Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Sir William Stewart of Grantully (1567 - 1646) 1613

Adam de Colone 

Sir William Stewart of Grantully (1567 - 1646), Adam de Colone
Oil on oak panel
17th Century
47 ¼ x 23 ¼ inches 119.7 x 27.8 cm
The Steuart-Fothringham family, Murthly Castle, Perthshire; Private Collection, Scotland.
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The attribution of this portrait to Adam de Colone, the Scottish court painter who followed in the footsteps of his father Adrian Vanson in painting the King James and members of his court, is of considerable importance in advancing our understanding both of Adam de Colone’s work and of painting in Scotland at this date.The form of the inscription is so specific to the work of Adam de Colone that it is an attributional guide as reliable as a signature. The earliest painting hitherto recognised as being the work of Adam de Colone is dated to 1622. Sir William Stewart establishes that De Colone was working in a mature idiom at least some nine years earlier. Although the present portrait may lack some of the subtleties of characterisation apparent in the later works the handling is consistent, and the treatment of physiognomy is direct, if not blunt.

Although de Colone’s birthdate is not known, Thomson suggests that he may have been born c.1593. Even though his father Adrian Vanson, the court painter to James I, died when de Colone – who took the name of his mother Susanna de Colone – was still a boy, perhaps as early as 1602, it should not be surprising that de Colone enjoyed highly placed patronage early in his career. Indeed, it is far more remarkable that no other works of the 1610s are known, since at the date of this painting the artist was twenty years old and beginning to come into his powers as an artist. This period of de Colone’s career is otherwise unrepresented by any other paintings, and it was believed to have been when he travelled to train in the Low Countries ‘for the better enabling’ of the painter’s trade. By July 1623 he is recorded working at the Court in Whitehall when he painted two portraits of King James, now at Hatfield and Newbattle. With a brief visit to Flanders to settle business there, de Colone worked for members of James’s court in Scotland and England for the next five years, producing some of his most expressive and accomplished work for the Earl of Winton.

This portrait plainly belongs to an earlier phase of his work, and the differences between de Colone’s style in its fullest flowering and in this earlier and more rudimentary version are apparent. Throughout his oeuvre there is the same concern with the meticulous and detailed depiction of costume, common to most of his contemporaries, but the modelling of the hands is less satisfactory than in the later works, and the distinct diagonal set of the head upon the shoulders is absent, resulting in a figure that is less anatomically plausible. Sir William Stewart 11th Laird of Grandtully Castle held the offices of Gentleman of the Bedchamber to King James VI and Sheriff of Perth. According to tradition to he ‘whipping boy’ to the young King, whereby he would be punished for his royal master’s transgressions. Sir William held the latter office in 1626, and would appear not have followed the King southwards in 1603, which would suggest that de Colone painted this portrait in Scotland before coming to London after his continued education in the Netherlands. Sir William is known in family tradition as ‘William the Ruthless’, and it is to his cupidity and lack of scruple that the Steuart-Fothringham family owed their prosperity. To his seat of Grandtully Castle – until recently in the ownership of Henry Steuart-Fothringham- he added the nearby Murthly Castle by devious means. It is said that he threatened to reveal – or, in family tradition, simply to pretend- that the owner Abercrombie of Murthly was sheltering Jesuits unless he agreed to sell Murthly Castle for an absurdly low price. Murthly Castle where this portrait hung until the nineteenth century in the ownership of his descendant Thomas Steuart-Fothringham.
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