With the disfiguring layers of later overpaint and varnish now removed, we can fully appreciate these two portraits as competent examples of late-Jacobean provincial portraiture...
The Tothill family lived at Peamore House in Exminster, Devon from the mid-sixteenth century, having acquired the estate from the crown on the death of its previous owner Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk, father of Lady Jane Grey. The first Tothill owner, Jeffrey Tothill, was Recorder of Exeter and son of William, Alderman of the City of Exeter and his wife Elizabeth Mathew of Welsh descent.
The identity of the gentleman, who is shown wearing a fine black jacket and lace-edged ruff, is stated on the reverse in old handwriting as James Tottle (Tothill), and the young lady is said to be Grace, his daughter and heiress. However, as is often the case with family portraiture, passed down from one generation to another, identities can become confused over time. In this case, for example, historical records confirm that a lady named Grace Tothill did exist, however she was born in 1606 and died aged 17 in 1623, the year before this portrait was painted. There may be some truth in the identification of the gentleman, however, as the inscribed date gives his age as 61 when painted in 1624 (therefore born in 1563), which corresponds with the birth date of Henry Tothill, Grace’s father, who died in 1640 aged 77. If we are to presume that the portrait of the gentleman does indeed depict Henry, then it is possible that the portrait of the young lady depicts a younger sibling whose name does not appear in surviving records.
Until recently, both portraits were heavily concealed by many layers of discoloured varnish and later, unnecessary overpaint. In the case of the portrait of the young lady, overpaint was applied over the top of old yellowed varnish before being varnished again, resulting in a confusing multi-layered surface. With these disfiguring layers now removed, we can fully appreciate these two portraits as competent examples of late-Jacobean provincial portraiture.