a composite image – the head is taken from Lely’s c.1666 portrait of Villiers in the NPG and the body is based on Lely’s portrait of Queen Mary of Modena as Duchess of York c.1675, formerly with Philip Mould and Co. Barbara Villiers’s portrait was in great demand as a pin-up; Samuel Pepys mentions how much he would like a version for himself, 20th October 1662, at Lely’s studio: ‘and here among other pictures, saw the so much desired by me picture of my Lady Castelmaine, which is a most blessed picture; and one i must have a copy of.’

These small copies of royalty, politicians and mistresses crop up at auction from time to time. It is an ever-growing body of work, that would make a superb exhibition one day, a mini-gallery of Stuart celebrity.

 

 

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