For The Heir and A Spare

Not van Dyck, Group of Four Boys, probably 17th century? 50 x 40 in., collection: NGA
Anton van Dyck, A Family Group, 1634-35, 44.5 x 63.5 in., collection: DIA

So yesterday’s Artle quiz at the National Gallery started with the top painting, which was a *copy* of a section of a van Dyck, above, that’s at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

“It is possible that the owners of Van Dyck’s original group portrait commissioned the copy for a family member or close relative,” explains the NGA.

Well, we do know from the DIA site, that some of the owners liked to have things painted: “Inscribed, upper left: Family of Oliver St. John | Earl of Bolingbroke [added later; now thought to be a portrait group of a Flemish family] Inscribed, upper right: Vandyke/pinxit [added later].”

As Peter Huestis notes, the paintings match closely enough that the copy must have been made in the presence of the original. But who, when, and where?

The copy’s provenance doesn’t help at all; the prospectuses, possibly from Duveen, mention a Rev. Dr. William Ash of Tunbridge Wells, for whom this post will be the second Google result.

The original’s history seems to begin several generations after the painting was created, with “the Honourable Anne Poulett [1711-1785], grand nephew of Elizabeth, Countess of Bolinbroke.” Anne, named after the queen who attended his baptism, was the fourth son of John Poulett, 4th Baron, then 1st Earl Poulett, who commissioned many copies and portraits from Thomas Gibson [1680-1751].

Elizabeth [Paulet] was the wife of one Oliver St. John, the 1st Earl of Bolingbroke, and the mother of another [who died without a son], and the grandson of a third [the son of the second son, who’d also died], who became the 2nd Earl of Bolingbroke. When he died without kids in 1688, his brother, Paulet St. John, became the 3rd EoB. What seems to matter here is that the 1st Earl of Bolingbroke did have seven kids: four boys and three girls, which matches the painting’s subjects, though it’s not clear the ages map neatly.

How Anne Poulett was the grand nephew of Elizabeth, Countess of Bolingbroke, I can’t figure out. But Anne’s mother Catherine Vere was previously married to a different Oliver St. John, who was the son, not of Oliver St. John, but John St. John, who seems to have come from the Viscounts Bolinbroke, not the Earls Bolingbroke [a title which went extinct after the 3rd EoB died in 1711, the year of Anne’s birth.]

So that’s the first provenance entry.

The second is John Parker, 1st Baron Boringdon [1735-1788], who was the son of Anne’s younger sister Catherine [1706-1758]. JP1BB was a big collector and a great friend of Joshua Reynolds, the same Joshua Reynolds who painted extensions onto that portrait–by van Dyck-of Queen Henrietta Maria. [I’m still trying to track down those Reynolds extensions, btw. Conservators, hmu!]

John Parker’s son John Parker [1772-1840] was 3yo when his mother died, and 15 when his father died. He would go from being the 2nd Baron Boringdon to being the 1st Earl of Morley. It was the 3rd Earl of Morley who sold off the van Dyck to Baron Alfred Rothschild of Vienna in 1875.

Where in that plinko ball path of inheritance did someone retcon this van Dyck as being the family of the Earl of Bolinbroke? Did they swing from branch to branch of the family tree until they found someone with seven kids? Was it an attempt to pin down the art history, or to boost the family’s status? Could a copy have been made by the copyist one owner’s dad had on retainer, or by the one who was friends with the van Dyck repainter? Or someone else entirely? And how does all this relate to who is actually depicted in the painting itself? Why do I keep getting sucked into this kind of thing?