This delicately rendered portrait of the young King Charles IX is a fine and rare example of the work of the celebrated French Renaissance portrait painter and miniaturist, François Clouet. Clouet trained under his father Jean, who he succeeded as ‘painctre et varlet de chambre’ to Francis I in 1540, and continued to work for the Valois monarchy after his patron’s death in 1547. The artist remained in royal service until the end of his life, working for the French royal family and their court.
This portrait is based on an almost certainly ad vivum portrait drawing made by Clouet in 1561 (fig. 1), the year Charles (1550-1574) succeeded his brother François II (1544-1560) as king. It was used as the official image of the newly crowned monarch and constitutes the defining image of Charles IX, with all subsequent iconography of the king, including Clouet’s later portraits, deriving from it. While many painted variants crop the sitter’s pose to bust-length, this painting presents the king in the same half-length format as in the original drawing. The painted portraits of this type exist in two distinct variants: the first showing the king with an opulent fur lining to his coat, for instance a portrait in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (fig. 2); and the second, of which this is a particularly fine example, presenting the sitter in a simpler doublet, other versions are in France (Metz, Musée de la Cour d’Or) and Italy (Brescia, Pinacoteca Tosio).
While Clouet’s drawings sometimes offer a more immediate and lively depiction of their sitters, his painted portraits typically exhibit a more subtle formality and an air of courtly elegance, conveying a sense of refinement, sophistication and calm authority. The careful drawing and smooth modelling of the face in this portrait are hallmarks of Clouet’s masterful technique. The costume, which is also of high calibre, is likely to have been painted by an expert in that field. Painters like Jean Decourt (who worked under Clouet during the 1560s and succeeded him as official painter to the French court after the latter’s death in 1472) specialised in painting detailed renditions of textiles and court dress (as is exemplified by his Portrait of a lady, lot 20 in this sale), and it is likely that a collaboration with an artist of similar ability produced the Northwick portrait.
We are grateful to Dr. Alexandra Zvereva for confirming the attribution after inspection of the original.
A note on the provenance:
This picture was first documented in 1864 in the collection of George Rushout-Bowles, 3rd Lord Northwick, who inherited Northwick Park and his title from his uncle, John Rushout, 2nd Lord Northwick in 1859. The latter was a noted collector described by Tancred Borenius as ‘of very high intelligence and discrimination...he was able to avail himself of an ample fortune to buy the finest specimens of the Fine arts which came into the market.’ His collection included such treasures as Botticelli’s Portrait of a Young Man (then attributed to Masaccio), Raphael’s Saint Catherine of Alexandria and Annibale Carracci’s Domine Quo Vadis (all London, National Gallery). When he died intestate, the collection was offered for sale at auction and his heir, George Rushout-Bowles, bought back a small but important portion of the collection. In 1912, Captain E.G. Spencer-Churchill inherited Northwick Park and the remains of the collection from his maternal grandmother, the widow of the 3rd Lord Northwick, and over the subsequent fifty years added a further 200 paintings, which he christened the ‘Northwick Rescues’. In his will he stipulated that his collection should be sold in its entirety, which was subsequently honoured in a series of sales in these Rooms in 1965, which realised over £2,000,000.