Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) 

Robert Walker 

Portrait of Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), Robert Walker
Oil and Canvas
17th Century
51 ½ x 41 ½ ins., 130.8cm x 105.4 cm.
Probably David Papillon (1581–1659); By descent to Lt. Col. Pelham Rawstorn Papillon (1864-1940); John Pelham Papillon (b.1917-?), by whom sold; ‘Crowhurst Park Sale’, Jackon Stops & Staff, 11 March 1942, lot 431 (£25.4.0d.); Bought from above by the Lloyd family of Great Dixter; Private collection, UK.
E.S. de Beer, ‘History’ Some Recent Works on Oliver Cromwell., Vol.23, p.131, footnote 1. M. Ashley, ‘Oliver Cromwell: The Conservative Dictator’, (London, 1937), ill. p. 94.
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This highly important portrait, that for the last eighty years had been lost to the canon of Robert Walker’s portraits of Cromwell, was likely painted late into the Protectorate (1653-58) when the subject was “chief magistracy and the administration of government”. The outstandingly direct and fresh characterisation, in contrast to the often indifferent quality of Walker’s studio productions, combined with the artist’s re-working of earlier poses, places it as arguably his most dynamic renderings of the subject. Its likely connection to the celebrated Republican engineer David Papillon - Cromwell’s contemporary - adds an intriguing, and hitherto unexplored dimension to its historical status.

Robert Walker’s portraits of Oliver Cromwell:

Prior to the emergence of this portrait, Walker was thought to have painted four portrait-types of Cromwell shown three-quarter length, all of which use the same head-type but with varying compositions.

Perhaps the best known of the Walker types is the portrait of Cromwell with a page tying a blue sash around his waist, the finest example of which is in the National Portrait Gallery, London, with a further example at Leeds Museum. The Leeds version is dated 1649 and the composition was engraved by the French engraver Pierre Lombart (1613-82) sometime between February 1651 and 1653.

The second type shows Cromwell standing with his left hand resting on a helmet and his right hand holding a baton. This composition was copied directly from Van Dyck’s portrait of Sir Edmund Verney, and a number of versions exist, including one in the Cromwell Museum, Huntingdon, which was reputedly given to Bridget Cromwell on her marriage to Henry Ireton in 1646. Such a date would mean it was painted prior to the conclusion of the English Civil War, which, although unlikely, is not impossible. Walker was certainly active during the period prior to his Cromwell portrait of 1649, and we know that the diarist John Evelyn sat for his portrait in 1648 [National Portrait Gallery, London].

The third portrait-type shows Cromwell (the Hinchingbrooke type formerly on loan to the House of Commons) with a page on the right and a helmet with feathers on a ledge to the left. The positioning of Cromwell’s body is very similar to the first type, although the baton is positioned in a more vertical manner and the young page is tying the sash around Cromwell’s left arm. A receipt for twenty-four pounds, signed by Walker and dated 25 June 1655 ‘for the draught of his highnesses picture’, was formally in the collection at Hinchingbrooke House, and has long been used as a method of dating this composition. Although the portrait has its obvious negative aspects, particularly seen in the overly complicated composition, it does succeed in showing a distinctly older, more weary-looking Cromwell compared to the earlier type.

The fourth type is a double portrait in which Cromwell is depicted alongside General Henry Lambert. The positioning of Cromwell is very similar to that seen in the second type although the sash has been removed and replaced with a red cape tied around the neck of the armour. The positioning of Lambert, with his arm outstretched, bears a striking resemblance to Van Dyck’s portrait of Count van der Bergh, which was previously in the collection of Charles I, and is no doubt another example of Walker’s reliance on the work of past masters.

Analysis of the present work:

Although this portrait shares obvious compositional affinities with the second portrait type, most noticeable in the positioning of the left hand on the helmet, there is demonstrative evidence that the composition was changed a number of times, and in areas radically re-worked.

The gauntlet, for example, which is worn on the hand holding the baton, was a late addition by the artist, and the hand was originally intended to be shown exposed. This can be seen most clearly under x-ray, where one notices not only the distinct edge of the original armour sleeve beneath, but also the unbroken reflection which once ran the length of the forearm down to the wrist, which is now partly obscured by the gauntlet. The emergence of a thumb nail on the left hand when viewed under infrared light confirms that this too was originally intended to be shown un-gloved, suggesting that this work was a development on (and thus later than) the second portrait type.

Although the vertical positioning of the baton is unique within Walker’s portraits of Cromwell, a clear pentimento reveals that the baton was originally positioned diagonally in exactly the same manner as the first portrait type. The decision to change the position of the baton is unclear, however it was most likely due to a compositional conflict, as the end of the baton, which as seen in the first portrait type finishes beyond the edge of the canvas, would have interrupted the form of the helmet to the right. It is also possible that this decision to change the composition was influenced by the style of portraiture on the continent at that time, and one notices obvious affinities between this re-worked composition and the work of painters like Gerrit van Honthorst working in The Hague around this date. Honthorst’s portrait of the prominent Royalist officer James Graham, 1st Marquis of Montrose, for example, makes an interesting comparison with the present work.

The borrowing of elements from other artist’s compositions was not uncommon for Walker, who ‘was asked why he did [not] make some of his own postures, says he if I could get better I would not do Vandikes […]’ the same writer adding ‘He [Walker] would not bend his mind to make any Postures of his own.’ This work can perhaps then be considered the second example of Walker re-appropriating a Royalist composition for Cromwell’s likeness; the first being of course Walker’s second portrait type of Cromwell based on the Van Dyck of Sir Edmund Verney, favourite of Charles I. This practice of recycling royalist imagery to support the parliamentary cause during Cromwell’s lifetime was not uncommon, and can be seen quite clearly in the work of engraver Pierre Lombart, who engraved Van Dyck’s grand portrait of Charles I on horseback and simply swapped-out the head of Charles for that of Cromwell.

The final evidence of compositional reworking can be found at the back of Cromwell near where the sash is tied. It is unclear what the artist’s original intentions were in this area and little information can be gleaned by the shape of the remaining forms, which were presumably erased quite quickly after application. It is possible that the sash was originally tied in a more elaborate manner, or that the positioning of the sash was originally much further to the left and slightly higher.

A note on provenance:

When this portrait was illustrated in Maurice Ashley’s ‘Oliver Cromwell: The Conservative Dictator’ in 1937, it was still in the ownership of Pelham Rawstorn Papillon of Crowhurst Park, whose lineage can be traced back to the late-Tudor period. It almost certainly entered the family collection through David Papillon (1581–1659), the highly respected military engineer who, during the English Civil War, fortified Leicester and Gloucester and advised the parliamentary forces on the defences of Northampton. Papillon was a staunch protestant with French ancestry, and in 1635 translated a number of essays written by the late puritan divine Robert Bolton into French.

The Papillon family was actively commissioning portrait painters during this period, as evinced by a series of four portraits depicting David, his second wife Anna Maria (1591-1675), their son Thomas (1623-1702) and his wife Jane (née Brodnax). Although these portraits are only known through poor black-and-white images, they show distinct traits of Walker’s style.
Another portrait by Sir Peter Lely (1618-80), long-thought to depict Prince Rupert of the Rhine and painted c.1660, is now thought to depict a member of the Papillon family, and was almost certainly the portrait included in the Crowhurst Park sale (discussed below) as lot 440 (‘Prince Rupert, 30 x 25in., Sir P. Lely’).

Another notable seventeenth century family portrait is that of the young David Papillon (1691-98) by John Closterman, one of the finest late-baroque portraits of a child. The Closterman portrait, which is framed in exactly the same style of hand-carved frame, was included in the same sale as the present work, along with a number of other traceable family portraits painted within the mid-to-late seventeenth century.

Crowhurst Park entered the Papillon family through the marriage of Thomas to Anne Pelham, who inherited the estate following the death of her brother. Their eldest son, also called Thomas, sold the tradition family seat Acrise Place in 1861 and moved into Crowhurst, which then was then inherited by Lt. Col. Pelham Rawstorn Papillon. On the latter’s death Crowhurst was inherited by John Pelham Papillon who sold the house contents at auction over three days between 10-12th March 1942. In all likelihood, this portrait probably hung for some time at Acrise Place, which was acquired in 1666 by Thomas Papillon (1623-1702), and prior to that at Papillon Hall, built by David Papillon (1581-1659).
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