Attributed to John Closterman (1660-1711). 17th century English portrait of a young girl with a lamp in a woodland landscape

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Object Description

A portrait of a young girl seated by a tree with a lamb in a wooded landscape, in a blue and white gown with a gold coloured silk cloak. c.1690, oil on canvas laid onto board in a period giltwood frame.

The young girl is portrayed as an idealised shepherdess, a convention in portraiture that resonated with romantic notions of pastoral simplicity popular in England at the time. She may also be in the guise of Saint Agnes, the patron saint of young girls and virgins, with the saint’s attributes of a lamb, symbolising her chaste innocence and Christian devotion.
Closterman is noted for having contributed a baroque richness to his depictions of the seventeenth century English face and this sensitive and charming portrait is a superb example of his work.

John Closterman (1660-1711) was born in Osnabruck in Northern Germany and was the son of a painter (according to Vertue, Note books, 1.44), perhaps a Hermann Cloisterman, A fellow artist, Tiburing and Closterman went to Paris in 1679 where they worked for two years studying under Francois de Troy before moving to England. In de Troy’s Marie-Anne de Bourbon, Princesse de Conti (Musée des Augustins, Toulouse), we see the draperies with flickering highlights, ivory flesh tones, and an elegant sprightliness, all characteristics of Closterman’s best early English work. (J D Stewart).

Closterman went into partnership with English artist John Riley with the partnership confirmed by the composite character of portraits like the three-quarter-length of Katherine Elliott (d. 1688) in the Royal Collection, described in a Queen Anne inventory as ‘Ryley ye Head, Closterman ye Drapery’ (Millar, no. 331). One of his first independant commissions was his three-quarter-length portrait of Grinling Gibbons, the master woodcarver, and his wife, Elizabeth (Vertue, Note books, 1.61), now known only from John Smith’s mezzotint (1691; Rogers, no. 38). It is a complex composition, with an elaborate curtain, dramatically foreshortened columns, and a relief of putti (whose meaning is enigmatic) but at the same time displays a lively informality characteristic of his work. The three-quarter-length portrait of Sir Christopher Wren (Royal Society, London) was once attributed to Riley, but according to J. D. Stewart, its easy, dynamic composition, elegant drapery forms, firm modelling, and (again enigmatic) putto relief confirm it as Closterman’s work of the mid-1690s.

In 1698, he travelled to Madrid, then on to Rome and Florence, not only to paint but to acquire old master drawings and paintings on behalf of his aristocratic patrons in England such as the Duke of Somerset. According to Vertue, he returned from Italy and ‘liv’d with great splendor at his house in Covent Garden haveing improv’d his Fortune considerably’. There is a record of this confirmed by an auction catalogue of a sale of eighty-nine lots of pictures on 26 December 1702 at the artist’s house in Covent Garden, including works by Maratti, Luca Giordano, Rosa, Tintoretto and Guercino. Closterman also continued to have success as an artist, even winning a commission to paint Queen Anne against artists such as Jonathan Richardson and Godfrey Kneller, the principle painter to the King.

Closterman’s wife, Hannah, died in 1702. Later, according to J. C. Weyerman, he took a beautiful mistress who, while he was away in the country, robbed him of his valuables and disappeared, actions which drove the painter into madness and his health quickly declined. He was buried in St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, on 24 May 1711.

Object History

Talman Bank corporate collection, Chicago
With Wally Findlay Galleries, Palm Beach

Object Literature

J.D. Stewart, ‘J. Closterman, John (1660–1711), history and portrait painter. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
M. Rogers, ‘John and John Baptist Closterman: a catalogue of their works’, The Walpole Society, volume 49, 1983 edition, page 224.

Object Condition

Good, ready to hang condition

Object Details

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