Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of a Lady Early 1700s

Michael Dahl (1659-1743)

Portrait of a Lady, Michael Dahl
Oil on canvas
17th Century
50 x 40 in, 126 x 101.5 cm
Christie’s London, 2nd February 1973, lot 153, as by Willem Wissing, sold for £252; Italian Private Collection, as by Godfrey Kneller.
To view portraits by Michael Dahl for sale, please go to www.philipmould.com.

This newly discovered work by Michael Dahl is one of his most handsome female portraits. Like many of his paintings, it has been variously mis-catalogued in the past, as either by Wissing and Kneller. Dahl has never had the benefit of a modern catalogue or modern biography, but his works are easily recognized with their distinctive physiognomy, crisp drapery, and delicate finish in the face and hair, as seen here. The sitter here has also been mis-identified, as being Margaret Trevelyan, wife of Audeley Grey of Kingston Marwood in Dorset. That Margaret Grey was born in the 1640s, and so would be too old to be the sitter in the present portrait, which was painted in the early 1700s. The sitter could, however, be Lora Grey, Audley Grey’s daughter and sole heiress.

Michael Dahl was born in Sweden, and trained under the court portraitist David Ehrenstrahl. Like many Swedish artists, however, he left for London (in 1682) in search of patronage after political turmoil in Stockholm reduced the wealth and power of the aristocracy. A number of Dahl’s compatriots saw England as being relatively stable and prosperous compared to many European countries, and more welcoming than France, for example, of the Lutheran faith then prevalent in Sweden. Dahl worked briefly in Kneller’s studio, but then travelled to Rome to study further, copying old masters and successfully seeking commissions from the exiled Queen Kristina of Sweden. This last fact may be explained by his secret conversion to Catholicism. In 1688 he returned to England, where he may have been hoping for support from the Catholic King James II. But Dahl arrived in early 1689, by which time the ‘Glorious Revolution’ had deposed James and replaced him with his daughter Mary and her Protestant husband William of Orange. Dahl did not portray the new monarchs, but did gain much patronage from the rest of the court, and in particular Prince George of Denmark, the husband of the future Queen Anne. Dahl’s portraits can today be found in numerous collections and country houses.

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