We are grateful to Jane Eade and Tabitha Barber for confirming the attribution to Joan Carlile upon first-hand inspection of the original. We are also grateful to Jane Eade for writing this catalogue note.

This acutely observed, delicate portrait of an unknown woman suggest that artist and sitter were well acquainted.

The name of the painter, Joan Carlile (c.1606-1679), is a sadly unfamiliar one today, though she was much admired in her lifetime and for many years after her death. In a text on the art of painting by the royalist historian William Sanderson, she heads a list of female painters, preceding the youthful Mary Beale (1633-99): ‘And in Oyl Colours we have a virtuous example in that worthy Artiste Mrs. Carlile’.[i] Her surviving oeuvre, to which this work can now be added, indicates that she was principally a painter of women.[ii] A similar setting to the present work can be seen in another small portrait by Carlile of...

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We are grateful to Jane Eade and Tabitha Barber for confirming the attribution to Joan Carlile upon first-hand inspection of the original. We are also grateful to Jane Eade for writing this catalogue note.

This acutely observed, delicate portrait of an unknown woman suggest that artist and sitter were well acquainted.

The name of the painter, Joan Carlile (c.1606-1679), is a sadly unfamiliar one today, though she was much admired in her lifetime and for many years after her death. In a text on the art of painting by the royalist historian William Sanderson, she heads a list of female painters, preceding the youthful Mary Beale (1633-99): ‘And in Oyl Colours we have a virtuous example in that worthy Artiste Mrs. Carlile’.[i] Her surviving oeuvre, to which this work can now be added, indicates that she was principally a painter of women.[ii] A similar setting to the present work can be seen in another small portrait by Carlile of her neighbour in Richmond, Mrs William Murray of Ham House (Thirlestane Castle Trust). Like Carlile’s husband, the Murray family were Scottish, and Carlile would go on to paint their daughter, the redoubtable Elizabeth, later Countess of Dysart and Duchess of Lauderdale. It is likely that the unknown woman of the current portrait also came through a social or family connection.

The subject of this small work is depicted wearing a gown of coral red with a fine lace collar and cap. The cap is shown twisting slightly as it falls to frame the face, adding to the naturalism of an already lively portrait. The costume can be compared to another small-scale oil attributed to Carlile, of Sir Thomas and Lady Dorothy Browne (NPG 2062) and suggests a sitter from outside Carlile’s principal court circle. Several details are characteristic of the artist, particularly the highlights to the corner of each eye and the bridge of the nose, ending in a tiny point on the latter’s tip. The smooth copper support of this work gives a luminous, vibrant quality to the flesh tones, adding to the sense of presence. The support may also make more visible the careful drawn lines around the side of the face and neck.[iii] The lightening-bolt effect of some of the highlights on the coral silk is similarly distinctive and the rocky setting with a landscape beyond, whether real or imagined, echoes the format of her full-length portraits.

Despite being a contemporary of Sir Peter Lely, it is to van Dyck’s English portraits of the 1630s that Carlile’s artistic influences can be traced. She was connected to the court of Charles I through her husband, the courtier, poet and playwright Lodowick Carlile, a gentleman of the privy chamber who later became Keeper of Richmond Park. As early as 1634 she is recorded in a notebook of the royal physician and chemist Théodore Turquet de Mayerne as corresponding with him about amber varnish: ‘Mrs Carlile a worthy lady who paints very well sent me over the notes of Mr. Lanire, an excellent musician who occupies himself with painting’. Nicholas Lanier was Master of the King’s Music as well as being a painter and was instrumental in luring van Dyck to England. The reference gives us an insight into the world of this presumably self-taught painter, and her possible connections both with van Dyck and with the immigrant artistic community de Mayerne entertained at his home in St Martin’s Lane.

The years following the death of Charles I and the Interregnum were lean ones for the Carliles and in 1653 Joan took lodgings in Covent Garden in order to have a professional studio, joining artists such as Peter Lely who had become van Dyck’s successor at court and would go on to paint Oliver Cromwell. A number of full-length portraits of a repetitive format, but with carefully rendered individual portraits and landscape settings, date from this period. Making a living from her art was evidently hard, however, and by 1656 the Carliles were back in Richmond where a neighbour and friend wrote of their ‘declining condition (for painting, and poetry have shut out of dores providence and good husbandry)’.[iv] Perhaps her work began to be perceived as old-fashioned. Yet Joan Carlile’s reputation was still high a quarter of a century after her death, when she was said to have been patronised by Charles I for her copies of Italian Old Masters, and for sharing with van Dyck a gift from the king of expensive ultramarine paint.[v] There is alas no evidence for either the gift or the copies of Old Masters, but Carlile’s evident skill in painting on a small scale is attested to by the present work, and other portrait miniatures on copper attributed to her are waiting to be studied.[vi]

[i] William Sanderson, Graphice, The Use of the Pen and Pensil. Or, The most Excellent Art of Painting, London 1658, p.20. The list headed by Carlile continues with Mary Beale, a ‘Mrs. Brooman’ and a ‘Mrs Weimes’.

[ii] For more on the life and work of Joan Carlile see Jane Eade, ‘Rediscovering the “Worthy artiste Mrs Carlile”’ in The National Trust Historic Houses & Collections Annual 2018, Christopher Rowell (ed.) in association with Apollo, June 2018.

[iii] Comparative technical analysis on two full-length oil portraits by Carlile, belonging to the Tate Gallery (T14495) and to the National Trust at Ham House (NT 1139727) respectively, found little under-drawing but where present it was, as here, in a fine dark medium. Report by Joyce Townshend August 2018.

[iv][iv] Bishop Brian Duppa in Gyles Isham (ed.), The Correspondence of Bishop Brian Duppa and Sir Justinian Isham, 1650-1660, Lamport, 1955, p.74.

[v] Bainbridge Buckeridge, ‘An Essay Towards an English School of Painting’, printed in Roger de Piles, The Art of Painting, and the Lives of Painters, London, 1706, p.406. Buckeridge mistakenly gives Joan’s name as Anne.

[vi] For example a portrait of a lady, lot 18, Fine Portrait Miniatures, Bonhams 28 April 1999 and a portrait said to be of Penelope Naunton, Countess of Pembroke, lot 9, Fine Portrait Miniatures, Bonhams, 21 November 1996.

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500 Years of British Art