Attributed to Sir Godfrey Kneller (Lübeck 1646 – 1723 London)
Portrait of a Gentleman
Black and white chalk on buff paper, two horizontal folding lines, 375 x 255 mm (14.8 x 10 inch)
Kneller was born Gottfried Kniller in Lübeck, Germany. He first studied in Leiden, but became a pupil of Ferdinand Bol and Rembrandt in Amsterdam. He then traveled with his brother John Zacharias Kneller, who was an ornamental painter, to Rome and Venice in the early 1670s, painting historical subjects and portraits, and later moved to Hamburg. They came to England in 1674, at the invitation of the Duke of Monmouth. In England, Kneller concentrated almost entirely on portraiture. He founded a studio which churned out portraits on an almost industrial scale, relying on a brief sketch of the face with details added to a formulaic model, aided by the fashion for gentlemen to wear full wigs. His portraits set a pattern that was followed until William Hogarth and Joshua Reynolds.
Kneller was the leading portrait painter in England during the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and was court painter to British monarchs from Charles II to George I. His major works include The Chinese Convert (1687); a series of four portraits of Isaac Newton painted at various junctures of the latter's life; a series of ten reigning European monarchs, including King Louis XIV of France; over forty "Kit-cat portraits" of members of the Kit-Cat Club; and ten "beauties" of the court of William III, to match a similar series of ten beauties of the court of Charles II painted by his predecessor as court painter, Sir Peter Lely.
Kneller’s drawings are infinitely rarer than his paintings. In the words of the leading Kneller scholar, J. Douglas Stewart: “the student of Kneller’s drawings is confronted with a paradox. While in studying his paintings one is almost overwhelmed by plentifulness of evidence, with the drawings it is the reverse (…) his presently identifiable drawing oeuvre is under a hundred, surely no more than a tiny fragment of his actual output.”1 The reason for this scarsity may be that Kneller’s portrait drawings were purely functional working tools, which lost their use after they had been converted into oils. It is interesting to note that no painting of this gentleman is currently known.
This life-size study of the head of a middle-aged gentleman with long natural hair, the left half of his face slightly shaded in reminiscence of Kneller’s days in Rembrandt’s studio, shows a high level of skill, while retaining a very sensitive and thoughtful touch. Head studies like these concentrated solely on the facial features, as details of body, hands and costume could be modelled by studio assistants. Several related head studies by Kneller are known, the most comparable sheet being the portrait of Henry Aldrich, Dean of Christ Church (Oxford, Ashmolean Museum), which can be dated around 1696 (see last image).2
1. J. Douglas Stewart, Sir Godfrey Kneller and the English Baroque Portrait, Oxford 1983, p. 149.
2. Black and white chalk on buff paper, 292 x 234 mm (this sheet was possible cut down at the edges and may have approached our sheet in size when it was originally drawn); see Douglas Stewart, p. 165, plate 96a.
18 000 €
8 000 €