A very quick one this morning.Going through Michael Dahl’s portrait on ArtUK I came across this one at the National Maritime Museum.
(c) National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
The sitter William Wright was Flag Captain on the ‘Duke’ in the Battle of Barfleur in 1692. This action is less well-known today, but it was critical at the time, three years after the Glorious Revolution. An Anglo-Dutch fleet under Edward Russell 1st Earl of Orford defeated a French invasion force intending to restore King James II to the throne.
The portrait is dated c.1705 and attributed to Michael Dahl. The date is right, but it’s by someone else, and I think it’s by John Baptist Closterman (1656 – 1713), comparing examples illustrated in Malcolm Rogers’s catalogue (Walpole Society 1983) and with this Gent in a blue coat (Christie’s April 7th 1993 lot 13), where the pose and costume is almost identical.
I’m very glad to have had a message from Malcolm Rogers, who says:
‘An intriguing painting, which is certainly not by Dahl. The costume and wig are absolutely John Closterman in style and formula, but the execution looks a little simplified to me. The face-mask is not Closterman at all: too hard and unsophisticated. When I say “John Closterman” I do so deliberately, distinguishing him from his less well known and less distinguished brother John Baptist Closterman (see my Walpole Society article (very incomplete now)). I’m not sure whether you are making that distinction between the brothers, Very few works by JBC are known, but, again, the painting of the face seems to rule him out. Perhaps “follower of John Closterman” is best.’
That’s extremely interesting. Dr Rogers’s point about two Clostermans is very important. John Closterman (1660 – 1711), the top-flight painter whose selfie is looking at you from my header, had an elder brother John Baptist Closterman (1656 – 1713). JBC was also a portrait painter, and helped his brother on large projects. By the next century, people had forgotten that these same-name painters were two people. The Closterman brothers became a single artist, and everything painted by either of them was attributed to a John Baptist Closterman. John Closterman was only rediscovered in 1964 when Professor Doug Stewart found John Closterman’s will, leaving everything to ‘My Dear and Loveing Brother John Baptist’.
Dr Rogers has got me thinking. Reluctantly I concede defeat on Captain Wright – Closterman elements without the Closterman touch. Today a reader has very kindly made a similar observation:
‘Compositionally, this is an interesting connection and suggestion. However the technique and finish of the NMM painting, particularly the handling of the fabric and hands, doesn’t seem quite right. Given the condition and image quality it’s impossible to say for certain though. Either way, it seems connected to Closterman. Perhaps something from his studio practice? It also got me thinking about JBC.’
It is interesting to think about JBC, because, as Dr Rogers says, very little of his work is actually known. For a moment this morning I wondered if I’d miscalled the Christie’s Gent in blue
and it’s really by John not John Baptist. My money is on JBC for himtho. I’ve got this idea of JBC as a stiffer version of John Closterman, where particularly with men, the faces guest-star in a portrait of clothes.
This portrait of George Goodwin, looks like JBC,
and this portrait of John Manners 2nd Duke of Rutland is signed and dated 1703.
(c) National Trust, Hardwick Hall.
John Closterman is always more relaxed, and his sitters’ personalities are never overwhelmed by their accessories. The mood is completely different. In John Closterman’s portrait c.1700, Sir William Temple Bt has put on his clothes and then forgotten all about them, as a gentleman should.
(c) Fairfax House
So if the NMM painting isn’t by either of the brothers, but