This portrait of the jeweler and goldsmith Thomas Cletcher (1598-1666) can be dated to around 1660, in Cornelis Jonson van Ceulen's later Dutch period. He lived in the northern Netherlands from the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1643 until his death in 1661 and paintings from these decades are considered to be among his finest, characterized by an elegance reminiscent of van Dyck and an engaging rendering of physiognomy and facial expression. Despite the conservative nature of Cletcher's pose -- the traditional pyramidal shape of the body broken by the inclusion of the hand for expressive purposes -- the liveliness of his expression makes him seem relaxed and accessible. Jonson van Ceulen would have known Thomas Cletcher through Daniel Mijtens, a Dutch artist in England with whom he worked. Mijtens had married Thomas' sister, Gratia; his portrait of Cletcher in The Hague (Gemeentemuseum) confirms the identity of the sitter in this painting. Jonson van Ceulen is may also have known Cletcher through connections in his own family. In his Anecdotes of Painting, of 1762, Horace Walpole notes that one of Cornelis' sisters was married to Nicholas Russell or Roussel, of Bruges, who was the jeweler to Kings James and Charles I.
Jonson van Ceulen is described as an English painter of Flemish descent who lived in the northern Netherlands. His grandfather originally came from Cologne, which explains the family's surname, and his parents had fled religious persecution in Antwerp to settle in London. Cornelis was successful in London, producing several hundred portraits between 1619 and around 1640, primarily of members the wealthy merchant classes. He also painted copies of famous works such as Daniel Mijtens' portrait of Charles I (1629, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), which may have been a commission either from Mijtens or from the King himself. He fled England at the start of the Civil War in 1643 and lived in Amsterdam, Middelburg and, finally, Utrecht. Among his more important Dutch commissions was the large group portrait of the magistrates of The Hague (Oude Stadhuis, The Hague) of 1647 and Prince William III as a child (Knole, Kent) painted in 1657 when the sitter was seven years old.
We are grateful to Sturla Gudlaugsson and Fred Meijer of the RKD for their attribution of the painting to Jonson van Ceulen and their identification of the sitter as Thomas Cletcher.