Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portraits of Mary Gyfford (b.1679) aged 13, and Margaret Gyfford (b.1680) aged 12 

John Closterman (1665-1711)

Portraits of Mary Gyfford (b.1679) aged 13, and Margaret Gyfford (b.1680) aged 12, John Closterman
Oil on canvas
17th Century
Ovals, each 29 x 24 ins. (73.5cm x 61cm)
Sir Francis Burdett, Ramsbury Manor, by whom sold; Sotheby’s, London, 2 December 1953, lot.10 (sold as pair); Christies, London, 5 November 1976, lot.37 (sold as pair).
M.Rogers, ‘John and John Baptist Closterman: A Catlogue of their Works’ The Walpole Society’, vol.XLIX, 1983, p.248.
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These two portraits of the Gyfford sisters, painted by the leading late-seventeenth century court painter Johann Kloosterman, were painted in 1692 and have, remarkably, remained together since. With their rich colouring and lyrical characterisation these young sisters represent an exceptionally appealing example of the last phase of English baroque portraiture, an impact further achieved by the almost pristine survival of their finely carved and slivered frames.

Johann Kloosterman (also spelled ‘Closterman’) was born in Germany and is thought to have arrived in England in 1681, following the death of court painter Sir Peter Lely. Soon after his arrival Kloosterman was employed by John Riley as a drapery painter, although the existence of signed works by both artists during the 1680s suggests they also worked independently.

The demand for Kloosterman’s work soared following the death of Riley in 1691, pushing him further into the higher echelons of society, and by the late 1690s he appears to have enjoyed a position amongst the most distinguished literary and artistic circles.

By November 1698 Kloosterman was in Spain where he was patronised by the Spanish court and painted full-length portraits of Carlos II and Maria Ana of Neuberg. As is frequently seen throughout the history of travelling artists, Kloosterman, whilst looking for patronage, also acted as an agent for wealthy English collectors and did much to encourage the collecting of Old Master drawings in England at this time.

After his return and up until his death in 1711, Kloosterman maintained a successful portrait painting practice and employed at least one assistant, and although in competition with great painters like Sir Godfrey Kneller and Jonathan Richardson, he seems to have sustained an illustrious lifestyle. Kloosterman died in May 1711, not long after being robbed of his valuables by a devious mistress, an event which supposedly drove him into madness.

The National Archives lists a marriage settlement between a ‘Mary Gyfford’ and a ‘Richard Jones’, the latter almost certainly being the same Richard Jones of Ramsbury Manor, Wiltshire, which is where, until recently, the two present works hung. Furthermore, a portrait identified as ‘Mrs. Richard Jones’ by Kloosterman was sold on the London art market in 2006, which, although showing a lady of about thirty, bears a striking similarity to the young Mary we see here. It is reasonable to suggest therefore that Kloosterman painted Mary twice. Hitherto, details regarding Margaret Gyfford are not as forthcoming, and the portrait perhaps came to Ramsbury Manor following the death of Mary’s parents.
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