The well painted English school portrait in oils on canvas depicting a bearded and moustachioed Elizabethan Gentleman with white ruff collar, presented unframed and apparently unsigned, surviving from mid Victorian period England.
The condition of the painting is unrestored, uncleaned and unframed and is in as found order and does show some tiredness but is wonderfully decorative and it’s quality remains apparent. There are areas of small loss with flaking to the top surface but the main body of the work is still in good fettle aside from a handful of pin-pricked holes to the face. 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 rather different picture.
Verso, we see the stamp; “Prepared by Charles Roberson, 99 Long Acre, London’ who were one of the major artists’ suppliers of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Roberson ledgers, part of a larger archive, are a rich and unique source of information into the trade in artists’ materials. From 1828 Charles Roberson was in partnership with Thomas Miller, trading as Roberson & Miller (1828-1839) at 51 Long Acre. Roberson & Miller’s trade sheet listed watercolours in cakes and in boxes, Roberson & Miller’s prepared lead pencils, drawing papers etc, bladder colours for oil painting, ‘prepared cloths and tickens’, prepared panels and millboards, ‘hatchment cloths’, chalks, ‘brushes and pencils’, varnishes, oils and sundries. Artists using Roberson & Miller’s colours included Andrew Plimer, Sir Thomas Lawrence, Hamilton Kerr and Samuel Palmer whilst Roberson & Miller canvases were also used by J.M.W. Turner. Roberson remained a force in the business for many years, relocating to 99 Long Acre in 1853 (it existed there until 1937), and establishing his company as one of the major firms of artists’ suppliers. He was recorded in the 1851 census, with two nephews in the business, Charles Park, clerk, age 31, and Charles Roberson, age 20, described as ‘assistant’; he was listed at 99 Long Acre in both the 1861 and 1871 censuses. He died there in 1876, age 76, leaving a substantial estate of nearly £120,000. This information helps us to further date this picture to within that time frame and it therefore certainly dates from between 1853 and 1880.
The well rendered sitter, clearly in his prime years and from the Elizabethan era, has a good head of parted dark chestnut hair, a beard and long moustache, rose tinted cheeks and a fixed, yet affable gaze. He wears a large white lace ruff and one can just about make out the large puffed sleeves on his doublet, picked out in a chocolate brown. Though he is well painted we cannot see a signature on the work.
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 English or Dutch most commonly painted portraiture featuring ruffs.
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 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, and of course the wonderfully distinctive ruff.
A very decorative and punchy portrait, moody, intriguing, dark, mysterious, well-realised. Just the way we like it.