Historical Portraits Picture Archive

King Charles II , c.1670

Nicholas Dixon (1645-1708)

King Charles II, Nicholas Dixon
17th Century
267mm x 215mm
Christies, London, 28 February 1913 The Collection of the Late Henry J. Pfungst, Esq., F.S.A., Christie’s, London, 14 June 1917, lot 39 The Collection of Mrs. Guy Argles James Thursby-Pelham
Richard W. Goulding, The Welbeck Abbey Miniatures, Oxford 1916, p.26 Walpole Society, 1914-15, p.26 Katherine Mary Beatrice Gibson, “Best Belov’d of Kings” The Iconography of Charles II, Ph.D, 1997, catalogue no. 628 (as whereabouts unknown)
Victoria and Albert Museum, 1915-17 Smith Art Gallery, Stirling, Exhibition of Old Master Paintings, 16-28 May 1960 (no.103, lent by Mrs Guy Argles)
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Although little is known about Nicholas Dixon it is clear that he was a talented and ambitious artist. His position at court, when appointed the King’s “Lymner in ordinary” in 1673, was rewarded with the same payment and benefits as his celebrated predecessor, and probable master, Samuel Cooper.

Dixon’s artistic prowess was largely channeled into making copies for the King, largely taken from paintings by Cooper, Riley, Kneller and, as in this example, Lely. These large, technically accomplished cabinet miniatures had been fashionable from the time of James I, although Dixon took them into a new, larger scale.

This particular portrait of the King is an interpretation of the portrait by Lely of circa 1675 . Interestingly, it is not a straightforward copy, but a largely independent portrait of the king. At this date, Dixon held the post of king’s limner and therefore had access to the unrivalled royal collection of paintings. In 1684/5, Dixon organized a lottery of his miniatures. Always keen to supplement his income (like his predecessors, Isaac and Peter Oliver, he was active in the art market) Dixon attempted to sell his miniatures to investors, describing them as ‘a collection of Pictures in limning not to be equalled anywhere’. The lottery ultimately failed and in 1700 the remainder of the limnings were mortgaged. They were subsequently transferred to John Holles, Duke of Newcastle for £430 (around £35,000 today). Thirty of these miniatures remain at Welbeck Abbey .

The librarian mentioned in the fragmentary label on the reverse of the frame is Richard W. Goulding, Librarian at Welbeck Abbey from 1902-1929, who led a reappraisal of Dixon and his work . Although no signature has been found on this work, the scale and style are unmistakably Dixon’s. As John Murdoch commented, Dixon ‘had the visual flair to produce an image instantly recognisable as by him’.

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