Completed Continental European before 1800, Portraits: British 16th and 17th C, Portraits: British 18th C 77 Is this portrait Dutch or English? Who is the sitter?

Topic: Subject or sitter

This sitter looks a bit like Helena Fourment, the wife of Rubens. I'm pretty sure it isn't, but surely this alludes to it being a seventeenth-century portrait by a Dutch/Flemish painter probably working in England?

The collection say that, as far as they know, the painting is English School, specifically after Peter Lely.

Tim Williams, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The painting is now listed on Art UK as Dutch School, c.1660, with a note in our database that it is possibly by an artist in the circle of Jürgen Ovens (1623–1678), as suggested by Patrick Larsen.

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.


Eddy Schavemaker,

Stylistically this has specifically much in common with the portraits by Govaert Flinck. See the attached examples. Pose and the type of outdoor setting are very generic but the pleating of the fancy dress is rather similar. The question is, is the quality good enough for Flinck? Tom van der Molen, a curator at the Amsterdam Museum is working on a Flinck monograph. Best to get in touch with him and send him a good quality photo.

Lady Townshend,

For some reason it looks French to me. But I have no evidence to back that up!

Karen Hearn,

On the basis of this digital image, this definitely does not look like an English 17th century portrait to me. Nor does it look at all like a work by Lely. Is there anyone with Scandinavian expertise out there who might have a view?

Karen Hearn

Tim Williams,

I just don't think it can possibly be English, and I feel this artist could be identified - I've thought Maes, Lievens etc and there are splatterings of their flavour, but definitely something else entirely: Scandinavian is an interesting suggestion. I wonder whether the collection could provide any more detailed photographs - particularly of the architecture in the background?

Osmund Bullock,

I am no architectural historian, but a quick investigation of classical building styles in Europe suggests that the Netherlands (and of course England, amongst other countries) is much more likely than Sweden for a classical building like that in the C17th (assuming it shows a real building). I agree with Tim that a clearer image of it would be most helpful.

Bernard Vermet,

Scandinavia, good thought. Since there might be Flinck influence, but it doesn't look Dutch to me and apparently not English to you over there. The kerchief (or how do you call it) reminds me of Gdansk painter Daniel Schultz's portret of Konstancji von Holten Schuman. (Dutch orientated architecture in Sweden is no problem).

Tom Van Der Molen,

At first glance this does noet seem to be by Flinck to me. The handling is too dry and stiff. My first intuition was Ovens, and it is strengthened by the ideas of Scandinavian authorship that other commenters have. I would love a better photo for some detailed comparison though :-)
For Ovens, you should contact Patrick Larsen, who works at the RKD.

Edward Stone,

This discussion is now also linked to the Portraits: British 16th and 17th C group.

Tim Williams,

From NIRP:

Almost ninety paintings were bequeathed by Charles Sydney Howitt in 1918 to the city council, most of which were English works. Although Charles Sydney Howitt left a life interest in the paintings to his wife, she relinquished that in 1921-22, and gave them to Erewash Museum. It is thought that most of these paintings were collected by surgeon Enoch Dawson Howitt, the donor's father, though some may have been purchased by William Howitt (d.1840), his grandfather.

E. Berry Drago,

The rose offers an interesting possibility-- it appears to be a "cabbage" or centifolia type, given the bulbous appearance. This type of rose was characteristic of Dutch and Flemish still-life painting (as in the works of Nicolaes van Verendael (file below, labeled VA_PC...). Similar roses appear in this earlier portrait of a boy (, as well as this contemporaneous portrait of a young woman (

Other contemporaneous English-attributed portraits featuring roses (files labeled NY_YAG, SFK_CCM, WAR_SBT) have a subtly different treatment-- the flowers have a flatter appearance, closer to a gallica rose type.

Of course, this may be a case of an English artist looking elsewhere for precedent. But the rose type may suggest a Dutch or Flemish painter, or at least an English follower of the Dutch/Flemish school.

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Osmund Bullock,

An interesting approach, Ms Drago - certainly the rose is of the 'cabbage' type beloved of C17th Low Countries artists. The first problem with your analysis, though, is that the English-attributed works you show us are much later - well into the C18th, in some cases perhaps as much as 100 years after ours. For a meaningful comparison we should really be looking at English (and Swedish, etc) rose depictions of, say, the 1640s-60s. Even then it may tell us little, as so many artists working all over Europe then were Dutch/Flemish - and those that weren't, heavily influenced by those who were (as you intimate).

Gina Furnari,

The style and pose are similar to portraits by both Sir Peter Lely and Anthony van Dyck. Though I would say this painting is more heavy-handed and stylized (less delicate) than their works.

I wonder if it's possibly a member of the Cavendish family since there is a Derbyshire connection.

Portrait of Lady Penelope Spencer, late 1660s - Sir Peter Lely
Portrait of Mary Hill, Lady Killigrew - Anthony van Dyck - 1638

Christophe JANET,

Not English, it seems Dutch, and, more specifically it bears a strong ressemblance to the works of Jan van Noordt (1623-1681).
However, a late Jan Lievens (1607-1674)can also be considered. A better photograph would be needed. Please note that Lievens went to work in England where he worked for a number of collectors including the Earl of Aruundel.
His late style is at complete odds with his earlier Leiden style.

Christophe JANET,

The flower she holds probably alludes to her recent bethrowal, thus a pendant is to be expected

Wendy Howard,

It looks like a windmill in the far distance behind her right shoulder. Might suggest it's a Dutch landscape.

Osmund Bullock,

Possibly a windmill, Wendy, though I'd taken it as a church tower or even part of the classical building. For any proper assessment of that, and indeed the whole painting, we really do need that higher-res image.

I agree with Christophe that a prominently-held pink rose commonly symbolizes betrothal (though floral symbolism is complicated, and can be multi-layered and indeed contradictory). I'm not remotely qualified to judge on Low Countries portrait painters, but I did notice that Lievens's English residence was brief and too early (c.1632-35) for this work.

Kieran Owens,

The Howitt Bequest, a collection of 18th and 19th century paintings, from which this painting comes, consisted of the possessions of Henry Howitt (1737 - 29th January 1816) and the subsequent generations of his family as referenced above. The Howitts lived at Howitt House, Long Eaton, in Derbyshire. The house, also know as the Old Hall, and The Hall, was built in 1778 by the Derby architect Joseph Pickford. Since 1921 the house and its subsequently-attached Civic Centre, has been used for civic purposes.

The Hampshire Chronicle of the 19th February 1816 recorded that "(Died) At Long Eaton, Derbyshire, aged 78, Henry Hewitt (sic), Esq." He was buried in the Parish of Sawley. Although within it there are no mentions of paintings, Henry's long will can be read here:

The Derby Mercury, of Thursday 23rd February 1797 noticed that "(Died) A few days ago, Mrs. Howitt, wife of Henry Howitt, Esq., of Long Eaton, in this county."

Two Derbyshire marriages are recorded for a Henry Howitt. The first, on the 21st January 1757, was to Ann Towle, which took place at St. Peter's, in Derby. The second, possibly after his 1st wife had died in February 1797, was in 1797 to Ann Start. If the husband in both cases is the same man, then perhaps the portrait under discussion is of Ann Towle, painted in celebration of her 1757 marriage to Henry. This might fit in with Christophe Janet's betrothal suggestion above.

Though the discussion seems to consider that this is a 17th century painting, the above is a suggestion that I hope is worth considering. Would the pediment on the building in the distance not suggest a Georgian-era building in the Classical style, rather that a 17th century edifice?

Dutch or English? Definitely Dutch: Flinck and van Noordt seem strong contenders and I don't think that the identification of a possible sitter has emerged during the discussions.

Martin Hopkinson,

Certainly Dutch. Could it be a painter from one of the lesser cities? Paulus Moreelse comes to mind.

Martin Hopkinson,

There are rather few comparable paintings in J W von Moltke's 1965 monograph on Flinck, but the costume could be compared with that in two paintings of Diana [cats no 87 and 88] and a 1652 portrait a lady [no 392] none of these in public collections

Martin Hopkinson,

Will it be identifiable by a print after it? Is this a portrait of a young wife - or a personification of spring?

Lely - and indeed the idea this is English at all - were effectively ruled out much further up this discussion. To arrive at least at nationality, it might be most productive to find parallels for the painting of the dress: its in a very distinctive manner of which other examples ought to spring to mind (though not mine) if the artist - or at least his drapery assistance - is still known from other surviving examples.

Martin Hopkinson,

The composition might suggest that this painting had a pair, or even former one element in a harmonious arrangement of a group of pictures in a particular room.

Martin Hopkinson,

There are two etchings by Hollar of Spring with which this could be compared as a subject of 1641 [impression in the British Museum 1871, 1209.2424] and of 1644 [1856,0607.1], both from sets of Seasons. A third set of Seasons by Hollar also exists.
I am not suggesting that Hollar is the artist.

Jacinto Regalado,

This is speculative and may reflect ignorance on my part, but doesn't the sitter in our picture appear more Scandinavian than Dutch?

Martin Hopkinson,

Would it be worth considering Jacob Backer [1608/9 -51] on whom Peter van den Brink and Jan van der Veen in 2008 wrote an exhibition catalogue for the Rembrandt Huis and the Suermondt Ludwig [copies in the British Museum Print Room and the Warburg and Wallace Collection]?

Martin Hopkinson,

There is a Courtesan of 1640 in the Museo Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon and a portrait of a woman of 1647-50 in the Getty both of which can be found under Backer on

Jacinto Regalado,

Practically all of Backer's portraits appear to be set indoors; his handling of drapery is typically more expansive or less crimped than in the picture in question, and his painting of hands (for which he was especially admired) is usually better than it is here (even if a young woman provides less opportunity for virtuosity in that respect than an older subject). This picture is attractive but relatively formulaic or generic, and Backer's portraits tend to go beyond that. I am hardly prepared to declare he could not be the artist, but I have my doubts.

Martin Hopkinson,

Having seen the 2008 catalogue now, I am sure that is not by Backer

Simon Gillespie,

Is there a good high res image to see if what we are looking at is real?
What is the provenance? The handling of the different areas of paint seem to have been carried out by different people. The hands are very crude. The clothing and exaggerated folds and all the highlights are quite unlike the background painting where there is little detail. Even the sky looks early 20th century!
Over paint , fake??
Can we see a good image.

Martin Hopkinson,

Indeed it would be good to have a higher resolution image - and there must be a possibility that this was a much damaged picture that was heavily repainted

Maria Scruby,

The landscape in this image appears English with Palladian Mansion and possible Gothic church steeple

I'm sorry for the long delay in attending to this discussion. Tim (Llewellyn), I have seen your PCF recommendation, but the discussion seemed to get a new lease of life for a few weeks.

When I am back in the office next week I will attach the PCF image, which can at least be enlarged on screen. I'll ask Erewash Borough Council if it would be possible to send some clear close-ups.

Osmund Bullock,

Thanks, Marion. The rather higher dpi rating (versus the published Art UK image) does allow a slightly greater magnification, and from this it looks to me as if the background 'spire' in fact protrudes from the roof of the building with its classical pediment, and that there is a matching one on the other side (just peeping out from behind the sitter's shoulder). See attachment. They could be a pair of pinnacles, decorative chimneys or even statues, slightly reminiscent of the (much later) neo-baroque pediment of the Reichstag building: .

Similar elements are found in C17th Dutch classicism (e.g. Amsterdam Town Hall, as was, and Leiden's Lakenhal), as well as in France and England. I'm not sure it reached Scandinavia before the C18th, however. The shallowness of the pediment, if accurately shown, is unusual.

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Howard Jones,

The details in the attachment from Osmund suggest that the pair of pinnacles appear large and metallic or gilded. Where the pediment meets the woman's dress it is shown overlapping and in front of the dress which is careless. Has the classical frontage been painted over a different earlier building which included the pinnacles?

Osmund Bullock,

Howard, I think at this low resolution it is hard (and unwise) to be certain about exactly what's there and how it's painted. Even the apparent gilding on the pinnacles may be my fault - I played with the contrast, tint etc when I was trying to get a clearer image, so the colour and brightness may not be reliable!

Claire Hammonds,

There appears to be a bearded man looking out of the painting in the shadow of the building?
He appears deep in thought/ contemplation?
Not sure if this is from a previous painting underneath /recycled canvas?

Jacinto Regalado,

The provenance information I could find is as follows:

Bequeathed by Charles Sydney Howitt 1918.

Probably Enoch Dawson Howitt, of Berkeley House, Kennington Road, Surrey; by descent to Charles Sydney Howitt of Leamington.

Jacinto Regalado,

I could go no further than style of Jürgen Ovens. I don't think this is technically accomplished enough to be autograph Ovens.

Simon Gillespie,

This is typical Ovens . The sky has large areas of over glazing added later. This distorts the balance considerably makes the image somewhat clumsy.I believe there is a good quality picture in there.

Jacinto Regalado,

I suppose prior restoration may have degraded things like the rendering of the hands, but if this is by Ovens, it's been altered.

Jacinto Regalado,

This picture, by the way, comes from the same bequest to this collection which included the current "cover girl" for Art Detective, the pseudo-Greuze, which could also use some renewed attention.

Jacinto Regalado,

Yes, Kieran, and no doubt the key phrase in that report is "the council had no idea."

Comments by Tom Van Der Molen, Christopher Foley, Richard Green and Simon Gillespie make a strong case for an attribution to Jürgen Ovens (1642–1678).

What a story in the Long Eaton Advertiser!

I have no knowledge of Ovens, but agree with Simon Gillespie that this looks basically 'good quality', unusual in the treatment of the drapery and charismatic (even haunting) in terms of the sitter's appearance and expression -so well worth some TLC. I also don't think anyone has yet pointed this one out (though apologies if I've just not spotted) which has also been suggested as Ovens and is the only other one with his name even tentatively attached on Art UK:

Mark Wilson,

The Council's ignorance about the theft may be more understandable than at first sight. Erewash Borough was only created six months before in May 1974 by amalgamating two and a half smaller ones - including Long Eaton which originally received the Howitt Bequest. You suspect quite a lot may have gone missing - as often happens in reorganisations.

As there's only about 32 pictures remaining of the Bequest, presumably the missing ones were never recovered. Whether the more valuable ones went or just (as the clipping suggests) the more portable ones is another matter. Many of the remaining ones are unattributed and most 19th Century, so this is both early and better quality.

I wondered if this was a bit hilly for the Netherlands, but Ovens (if it's him) mainly worked in his native Schleswig.

Howard Jones,

Pieter van der Merwe above suggests the style of the portrait for the Art Detective's sitter matches another portrait by Jurgen Ovens at the Bowes Museum. Their web site says that the Museum is closed at present because of Covid restrictions.

I think Pieter must be correct to link these two paintings.

It is worth checking the web site and history of the Bowes Museum. The building is stunning, with a very special collection and a fine garden setting. It was established by the Bowes family at Barnard Castle which most of us will know is a charming and most popular destination in County Durham.

The Bowes is indeed a delight and a curiosity: from the impressively gardened front a respectable simulacrum of an 18th-c. French chateau, from the back more like a large warehouse. It must be near-unique (and probably so in Britain) as a such a quasi-mansion, purpose built as a museum by a wealthy, well-travelled but resolutely 'non-London' couple who had no children but wished to leave something of value behind - in which they magnificently succeeded. A great place to drop into in one's northerly goings and comings ....

Richard, thanks for this. Xanthe is trying to contact Patrick Larsen and I am trying to reach Constanze Köster, author of 'Jürgen Ovens (1623-1678): Maler in Schleswig-Holstein und Amsterdam' (2017).

I would like to thank Patrick Larsen for sharing his personal opinion on this picture:

‘I don’t believe this portrait was painted by Ovens. It could, however, have been created by an anonymous Dutch artist in Ovens’ environment, probably in circa 1660. The painting will have been brought to England at a later date. It reminds me of Portrait of a woman, to be dated around 1660, in the collection of the art dealer Hoogsteder & Hoogsteder (RKDimages no. 64677), undoubtedly done by Ovens and seen by me. The so-called ‘material expression’ of the Erewash painting as a whole is somewhat harsh compared to works that were certainly executed by Ovens. This observation might be influenced by the lesser quality of the picture on the website.

The brushstrokes of the drapery are applied quite neat and less ‘daring’ than those of the Hoogsteder woman. The pleats of the rather stiff cloth in the Erewash painting show a more or less parallel pattern, especially in the bottom left, and decrease the liveliness of the fabric compared to the textile in Ovens’ painting.

Although the faces show a certain resemblance in the colouring and the application of light and shades, the facial expression of the Erewash woman does not remind me of Ovens. Her fingers are not executed very well, especially the ones of her right hand; those of the Hoogsteder lady show a higher degree of naturalness. Ovens’ women are supplied with roses every now and then. However, since many Dutch seventeenth-century artists depicted ladies with flowers, the rose alone cannot provide a building block for an attribution of this painting to Ovens.

It would be unusual for Ovens to depict a sitter so close to the picture plane in combination with the sitter being elevated above a landscape in the background. Ovens applied this formula in his portrait of Eva Roeters from 1674/75 (RKDimages no. 124613). Roeters, however, is separated from the background by a large boulder or rock-like structure – a compositional device Ovens often applied for his outdoor sitters. It sets these paintings apart from the work in Erewash.

The classical building with a tympanum in the left part of the background will refer to a certain social position and wealth of the lady but is, of course, not identifiable as a concrete structure and thus cannot be of any help in trying to identify the sitter. The same is true of the (probably?) windmills behind the left and right part of the building. Interestingly, Ovens depicted non-identifiable buildings on the left side of his outdoor portraits every now and then (see, for instance, the mansion in RKDimages no. 5655), but there were other artists in the Netherlands in the seventeenth century who applied this formula as well.

I cannot match the trees and vegetation in the background with those found in Ovens’ paintings. The sky could theoretically speaking have been done by Ovens, though the execution is somewhat weak. Ovens regularly used some pink in his skies; it seems like the bottom left part of the sky shows some traces of that colour. Part of the sky was probably overpainted, especially the areas around the back part of the woman’s headdress.

On stylistic grounds, I do not consider the Portrait of a girl in the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle to be by Ovens, nor would I want to attribute the painting to this artist. The brushwork differs too much, and the facial type is not that of Ovens.’

Jacob Simon,

This discussion, "Is this portrait Dutch or English? Who is the sitter?" is approaching its sixth birthday. Sadly, as happens with old discussions, a couple of the early links are dead as other organisations "improve" their websites.

It seems to me that Patrick Larsen's contribution immediately preceding this post as is near definitive as we are going to be able to achieve.

On this basis, Dutch school, c.1660 (or Dutch? school if one is being extremely cautious) is as near as we are going to get. As to the second discussion question, we don't know the sitter.

Simon Gillespie,

6yrs and we haven't cracked it!!!
I have asked the museum for a high res image or at least some close ups so we can see the paint surface. I really believe we are being distracted by extensive over paint .I have never seen a 17th cent sky like this, so bright it looks very modern.The face and clothing are by a decent hand. We can't give up yet.

Jacob Simon,

Er, yes? Marion asked Erewash Borough Council four years ago if it would be possible to send some clear close-ups ( 05/10/2018). "We can't give up yet", Simon says, and I understand. But realism suggests to me that it is time to move on.

The original questions that Art Detectives were asked to answer, were "Is this portrait Dutch or English?, and Who is the sitter?". On 5/04/2017 Karen Hearn stated that it did not appear stylistically to be by a 17thC English artist, especially not after Sir Peter Lely. On 22/12/2020 11.03 Marion Richards posted the personal opinion of Patrick Larsen, of the RKD in The Hague. He stated that although he didn’t think it had the quality of the work of the Dutch artist Jürgen Ovens (1623-1678), it could, however, have been created by an anonymous Dutch artist in Ovens’ environment, probably in circa 1660. In the light of Patrick Larsen’s opinion I agree with Jacob Simon’s post 10/02/23 9.20am, and recommend that it should be attributed to Dutch School c.1660. Without a known artist, nor a provenance stretching back to the second half of the seventeenth century, it is nigh on impossible to identify who the female sitter might have been, so we are unable to answer the second question.

Simon Gillespie,

I contacted Erewash. They cannot find it!
I have sent them the artuk link. Lets see if that helps.

Thank you, Xanthe, and Simon for trying to track the painting down. I'm trying to find out too. I contacted the new Collections Officer this morning.

I have had several exchanges of emails with the council, but they are unable to confirm the whereabouts of the artwork in question at present. The Collections Officer does not work in the same town as the building where it is thought to be and there is now an issue with access as a result of elections. I will be trying to locate it after the discussion has closed.