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    Sale 7448

    Old Master and British Pictures

    7 December 2007, London, King Street

  • Lot 153

    Studio of Johann Kerseboom (? c. 1683-1708 London)

    Portrait of the Hon. Robert Boyle, F.R.S. (1627-1691), three-quarter-length, in a black silk mantle, seated at his desk with his left hand on an open book

    Price Realised  


    Studio of Johann Kerseboom (? c. 1683-1708 London)
    Portrait of the Hon. Robert Boyle, F.R.S. (1627-1691), three-quarter-length, in a black silk mantle, seated at his desk with his left hand on an open book
    with identifying inscription 'THE HONBLE ROB.T BOYLE FOUNDER OF THIS SCHOOL' (lower left)
    oil on canvas
    49¾ x 39¾ in. (126.4 x 101 cm.)

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    Robert Boyle (1627-1691) was one of the most important natural philosophers of the 17th century. Born at Lismore Castle in Munster, Ireland, Boyle was the seventh and youngest son amongst the fourteen children of Richard Boyle, first earl of Cork (1566-1643), Lord High Treasurer of Ireland, and his second wife Catherine (c. 1588-1630), daughter of the literary scholar Sir Geoffrey Fenton (c. 1539-1608). Richard Boyle ('the Great Earl') was one of the outstanding self-made men of the age; having arrived in Ireland in 1588 with almost no money, he became one of the wealthiest men in the kingdom, and many of his children went on to achieve social and professional eminence - Robert Boyle is the most famous today. One of the first 'gentlemen scientists' Robert Boyle's contribution was such that he is remembered as the first modern chemist, and founder of the discipline. 'Boyle's Law', which he formulated to describe the relationship between pressure and volume, remains one of the fundamental lessons of basic chemistry. His The Sceptical Chymist, or Chymico-Physical Doubts & Paradoxes (London, 1661) is considered a masterpiece of scientific literature. In addition Boyle was a skilled demonstrator, and his experiments with an air pump inspired Joseph Wright of Derby's dramatic painting An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump (1768, now in the National Gallery, London).

    Boyle's elaborate will led to the establishment of Boyle's Endowed School at Yetminster, and the present picture was presented to the School in circa 1697, probably through the efforts of John Warr, one of Boyle's executors who had strongly backed the creation of the new School. When the School was closed under the terms of the 1944 Education Act, the portrait passed to the newly-founded Boyle's Educational Foundation.

    A nephew of the German history painter Friedrich Kerseboom (Solingen 1632-1693 London), Johann Kerseboom first worked in Germany, where he painted the Electress Sophia Dorothea. He and his uncle later moved to London, where they joined the growing number of émigré Continental artists. Kerseboom worked in the style established by Willem Wissing, albeit in somewhat warmer and considerably more varied colours. He collaborated with a number of artists, most notably the drapery-painter Jan van der Vaardt (Haarlem 1653-1727 London), who had also worked with Wissing. Robert Boyle commissioned the prototype of this portrait in circa 1689, with the idea that a number of copies should commemorate Boyle in places that had been important to him, perpetuating his presence. Thus, one version passed down among Boyle's descendants (the so-called 'Shannon version', now in the Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia); one was kept in the Royal Society; and one, the present picture, in the school Boyle endowed. Other versions are kept in the Royal Collection, Kensington Palace; Bolton Hall, as part of the Chatsworth settlement; and at the College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia. Kerseboom's prototype for the present picture (generally believed to be the painting in the Royal Society, but possibly the so-called 'Shannon portrait') is often cited as a particularly outstanding example of his 'sympathetic and robust' portraits of gentlemen.

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    Presented by the sitter's executors to Boyle's Endowed School at Yetminster, circa 1697, until 1955, when the School closed and Boyle's Educational Foundation was created to replace the previous board of governors, to which all property passed (portrait in possession of Mrs Stone, one of the trustees from circa 1967).

    Pre-Lot Text



    J. Hutchins, History & Antiquities of the County of Dorset, London, 1815, IV, p. 269.
    An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Dorset, I, London, 1952, p. 273.
    R.E.W. Maddison, 'The Portraiture of Robert Boyle', The Annals of Science, XV, 1959, pp. 170-171, pl. 22.


    Sherborne Museum, Dorset, on loan, 1972-1974.
    Dorset County Museum, on loan, 1977.