Last night in America; the Weston portrait of King Henry IV rediscovered

Last night this Royal portrait just sold at Revere Auctions in St Paul, Minnesota, for $4,500, within an estimate of $3,000 – 5,000.

jmbp king henry iv revere

(c) Revere Auctions

As Revere say in their catalogue entry, it’s a corridor portrait of King Henry IV, one of a set of Kings and Queens hung round the Long Gallery in an Elizabethan or Jacobean great house. Or in any house you could fit a few portraits in. Thousands of them must have been painted between 1580 and 1630. A few hundred survive, some still in their original sets. But many, like this portrait of Henry IV, turn up on their own at auction.

Revere trace an impressive American provenance for the painting, to Thomas Barlow Walker (1840 – 1928), the Minnesota lumberjack king whose picture collection formed the core of the Walker Art Centre in Minneapolis. I wondered if it would sell for a bit more, because it’s one of the lost portraits from one of the greatest Elizabethan portrait collections, the ‘Gallery of Fame’ from Weston House in Warwickshire. Ralph Sheldon (c.1537 – 1613) built his vast house near Long Compton in 1587, and in the next decade he lined the great chamber with around thirty portraits of king, queens, statesmen, and generals, English and European, the people he thought had played the most part in shaping the last 200 years.

panel verso

The back of the Henry IV panel (c) Revere Auctions

The Weston portraits are distinctive, because like the Revere portrait, shown from the back in this photo, they’re on an arch-topped panel, and they’re on a bigger scale to the standard corridor portrait. Corridor portraits are usually head and chest on a  rectangular panel, measuring about 22 by 17 inches. The Revere portrait is an arch-topped panel measuring 33 by 23 inches, exactly the size of surviving Weston portraits. They are the only known set painted on this format. A handful survive, including Edward VI and Richard III (brilliantly catalogued here twenty years ago by Piers Davies; his dating c.1590 was confirmed by modern dendrochronology in 2015), both formerly with Philip Mould. The Weston portrait of Cardinal Wolsey is in the National Portrait Gallery.

NPG 32; Thomas Wolsey by Unknown artist

(c) National Portrait Gallery, London

Catherine Daunt discusses the Weston Set in her superb PhD thesis, Corridor Sets in Tudor and Jacobean England 2015 (University of Sussex), page 134 – 141. Twenty-two Weston portraits were sold at Christie’s in 1781 before the house was demolished early next century: these included English Kings from Henry V to Edward VI. No mention of a portrait of Henry IV. Daunt cites Edward Croft-Murray who wrote in 1962 that the set was from Henry IV to Elizabeth I. But there was a typo in the 1781 Christie’s catalogue. It said Henry IV,  but in the auctioneer’s copy it’s been corrected to Henry VI. Might this have misled Croft-Murray?

Perhaps, but the Revere portrait proves that the Weston set of English kings did include a portrait of Henry IV. Logically so, because the core set of English kings in a corridor set began with Henry IV. In sheer number of examples surviving today, from a sample of 266 in Dr Daunt’s thesis, Henry IV comes third after Henry VII and Henry VIII. He was the first Lancastrian King. The Tudors claimed the throne by descent from his father, John of Gaunt. To the Tudors, the moment Henry IV took the throne from Richard II was the beginning of history.

Fortunately, Dr Daunt cites the evidence of Eighteenth Century visitors and Henry Shaw’s 1839 engraving showing the portraits hanging at Weston, to argue that the set was even larger than the twenty-two sold at auction. The portrait Henry IV clearly left the collection separately, along with others. Dr Daunt recognises a portrait of Sir Nicholas Bacon, the Elizabethan Lord Keeper of the Great Seal in the engraving. I’m sure I’ve seen that one at auction recently. Quite seriously.

Dr Daunt reconstructs the room the portraits hung in, in a frieze at the top of walls seventeen feet high. The scale is colossal. It reminds you of the High Great Chamber at Hardwick Hall. Each panel was set in an arch flanked by statues. The large inscriptions on the paintings, like the HR monogram on the Revere portrait, are designed to be read ten feet up. As well as ten ruling English Kings, from Henry IV to Edward VI, with Elizabeth of York, the set included Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas Cromwell, Thomas More, the Holy Roman Emperor, six French Kings and Queens, four French, Spanish and Italian Generals and that hero of the 1590s the 2nd Earl of Essex, and Sir Nicholas Bacon. The inclusion of Essex dates the series to before Essex was executed in 1601. In Italy at the same date they were displaying paintings of gods and goddesses like that, and I think there’s a closer-to-earth version of the same psychology at Weston. These great ones had shaped the Elizabethan world, and the Elizabethans studied them to understand themselves.


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