Completed Portraits: British 16th and 17th C, Portraits: British 18th C, Yorkshire and the Humber: Artists and Subjects, Dress and Textiles 64 Who is this unknown Lord Mayor of York and who is the artist?

NY_YMA_160
Topic: Subject or sitter

This portrait of an unknown Lord Mayor of York is of good quality and despite some research we are unable to determine who the sitter or the artist is. The sitter is wearing a red aldermanic robes, a decorative lace cravat and the distinctive Lord Mayor of York’s chain of office and a full-length wig of brown curly hair.

Although there is a comprehensive list of York Lord Mayors, without fairly accurate dating, we are unable to pinpoint exactly who it is. He is a fairly young man to be Lord Mayor, which would help to narrow the search.

Merchant Adventurers' Hall, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

Alice Read,

This discussion has concluded that the sitter is: Henry Thomson (d.1700), Lord Mayor of York (1699).

However in regards to an artist attribution we are unlikely to be able to add anything new on this site from the image and evidence available.

Thank you to all for participating in this discussion. To those viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all comments that led to this conclusion.

63 comments

Bruce Trewin,

Is the wig/hair a ceremonial item worn by other Lord Mayors or can this help in narrowing the date field to let us say from 1650 to 1750? The apparent young age of the sitter must also narrow the potential candidates. Is there a list of Lord Mayors from the restoration to the early part of the 18th century as a starting point for sitter research?

Bruce Trewin,

I could suggest Henry Thompson of Escrick ( Lord Mayor of York in 1699) as a candidate. The painting bears a close resemblance to his son, Beilby. His father, Sir Henry Thompson, was also a Lord Mayor of York.

Thompson.http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/beilby-thompson-of-eserick-york-10072

Martin Hopkinson,

This earlier portrait referred to above cannot be by the studio of Henry Robert Morland as described by BBC Your Paintings. There is certainly a likeness between the two paintings and Bruce Trewin's suggestion is better than my first thought about the later portrait that it might be by the same artist as the portrait under discussion, painted several decades later in the at present anonymous artist's career. Are there any European portrait painters recorded as working in York c.1700?

Greaeme Cameron,

This portrait is almost certainly one of Sir Godfrey Kneller's best portraits, putatively from his later period 1700 to 1720. His work was highly variable in quality, as can be seen in the much finer depiction of the Hair and Lace etc. of the subject work, compared with those of James Vernon's portrait in the comparison attached, also from this period. However the rendering of the faces is concordant with his distinctive stylistic nuances. Interestingly, an earlier researched restitution of Kneller's Lady Henrietta Spencer by Kneller was nowhere nearly as well rendered either in the face or accoutrements as this superb example, which is of a standard as good as his portraiture ever reached.

Many uncertainties here -- but Greaeme Cameron's suggestion of Kneller's authorship deserves serious consideration, though not his dating, for the NPG's 'James Vernon' is dated 1777:

http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw06498/James-Vernon?LinkID=mp02571&search=sas&sText=kneller&OConly=true&role=art&rNo=0

and, moreover, the combination of a full-bottomed wig with an elaborately worked lace cravat was very much the fashion for wealthy men in the late 1670s and the 1680s -- no doubt led by the example of Charles II. I suggest that the portrait is unlikely to have been painted in York and that the sitter therefore would have had the means (and inclination) to travel to London. This perhaps brings us back to the Thompson family -- but to Edward Thompson who was Lord Mayor in 1683, when he was around 44 (he was later MP for York).

Correction: I should have referred to the wig as long, rather than full-bottomed. In any case (to answer Bruce Trewin's question above) , it was not -- as far as I know -- one of the trappings of office of the Lord Mayors of York.

Greaeme Cameron,

Thank you for the considerate comment Richard, it is much appreciated. Apologies also for the dating error. It occurred due to my haste in obtaining related Kneller examples as I saw so many that I did not reconfirm the date still fixed in my memory from another later portrait viewed of that date. I'm presently alternating between numerous tasks, and add notes as images appear on the site between breaks and normally would have cross checked it. These initial assessments are primarily contributed to assist with authorship, whilst more definitive points relating to dating and identity etc. require further research.

Merchant Adventurers' Hall,

Thank you to all those that have provided feedback on our portrait. We are particularly interested to hear that it could be by the hand of Sir Godfrey Kneller - we would be interested to know how we would go about authenticating or confirming this?

The Thomson family do have a number of links to the Company of Merchant Adventurer (there were 17 members with the name between 1615 and 1753 . A portrait of Henry Thomson hangs in the Hall http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/sir-henry-thomson-kt-governor-16671672-10388. Edward Thomson was admitted as a member in 1693. However he died in 1701 so if the date of the painting is perhaps a little later as suggested it is unlikely to be him.

David Bindman,

I am sorry to say that I do not believe the York painting to be by Kneller. By comparison with the latter the York painting looks more provincial and less well modelled. The search should continue.

Greaeme Cameron,

Thank you for the kind acknowledgement Ms. Lauren Marshall, which is much appreciated. As noted in the earlier posting, Kneller's portraits are highly variable in rendition quality, yet this work is of a high standard and I still believe contains his distinctive nuances. Should you still wish to pursue the option of further investigating the work in that direction, I would suggest perhaps consulting the current "Kneller" specialist/scholar, whose name & contact details NPG or NG may be able to assist with. It may prove interesting. As there have also been alternative views proposed in this open forum, you are equally able to be guided by those, in whatever way you feel appropriate. With best wishes.

Tim Williams,

Afraid I don't see Kneller's hand, nor his nuances anywhere near this. On purely formal comparison terms, John Riley or Closterman would be a better bet. I would say the face is actually quite soft and a bit weak really. My dictionary of Yorkshire artists only suggests (as Oliver has previously hinted) James Parmientier as a potential 'local' candidate:

http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/person/mp07399/james-parmentier

Parmientier lived in Hull which is a spit from York and painted Ralph Thoresby who lived in Leeds. Though it is probably a little early in date for him as I agree with Richard on 1670s/1680s.

I think we can be very sure that this picture is not by Kneller, not even a relatively early work (this is probably painted 1680s/90s). It is simply not good enough, and nor painted in Kneller's style. It is most likely by a regional painter whose name will probably always be hard to ascertain. We'll have more luck perhaps on the sitter. Can the institution share its list of mayors for the period, and how they are certain that the sitter is in fact a mayor?

Merchant Adventurers' Hall,

Ah well, back to the drawing board! The sitter is certainly a Lord Mayor of York due to very distinctive gold chain of office. The chain was bequeathed to the City in 1612 by Sir Robert Watter and has been worn by Lord Mayors (although more prominently) to this day, as can be seen here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/alderman-sir-joseph-sykes-rymer-lord-mayor-10061.

As we have found it difficult to sufficiently narrow down the period in which it was painted, it has been very difficult to identify the sitter. We are certain that the sitter could be identified with some research but unfortunately with such a small team at the Hall this is proving difficult!

Merchant Adventurers' Hall,

Thank you Richard, we do have a list of the Lord Mayors of York at our disposal so we think perhaps a bit of research is required when we have the time. With a refined date range this does narrow it down to less than 20 or so which helps enormously. Thanks to all who have commented, we shall keep you posted!

Martin Hopkinson,

Do we know the business interests of the Thompsons of Escrick? Were they in France or the Low Countries? I am not convinced that this is a British painter

Greaeme Cameron,

Ms Lauren Marshall Fortunately You need not wait long from producing that list.

The great news for Britain is that he appears to be Lord Bingham, York Mayor at 31, who was an important national figure of the times, and that this is also the the most significant and beautifully rendered portrait of him, most probably by Kneller.

The list was always the key and I think I might now have him. At age 31 he was Mayor of York in 1707. and also an MP which fits the portrait's age well. This man was exactly the type of sitter Kneller would have painted as an MP, especially as he quickly became Chancellor of the Exchequer four years later in 1711 -13 and Ambassador to Spain and Baron Bingham. later. Here he is in a poor image/artist, approx 20 year older image at about 50, shortly before his death. But the concordances, allowing for age, etc are very close. As he was also an MP he could well have taken the chain to London in 1707 for this sitting.

His rank and MP biography fully supports a top London artist and sitting.

Biography

Robert Benson was born in Wakefield, the son of Robert Benson of Wrenthorpe. He went to school in London before studying at Christ's College, Cambridge.[1]
He served as an alderman of the city of York and was elected Lord Mayor of York for 1707.[2] He was electedMember of Parliament for Thetford in Norfolk from 1702 to 1705, then becoming MP for York from 1705 to 1713.[3]
In 1711, he was sworn of the Privy Council and became Chancellor of the Exchequer until 1713. He was a Director of the South Sea Company from July 1711 to February 1715.[3] In 1713 he was ennobled as Baron Bingley, and became the British ambassador to Spain.
Benson founded the stately home of Bramham Park, near Wetherby, Yorkshire.
When he died in 1731 he was buried in Westminster Abbey and the title Baron Bingley became extinct, although it was later re-created for his son-in-law. He had married Elizabeth, the daughter of Hon. Heneage Finch, and had a son (who predeceased him) and two daughters (one illegitimate). It has often been suggested that Bingley was also the real father of the British soldier, dramatist and politician John Burgoyne, whose debts he cancelled in his will. The residue of his estate, including Bramham Park, went to his daughter Harriet who had married George Fox.[3]
Notes[edit]
1. Jump up^

Osmund Bullock,

I'm afraid that I, too, cannot see anything of Kneller here, nor a post-1690s date (the neckwear is quite wrong).

I got rather confused, Graeme, when you twice called him 'Lord Bingham' at the beginning of your post, which sent me off on a bit of a research tangent! I should have checked lower down where the Wikipedia biography you copied for us makes clear he became Lord Bingley.

The V&A has a 1704 miniature of Benson here: http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O82245/portrait-of-robert-benson-1676-portrait-miniature-behn-andreas-von/

There seems no discernable facial similarity, though the artist's very continental style slightly muddies the waters.

Greaeme Cameron,

Thank you for the kind note, which is appreciated. It is 3am here and I had typed the wrong ending on the Bing...with a ham instead of a ley, so the knowledge is much appreciated.

Due to style transitions, wealth, borders, and other factors, such as personal preference for an older style, (as in the Double Breaster of today), dress can often be problematic in dating, and sometimes 10 to 20 years and even more, needs to be allowed for in research, Regards, Graeme

Oliver Perry,

There's an interesting British Museum catalogue entry for a portrait of Henry Gyles of York, that suggests various names of painters who might have done portraits in York in the 1680s: Parmentier, Lambert, Gyles himself, or Francis Place. I don't mean to imply, particularly , that this is by the same artist, although he does have something of the same rather glum look.
http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=753215&partId=1

Greaeme Cameron,

I just thought of a second point Osmund, which should it prove Bingley or another Mayor could still apply.
As he is believed to be depicted as a Yorkshire Mayor, The Lace Neckware could be part of an earlier 'traditional' Mayoral garb -another example of the problems of Dress.

Bruce Trewin,

I should perhaps throw in another candidate for sitter: Richard Thompson, cousin of Beilby and son of Henry's uncle, Edward. My first candidate was forty years old when Lord Mayor and died the following year. Perhaps a bit too old for this portrait. Richard was first Lord Mayor in 1708 and would have been much younger. I don't have his birthdate but he died in 1753. I am afraid that I am still putting my faith in the similarity between the portrait and that of Beilby Thompson. They were cousins.

Bruce Trewin,

I agree that this ISN'T Sir Godfrey Kneller. The colouring , for one, is all wrong. Far too intense, particularly the red (Kneller's reds were usually more of an orange hue and varied) and also the rendering of the wig is not in the same manner, and I am sure we have all seen far too many of Sir Godfrey's wigs.

Greaeme Cameron,

Interesting comments Bruce. You are probably aware that Kneller ran a "Production line" of portraiture, with various assistants to look after the Drapery & Wigs etc. of varying competance and also Palettes. Some were very well skilled "Continental artists", as suspect I we are probably witnessing here.

He predominantly rendered the "Face" (and Hands), and it's actually within the face itself, I believe Kneller's nuances are present, and of a very high order for him, as he could also produce veritable "shockers" on a bad day. So to judge on this dress colour which is conceivably not even by Kneller's brush, nor indeed the Wig, which is here tolerably good, is obviously a quandary, and being an old Mayoral Robe, could well have had an "exotic" Red required to be specially produced by the Drapery artist.

I'm also intrigued by the quite negative comments on the inherent quality of this portrait and its artist, as it is an extremely beautifully crafted work and of a very high standard, compared with others of the period. I hope this may address some of the issues you have raised. Regards, Graeme

Bruce Trewin,

I agree with you there, Greaeme. The face is much better quality than the rest (although the lips seem slightly off centre) and there are so many 'composite ' studio Knellers out there. I just think if you look at the wig and clothing they do not ring true with either Godrey or his studio painters. That isn't to say it is badly done. On the contrary, I have never been a great fan of Kneller's production work. Although as a young man his self portrait is outstanding, he appears at some point to have decided to make some money. I am quite positive about the clarity and execution of this portrait. I just don't feel it rings true as a Kneller.

Greaeme Cameron,

Addendum - Bruce, further to the above, here is the reason for the "intense red", being "different to Kneller's usually seen Reds", as explained therein.
It had to be custom made for this Mayoral portrait, and is of similar colour to that of Sir Lionel Duckett's 1580's Lord Mayor of London's Tudor Robe,
from an earlier project.

Merchant Adventurers' Hall,

We do have earlier portraits of Governors (the Master) in the Hall's collections that are also wearing the same (or very similar) red robe. The red robes were worn by senior members of a number of Guilds as well as Lord Mayors from the late 16th/early 17th century.

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Bruce Trewin,

Very interesting. Particularly the second one; of Henry Thompson, as this reinforces my believe that this portrait is of someone related to him. Same facial characteristics. Could even be the same Henry Thompson as the ny-yma-157 painting appears to be almost a copy of the face in 'our' portrait.

Bruce Trewin,

Let's not confuse Sir Henry Thompson with his son Henry Thompson. I believe it is the latter.

Bruce Trewin,

While I believe we may have identified the sitter, it still remains to tie down the artist. Greaeme Cameron believes it to be Godfrey Kneller, are there other candidates? Jan van der Vaart was still active at the time, having succeeded Wissem. While doing draperies for Wissem he certainly produced similar intense colouring. Any thoughts?

Martin Hopkinson,

I do wonder if this is by an artist of the second rank from the Low Countries or even France , who only spent a short time in Britain, rather than by the candidates mentioned above
His style is not anonymous, but quite distinctive. So if he was resident in Britain for any length of time, one would have thought that one of the art historians specialising in this period of British portraiture would have been able to provide the answer quite easily. The sitter's business interests might help us to narrow the field as to which cities such a foreign painter might have worked in

Bruce Trewin,

Before leaving the sitter, could someone at the Merchant Adventurers' Hall please clarify the inscription at the bottom of the Sir Henry Thompson painting which may help with the dating, and if this is 'Sir' then I believe our sitter is also Sir Henry Thompson. This bumps the date back a bit into William and Mary's reign and may help with the identification of the artist.

Bruce Trewin,

The dating is important if looking for a foreign artist as suggested by Martin Hopkinson. For example Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini was in York to work on Castle Howard, but not until after 1708. Given the robes and chains of office it was likely painted in England. More likely in terms of dates we have Michael Dahl, who had just returned fresh from Rome in 1689 eager to set up his own studio. Henry Tison was also there at the time.

Merchant Adventurers' Hall,

Bruce, Sir Henry Thompson was Lord Mayor of York in 1663 and the Governor of the Company from 1667-1672, he was a wine-merchant. The inscription on the panel reads: "Henry Thomson Knight Alderman and present Governor of this society did give fifty pounds for ye preaching of ye sermons forever 1669."

Greaeme Cameron,

If Ms Lauren Marshall or someone with a good digital camera could kindly provide a higher resolution image, of the facial area, (of 900kbs or more), in good focus and representative colour balance, it would further assist this contributor, and no doubt others. The current 45kb image whilst generally good, is still too weak for meaningful investigation of its rendition. Given such image, its origins could be more effectively resolved. Thank you GC

Bruce Trewin,

Well this really helps. In 1663 our Sir Henry was 38 years old, a suitable age for our portrait, and in terms of artists it pushes us back to the early restoration period of the studio of Peter Lely and company. As Martin has said it is good quality but doesn't immediately resonate with any well known english painters.

Martin Hopkinson,

As his business was in wine, perhaps we should be looking for a portraitist mainly working in the Bordeaux region, who came to York only briefly. There may be publications on French portraitists of the second half of the seventeenth century which might help. Egually the staff of the Musee des Beaux Arts might have something of use to contribute on our problem. The religious upheavals in France of the period undoubtedly led to artists leaving the country, sometimes only for a short period

Greaeme Cameron,

Thank you for providing the new image of the portrait, which provides a better opportunity to view it.

It is very impressive, here presented on a comparative basis, with two of Kneller's productions, in the attached image. A high standard Kneller portrait is shown on the Left and a lesser example Centre, to illustrate the quality variation within his work, with the York Mayor's portrait Left.

I would suggest there are very close synergies present between them all, especially with the higher standard portrait and the York portrait, which appears to have been 'restored', resulting in a slightly 'whiter and more edgy ambiance' due to final glazing loss, around the edges of the composition. Interestingly, as earlier noted, the York Mayor portrait appears equal if not the superior work of the two, with its more 'lifelike' expression and finer execution, in all its constituents.

Fortunately for its present custodians, irrespective of a more definitive authorship being possible to determine , all these indications suggest it possesses the qualities, style, and standard of Kneller at his best, rather than a lower ranked master, and if by Kneller, the accouterments are by his most skilled assistants. If not by Kneller, as has been alternatively suggested, the possibility of a high standard mainstream (French?) artist, who painted in a very similar style to Kneller could have painted the entire work. I hope these observations might further assist attribution.

Martin Hopkinson,

Can a costume historian help to narrow down the date of this painting for us from the lace cravat and length of wig perhaps?

Bruce Trewin,

Martin, do we not already have a reasonable date from the Merchant Adventurers' Hall of circa 1663? Does this tally with the cravat? Is there consensus that this portrait is the original for the Merchant Adventurers' Hall portrait of Sir Henry Thompson carrying the confirming inscription? If so our date range is well established.

Bruce Trewin,

In answer to Martin Hopkinson's earlier question the Thompsons were wine merchants in Bordeaux, although there was also a short sejourn in Amsterdam during the protecterate, but this probably had more to do with currying favour with the court in exile than trading. He was well connected at court having loaned up to £2439 to the Duke of Buckingham.

National Archives ref. DDFA/37/1-6, correspondance of Henry Thompson, University of Hull

Merchant Adventurers' Hall,

We have done a little research on the Thompsons and although Sir Henry Thompson Bt was a Merchant Adventurer. His son Henry (who interestingly never took over his father's title) and who has been suggested as the sitter here, was not a member of the Company. Henry Thompson was an MP for York like his father and uncle and stood from 1690 to 1695, perhaps the portrait was painted whilst he was in London on parliamentary duties?

Bruce Trewin,

Given the other portrait, I still believe this to be Sir Henry Thompson, the father not the son. Which means the artist we are looking for was practicing in the 1660's.

Merchant Adventurers' Hall,

Bruce, in this case are you suggesting that we have two portraits of the same man? Although we are no experts, we don't believe that this can be 'Henry Senior' as to us it suggests 1680-1690 and not 1663 (when Sir Henry Thompson was Lord Mayor). We're also not sure why Sir Henry would have had two portraits painted whilst he was Lord Mayor of such varying quality.

Merchant Adventurers' Hall,

We have attached a link which Paul Kettlewell posted on another discussion which we thought may be of interest. It dates from 1849 and is article some of the portraits at the Hall.

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Merchant Adventurers' Hall,

After some trawling through our archives, we have come across two or three documents relating to conservation and preservation which apart from mentioning Sir Henry Thompson Bt also mention a 'Henry Thomson' portrait. We can account for the other portraits mentioned in the documents but not 'Henry Thomson'. We think through a process of elimination the sitter is most likely to be Henry Thom[p]son - the son who was Lord Mayor in 1699 and died in 1700 at the age of 41.

Merchant Adventurers' Hall,

Further to the information above we have found details on a valuation in the late 1980's in which the valuers have suggested the artist could be from the circle of Jacob Ferdinand Voet. It certainly isn't the artist himself as he died in the 1680's but we would be interested in what people thought of this suggestion?

Martin Hopkinson,

It is not by Voet, who is superior to this see the portrait of Sir Thomas Isham in the Hunterian Art Gallery

Martin Hopkinson,

I would doubt too if it was by an artist close to Voet too

Bruce Trewin,

As you can see from my previous posts, I also see a good case for either of the two Henry Thompsons. Initially I thought the 'look' of the painting was more William and Mary than Charles II, and consequently searched through only Lord Mayors of this period. It was when I saw the two portraits side by side that it became apparent that one could be a copy of the other. IF this was the case, than obviously the poorer image would have been copied from the better. To me, the subscripted image appears to be perhaps one of a series of low budget portraits, commissioned for display together. As for reasons for two of the same? one can only speculate that it may have been commissioned for Sir Henry's personal use at Escrick and subsequently gifted to the Hall at a later date. I agree that the resemblance could equally be explained by the image being of the younger Henry, but to me it seems to be the original and the other (ny-yma-157) a copy. Either way I think with the similarities to the Beilby Thompson portrait and 157 we can at least confidently establish the portrait as one of the two Henrys. I will be up your way later on in August and would certainly welcome the opportunity to see both in situ. Are they on public display?

Bruce Trewin,

In reference to an earlier question regarding dating, and the possible period for the style of cravat, it should be noted that the 1661 portrait of Louis XIV by Charles Le Brun sports a similar cravat, as does that by Jean Nocret of 1667.

Merchant Adventurers' Hall,

Bruce, both paintings are on display in the Great Hall and we would be happy to show them to you. If you wanted to e-mail the Hall in advance we would be happy to organise a viewing.

Bruce Trewin,

Many thanks for the kind offer. I will certainly be in contact once my schedule is firmed up.

R. Stephens,

For what it is worth, and since the idea refuses to die, I don't believe this is by Kneller, it lacks the vigour of his better (earlier) work and the face is altogether too soft. To my eyes, the jpg that was uploaded by Greaeme with two Knellers next to the York portrait & which was provided as evidence of similarities, actually performs the opposite job. It isn't by Kneller.

Nor is the 1669 portrait a copy of the portrait under discussion. It shows none of the characteristics that even really bad copies have, of the copyist attempting to follow the original. The 1669 portrait is a distinct image in its own right, of a man who resembles the sitter in the portrait under investigation. That is all we know.

Thank you Richard, sound comments as ever. I think we can probably assume that in the absence of any further information we are unlikely to make advances on the artist, who was doubtless a regional or itinerant painter of some, but no great, talent. We have received valuable suggestions on the sitter, with the most interesting probably being the Henry Thompson derived from documentary sources at the institution itself. I would therefore suggest that we close this discussion for now, as we're unlikely to be able to add anything new on this site from the image and evidence available.