What’s English for ‘wohl’? John Carteret 2nd Earl of Granville, his portrait at Ham attributed to Hudson.

Yesterday I thought this painting might be by Thomas Frye. I was on my phone outside Tesco’s, if that excuses the foolishness. Frye is far more idiosyncratic – his faces are brushy, pinched and beady and you can tell he does pastels too. I wish I kept with my first answer, ‘Someone German.’

Georgian Lords @georgianlords posted this image from ArtUK the other day with the words, ‘Died at Bath [January 2nd]1763 John Carteret, 2nd Earl Granville. So very nearly Prime Minister more than once, he was effective PM from 1742-44. Unusually, for the period, he spoke German which helped foster good relations with George I and George II.’

They also posted this superb 2019 article by Dr Robin Eagles ‘Ich bin in meinem Herzen Englisch: Could George I speak English?https://thehistoryofparliament.wordpress.com/2019/06/06/ich-bin-in-meinem-herzen-englisch-could-george-i-speak-english/‘ debunking the basic myth that George spoke no English and reminding you that they spoke French anyway. Which not enough British politicians spoke well either. Would they have done better in Latin? Probably.

The portrait is on artUK at Ham House and attributed to Thomas Hudson. You know my problem with ‘attributed to’. It means two opposite things depending on how you say it.

‘Attributed to.’

‘No. Attributed to. Try again.’

‘Attributed to.’

‘You keep saying ‘Attributed to.’ That means they painted it. You want the one with air quotes. Attributed to.’

‘Attributed to.’


‘Attributed to. Attributed to! Attributed to!’

‘By George, you’ve got it!’ &c.

There’s so much mental gymnastics in ‘attributed to’. It’s like doublethink. Even the context doesn’t make the meaning clear. Why not ‘Close to’/’Possibly by’/’Probably by’? Any shade of meaning that fits.

Horace Walpole said that Ham House was full of ghosts, ‘ghosts I should not give sixpence to see, Talmachs and Dysarts.’ I don’t believe that for a second. He’d have been thrilled. But I would bet Ham House a silver sixpence that their portrait of Lord Granville is by a German painter with a Hudsony vibe.

What if the ghosts take me up on it? Perhaps they’d win. The Ham painting is described on the National Trust Collections site which has fuller details than ArtUK as ‘inscribed Hudson 1739’. That raises the odds against me. Interesting. I wonder when the inscription was done.

Either way, this has not been time wasted. Looking into Granville’s iconography on the National Portrait Gallery site I found this engraving published in 1757 by Thomas Major after Dominicus vander Smissen (1704–1760).

Vander Smissen or Schmissen wasn’t a painter I knew before. I was excited to see this allegory of Autumn come up under his name – ‘surely one of his very earliest works’ – but it was sold as ‘wohl‘ a shade of ‘probably’ in Stuttgart in 2014 (image: Invaluable) so we’ll set that aside

but this Mengs-style self-portrait c.1740, Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum is rather fabulous.

Image © Hajotthu

Smissen was born and died in Altona in Germany. He worked at the Court at Brunswick, and at Dresden, Amsterdam and London. He was a student of Balthasar Denner – married Denner’s sister Catherina in 1730 – and a Freemason.

It’s a shame the Autumn is only ‘probably’. It would be very early. 1720 if not before. Smissen would be a good bit of convergent evolution for Hudson in the same period. From the Mary Magdalene painted c.1725, perhaps a portrait of his wife Mary Richardson, the daughter of his master Jonathan Richardson the Elder,

to his brilliant portrait of the drapery painter Joseph Van Aken, c.1745 (Lowell Libson and Johnny Yarker) he spans the leap when the Enlightenment went from Augustan to Revolutionary.

Image © Todd-White Art Photography.

Hudson kept both of these portraits in his studio and both were in the sale of his collection after his death. I don’t think that Vander Smissen painted the Ham portrait. What if it’s someone English? I’ve looked at John Ellis too. I like the facts and people you bump into on the way to the answer.

Some attributions are cut and dried. You’ve seen the hand before a hundred times and you know it like your own writing. Other times…

Perhaps ‘attributed to’ is good shield against madness. A great all-covering Dunno. And all the while Lord Granville looks more genial and more Hudsonlike. I’d have to see it. In the flesh. There. A task for the summer. There’s no mistaking Hudson close to.

But what would the ghosts say? They’d know. They’d remember it.

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