19th-Century Portrait Of An Elizabethan Gentleman

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This fine portrait of an older gentleman has an unusual story and remains an intriguing mystery.

During the 1940s, it was discovered by a parish priest when browsing a local junk shop in Essex. He was also an amateur painter and was looking for canvases to practice on. At the time, the portrait had accumulated so much dirt that it appeared to be blank and simply primed with dark paint.

Upon arriving home, the Reverend examined the canvas more closely and soon noticed the faint outline of a head, which then prompted him to clean it.

As the layers of grime were removed, this beautiful image began to reveal itself… It was then later professionally restored and relined.

So how old is this gentleman and how did he end up discarded in a junk shop in Essex? On the face of it, he’s dressed in Elizabethan clothes including a fine ruff, similar to the one worn by Sir Walter Raleigh (c.1554-1618) in his portrait by William Segar. However, we can rule out this being a late 16th-century portrait for several reasons.

These include the fact that it lacks an appropriate level of craquelure for a piece so old and also canvases were quite rare in the 16th-century. Plus, if this was a 16th-century canvas, you’d generally expect it to have a coarse man-made weave but this one appears finer and machine-made.

With all the facts considered, we feel that it’s a 19th-century portrait, which is perhaps a copy of an old master. So probably not as old as the gentleman appears but still a wonderful decorative item.

Medium
Oil on canvas
Overall size
18” x 23” / 46cm x 58cm
Year of creation
c. 1870
Provenance
England
Condition
It’s been restored professionally, which included a reline and a clean. As you can see, the colours have faded a little over time and there are some light marks in the lower left.