Attributed to Thomas Worlidge (1700- 66)
Van Dyck's tender portrait was painted for the children's mother, and depicts Prince Charles (later Charles II), Prince James (later James II) tenderly holding his brother’s hand and Princess Mary...
This animated plumbago portrait of Charles I’s three eldest children was almost certainly produced from an engraving, as it is the reverse of Van Dyck’s original group portrait, painted for Queen Henrietta Maria, in the Royal Collection [RCIN 404403]. Although unsigned, the technique is close to works by Thomas Worlidge, the eighteenth-century portrait painter and etcher, notable for his works after Rembrandt.
Until recently, the provenance of this drawing was not known. However, two labels on the reverse of this work: that of the framer William Allen working for the Duke of Gloucester, who died in 1834, and a private collection catalogue label, have identified the previous owners as Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke, 1st Baronet and his son, Charles, 2nd Baronet. Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke, 1st Baronet was an art critic and one of the leading promotors of the 1851 Great Exhibition. He was assigned the responsibility of acting as Queen Victoria’s purchaser of goods at the exhibition and worked closely with Prince Albert.
Dilke is known to have been buying artwork in the 1830s including Virgin and Child, a fifteenth-century circular panel painting which is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York [32.100.59]. It is likely that he purchased this drawing and had it reframed by William Allen before the Duke of Gloucester’s death in 1834. His son, Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke, 2nd Baronet then attached his collection label to the reverse of this picture. Although only a fragment of this label remains, it has been positively identified by comparison with an identical label in the National Portrait Gallery archive, previously attached to a portrait of Charles Dilke’s wife Emilia Francis (née Strong). Following Dilke, 2nd Baronet’s death, the majority of his estate worth £130,878 8s was not inherited by his son, who was incarcerated with mental illness, but was divided between friends and family, including his biographer Stephen Gwynn.
Dilke’s private collection label insinuates that there was once a written catalogue or inventory of his art collection, however, this has not been found. His catalogue may have undergone the same fate as his manuscripts to which Dilke took a pair of scissors in the last years of his life.
This portrait is after one of Sir Anthony Van Dyck’s most tender portraits of the royal children. Painted in 1636 for the children’s mother Henrietta Maria, it depicts Prince Charles (later Charles II) leaning against the base of a classical Doric column, Prince James (later James II) tenderly holding his brother’s hand and Princess Mary, who married William II of Orange-Nassau when she was nine. They are accompanied by two King Charles spaniels, which in the original ‘are arguably the finest dogs in the history of British painting’, which lends both a sense of scale to the sitters and a sense of intimacy. The painting was much admired, as is demonstrated by the continued interest that it provided to artists, including Sir Joshua Reynolds who made a sketch of the composition and, it has been argued, adopted the composition in his portrait of Anne Townshend.
The calm of the sitters belies the political tumult that was to be unleashed in 1642, but six years after the painting’s creation, by the English Civil War. This resulted in the execution of Charles I, ushering in over half a decade of parliamentary rule, which was only broken by the restoration of Charles II (shown here) as king in 1660. James, who succeeded the brother whose hand he holds with such evident affection, was, however, to be deposed as a result of his Roman Catholicism in favour of the Protestant William of Orange, son of the portrait’s third sitter. Denied the crown by parliament on the death of the childless Queen Anne in favour of the Hanoverians whose pedigree was much weaker, James II’s son and grandson continued to harbour ambitions for the crown, launching attempted invasions in 1715 and 1745. Likely created in the first half of the eighteenth century, this image could, in its delicate portrayal of the children of the ill-fated Charles, reflect the political sympathies of its first owner.
 William Allen is listed as a ‘Carver & Gilder’ at 31 Ebury Street, Pimlico (the address on the reverse of this picture) in the Post Office London Directory, 1843, p.68.
 The Getty Provenance Index Databases: Christie’s, London, 24th-26th May 1838, Virgin and Child sold by 2nd Baron Northwick, bought by Charles Wentworth Dilke.
 ‘Dilke, Sir Charles Wentworth’, ODNB online; ‘Right Honourable Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke’, England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966, 1973-1995, 29th March 1911.
 ‘Dilke, Sir Charles Wentworth’, ODNB online.
 S. J. Barnes, N. De Poorter, Oliver Millar, Horst Vey, Van Dyck: A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings (New Havey and London 2004), p. 479