An unfashionable picture

Portrait thought to be of ‘young’ Sir George Booth, 1st Baron Delamer (1622-1684), by circle of Sir Godfrey Kneller. ©Christie’s

Yesterday we managed to purchase this portrait, said to be of ‘Young’ Sir George Booth, 2nd Baronet and 1st Baron Delamer (1622-1684), for Dunham Massey. We are not quite sure yet when this picture left Dunham – it was last offered at auction at Sotheby’s in London in 1980.

Bird’s eye view of Dunham Massey from the south, engraved by J. Kip after Leonard Knyff, 1697, showing the house as rebuilt by ‘young’ Sir George Booth, probably in the 1650s. ©National Trust Images

The fact that this picture was now being offered in a mixed ‘Interiors’ auction at Christie’s in New York and that we got it for a very modest price seems to indicate (according to our outgoing pictures curator, Alastair Laing) that this type of portrait is currently rather unfashionable in the American market. In some ways the National Trust very much tries to keep abreast of various trends, of course, but in this case we are rather pleased to be out of tune with current tastes.

Portrait of the Dutch mastiff called Old Virtue, probably by Jan Wyck, c. 1700, with Dunham Massey as rebuilt by ‘young’ Sir George in the background. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

‘Young’ Sir George Booth’s life illustrates the upheavals of the Civil War, Commonwealth and Restoration periods. He initially supported Parliament, but did not agree with the execution of the King. In 1659 he actually led an uprising against Cromwell in Lancashire and Cheshire. When that was put down he fled disguised as a woman, but was given away by his large feet and need of a shave. When Charles II returned to the throne ‘young’ Sir George was created Baron Delamer, but in other ways he was marginalised and he retired to spend his last years at Dunham.

Portrait probably of ‘young’ Sir George Booth’s mother, Vere Egerton, attributed to Robert Peake, c. 1619, acquired by the National Trust in 2011. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Hollow

We are not entirely sure yet whether it is indeed a portrait of ‘young’ Sir George, or perhaps of another member or associate of the Booth family of Dunham – further research will need to be done to establish that. The picture will also need some conservation work before it can go on view at Dunham. As is so often the case, the acquisition of an object is just the beginning.

16 Responses to “An unfashionable picture”

  1. mary Says:

    Congratulations on a great “sleeper”.

  2. columnist Says:

    Sir Geoffrey Kneller seems to have had a huge circle, (so to speak). The portrait has a very odd arrangement for the left arm, (as though he was deformed). For that reason alone, I would understand it being “unfashionable”. However, I will be very interested in finding out what the experts make of it after their research.

  3. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Mary, thank you.

    Columnist, I think that is just how the ‘swaggering’ hand-on-hip posture has been portrayed. But hopefully the cleaning of the picture will reveal more.

  4. KDM Says:

    Brilliant – better snatch up all such paintings now – as I will be doing my best to bring back the Stuart Swagger Hand Akimbo pose . . . KDM

  5. Lex van Haart Says:

    Congratulations on this addition to the collection!
    Wonderful piece, and good to know it’s in such good care where it will be conservated and researched.

    I have to agree on the arm though, although I agree that this is the fashionable hand-on-hip; I have not seen it so unnatural before. Of course, it might have something to do with the fact that he’s in need of a good cleaning: So much darkness and then this bright white sleeve; it is bound to turn out a bit odd.
    Mother Booth is an absolute beauty

  6. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Keith, bravo – we should start a Swagger Appreciation Society 🙂

    Lex, thanks very much. Yes it will be interesting to see whether we can find other portraits from the period with exactly the same pose, or whether this is an exception, for whatever reason.

    What makes me doubt that it could be a physical deformity is that it would seems odd for the sitter to advertise that in such a prominent way – but I hasten to add that I am not an expert on this sort of picture and I will ask our curators to see if they have an opinion about the pose.

    • Lex van Haart Says:

      Emile, I don’t think it’s a physical deformity at all. If not for the reason that those were only advertised, as you say, on the portraits of those who were ‘known’ for it. You’d have surely found some note about it in his biography, or in other documentation.

      It is such an odd portrait, and I can’t help myself staring. But then I remembered an old habit from my childhood, when I would wander the halls and imitate my ancestors and their poses. It helps. This is not a deformity at all; he’s just very much standing sideways. This by itself is an odd pose – I can’t think of any comparable portrait where someone stands in a 90 degree angle, like he does. There must be a reason for it – perhaps a counterpart? Was there a Lady Booth, or perhaps an unmarried sister that lived with him?

      As said: I do think he needs a bit of a cleaning – or is the picture just this dark? It would give a better view on the details of the darker fabric(s), right now he’s blending in with the background too much. It could cure his ‘dislocated shoulder’, instantly.

  7. Jack Plane Says:

    What a coup! Great to hear it’s coming home.

  8. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes Lex I think you’re right. The only deformity I have seen mentioned is that young Sir George had large feet (see above) 🙂

    The painting is indeed quite dirty at the moment so it will need the old varnish removed, some cleaning and retouching and then revarnishing, and possibly some relining to the back. And there is an old repaired tear which might need looking at – all to make it fit and healthy for the next twenty or thirty years or so.

    Young Sir George, if this is indeed him, was married twice, first in 1639 to Lady Katherine Clinton, daughter of the 4th Earl of Lincoln, who died in 1643, and then in 1644 to Lady Elizabeth Grey, daughter of the 1st Earl of Stamford, with whom he had three children, including his heir. As you say, in view of his marked pose turning towards his right, it would be interesting to try to find out if there is or was a pendant to this portrait, depicting Lady Katherine or Lady Elizabeth and mirroring the pose.

    Jack, thank you.

  9. Sarah Kay Says:

    Hi Emile
    We have a c.1770 self portrait of Richard Cosway at Attingham with a very similar pose and awkwardness to the arm. Look at
    The catalogue entry states: “His stance reflects that in aristocratic portraiture…Cosway was notoriously vain, an attitude which is all too apparent in this portrait.” And apparently Oliver Garnett wrote about these kind of portraits in “Men in Lace: The Fashionable Swagger – the 18th century nostalgia for ornate ‘Vandyke’ dress”, National Trust Arts/Buildings/Collections Bulletin, Summer Issue, July 2010, pp.1-2

    • Lex van Haart Says:

      This portrait is having an interesting follow-up. And again this 90 degree angle, are there any other portraits known, Sarah? I’m curious whether this pose indicates the presence of (or the intention for) a counterpart; or, differently, that this is merely an esthetic choice. I have a hard time believing the latter, for it’s not that becoming… Is it?

  10. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Sarah, thank you so much for that link, that is indeed exactly the same pose and stance, and it shows that it continued to be used in the eighteenth-century in a self-consciously antiquarian context.

    The Cosway at Attingham doesn’t have a pendant, which may indicate that the pose does not necessarily echo that of a sitter in an associated portrait. But it will be interesting to see if we can find other examples – as you say, Lex, this has turned into a fruitful discussion 🙂

    Oliver’s article can be accessed here:

  11. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Having done a quick and non-exhaustive search on our collections database, I have found a few more examples of the type of pose where the elbow is pointed more or less directly at the viewer:

    Ham House, portrait of Charles II, after Lely:

    Charlecote Park, portrait of Richard Lucy:

    Oxburgh Hall, portrait of Sir Henry Bedingfeld:

  12. Andrew Says:

    The hand-on-hip was apparently a Mannerist symbol of sovereignty or nonchalant self-assurance (sprezzatura), although John Bulwer cautioned against it in his 1644 work on rhetoric, Chironomia: “to set the arms agambo or aprank, and to rest the turned-in back of the hand upon the side is an action of pride and ostentation, unbeseeming the hand of an orator.” Joaneath Spicer seems to have coined the term “the Renaissance elbow” for it. There is an early example from the 1530s by Bronzino –

    The NT collection database has a lot of normal hand-on-hip portraits, with the palm or fist resting on the hip, but rather fewer of these unnatural-looking back-of-hand-on-hip paintings. Perhaps this variant carries a (or another) hidden message?

    The Lucy example is particularly odd, with a second glove held in the everted hand. I wondered at first if he had a hand injury that this pose is intended to disguise, but it seems to being copying Van Dyck’s 1635 painting Le Roi à la chasse – – but the pose seems a bit more natural there.

    There is a whole chapter on the “akimbo” stance in this book – – with some interesting footnotes, although I think that book might be overplaying the camp/theatrical/queer overtones of the gesture.

  13. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Andrew what a wonderful selection of sources and links, thank you very much. We are now beginning to see the outlines of a history of this gesture and, in Thomas Alan King’s wonderfully mannerist academic discourse, a history of the history of a gesture 🙂

    It is also fascinating to see how natural the pose appears in the Louvre Van Dyck – in contrast to most of the other examples with palm outward and elbow to the viewer – but then he was a master at making poses appear natural and effortless.

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