Just now this portrait of a woman in a Van Dyck dress didn’t sell at Tennant’s Leyburn, 16th July 2022, lot 1121. I can’t remember the original estimate but it wasn’t high. Not bad for a decent mid-eighteenth century portrait of a known sitter in a good old carved frame. There’s no attribution but surely it’s a previously unknown work by Robert Taylor.
The sitter is Elizabeth Dolben daughter of Sir John Dolben, prebendary of Durham. She married John Nicholls Rainsford, according to a nineteenth century inscription on the picture. There’s only one Sir John Dolben, the Rev Sir John Dolben 2nd Bt (1684-1756) who was definitely painted by Robert Taylor because it says so on John Faber’s 1750 engraving of Taylor’s painting.
Elizabeth Dolben’s mother was Elizabeth Digby (died 1730) daughter of William 5th Lord Digby and Lady Jane Noel. Her aunt Juliana was painted with her husband Herbert Mackworth by Taylor in 1747. Their signed and dated double portrait was sold at Bonhams 9th–10th July 2002 lot 365 (£4,500).
Taylor is a very rare artist. These two paintings of women of the Digby family are Taylor’s only known female portraits. Elizabeth Dolben’s portrait is only the seventeenth painting by Taylor that I am aware of. Two are known only from engravings. Taylor is something of a mystery. Vertue never mentions him which is very unusual. Waterhouse suggests it was because Taylor was a Jacobite and it’s true that many of Taylor’s portrait sitters were at least social Jacobites.
Regular readers will know I’ve been fascinated by Taylor since attributing this beautiful portrait of a gentleman in green velvet to him in 2017. Last month I was delighted to hear from the painting’s owner. I’m glad he’s being appreciated. It’s one of Taylor’s liveliest pictures.
Before posting this I asked the opinion of my friend Adam Busiakiewicz who agreed that Elizabeth Dolben must be by Taylor. Adam has a superb eye for Taylor. He spotted these next two Taylor sleepers in recent auctions and very kindly sent them to me.
The portrait of Ralph Bates dated 1751 was sold from the Jasper Conran Collection, Christie’s London, 14th September 2021 lot 24 (£10,625). The high price would be a record for the artist if it had been attributed. That might be a triple-whammy for the picture, frame and provenance combo but again, like the gent in green velvet, it is one of Taylor’s best pictures.
Adam’s other find was this one at Loeckx in Ghent, 22nd January 2022 lot 451 as ‘Anonymous Eighteenth Century’ (sale price unpublished). There is an old label saying ‘Michael Dahl’ but I agree with Adam that it looks like Taylor. The velvet, the pose, the palette and the characterisation look exactly right.
The long wig and coat with high cuffs could be 1720s. If so this is perhaps Taylor’s earliest known work. It might also give a clue to Taylor’s training, or his early artistic model. Waterhouse – looking at works dated 1737 – suggested that Taylor might’ve been trained by Richardson, but this portrait puts him more in the orbit of Kneller.
Soon I will post a draft checklist of works by Robert Taylor. As always I’m keen to hear about others, so if you have a possible Taylor I’d be delighted to see an image.