Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of a Young Boy 1690c.

John Riley, Follower of 1646 - 1691

Portrait of a Young Boy, John Riley, Follower of
Oil on canvas
17th Century
14 x 12 inches 36 x 30.4cm
This portrait cannot at present be attributed to a known painter, but it is clearly by an English artist influenced by the naturalistic portraiture of John Riley (1646-1691), and perhaps also by the child paintings of Mary Beale (1633-1699). Certainly it captures one recognisable as a young boy as opposed to the mannequins or toy adults that appear too often in less accomplished contemporary images.

Until recently, much received wisdom held that men's costume of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries altered very little through time, and that, in any case, the self-consciously ''timeless'' draperies confound any accurate attempts to date a picture from the dress of its subject. That this is not true, of course, can be demonstrated in the case of this present portrait. Like any boy of the time, once old enough to be breeched, he is dressed as an adult and like a fashionable man of his time he has adopted the ''Steinkirk'' style of wearing his cravat. This claimed to derive from the French soldiers at the Battle of Steinkirk in 1692, who, surprised into action from rest, did not have time to arrange their cravats other than in this functional manner. Whether this be true or not, it was widely believed at the time, and must provide a reasonable terminus post quem for the fashion and thus for this portrait.

At the same time, the dress in the portrait is not as wholly documentary as this might suggest. The red cloak in which the sitter is swathed is a reference to what was considered Roman costume, and although the blue jacket bears a straight row of late seventeenth century buttonholes down its front, the loose pearl-clasped sleeve visible at the right is a discreet example of the flamboyant fantasy dress employed at this time in the portraits of Kerseboom and Kneller.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.