Wednesday, October 23, 2013

King Henry VI

  • Tudor and Jacobean Portraits Database
King Henry VI, by Unknown English artist, circa 1540 - NPG 2457 - © National Portrait Gallery, London
© National Portrait Gallery, London

King Henry VI
by Unknown English artist
oil on panel, circa 1540
12 1/2 in. x 10 in. (318 mm x 254 mm)
NPG 2457


New attribution: Unknown English artist

Key findings: Original dating confirmed. Red underdrawing (either chalk or paint) has been identified on the hands and face. The authorship can be confirmed as the same workshop as Edward IV (NPG 3542) and portraits of the same sitters at the Society of Antiquaries and in the Government Art Collection.

Historical summary
Purchased in 1930 from Frederick Yates. Previous history uncertain but possibly from either Bostock Hall, Rushton Hall, or Bladen Castle, the seats of the Bostock, Buxton and Haworth families respectively.

The painting is one of a series of kings of England which were produced at the end of Henry VIII's reign, circa 1530s-1540s, by a workshop operating at that time. Several other paintings of kings have also been identified from the same workshop, for example, Edward IV (NPG 3542) and Edward VI (NPG 1132). The painting has an engaged frame which is still intact and the patron would have purchased the portrait and frame as a single item.

Notes on likely authorship
The work is inscribed HENRICVS VI on either side of the head. It derives from an English workshop and was painted by several different painters working in the same studio.

Commentary on condition, painting style, technique
The analysis has revealed many areas of restoration, particularly in the dark red shadow on the left-hand side of the background. Under ultra violet light the varnish was observed as being thick, opaque and rather uneven (see Ultra violet). Magnification revealed clearly a discoloured varnish layer on the tunic as well as a colour discrepancy. The apparently green tunic is, in fact, composed principally of blue pigment (there are possible remnants of a copper green glaze over the azurite - see micro 11© National Portrait Gallery, London).

Different techniques were used for different sections of the painting with the hair being created with small sharp brushstrokes (see micro 05© National Portrait Gallery, London), smooth brushstrokes for the flesh and the decorative detail in the tunic being created by small point or quill. (See also report for (NPG 3542) for more on painting style as both paintings derive from the same studio.) There is extensive use of gold leaf (see micro 06© National Portrait Gallery, London).

Justification for dating
It was not possible to analyse the wooden panel by dendrochronology. Stylistically the paint handling dates from the 1530s-1540s.

Drawing and transfer technique
During surface examination it was thought that some red underdrawing could be seen along the right-hand white band in the tunic, white cuff (see micro 12© National Portrait Gallery, London) and possibly the ear. This red underdrawing did not show up in infrared reflectography as red does not absorb infrared radiation. It may be red chalk or red paint.

Using x-ray, broad brushstrokes were evident in the underlayer as well as the background paint. It is possible to see changes along the left side of the hat, right cheek and in the hat.

Relevance to other known versions
There is no authentic portrait from life of Henry VI but the existence of many copies suggests that there was once an original likeness painted from life. This painting differs from the series in the Royal Collection (recorded in a 1542 inventory) in relation to a looseness of treatment and differences in costume. Versions of the portrait in the Society of Antiquaries and Government Art Collection resembleNPG 2457 and are possibly all from the same workshop.

The copies of this painting have been found dispersed among several collections, for example representing founder portraits and sets of monarchs. The type was engraved early in the seventeenth century and there are also many illuminations, including the presentation copy of Lydgate's poems.

There are other versions at:
- Society of Antiquaries
- Government Art Collection (ex Earl of Ellenborough)
- Windsor Castle (Royal Collection) (possibly late 15th century) - part of set
- NPG 546
- Eton College (several versions) - Founder portrait
- Stolen from King's College, Cambridge in 1981 - Founder portrait
- All Souls, Oxford - Founder portrait
- Albury (Duke of Northumberland) - part of set
- Hatfield House (Marquess of Salisbury) - part of set
- Hardwick Hall (National Trust) - part of set
- The Deanery, Ripon - part of set
- Longleat (Marquess of Bath)
- Sudeley Castle
- Welbeck (Duke of Portland)
- At Weiss Gallery in November 1995 (previously: Mr and Mrs E. J. de Tracy Kelly, Oxfordshire)

Exhibition illustrative of Early English Portraiture, Burlington Fine Arts Club, 1909, p.72, (No. 9)
Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, pp.146-8
Tudor-Craig, Pamela, Richard III, National Portrait Gallery, 1973, p.87

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