A portrait of King Charles I, normally on display in the Guildhall’s King Charles Hall, has recently been receiving some restoration work as part of a wider art restoration project by Winchester City Council in partnership with Hampshire Cultural Trust.
The portrait was removed and sent to April Johnson at The Brick House for cleaning and restoration and to enable it to be closely inspected in the hope that the artist would be identified. As it turned out, the inspection would reveal a far bigger secret, hidden for many years.
Portrait artists leave clues to their identity in the form of ‘trade mark’ brush strokes and paint types. These marks are also often used to determine the age of the painting. Charles’ portrait bore many similarities to the style of famous court painter, Peter Lely and was widely expected to be identified as a Lely piece. During the inspection, it was revealed that the sceptre held in Charles’ right hand was originally painted as a staff and had been overpainted. It was also noted that Charles’ head was painted by a different hand to the rest of the painting and that the paint around the head was also different.
Although not unusual for paintings by Lely - he would often paint the face of his subjects then ask one of his students to paint the body and the background from a number of poses - in this case, there was a noticeable difference. The paint used and the quality of the work on the head of this painting was not up to the standard expected of Lely. Did one of his students finish the King’s portrait off?
Further investigation revealed that the ruff round the neck of Charles was thinning and that details of a different ruff were showing through. The real surprise came when the area below the feet was cleaned and the inscription ‘Henry Jermain Earl of St Albans’ was revealed.
Henry Jermain (Jermyn) was a Member of Parliament and staunch Royalist in the English Civil War, Lord Chamberlain and also a knight of the garter. A portrait of Jermyn in his garter robes is owned by the National Trust and is on display in Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire. In that portrait, Jermyn is in exactly the same pose as the portrait and his hair conforms to the area of paint around Charles’ head. Further research will be undertaken to discover who the unsung artist might be.
Ross Turle, Curator of Social and Industrial History for Hampshire Cultural Trust said, “It is not unusual for artists to re-use canvases, the city has another example in Abbey House, but what is enticing in this case is that we know who the former sitter was. We have a starting point for further research and hopefully a bit of dogged detective work will throw some light on the mystery”.
Councillor Rob Humby, Portfolio holder for Economy and Arts said: “The City Council is fortunate to own several unique and much-loved pieces of art and we take our responsibilities to their care very seriously. The portrait of King Charles has hung proudly in the King Charles Hall for many years and it is fascinating to discover that he has been concealing this secret all this time. We look forward to learning more about the other pieces in the Guildhall and hope that our visitors enjoy them just as much as we do”.