An Interesting c.1640-80 Oil on Canvas Portrait of a Gentleman

Origin: English
Period: Cromwellian / Charles II
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1650-80
Height: 13.5 inches
Width: 10.5 inches

The well-realised bust portrait of a middle-aged to elderly (for the time) gentleman wearing a ruff depicted on a dark ground, and possibly a fragment from a larger composition, survives from seventeenth century England.

The condition of the painting is unrestored, uncleaned and unframed and is in as found order and does show its considerable age. There are areas of loss with flaking to the top surface but the main body of the work is still in good fettle aside from two punctures to the lower right. The painting is atmospherically and moodily decorative as is but could be extensively cleaned, restored and framed is so desired which would probably result in a completely different picture.

Verso, we see the remains of the paper labeling and a stamp to the top of the stained pine stretcher reading ‘YOUNG 137 GOWER ST, WC’. The work may be a fragment from a larger picture however just as plausible is that it was smaller previously and the losses around the edge might be because the picture was stretched around a smaller stretcher originally and was later moved to a larger stretcher, by Percy Young of London in the late nineteenth century, we can safely presume.

The stamp for ‘YOUNG 137 GOWER ST, WC’ refers to Percy Young, 1882-1904, 131 Gower St 1905-1920 who was a publisher, importer and manufacturer of artists' materials. Percy Young (1854-1930) served the Slade School of Art, which had opened in 1871. He was preceded at 137 Gower St by J.D. Hirst-Smyth & Son in 1881 and, like Hirst-Smyth, initially described himself in listings as 'publisher, depot for supplying the Slade School of Art with english and foreign artists' materials'. Canvas marks have been recorded from the 1880s onwards. Among Young’s customers was Gwen John in her early years, e.g., the canvas for her Self Portrait of 1902 and William Orpen’s George C. Beresford, c.1900 whilst Lucien Pissarro used Young for supports in the 1910s, The business closed in 1920 when Young reached the age of 65.

The austerely rendered sitter, is almost entirely bald, with ruddy cheeks and a fixed, yet contemplative glare and he is sombre in face, though with but a hint of knowing and he wears a lace ruff. Ruffs were worn in Western Europe from the mid-sixteenth century and continued to be worn in the early 17th century, and by the time King Charles I came to the English throne in 1625, the ruff had disappeared.

The style of the painting is perhaps most similar to that of Rembrandt of this period, as many of Rembrandt’s portraits follow a distinct structure; dark, deep brown backgrounds, understated clothing and any light in the pictures were directed on the artist’s face as we see here, thus producing this dramatic and engaging effect. It is these same aesthetic decisions in this work that serve to draw the spectators eye in to closely studying the facial expression.

The obvious age and quality of the depiction here makes for a highly intriguing and atmospheric picture meriting yet further research.