National Trust paintings go online - can you find any sleepers?

December 23 2011

Image of National Trust paintings go online - can you find any sleepers?

Picture: National Trust

At last! The UK's greatest single collection of paintings has gone online. The site apparently went live last week, but I've only just stumbled across it today. What a resource. I can barely contain my excitement; it's nirvana for anyone interested in British art history, and this particular British art history anorak will now be spending a lot of time on his iPad over Christmas. Well done to everybody involved. With this and the Public Catalogue Foundation putting museum pictures online, Britain now leads the way in digital access to its art. 

Being slightly obsessed with Van Dyck, I searched immediately for works by him. As you might expect, there are many fine things. But also some more mysterious works. I'm taken with the above Portrait of an Unknown Lady at Petworth, called 'attributed to Van Dyck'. It is not in the 2004 catalogue raisonne, but looks to me as if it has a good chance of being 'right', probably done in the mid 1620s in Italy. 

For all you budding connoisseurs, it's a great site for playing guess the attribution. Have a search for unattributed works, by entering 'English School' for example, and let me know if you find anything good. Below are a few pictures that have caught my eye in the last hour or so... [all images (C) National Trust]

The above Portrait of Lady Martha Cranfield, Countess of Monmouth, is at Castle Ward, in Northern Ireland. It is called 'British School, previously attributed to Van Dyck'. The Trust is right to say that it is not by Van Dyck. But I'll risk a connoisseurial hunch, and suggest that it is by William Dobson, Van Dyck's successor as court artist. Martha Cranfield married Henry Carey, 2nd Earl of Monmouth, a poet and staunch royalist, so just the sort of courtly wife to have been painted by Dobson. She had ten children by the way. 

Another little mystery I can resolve is this painting of a Madonna and Child, attributed to the 'Studio of Willem Wissing'. The Trust catalogue correctly notes that it is a partial copy of Van Dyck's painting of Cesare Scaglia adoring the Virgin and Child [National Gallery, London], albeit without Scaglia, and an altered Madonna. However, the original of this composition is in fact by Sir Peter Lely, and is now in an American Private Collection. It's one of the nicest Lelys I've ever seen, fluidly painted and richly coloured, and evidently done for his own pleasure. Lely was fascinated by Van Dyck, and copied many of his works. Intriguingly, a ghostly pair of hands in Lely's copy reveals that he initially planned to paint Scaglia too, but then changed his mind and left him out.  

Other things that briefly caught my eye include the above 'English School' portrait at Erddig in Wrexham, of whom the Trust is unsure of the identification, calling it 'Supposedly Joshua Edisbury, or ?James Hutton'. It is in fact a copy of Benjamin West's Portrait of Governor James Hamilton, which hangs in Independence Hall in Philadelphia. How a copy of Hamilton's portrait ended up in Wrexham masquerading as a welshman is a mystery... 

This 'English School' Unknown Gentleman is by John Riley. 

And Mary of Modena, wife of James II, would have been most displeased to find her portrait at Chirk Castle (above) identified as Charles II's mistress Moll Davis. The Chirk portrait is based on this original by Lely.

And going really off piste, the above Portrait of John Throckmorton is called 'Circle of William Larkin', but looks to have a chance of being by Marcus Gheeraerts. 

So if you have a few idle moments this Christmas, have a look at the site and see what you can find. Between us we should be able to wrap up all those unattributed pictures... The only sad thing about the site is the tiny photos. You can zoom in a bit, but they really should be larger. Presumably it's the old 'we must protect our copyright' fallacy. 

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