The Weiss Gallery is delighted to hold an exhibition entitled FACES + FASHION, for the summer edition of London Art Week (29th June – 6th July 2018).
Portraits from the 1600s, especially by artists working in England before the arrival of Van Dyck, are often accused of being naive in handling and style. In fact, the artists' grasp of costume was anything but. Their attention to detail was sophisticated, particularly in the portrayal of sumptuous and detailed fabrics, as well as the expressions and faces of their sitters. Faces & Fashion at The Weiss Gallery is a celebration of just this - how sitters of the time wished to impress their neighbours with their wealth, through a shimmering and often ostentatious, display of fashion.
Pourbus and Studio’s depiction of an unknown Spanish noblewoman is one of many highlights in the exhibition. This portrait could well be one of a group commissioned by the Duke of Mantua, Vincenzo Gonzaga, for his Gallery of Beauties. The sitter, with her rich black dress, a fashion specific to the Spanish court, is likely to be a member of the Spanish Hapsburgs. It may also celebrate an engagement, given the carnation in the noblewoman’s hair. Carnations were used in engagement and marriage portraits of the time, and its inclusion here excludes the possibility that she wears widows weeds, as one might have expected. In addition, the extraordinary blue curtain seen here, of the costly pigment lapis lazuli, is unique in the work of Pourbus. The expense of such a pigment, and the choice of colour would presumably have been a collaborative decision between the sitter and the artist.
One of the most iconic of English Jacobean painters, William Larkin was renowned for his shimmering portraits of members of the court of James I of England, capturing in brilliant detail the opulent textiles, embroidery, lace and jewellery so fashionable at the time, and precisely rendering the carefully draped silk curtains that formed a suitably theatrical setting for his subjects. This portrait of James Hay is close in style and format to the so-called ‘Suffolk Set’ of full-lengths by Larkin, now at Kenwood House, London, including a portrait of Richard Sackville, 3rd Earl of Dorset from 1613. Hay wears costly black silk, displaying his stockinged legs proudly, with strikingly over-blown rosettes on his shoes. The portrait was painted circa 1618 – 1619, presumably to celebrate Hay’s appointment as ‘Viscount Doncaster’ in 1618. Larkin died suddenly around that time, and it is entirely feasible that his studio assistants continued to work in London taking commissions from Larkin’s clients, and that this is a studio replica of a lost original.
Another exhibition highlight is a rare early Dutch portrait of a young boy aged three is one of the earliest examples of a portrait incorporating a kolf club, used to hit a stuffed leather ball in the Dutch game of het kolven, an early form of golf. In child portraiture of this time, the kolf club featured as an accessory associated with masculine pursuits and therefore, primarily as an indication of the young child’s male gender. His costly dress is in the Spanish fashion, and notably the young boy is not yet out of his 'skirts'. His coral-coloured sleeves have decorative, diagonal slashes to match the coral bracelets on his wrists, as well as the coral silk lining on his black hat, which is also decorated with a sprig of laurel leaves and berries. Strings of coral were worn not only for decoration but also for their supposedly beneficial power to protect children against ‘fits and anxiety’. The inclusion of laurel berries may refer to the parents’ intention to educate their son to the highest degree.
The Weiss Gallery has made many notable sales that now grace distinguished royal, private and public collections around the world. Mark Weiss, Gallery Director, comments “Continuing my gallery's ongoing commitment to the promotion of rare 16th and 17th century portraiture, I'm delighted that our exhibition will include several notable new discoveries, and lavish examples of early portraiture at its best.”