This striking Jacobean costume piece, which descended in the sitter’s family until 2018, is one of the most beguiling examples of Paul Van Somer’s work. He has rendered the young Thomas Dallison’s face with a soft sfumato brush-work in a feat of realism that represents a huge shift from the iconographic and mask-like portraits of a generation earlier in Elizabethan England. Thomas was clearly a young man of substance and ambition, and Van Somer has accordingly rendered his clothes with meticulous detail. Sir Thomas’s magnificent red silk suit would have been worn as formal court dress, and his accessories are of the highest fashion and expense – from the dropped lace collar and cuffs, to the kid gloves and blue-dyed ostrich-plumed hat. Most costly of all are the extravagantly silver-embroidered mantle and sash, from which decorative silver lace chapes jauntily dangle.
By descent to Sir Thomas Dallison (d.1691), Greetwell Hall, Lincolnshire;
thence by descent to Maximilian D. P. Dalison (1881 – 1956), Plaxtol, Kent;
thence by descent until 2018.
The Weiss Gallery, A Connoisseur's Eye, 2020, cat. 7.
Thomas was the son of Sir Roger Dallison MP, 1st Bt. Laughton (c.1562 – 1620), and his second wife Elizabeth Tyrwhitt. He became heir to the estate after his elder brother’s death, shortly before his father died in 1620. That same year he and his mother successfully petitioned King James I to return the family manor, which had been used as collateral to repay his father’s debts, and it is likely that our portrait was painted around this time.
However, in May 1624, Thomas’s claim to his father’s baronetcy was jeopardised when it emerged that the seal for the grant had been omitted from the register by clerical error. Despite concerns expressed by the king to the Secretary of State, Sir Edward Conway, that Thomas’s reduced estate ‘might be prejudicial to the orders of the institution’, Thomas was created a baronet by a special grant the following October. Dallison continued in royal favour over the decades, and was appointed a captain of the Royalist army in 1639 and a Commissioner of Array in Lincolnshire in 1642. He was killed at the battle of Naseby in June 1645.
Paul van Somer (also known as Paulus) was a Flemish émigré artist, as were many other painters in England at the time. He came to London from Antwerp in 1616, and was immediately appointed court painter to James I, bringing with him a new grandeur and naturalism to British royal iconography. Two of his best-known works are his portraits of James I from 1616 and of Queen Anne in hunting attire with her dogs, from 1617 (Hampton Court). These very much established Van Somer’s position as the royal favourite, supplanting John de Critz and Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger.
Surprisingly little is known of Van Somer’s training, given he arrived in England as a mature artist, but according to Karel van Mander, he was the brother of the artist Barend van Someren. As well as the king and queen, his patrons included powerful members of the royal circle, such as Ludovic Stuart, 2nd Duke of Lennox, Elizabeth Stanley, Countess of Huntingdon, Lady Elizabeth Grey, Countess of Kent, and Lady Anne Clifford, who referred in her diary to sitting to Van Somer on 30 August 1619. In many ways, Van Somer can be said to have paved the way at the British court for fellow Flemish artists Daniel Mytens and Sir Anthony Van Dyck, much as Jacob de Critz and Marcus Gheeraerts had made way for him. Indeed, Mytens settled in London by 1618, where he was Van Somer’s close neighbour in St. Martin’s Lane, Covent Garden.