Completed Continental European before 1800, Dress and Textiles, Portraits: British 16th and 17th C, South West England: Artists and Subjects 38 Could we establish an artist for this portrait and the identity of the three boys?

Topic: Subject or sitter

Does anyone have any ideas or suggestions about this painting? It was accessioned as 'Three Children of Charles I', School of van Dyck, which we are very dubious about. As we've not managed to come up with anything any better in terms of both artist and subject here, we thought Art Detective might be able to help. We have no firm plans for conservation treatment of this work, mainly because it’s something of a mystery and we have to use our limited resources carefully ... The painting is hanging in the gallery right now, so we can’t check the back of it. It will be returning to storage in a couple of months though so we’ll have the chance to check then [to establish what is on the back]. [The NICE paintings entry is linked to the discussion, and details about who bequeathed the painting to the Collection have been requested - Group Leader, Bendor Grosvenor]

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The artist’s nationality is not certain, so the former ‘Flemish School’ attribution has been changed to ‘British’ or ‘European’. The boys could not be identified, so the title remains as it is, but the date has been narrowed down from '17th C' to c.1637–1645.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.


Jacinto Regalado,

Someone with access to the ODNB should check the entry for Sir Jerom Murch, who owned this picture before the donor acquired it, in case there is anything useful in it.

Jennifer Macdonell,

Does it really matter who painted it? It seems to have merit just on a superficial basis - there are so few informal portraits of children on show. It would however be interesting to know who the children are.

Jacinto Regalado,

Maybe Lou Taylor can help narrow down the date based on the dress.

Whaley Turco,

Charles, James and Henry. The ages appear to be correct. The Hair appears to be correct. Even the facial features appear to be similar. They are obviously brothers. Why else would they be painted as a group. At that age and time. The Painting has a definite Van Dyck, Flemish feel to it. Charles is 10 years older than Henry and that matches with the Painting. Henry appears to be about 3-4. Unfortunately that eliminates the easy answer. Van Dyck. As we Know he died in 1641. Given Henry's age this group portrait would have been painted between 1643 and 1646. Of further interest or oddness Henry appears to have had 2 artists working on him. Note His hands. Worse yet, the Family was split up after 1642 because of the Civil War. So if this is them, then it's a painting of remembrance. Painted for? Charles I and Henrietta Maria. All of which seems far fetched. But, given that James and Henry Plus their 2 sisters were held hostage by Parliament one can see where a portrait of some type would be ordered by their Mother. As the Painter was obviously trained in the Flemish Style either by Rubens or Van Dyck I would suggest you check their apprentices. The Style and the Composition reek of Van Dyck and if he had lived till 1646 or so one would guess his hand was on it somehow. Which it still might be. We should probably check the elder boy for evidence of Van Dyck. It is More than Possible that the elder boy was painted first by Van Dyck and the 2 younger boys were added later. Okay enough meandering. I can't wait till you check the back of the painting and see what's there.

Jacinto Regalado,

I agree with Marcie that these are not royal children, certainly not those of Charles I. I am struck by the marked contrast between the black dress of the boy at left and that of the others, which is most probably significant. Again, perhaps Lou Taylor can help.

Jacob Simon,

As is often the case, the NICE Paintings entry is weak, not least in this case on dating. I'd suggest that the costume could be 1640s or a bit earlier, although I'm not used to seeing this type of costume in Flemish paintings, if indeed it is Flemish.

Jacinto Regalado,

It might be British, even if by someone born elsewhere. The dress of the two younger boys could be British, but that of the oldest is not only a different color but a seemingly different style.

Marcie Doran,

I’d like to see a close-up image of the book. Using the photo from the NICE site, I turned the book upside down and turned on the wand edit of my iPad. Every time I look at the photo, I imagine a different scene. Is it a man in a boat? Is it a man in a basket? Is there a dog?

Jacob Simon,

Regrettably the picture is quite worn with the warm ground showing through and a lack of highlights. Not a matter of cleaning but inherent in its current condition I suspect.

Jacinto Regalado,

I'm wondering about mourning customs, which may have involved older children but not those below a certain age.

Marcie Doran,

The young man with the book is the only person who is seated. Would a university student have worn a black gown over his clothes? I think the younger children wish to play with their studious elder sibling. I could imagine the parents showing the portrait to their children and telling them that one day the little ones will need to study, too.

Whaley Turco,

I may Be wrong. You may be correct. But I would like to to submit this Portrait by Van Dyke for your perusal. There is a resemblance Between the Known Charles II and our Painting. I would also point out that if they are the Stuart Boys That painting would have been done in the Middle of the Civil War and The painter would have had to draw from memory or sketches. It would not have been considered a Royal Portrait as Much as it would have been a portrait for Their Parents. A Photograph as it were. The Parliament held the 2 Younger children as Hostages.{LPARENTHESES} 1600-49)-and-Queen-Henrietta-Maria-(1609-69),-1637-.html

Andrew Dykes,

One reason why the boy on the left is in black and the other two aren't may be that they're half-brothers. The one on the left is clearly the eldest - is it possible that his mother died (possibly in childbirth; very common then) and his father remarried?

Marcie Doran,

In my opinion, small details are meant to show that the boys are brothers. For example: 1. all three boys have similar cuffs; 2. the left hand of the young man holding the book is similar to the left hand of the middle child; and, 3. the lock of hair over the young man's right ear is similar to the lock of hair over the middle child's right ear.

I don't think it is a rattle in the youngest boy's hand (as suggested in the NICE entry). The twine that is attached to the bird seems to be wound around that wooden object.

This is joyful painting!

Tamsyn Taylor,

These are not the children of Charles I. Those children had very long faces- unusually long, even as toddlers. Not little round faces. Charles hair in long in every picture of him, right up to the age of fourteen. One of the distinguishing characteristics of Royal dress was the lace on their collars. It was a sign of wealth. There is no painting that I know of, showing the Royal children without having lace borders on their collars.
The eldest boy, who could be 12 or 13 might already be at a University College as suggested. But the notion of mourning was suggested by another writer here. The black clothes on the older child and his quite demeanour and detachment could indicate that this is a painting done after his death. We may be looking for a family who lost a boy at the age of about 12.

Tamsyn Taylor,

Just to add to my suggestion that the eldest child here is deceased- the second child is occupying centre stage, as the son and heir. He is holding a goldfinch, the symbol of Christ's passion, on which the eldest child is gazing with his hand on his breast in an attitude of self-awareness and contemplation.
The Goldfinch was a common symbol in Renaissance and Baroque painting of the Madonna with the Christ Child and St John. St John happily presents the bird to the infant Christ, who may bless it, or draw away in fear.

Marcie Doran,

Just to assist with dating this work, my first composite is based on a 1648 work by Jan Jansz. de Stomme on the Sotheby’s website. This boy's jacket is quite similar to the ones worn by the two youngest children in 'Portrait of Three Boys' but, as I'm sure Tamsyn would agree, the collar and cuffs are much more like those one would see in a royal portrait.

Could this be a work from the circle of Wallerant/Wallerand Vaillant (1623–1677)? The attached composite is based on a painting “from the circle of Wallerant Vaillant" on the Bonham’s website and an extract from a painting attributed to Wallerand Vaillant at the Museum of Fine Arts Budapest

Tamsyn Taylor,

Following on from my previous suggestion, I am going to suggest that the reason for the dour black on the eldest child and plain collars on the younger two is that this was a strictly Protestant family who supported Parliament in the Civil War.
My suggestion is that we are looking at the grandsons of Oliver St John, 1st Earl of Bolingbroke (1580?-1646).
His son Oliver produced four daughters and pre-deceased his father(1642)
The second son Paulet St John became the 2nd Earl Bolingbroke and had three sons :
Oliver (b. about1630-d.1688)
Paulet (1634-1711)
Francis (163?-lived to adulthood)
These three boys are about the right age.

There is a painting by van Dyck of the family of Oliver St John, Earl Bolingbroke. The children in the picture appear to be his grandchildren. There are two older girls and five boys. on has to presume that the list of children that I found was incomplete, and that several of the younger children died
The presence of only two granddaughters possibly indicates that two of the girls had married before this painting.

I would like to propose as possible author of the work under discussion William Dobson or Samuel Cooper.

1. van Dyck of St John family

2. Family portrait by William Dobson,-Probably-that-of-Richard-Streatfeild,-c.1645-.html

Lou Taylor, Dress and Textiles,

I would suggest a date of between c 1637-1645 for this portrait. Wealthy boys were dressed like their fathers from the age of 5. The square shape of two of the boys’ collars, the slightly raised waist on the central figure and the long hair all suggest these dates. I cannot explain the different clothes of the little boy reading.

As to the idea that this could be dated to the late 19th century - I just don’t see that at all. I have not got the knowledge to understand whether this could be some sort of late 19th century ‘pastiche’. There was however a vogue from c 1886-7 - c1890 for dressing little boys in 'Little Lord `Fauntleroy' jackets and breeches, often of plain velvet and always with a Vandyke collar and sometimes cuffs- and often with long hair.

Attachment 1: Little Lord Fauntleroy suit MET NY 1885, no. 2009.300.3293. These were in vogue after the publication of the novel of the same name by France Hodgson Burnett 1885-1886. Often the lace collar was worn with a plainer dark suit and jacket.

Attachment 2: Boys from Cambridge 1889-1900. (Manchester Art Gallery). This shows a very watered down form of the style. This style really was nothing like that of the late 1630s and early 1640s.

Lou Taylor, Dress and Textiles,

The boy in black here not in mourning. Boys over the age of 5 wore adult male mourning - similar in style to fashionable dress but in black. See painting ‘The Holme Family’ 1628, painter unknown, V and A no W .5.1951.

I have been trying to follow up Marcie’s idea- could he be in a Univ. undergraduate gown? By lightening the shade in the painting I could see a collar protruding over the shoulders and the possibility of some sort of gown. A. Kerr, in 'Hargreaves Maudsley's History of Academic Dress,Notes and corrections,' [ Burgon Soc.1-1.2008, p. 81] notes mid/late 17th century gowns with a flap collar and winged sleeves.

I then checked on age of univ. students. Rosemary O’Dare writes that Early modern period 'pupils in elementary and grammar schools fitted within the age range of four to 18 and most undergraduates at the universities within the range of 14-21 or 22.’ [see 'Universities and professions in the early modern period,’ p.82.'Day.pdf

However ‘our boy’ looks much younger than 14- so I don't seem to have moved our discussion forward, sadly.

Tamsyn Taylor,

I would agree with Lou Taylor over the dating.
Thee boys are in 17th century dress, not "Little Lord Fauntleroy" suits which were cut quite differently.

Tamsyn Taylor,

One of the pics posted by Marcie Doran is from 1648. The cut of th jacket is almost identical to that worn by the younger boys, as she points out.

Louis Musgrove,

My impression---- This is three incarnations of the SAME boy----happy child---cheerful boy and miserable teenage student. Very allegorical ! And it looks very Victorian to me. Any technical stuff as to the age of the fabric of the painting???? 100 years versus 350???

Jacinto Regalado,

Well, this is definitely not after van Dyck, meaning it is not a copy of any known van Dyck (and I have checked the standard catalogue by Barnes et al. to confirm that).

Santiago Sanabria ,

Could it be Italian? Reminds of this painting "Bambino con il suo cane" by Domenico Fiasella.

Also the black-dressed boy's clothes seem similar to those worn by genovese noblemen in portraits by Giovanni Bernardo Carbone.

Picture 1 :

Picture 2 :

Jacinto Regalado,

It had crossed my mind that the boy in black looked Italian, but the other boys look more Flemish.

Marcie Doran,

The tablecloth doesn’t look Italian to me. Your robe image is certainly interesting, Santiago. The robe might be like the artist's robe with short shoulder extensions at this link.

This won't be helpful in terms of artist but the painting reminds me of a work by an unknown artist that is at the Museum of Fine Arts Ghent – 'Portrait of Three Boys', ca.1660. The older boy in that portrait has a beaky nose but otherwise the painting could depict the boys in the Art UK work a couple of years later. There is even a (larger) bird in that work. My composite is based on figure 4 from an article on the Fashion History Timeline website.

Jacinto Regalado,

Van Dyck's portraits of aristocratic (let alone royal) children were practically always more formal than this one, so that there could be no question of their rank and standing. What is arguably the least formal among them is the portrait of Philadelphia and Elizabeth Wharton, and even that one is more formal than ours.

Andrew Shore,

I wonder if there's something in the painting bottom left, on the tablecloth.

It's a bit difficult to render with Photoshop, and maybe it's just a digital artefact, but I think it has some writing on it. I wondered if it says 'N MAES' and then possibly 'Fecit' (and maybe some more but I can't make out anything else).

I've done a quick illustration of where that is on the attached image, roughly showing where I think there might be text by (very crudely!) writing it over in the repeated section in black.

I think Nicolaes Maes fits in terms of subject matter, timescale and style. He seems to have used various ways to sign his works, as seen on this quick Google image search, although often with the AE elided and curls on the M:

He also painted children (and groups of them) and also used that patterned tablecloth effect (although I know that's common among various painters of this time), e.g.:

I am aware that this discussion was initiated by the gallery, and I am sure it has been examined very closely, but perhaps someone could go and have a look at this section if it's on display.

Marcie Doran,

The work that you used as an example is indeed quite similar to the mystery work, Andrew. It is dated 1679–1680. Personally, I think the mystery work is from about 1648, which would be a bit early for Maes (1634–1693).

A 1671 work by Maes that depicts a boy with his dog and bird was in a 2006 Christie's auction While the two birds are quite similar, the boy in the Maes work seems so much more vibrant than the boys in the mystery work.

I cannot find any Maes works that show the Titian hair of the three boys.

Jacob Simon,

The first post in this discussion asked about Sir Jerom Murch. Here is an extract from Graham Davis’s article, available online, ‘Sir Jerom Murch and the ‘civic gospel’ in Victorian Bath’, Journal of Liberal Democrat History, 37, Winter 2002–03, pp.14-17:

“Enter Jerom Murch (1807-95), a descendant of a Huguenot family that settled in England in the seventeenth century and of one of 2,000 nonconformist ministers ejected from the Church of England in 1662. Murch was educated at University College London. He spent his early career as a Unitarian minister in Norfolk before settling in Bath in 1833, where he was appointed minister of Trim Street Chapel in a poor part of the city. ...

“He became a member of the Town Council in 1862 and was elected Mayor of Bath in 1863 and again in 1864. In all he was mayor on seven occasions, twice in successive years, stood for Parliament unsuccessfully as a Gladstonian Liberal in 1873, and at the end of a distinguished career he was knighted. ... If there was one man who could be said to be the leading figure of Victorian Bath, it was assuredly Jerom Murch.”

Not that I am suggesting that our portrait represents his ancestors.

It has not been possible to suggest an artist for this painting and there is no information at all to help with the identity of the three boys. It is certainly not by Van Dyck or of the children of Charles I. However, the date has been determined as c.1637-1645. The nationality of the artist is not certain, Flemish is unlikely, and I suggest it is catalogued as British or Continental School, c.1637-45.