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Marcus Gheeraerts (attr) c.1561-1635
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Marcus Gheeraerts (attr) c.1561-1635

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Full length portraits, here identified as of Frances Earle (nee Fountaine) in an opulently embroidered dress sitting in a chair holding a watch, with her eldest daughter and eldest son John Earle on a portico; their dog sleeps beneath the chair.


Oil painting on canvas 57 x 63 inches, in a fine carved and silvered frame


Provenance: Erasmus Earle (1590-1667) of Salle and Heydon Hall, who married the sitter, his cousin Frances Fountaine (1592-1675);
Their eldest son, John, c.1624-1697, portrayed on the right of the picture;
Augustine Earle of Heydon Hall;
Erasmus Earle (d.1768) who d.s.p. leaving his estates to his sister Mary, eldest daughter of Augustine Earle of Heydon Hall and her husband William Wiggett (marriage at Guestwick 1756; died 1798) who took the surname of Bulwer by Act of Parliament in the year of his marriage, as grandson and heir of William Bulwer of Woodalling, Norfolk;
Brigadier-General William Earle Bulwer, their son, 1757-1807;
William Earle Lytton Bulwer of Heydon Hall, 2nd son of the above (1799-1874);
William Earle Gascoigne Lytton-Bulwer of Heydon Hall (1829-1910), his son;
Thence by descent until sold at the contents sale of 20th July 1949;
Banningham Hall Collection, Norfolk, until acquired by us.

Literature: cf. “Portraits in Norfolk Houses” (Prince Frederick Duleep Singh and Rev. Edmund Farrer, Volume I. p.229 et seq. (nd., but c.1929)

The painting may be dated on costume grounds to circa 1631-3.

The help of Thomas Woodcock FSA, Garter King of Arms, in elucidating the early provenance of the picture and the identities of the sitters is gratefully acknowledged.

Heydon Hall in Norfolk was built 1581-4 by Henry Dynne (d.1586) whose family had owned the manor since the fifteenth century. On his demise it was sold to William Colfer, and from his family to Robert Kemp (d.1616) whose son, Sir Robert Kemp of Finchingfield, then sold it in 1650 to Erasmus Earle (1590-1637), the Cromwellian lawyer. A subsequent Erasmus Earle bequeathed it in 1768 to his sister Mary and her husband William Wiggett Bulwer, in whose family it subsequently descended until modern times; it now belongs to the Bulwer-Long family.

The collection of portraits at Heydon was listed by the Rev. Edmund Farrer in 1927 after the visit by Duleep Singh in May 1909. His list is relatively thorough for portraits of the 18th and 19th century, though as he notes himself “there are a great many 16th- and 17th century portraits still unrecorded”. However, it is clear from the documented portraits that the house still contained the 17th century portraits of the Earle family, and the identity of the sitters has been established by Thomas Woodcock FSA from family records at the College of Arms (there is no printed pedigree of the Earle family).

Erasmus Earle, lawyer and politician, (1590-1667) was baptised at Sall, Norfolk, the only son of Thomas Earle and his first wife, Anne, daughter of Arthur Fountaine of Sall. He was educated at the Grammar School and metricuulated as a pensioner from Peterhouse College, Cambridge, in 1609. He studied law at Furnicall’s and l;ater Lincoln’s Inn, where he was called to the bar in 1618. On February 25th 1617 he married his “beloved cousin” Frances Fountaine (1592-1671), daughter of James Fountaine, by whom he had two daughters and six sons.

Marcus Gheeraerts was the son of a like-named painter and was born 1561-2 in Bruges; the family was embroiled in the wars of religion and emigrated to England to England in 1568. He remained here all his life, dying in London 19th January 1635 (O.S.). His career as a successful portrait painter stems from his patronage by Sir Henry Lee of Ditchley, for and of whom he painted numerous portraits, most notably the great full-length of the Queen standing on a map of England, her feet placed securely on Oxfordshire, Lee’s home county. He was related by family and by marriage to many of the known artists in England of the period, including Isaac Oliver, John de Critz et al.. Gheeraerts enjoyed court paronage in the following reign of James I, though his career appears gradually to have been eclipsed by the new and more fashionable portrait painters arriving from the Continent after about 1615. From the (sparse) evidence of a few signed pictures, his clients in the 1620’s seem rather to have been academics, gentry of men in the professions rather than the courtly grandees which were his staple of the earlier tears of his career. The latest signed portrait (of Anne Hoskins) is usually but erroneously (eg Hearn Marcus Gheeraerts II Elizabethan Artist Tate Gallery 2002) said to date from 1629. However, the Sir Francis Leigh illustrated above is clearly signed and dated two years later, when the artist would have been in his seventieth year.

At this very late date, the technique of his paintings on canvas has a very different appearance from his more enamel-like portraits of oak panel. They are altogether drier in appearance, the paint very thinly applied in the draperies and the background, but with a much thicker impasto for the principal parts of the composition. This is a painting technique common both to the present painting and to the Sir Francis Leigh. Both, curiously, share the motif of a sleeping dog curled up on the floor: a rare conceit indeed in British painting of this period, In the absence of more than a tiny number of signed or documented paintings by the artist at this period, it is impossible to be dogmatic about the attribution of the present painting to Gheeraerts. Certainly, it is the mainstream of English portrait painting exemplified by Gheeraerts, and almost entirely free of the Continental early-baroque which by this date was rapidly transmuting the face of painting in this country under the hegemony of Van Dyck.

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