Photo credit: Oxford City Council
The attribution to Lely is not plausible, though one wonders what it is based on. The sitter was a boy of 12 when Lely died in 1680, and I expect he was an MP (which he became in 1695) when this portrait was painted. It is currently stated to be c.1698. The wig and dress look like early 18th century, not Restoration period, and the style is more like Godfrey Kneller (1646–1723) than Lely, though I am not saying this is by Kneller. It is probably by a lesser name like Michael Dahl (1659–1743), Charles Jervas (1675–1739) or Jonathan Richardson (1667–1745), but British School. A public discussion may help with attribution.
Also, the entry currently says the picture was purchased in 1697, which I assume was meant to be 1967, with numbers transposed inadvertently.
This discussion is now closed. The attribution has been amended to ‘Studio of Godfrey Kneller’ and the date adjusted from c.1698 to c.1697.
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.
Oxford City Council has no further information on this portrait, but they will check that acquisition date. Unfortunately, the painting is hung too high to get it off the wall.
It certainly looks to be by a follower of Kneller. It doesn’t appear to have the quality/manner to be Dahl, Jervas or Richardson. Until recently I believe it was filed under Adrien Carpentiers on art UK. The pose and costume is not uncommon amongst other portraits of this period, many of which are in the style of Kneller.
Someone like Charles D’agar or Aikman might be a closer fit, but neither seem quite right and attributions in this area get very difficult. The Lely attribution should be removed and replaced by follower/manner of Kneller at the very least.
You are right Jacinto in that it is definately early 18th century, probably c.1715.
The face isn't particularly distinct and seems just an average follower of Kneller whom I suspect will remain anonymous
Definately not by Dahl, Jervas or Richardson.
It looks like Queen Anne era to me--definitely not by Lely (though early 18th century portraits are not infrequently attributed to him, though that should not be the case). It is certainly British School, and "style of Kneller" is safe enough. Group Leader Bendor Grosvenor should have something to say about an attribution here.
It is also conceivable that this could be a copy, which would make it more difficult to identify the source artist and might explain a certain generic, homogenised quality.
Here are three extracts from the ‘Oxford Journal’ of Saturday, December 5, 1891. Two Rowney portraits were in the West End of the Council Chamber of the Town Hall at that time.
If the portrait of the elder Rowney was made in 1695, then I suppose it is possible that the the city purchased it in 1697.
Possibly taking this work back another century, an article in the ‘Oxford Journal’ of Saturday, July 8, 1893, reported that "Peshall, writing in 1771" stated that there were pictures of "Tho. Rowney, father and son" in Oxford's Town Hall.
For the record, I have attached pages from a book by Anthony à Wood and Sir John Peshall from 1773. The quote in the article would have been based on footnote d, which spans pages 112 and 113.
Lest there be any doubt, Vol 1  of Rachael Poole's 'Catalogue of portraits in the possession of the university, colleges, city, and county of Oxford' describes in some detail the portrait of Thomas the elder then in the Town Hall, and it is clearly our one: https://bit.ly/3BVQlnK
This picture may well have coincided with Rowney's entry into Parliament in 1695, when Kneller was the dominant figure in British portraiture. Both Dahl and Jervas trained under Kneller.
Kneller's assistant Edward Byng records the portrait in a study in one of his sketchbooks in the British Museum. Although it does not appear to be illustrated on the BM site, there is an image in the PMC archive: https://photoarchive.paul-mellon-centre.ac.uk/objects/449065/sketchbook-no-4?ctx=643b6997faaefbe4668f811d8ca12db92186fee4&idx=328
But Scott, how do we know that sketch pertains specifically to the portrait of Rowney? The same pose and dress could have been used for other people. I don't see a sitter's name in the linked image.
The pose and dress could well have been used for other sitters, although I couldn't find any matching images in J Douglas Stewart's catalogue. In this instance Byng has recorded the sitter's dimpled chin, which sways me to think that it depicts Rowney. I'm no expert on Kneller, so cannot verify whether the Oxford portrait is by or after Kneller, but it certainly looks like it is from his Studio. Byng completed a number of Kneller's unfinished portraits after his death.
The dimple and the double chin appear in both the sketch and our picture, as does the sword hilt, although it is somewhat lower in the painting. A case can certainly be made for "attributed to" Kneller or his studio, and based on the sketch, it is a reasonably strong case. I would personally recommend that, but no doubt someone with greater expertise can comment on the matter.
Perhaps the sword is related to the fact Rowney had been High Sheriff of Oxfordshire?
This is clearly not by Lely and cannot be. Based on the evidence above, studio or at least style of Kneller is eminently plausible. We need to know from the collection if, indeed, the picture was purchased in 1697 as stated, since that would help with dating the picture, but I expect this is Queen Anne or early Georgian era. Once the date question has been addressed, I think this can be closed.
A date of 1695 or thereabouts would be acceptable for this portrait as would a label of "Studio of Sir Godfrey Kneller" in my experience.
Marion, can the collection be asked to confirm the date of purchase?
I can quite see a portrait of Rowney as the then local MP being acquired in 1697.
Yes, Jacob, that is certainly plausible, and I hope the collection will confirm it so that this may then close.
If we are asking the collection, then I think the pertinent question is to seek the documentation for the acquisition, whether in a Council minute or in a payment to the artist, frame maker or carrier. In tracing the history of picture restoration in Oxford I have found a variety of documentation for other pictures.
I asked Oxford City Council about the acquisition in August. There was no reply to that question, but I did find out that they couldn't reach the paintings to inspect the backs because they're too high. I'll try again in the New Year.
I expect the information we seek will not be on the back of the painting but in written records.
Jacinto, I think so too, but we ask the collection to check the back anyway every time we have a discussion.
I will be on leave 23 December to 2 January inclusive.
I wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year,
I've asked Oxford City Council again if they could check minutes and receipts, which should be relatively quick if the archive isn't off site. It seems they were too busy last summer, but this may be a better time to ask.
I saw a work by Kneller at the National Gallery of Canada last week that reminded me of this work but that seemed more polished. It is dated 1713.
Marcie, Kneller obviously employed studio assistants, and no doubt the degree of his personal involvement varied depending on the source of the commission.
While it would be desirable to confirm the acquisition date, that would require work on the collection's part, so we cannot know how long that would take. When and if that happens, the information could be incorporated into the Art UK entry even if this discussion has been closed. I suggest that the quite implausible Lely attribution be replaced by studio of Kneller so the correct attribution appears on Art UK even if this discussion is left open. I see no need to delay resolving the key question and thus improve the public database.
Oxford City Council records are catalogued but not transcribed at the link below. If the Council cannot/will not check their records as apparently promised (10/08/2022), is there an art detective who could do so? One would start with the minutes for 1697.
I agree with Jacinto that the Lely attribtion needs to be changed as he indicates.
It is possible that the collection has already done what we are asking it to do. Going by what the Art UK entry currently says, it may be that the portrait was commissioned in 1697 and delivered the following year, which explains the date of c. 1698.
Re Marion's hope (04/01/2023 18:16) that for the Council to check their 17th Century records would "be relatively quick if the archive isn't off site", I'm afraid it wouldn't be, as it is!
The relevant documents are held not in the Town Hall but at the Oxfordshire History Centre in Cowley, about 3 miles away. There is the further problem (which perhaps explains the silence from the Council) that responsibility for their paintings probably lies with a largely administrative dept like 'Leisure & Culture', and I rather doubt there's anyone there with any historical or art curatorial expertise, let alone someone with the time and knowledge to spend half a day delving into C17th documents. And since the History Centre is run by Oxfordshire County Council not the City, the latter probably can't just ask the staff at the Centre to do the research for them, at least not without paying the requisite fees.
Anyway, pursuing things further from Jacob's link, these would likely be the most fruitful series/files:
https://bit.ly/3NBuaJi - OCA1/1/A1/4 Council Minute Book D 1663-1701.
https://bit.ly/3AXC4Fe - OCA1/1/A2/5 Council Minutes 1681-1701 & OCA1/1/A2/6 Council Minutes 1697-1706.
https://bit.ly/3Nz3MzV - OCA1/1/A3/1 Index to Council Minutes 1519-1843.
As Jacinto suggests, at some point someone must have looked this up already - how else would they know that it was purchased in 1697, assuming that's right? - and one suspects that there must be more on it somewhere in the City Council's more recent records. But with them apparently unable or unwilling even to check those, Jacob is right to imply that nothing is going to happen unless we do it ourselves.
I'm afraid it's too far and too expensive for me to go to Oxford for this. And even if I were to combine it with some other excuse for visiting the City, I'd be reluctant to do the work on behalf of another Collection that shows no interest in it being done. Perhaps we'd have a better chance of a response if we said we were researching his family's links with slavery (though actually there aren't any).
Thank you, Osmund, for clarifying the situation. Based on your findings, it seems quite unlikely that the matter will be pursued as we would like, especially if that was done previously.
I think the current dating, which is plausible, should be left as it is, and the more important matter of the attribution, which is what prompted this discussion, be corrected and go live on Art UK. I assume that falls to Group Leader Rab MacGibbon, but Marion no doubt knows how to go about resolving this.
Marion, I think my prior comment was made while you were on leave, so you may have missed it. Please look it over so you can decide how to best proceed in moving this forward.
Looking at Scott Thomas Buckle's post of 11/08/2022 where he reproduces a related drawing to our portrait, we could amend the artist to "Studio of Sir Godfrey Kneller".
The date assigned to this work on Art UK of c.1698 also needs amendment, to c.1697, given that the work was apparently acquired in 1697.
There is a possible logic in the dating, Jacob, if it was paid for in advance, at least in part. What it actually says is that it was *purchased* in 1697; if the commission and cost was authorised by the City Council in 1697, and a first instalment handed over late that year, then I can see how it might have ended up in the accounts for 1697 though not delivered until 1698.
On further thought, even that scenario is unnecessary, with the confusion of Old Style / New Style dating to contend with. As you know (but I'll attempt to explain to others who may not), before the mid-C18th calendar changes, the legal and fiscal New Year did not begin until 25 March (Lady Day), and dates 1 Jan-24 March 1698 (as we understand it, or 'New Style') were then legally described as Jan/Mar 1697 ('Old Style'). So if the commission and cost were approved in Jan/Mar 1698 (N.S.) they would probably appear in the minutes as '1697', even though delivery just a few months later would have been in '1698' (O.S. and N.S.). And things get even more complicated when one realises that the accounting year continued and continues to run from 25 Mar to 24 Mar, but plus 11 days (i.e. 6 Apr-5 Apr) because of the 11 days that had to be removed when our calendar simultaneously changed from Julian to Gregorian (which had got out of kilter).
All in all I suspect that 1698 may be the correct year to list, but that would have to be confirmed by re-examining the minutes in the light of an understanding of the O.S./N.S. issue.
I think the dating can be left as is, since it is plausible and presumably based on prior review of the relevant records. The more important matter, which prompted this discussion, is the incorrect attribution, which can and should be changed to studio of Kneller so that can go live in the database.
I don't think it's worth keeping this open to confirm a date that is perfectly plausible and which is quite unlikely to be looked into further by the relevant staff, as noted by Osmund on 4/5/23. The question that prompted this discussion has been answered.
There is a portrait of Joseph Addison by (possibly) Barthelemy Du pan which has many similarities. Same right hand (on left) and the same blue coat.Note the right cuff.Face is also a "bit" similar. Suggested "after" Kneller.
Marion, as I said previously, I doubt Oxford City Council staff is likely to pursue this further, so it would seem reasonable to update the Art UK entry and close this discussion.