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Portrait of a bearded man, bust-length

Portrait of a bearded man, bust-length
oil on panel
20 x 19 in. (50.8 x 48.3 cm.)
Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (1660-1744), Wimbledon Manor, and by descent with the house to her grandson,
The Hon. John Spencer (1708-1746), and by descent to his son,
John Spencer, 1st Viscount Spencer, and later 1st Earl Spencer (1734-1783), Wimbledon Manor until at least 1751 and later Althorp, and by descent to the following,
Edward John Spencer, 8th Earl Spencer (1924-1992) until at least 1976.
Acquired by the present owner in circa 1980.
Catalogue of the Pictures at Althorp made in November 1802, manuscript, listed in the Picture Gallery, as 'Sir A Mor' (see K. Garlick, op. cit., p. 122).
T.F. Dibdin, Aedes Althorpianae: Or An Account of the Mansion, Books, and Pictures, at Althorp; The Residence of George John Earl Spencer, London, 1822, p. 246, as 'A Man of Letters, by Sir Anthony Mor', illustrated.
Dr. Waagen, Treasures of Art in Great Britain: Being an account of the Chief Collections of Paintings, Drawings,Sculptures and Illuminated MSS., London, 1854, III, pp. 456-457, as 'Joos van Cleve, His own Portrait'.
Catalogue of the Pictures at Althorp House, in the county of Northampton, privately printed, 1851, p. 65, no. 268, as 'Himself, Joos van Cleve'.
C. Justi, ‘Der Fall Cleve’, Jahrbuch der Königlich Preussischen Kunstsammlungen, XVI, 1895, pp. 15-16, illustrated.
H. Walpole, 'Journals of Visits to Country Seats, etc.', The Walpole Society, XVI, 1928, p. 14, as 'called Holbein's, and may be so, it is good'.
M.J. Friedländer, Die Altniederländische Malerei, Leiden, 1934, IX, p. 142, no. 105, as 'Joos van Cleve', and dated to circa 1540.
M.J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Painting, New York and Washington, 1972, IXa, p. 70, no. 105, pl. 112.
K.J. Garlick, 'Catalogue of the Pictures at Althorp', The Walpole Society, XLV, 1976, pp. 13 and 122, no. 95, as 'Attributed to Joos van Cleve'.
J.O. Hand, Joos van Cleve: The Complete Paintings, New Haven and London, 2004, p. 190, no. 115.
Manchester, Art Treasures Exhibition Hall, The Art Treasures of Great Britain, 5 May-18 October 1857, no. 511.
London, Royal Academy, Old Masters and deceased Masters of the British School: A Special Collection of Works by Holbein and his School, 5 January-13 March 1880, no. 160, as 'Portrait of the Artist'.
London, The Burlington Fine Arts Club, Exhibition of pictures by Masters of the Netherlandish and allied schools of XV and early XVI centuries, 1892, no. 57, as 'His own Portrait'.
London, Grafton Galleries, Exhibition of Old Masters in aid of the National art-collections fund, 4 October-28 December 1911, no. 89, as 'Portrait of the Painter'.
London, Royal Academy, Flemish Art, 1300-1700, 1953-54, no. 263, as 'Portrait of G.B. Grimaldi of Genoa'.
C.E. Hess.

Brought to you by

Clementine Sinclair
Clementine Sinclair Senior Director, Head of Department

Lot Essay

This fine portrait, which was formerly attributed to both Hans Holbein and Antonis Mor, is a late work by Joos van Cleve, one of the foremost Netherlandish painters of his generation. Dendrochronological testing of the Baltic oak panel has established a usage date between 1522 and 1556, and Till-Holger Borchert, to whom we are grateful, has proposed on stylistic grounds that the portrait was painted in the 1530s. The painting has distinguished provenance, having descended in the Churchill and Spencer family for over two hundred and fifty years, and has never before appeared at auction.
Van Cleve registered as a master painter at the Guild of Saint Luke in Antwerp in 1511 and later served as co-dean in 1519, 1520 and 1525, marking the beginning of a distinguished career in that city, producing large-scale triptychs, small devotional panels as well as numerous portraits, both devotional and secular. His abundant skill in this area saw him garnering commissions from across Europe. Between 1528/9 and 1535, no mention of the painter is known in Antwerp and it is typically assumed, following the assertion of the historian Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540), that he was for some part of this period called to the court of François I of France to paint the king (Philadelphia, Museum of Art), and his queen, Eleanor of Austria (Royal Collection, Hampton Court). He also painted a portrait of Henry VIII in around 1535 (Royal Collection).
Van Cleve appears to have been especially active as a portraitist during the final decade of his life, with over twenty portraits attributed to him by Friedländer during this period. In many ways, the present picture is typical of van Cleve’s late portrait style. The sitter is presented at bust-length, set against a green background. The portrait is painted with characteristically delicate modelling in the skin tones, using smoothly worked transitions between shade and light. The picture too shows van Cleve’s enduring interest in the pose and position of hands in his portraits. He almost invariably included the hands of his sitters in his works throughout his career, and in his late portraits used and experimented with increasingly more dynamic and interesting ways of depicting them, exploiting a much greater variety of poses and incorporating often striking uses of foreshortening. A cleaning of the portrait in 1935 revealed that the sitter originally held a book between his hands, which seems to have been painted out at an early stage since early copies of the picture also do not include this detail. While the style of van Cleve’s portrait retains much which is familiar from the painter’s earlier work, the picture also shows an increasing awareness of the work of his contemporaries. The active position of the hands, for example, is suggestive here of the work of Antwerp painters like Maarten van Heemskerck and Jan Cornelisz. Vermeyen.
Throughout the nineteenth century, this portrait was regularly recorded and described as a self-portrait of the artist, until Justi questioned the identification in 1895 (op. cit.). This assertion appears to have been based on the shared characteristics of the sitter with the presumed portrait of the artist in the Royal Collection. This likeness has long been identified as a self-portrait of van Cleve since it served as the basis for an engraving titled ‘IVSTO CLIVENSI ANVERPIAN PICTORI’ (‘Joos van Cleve, painter of Antwerp’) published in 1572 as part of Dominicus Lampsonius’ Pictorum aliquot celebrium Germaniae inferioris effigies, a series of twenty-three prints depicting famous painters from the Low Countries (fig. 1). The similarities between the Royal Collection picture and the present work, however, seem to be fairly superficial, both depicting men in sombre black dress and full beards, rather than being of the same sitter and it is therefore unlikely that the present work does indeed depict van Cleve himself.
The sitter has also been identified as a portrait of ‘G.B. Grimaldi’ (Royal Academy, 1953-4). This appears to have been based on the survival of a later version of the picture, formerly in the collection of Pyotr Semyonov-Tyan-Shansky (1827-1914) and now in Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, which includes a coat-of-arms and an inscription giving the sitter’s name ‘I·B·DE·GRIMALDI / GENEVOIS’ and age. The arms and inscription on the Hermitage picture seem certainly a later addition and therefore should not necessarily denote a true identification. It is also not clear whether any members of the Grimaldi family were in Antwerp during the period this portrait was painted who might fit the apparent age of the sitter.
A note on the provenance:
The portrait was first recorded by Horace Walpole in 1751 at Wimbledon Manor where it was attributed to Holbein. The Manor had been purchased in 1723 by Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (1660-1744), following the death of her husband the year before. A keen collector and patron of the arts, the Duchess of Marlborough amassed a large collection of important paintings, distinct from those of her husband, John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough (1650-1722). Not holding her grandson, Charles Spencer, 5th Earl of Sunderland (1706-1759), in high esteem, upon her death in 1744 she bequeathed the majority of her personal property to his younger brother, the Honourable John Spencer (1708-1746), heir to Althorp, whose son John (1734-1783) became 1st Earl Spencer in 1765. These properties included the duchess’ picture collections from Marlborough House in London, the Lodge in Windsor Great Park, Holywell House in St Albans and Wimbledon Park, where this portrait was kept. It is not clear when this portrait was taken to Althorp, though this had presumably happened before 1785, when a fire destroyed much of Wimbledon Manor. By 1802, the portrait was in the Picture Gallery at Althorp, where it was attributed to ‘Sir A Mor’ (Garlick, op. cit., p. 122).

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