Completed Portraits: British 16th and 17th C, South West England: Artists and Subjects 36 Is this portrait of Jane Robartes, wife of Charles Lambart, 1st Earl of Cavan?

Portrait of a Lady, "Countess of Cavan"
Topic: Subject or sitter

The entry states that this portrait was painted in the early 17th century, and the only Countess of Cavan in that period was Jane Robartes, wife of Charles Lambart, 1st Earl of Cavan. Is there any reason to believe that this is not, in fact, Jane Robartes? The following website makes that ascription:

The collection’s reply:
This painting is primarily of interest because it is signed by Gilbert Jackson, and dated 1631. It was purchased in 1942, together with another portrait in the manner of Cornelius Johnson, identified in what is probably a contemporary inscription also dated 1631 as Katherine Spiller, daughter of Henry Spiller and the wife of Sir Thomas Reynell. Both portraits were said to come from the Williams family of Trephilip, Breconshire.

The Gilbert Jackson portrait was said by the vendor, a Williams descendant, to represent the Countess of Cavan. The National Museum was dubious in 1942 about this identification as there was only a late and marginal connection with the Cavan family, whereas in 1821 David Williams of Trephilip married Carolyn Hester Reynell, descendant and heir of Sir Thomas Reynell.

I accept this needs further investigation, especially as the work is signed and dated.

David Purdy, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. Unfortunately, we have not found enough evidence to justify changing the existing title.

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.


Derek Holdaway,

Hon. Jane Robartes was baptised on 21 December 1598 at Truro, Cornwall, England.1 She was the daughter of Richard Robartes, 1st Baron Robartes of Truro and Frances Hender.1 She married Charles Lambart, 1st Earl of the County of Cavan, son of Oliver Lambart, 1st Lord Lambart, Baron of Cavan and Hester Fleetwood, before 30 June 1625.1 She died in 1655.
From before 30 June 1625, her married name became Lambart. As a result of her marriage, Hon. Jane Robartes was styled as Countess of the County of Cavan on 1 April 1647. The above is quoted from the online site called The Peerage. Look under surnames and search for Robartes Jane. The image is shown against her entry and I note that there is a note 2. which refers to some correspondence with the compiler Darryl Lundy which might bring some more light on the portrait.

Tim Williams,

Might be seeing things, but there's possibly a heraldic device with a castle tower? on the brooch she is wearing.

Osmund Bullock,

David, the website, though sometimes useful, cannot be relied on for anything like this. It is just a Wiki-style genealogy site, on which anyone is free to post profiles of people and their ancestry - some are accurate, some are less so. The 'ascription' of the portrait's identity has not been made by the website or anyone directly connected with it: a picture has just been added to the person's profile by someone who found it on the internet associated with the name. In this case the uploader is an odd man based in Russia who has added no less than 16,652 individuals' profiles to the genealogies on the site, and added to them 852 images of portraits he has found on the web! Jane Robartes' image has in fact clearly come from the 'Peerage' website, as Derek mentions.

On which subject, 'The Peerage' website can again be useful, and the content is generally quite reliable - it is the work of one slightly eccentric (his own description!) New Zealander, and he is quite thorough, granted the huge amount of ground he covers. However, the bulk of his sources seem to be secondary or tertiary - often Burke's & Cockayne's 'Peerages', which are on the whole OK, especially the latter, but should be checked first-hand. Some of his other sources, however, are (for us) uncheckable - especially the information that was in private emails he received. As Derek says, it looks like the version of the portrait on there (and on may have come from one of those. The portrait shown may just be an older image of the NMW portrait, or it may be another version (which would be more useful if it has the same identification) - unfortunately there's no immediate way of telling which. The Heinz Archive at the NPG may be more help: I may be going down there later this week, and if I do I'll check the boxes.

Osmund Bullock,

Tim, it might be a castle on the brooch, it's difficult to be sure - but I certainly agree that it could well be heraldic, and perhaps even a coat of arms. Is there any chance the National Museum of Wales could provide a rather higher-resolution image of the brooch for us? I am reasonably good with heraldry.

P.S. Could we also get a confirmation that this one is indeed also dated 1631? I only ask because no date is mentioned on either the 'Your Paintings' or the NMW websites, and a precise date (if known) would be helpful to the identification.

Bendor Grosvenor,

Yes, the brooch could be key here - good spot Tim.

Alice Read,

Please find attached a high resolution image from the collection.

Copyright belongs to Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales.

1 attachment
Tim Williams,

Oh well there goes that theory. Gemstones.

Martin Hopkinson,

Can the Museum please look in its archive for details of from it purchased this painting in 1942 , or to whom its cheque was paid out?. For it must know from which 'private collection' it came - and this might well help in tracing its earlier provenance, which in turn might help to direct the search for the identity of the sitter

Tim Williams,

Here is a portrait of John Robartes, the brother of Jane Robartes:

I think it might aid the proposed identity of our sitter - there's the red ribbons/flowers and the added possibility that 'John Robartes' is also by Gilbert Jackson. The chequered floor tiles seem to be a recurring motif in Jackson full lengths:;=&lDate;=#description

"Jackson's work is characterised by his flickering embroidery and use of red vermilion bows as well as the use of checked floors." - British Art Journal, vol.4, Issues 1-3, p.48 (google books snippet).

I think I'm right in saying the National Gallery John Belasyse is also signed.

Louis Musgrove,

In Jacksons portrait of John Belasyse there is on the wall a square picture of his wife Jane-- I assume also done by Jackson otherwise he wouldn't have put it there. It is very similar in form to the picture under discussion here. I was wondering --is there more of the picture of Jane Robartes under the oval frame?? IE. Is it a sqaure canvas underneath?

Jacinto Regalado,

The oval "frame" appears to be painted, not real, so I expect the canvas is rectangular.

David Purdy,

Do you think this purported portrait of Jane Robartes instead depicts Jane Belasyse, Louis?

Would the Museum be willing to take Martin up on his suggestion that they disclose the identity of the private collection in question? It has been more than five years since I started this discussion about the identity of the sitter in this painting, and I would love to see an official attribution made.

Osmund Bullock,

I don't think Louis is suggesting that, David - and as far I know, there's no reason for thinking it might be, is there? Our portrait and the female portrait seen in the background of the NPG's Lord Belasyse have, on close inspection, major differences - see the attached comparison.

So if the background one is Lord Belasyse's very young wife - and iconographically that seems likely since the main portrait was painted in the year of his marriage to Jane Boteler (in March 1636) - there would have to be two very similar portraits of her, very possibly by the same artist, painted within a few years. This seems unlikely. And in fact if *our* portrait was indeed painted in 1631 (which it seems to be...or could that last figure be an '8'? See attached close-up of inscription), then it cannot possibly be Jane Boteler: in 1631 she was probably just 10 or 11 years old (she was baptised in 1621).

The Collection have already told us (in the introduction) that the portrait was purchased (in 1942) from a descendant of the Williams family of Trephilip, Breconshire, and the vendor must have believed it had come from that family. It seems a pretty long shot to assume he/she was mistaken, and to try and trace back all his/her other ancestral lines on every side looking for Lady Cavan or anyone else who fits the bill...if the Collection were prepared to reveal their name, that is. I'm not sure I have the stomach (or the time) to embark on such a complex search!

Osmund Bullock,

Though only tangential to our discussion, I cannot but notice that the NPG's 1636 portrait of Lord Belasyse by Jackson ( bears little resemblance to van Dyck's portrait of the same man said to have been taken in the same year, but perhaps a year or so earlier when aged 20 ( A comparison of the two faces is attached. The identity of the man in the van Dyck is fully attested by C17th prints naming the sitter (e.g. I wonder how secure the identification of the NPG portrait actually is....

David Purdy,

Thank you for your detailed response, Osmund! Do I take it, then, that you feel the identity of the sitter in this painting is satisfactorily settled to be Jane Robartes?

Louis Musgrove,

I note that jackson's signing is on the brown painted oval frame.I was curious about the oval frame because to me it doesn't look right.The sitter is sort of squeezed in! Other portraits of this date that have oval painted framing ,have a much better composition with the subject better positioned. A thought has occured to me.Is this a fake ( done in the past) using a portrait of the era- cut to size- oval frame painted on with signature?? Is this possible??? jacksons portrait of Belasyse is a much better quality of finish!

S. Elin Jones,

I think it's possible that there could be another explanation as to the source of this painting. Am afraid that despite a significant amount of editing, it's still quite a lengthy suggestion.

I think that the painting may have been sold to the Museum by Mrs Muriel Gray, and that it may have acquired its title of "Portrait of a Lady, Called 'Countess of Cavan" after it's arrival in the Museum in 1942. I think that it had also been previously recorded as
"Unknown Lady of the Spiller Family" by Gilbert Jackson, signed and dated 1631.

The second portrait bought from the same individual is:
Portrait of Katheryn Spiller, Lady Reynell by Cornelius Johnson.

Keatherin Spiller daughter
unto Sr Henrey Spiller
wyff unto Sr Thomas Reynell

The Reverend David Williams was the son of Thomas Williams, The Reverend of Llangammarch whose family home was "Trephilip" in Defynnog (Devynock), Brecknockshire. Trephilip was originally one of the Estates of the Vaughan Family. One of three estates of the Knight's fee, the other two being Porthamal and Pont-y-wal.

In April of 1821 Caroline Hester married the Reverend David Williams in St. Paul's Church, Covent Garden. Upon the marriage he changed his name to David Williams Reynell (sometimes otherwise known as David William Reynell).

According to the 1841 census he is living with Caroline Reynell on their Estate in Tormoham with his niece Susan Williams (15), daughter of his sister Elizabeth of Trephilip. According to the Court of Chancery records his brother was also a Trustee of the estate at Tor, Elizabeth Williams was still living in the family home in Defynnog.
2)Census report 1841

By the middle of the 1840's Caroline Hester was in poor health. She had hoped that the Rev Williams would be able stay on the estate for life if she pre-deceased him. She was in fragile health and had had no issue. Other branches of the Reynell family also tried to prove she was not legally entitled to the estate. Various claims and counter-claims were taken to the Court of Chancery. It was very long and very acrimonious. Unfortunately Caroline Reynell died in 1846.
(The full transcript of the case is available).

By 1851 the Rev. David Williams had moved back from Devon to Trephilip in Defynnog with Susan Williams Here they lived with a number of his unmarried siblings and the children of his sister Elizabeth. According to the census report Susan Williams was the head of the family. The Reverend died whilst on holiday staying in a hotel in Aberystwyth in 1852. I think that the Reynell/ Spiller paintings could have been brought back by David or Susan Williams from Tor and passed down through the Williams line of Trephilip.
3)census report 1951
4)census report 1971
5)census report 1981

Susan, Jane and Anne never married and had no children. They lived in Trephilip together until their deaths. Susan in 1894, Anne in 1906 and Jane in 1915.

Susan's Will is extensive. There's very little mention of household items as it is far more concerned with assets such as land. The executors of her Will were her sisters.
7)census report 1911

In 1915 Jane Williams of Trephilip died. She was the niece of the Rev Williams and was the last of her generation of the Williams family to live in the house. Her sister Anne (Annie) had pre-deceased her and Susan a few years earlier. It is at this point that I think that the paintings were passed on to Mrs Gray.

S. Elin Jones,

Part 2 of 2

In 1905 Mr C.F. Bell (Art Historian, Curator, head of the Fine Arts Dept. at the Ashmolean Museum and member of the Walpole Society) highlighted the fact that there was a cluster of paintings in Oxford Colleges by the same hand but a variety of similar signatures, later thought to be by Gilbert Jackson. Rachael Lane-Poole, historian (and wife to the Archivist of the Colleges) spent 17 years recording paintings and wrote a book in three volumes. It was called 'Catalogue of Portraits in the Possession of the University, Colleges, City and County of Oxford'. The first volume was published in 1912. She also wrote for various magazines including the Walpole Society. Mrs Lane-Poole had a personal interest in tracing paintings by Gilbert Jackson.

In volume 2 of her book there is a list of paintings by Jackson. She had been given information, and supplied with a set of photographs by Mr Alexander Joseph Finberg. This was of a painting that was recorded as being in the possession of "Mrs Gray, Llanddew"
Recorded as:
"Unknown Lady of the Spiller Family" by Gilbert Jackson, signed and dated 1631.

A. J. Finberg, was an Art Critic and Art Historian and was also commissioned by the Trustees of the National Portrait Gallery to complete the inventory of the Turner Bequest (after Ruskin) of the contents of his studio in St. Anne's St. He was founder of the Walpole Society, Art Adviser to the board of Inland Revenue for picture valuations between the years of 1914 and 1919 and Lecturer on the History of Painting to the Education Committee of L.C.C and the University of London.

He was also involved in his own project of recording Cornelius Johnson paintings in the name of the Walpole Society. A project in which he later claimed in the Walpole Society . Mr Finberg also mentions that the job working for the Inland Revenue was an excellent way of finding unrecorded paintings due to the nature of the job, evaluating for death duties.

I think he was notified as to the existence of these paintings after the death of Miss Jane Williams of Trephilip as part of his work with the Inland Revenue and Probate duties. Finberg's files can be found in in various archives. I made enquiries as to the file in the Courtauld last Summer but unfortunately the file just happened to be not accessible. His Inland Revenue file I understand is kept in the Prime Minister's Office.

Mrs Gray's name by birth was Muriel Meredith Downes Jenkins. Her immediate family were originally from the Talgarth area of Brecon but had moved into the Vicarage at Llanddew in 1908.

She had trained as a midwife in London from 1909 and Married Thomas William Gray (from Pennarth, Cardiff) in Kensington, London, Dec 1914 Her father was the Rev Meredith Jenkins the Vicar of Llanddew and her mother 'Amelia Prosser Jenkins nee Downes'. From the Downes family of Glamorgan St, Brecon.

The Downes family were cousins of the Williams family of Trephilip. The branch had split, one part in Brecon and the other the 'Lloyd Downes' in Newton Abbott. The Downes family were still close as cousins and of the Williams family of Trephilip. They are mentioned in articles of various family occasions such as weddings and funerals etc.

I think that A.J.Finberg had been notified of the paintings through his involvement with the Inland Revenue when Jane Williams died in early 1915. He was particularly interested in the Cornelius Johnson and knew that his colleague Mrs Lane-Poole was interested in the Gilbert Jackson. He therefore had photographs taken and had a set given to Mrs Lane-Poole. He had also been in contact with the Reynall family and recorded paintings on their Estate in Devon.

*Muriel Downes Jenkins had not become Mrs Gray until December of 1914.
*Jane Williams' probate was settled May 1915
*'John Kendall Lloyd Downes' and 'Francis Edward Lloyd Downes' her decendents of her cousin from Highweek, Newton Abbott were also the executors of Jane Williams' Will.
*Trephilip house's contents was sold July 1915
*A.J. Finberg finished with the Inland Revenue in 1920.
*The Reverend Jenkins Finished as the vicar of Llanddew in 1920.
*Muriel's last year of registration as a midwife in the Llanddew area was 1920/21
*After 1921, Muriel was no longer Muriel Gray of Llanddew.

Muriel, her father, sister and husband bought land and built a house in Rhiwbina in Cardiff. It was called Porthamal House. She spent at least a decade as a property developer and landlord. The area of houses that they developed was called 'Porthamal Gardens'.

In 1934 there was a break-in in Porthamal House. Mrs Muriel Gray stated in an article about the burglary that approx a £1000 pounds worth of items were taken but they suspected that the thieves had hoped to steal her paintings. She claimed that had paintings by famous artists, but due to her travelling in Europe, the paintings had been kept in the bank. Porthamal is approx three miles down a straight road from the National Museum of Wales.

4 attachments
Tim Williams,

To answer Louis Musgrove, Gilbert Jackson's name wasn't known until 1905. A 1911 article in the Burlington was the first thing published about him, so there was nothing to gain by adding a signature to this painting (and that would've had to have been done before 1942).

The sig may have been enhanced by a restorer at some point, but implausible for it to have been faked. Van Dyck or Cornelius Johnson signatures would've been the way to go in that regard.

S. Elin Jones,

The Article in the Burlington Magazine was written by the lady mentioned above, Rachael Lane-Poole. The lady that wrote the book

"Catalogue of Portraits in the possession of The University, Colleges, City and County of Oxford"

George Robartes,

By this time the family was quite extensive having arrived in England from Normandy with William in 1066 . Robartes is Norman French pronounced as Roberts but with a soft ' a' and not Ro- bartes or even Ro-bart-es in Hispanic form . Their origins in the region of France of the same name , lands given them to stop the raiding of Norseman who are of Scandinavian origin . Robartes was awarded lands in South West Wealas or Cornwall for his part in raising and army for the invasion . They acquired instant wealth from mining and by this time had several copper and tin mines and exporting to the industrial world . Lord Robartes ,Earl of Radnor ( after one of his mines) of Lahydrock raised an Army for Parliament during the first English Civil War . I believe a copy of his portrait hangs in Lanhydrock . Much of the collection being sold off long ago. The Fanshawe collection at Valence House in Dagenham holds many portraits of the same period including provincial works by the same hand and more famously a portrait with greyhounds by Sir Peter Lely . Some 100+ paintings catalogued as being owned by the Borough from the Fanshawe collection have disappeared , presumably given away by the borough's dignatories for services rendered , but the catalogue is accessible and descriptive . It is believed a portrait of courtier Anne Fanshawe who accompanied the exiled Royal Family at this time was in the collection . The sitter is certainly wearing the rich lace and embelishments typical of a member of the Royal court in the first half of the C17th . Many portraits are held in the vault and not on display in the House and may reveal the origin of this particular work.
The Robartes spread by marriage into the Agar family and many members of the family who did not directly inherit after interregnum were known to have moved to manage the newly discovered coalfield's as this became an ireasingly valuable commodity after the invention of coal fired ovens etc in 1626 .

Jacob Simon,

Reading through this seven year old discussion, “Is this portrait of Jane Robartes, wife of Charles Lambart, 1st Earl of Cavan?”, it seems to me that the evidence for the portrait representing this woman, as reviewed by Osmund and Elin, is indeed too slight to change the existing work title, “Portrait of a Lady, Called 'Countess of Cavan'”.

Marcie Doran,

Here is a similar Gilbert Jackson painting from the December 9, 2021, Sotheby’s auction. It’s too bad the sitter’s full name is unknown.

‘Portrait of a young woman called Elizabeth, bust-length, wearing a lace decorated collar over a pink dress’

David Purdy,

It seems a pity to have such a lengthy and illuminating discussion result in no additional insights left on the official record for the painting. If the title of the painting is not to change to identify the sitter, would it at least be possible for the word “dubious” to be added so that future viewers will know not to believe that this painting depicts a Countess of Cavan?

David, thank you for proposing this interesting discussion in the first place. I think it's probably time to conclude it, as Jacob suggests, on the basis that there isn't enough evidence to change the existing title. 'Called "Countess of Cavan"' already implies doubt about the sitter's identity.

David Purdy,

Fair enough. I appreciate everyone considering my question so thoroughly.

Jacob Simon,

Discussion is now eight years old. Probably time to conclude as Marion says (17/01/2022). How? Ask one of the group leaders?

Jacob, we have someone taking over Portraits, British 16th C and 17th C from Bendor Grosvenor very soon. In the meantime Sheena Stoddard has kindly offered to conclude this one.

Marcie Doran,

Here are a few facts before the discussion closes - they do not help to identify the sitter.

I have attached the record of the marriage of Sir Thomas Reynel[l] (d. 1665) to Katherine Spiller in 1621. This confirms that her father was Henry Spiller. An Ancestry tree shows him as “Sir Henry Spiller”.

A portrait of the mother of Sir Thomas Reynell (d. 1665) is here:

She was Frances, Lady Reynell (née Aylworth). Her brooch is similar (but sadly not identical) to the one in the work we are discussing.

The will of Sir Richard Reynell (1735–1798) mentions two portraits that he bequeathed to his nephew Samuel Reynell. They are described as “two pictures in oil of Sir Richard and Lady Reynell”. Since the wife of Sir Richard Reynell (1583–1648), Mary Reynell (1590–1626), reportedly passed away before 1631, she would not be the sitter.

“Will of Sir Richard Reynell of Margaret Street Cavendish Square , Middlesex
Reference: PROB 11/1315/153”

Marcie Doran,

Elin noted (12/11/2019 15:48) that “according to the 1841 census he [Rev. David Williams Reynell] is living with Caroline Reynell on their Estate in Tormoham with his niece Susan Williams (15), daughter of his sister Elizabeth of Trephilip.”

In 1838, portraits of Katherine Reynell (née Spiller), her husband Sir Thomas Reynell and her father Sir Henry Spiller were reportedly in Tor, Devon. Sir Henry's portrait was by Anthony van Dyck.

After a discussion of over eight years this now needs to close. Unfortunately, despite much extensive thought and research, we are no nearer the identification of the sitter. As Jacob and Marion have said, there isn’t enough evidence to suggest a change to the existing title. The interest of the painting remains in it being a signed and dated portrait by Gilbert Jackson (whose name is often given to anonymous portraits of the period) and it is a good example of his work. Thank you to everybody for their contributions and the time they have spent on the discussion.