Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Sir Thomas Isham Bt 1675c.

Mary Beale (1633-99)

Portrait of Sir Thomas Isham Bt, Mary Beale
Oil on canvas
17th Century
18 x 14 Ĺ inches 45 x 36.5 cm
The D'Avigdor Collection; The David Style Collection
This portrait is a reduced copy by Mary Beale of a portrait by Sir Peter Lely. The original portrait, still in the possession of the Isham family and hanging at Lamport Hall measures fifty by forty inches. It was painted c.1675, very shortly before the sitter set off on his European travels.

Sir Thomas Isham succeeded to the family baronetcy on the death of his father Sir Justinian on March 2nd 1675. Sir Justinian had been a member of the cavalier Parliament of 1661 but had spent little time at Court by reason of its moral laxity. He was a benevolent landlord to his tenants and a generous father, but also a man of unbending principle. His son received a strict education, and is known to posterity for the Diary of his life which his father made him keep in Latin from 1671 to 1673. Thomas was educated at home at Lamport and at Oxford, where he matriculated at Christ Church in June 1675, three months after his fatherís death.

The date of Sir Thomasís portrait by Lely would suggest that it was commissioned to mark his inheritance, and the air of confidence it exudes, the well-bred swagger, would be appropriate for a young baronet newly come into his estate. It may also have been painted to record the baronet before he set off on his long Ė and in those days still dangerous Ė grand tour to Italy with which Sir Justinian had always intended that his sonís education should be completed. In the next century the Grand Tour was de riguer for the sons of gentlemen, but in the late seventeenth century it was still a comparative rarity, other notable tourists being the 6th Earl of Exeter who embellished Burghley with the fruits of his travels. Isham was similarly struck by Italy, and by Rome by which he was captivated. There he bought prints, books and furniture and thanks to him Lamport possesses a remarkable picture collection, especially for the house of a provincial baronet. He sat for his portrait to Carlo Maratta and on his return he was painted again by the young Sir Godfrey Kneller. Even before he left for Italy he had commissioned David Loggan the fashionable engraver to make a print after his portrait by Lely. Perhaps it was also at this date that he commissioned Mary Beale to produce the present small copy after the same picture, along with a copy of the Kingís portrait which he must have purchased from the studio at the same time.

Like later tourists he had acquired tastes beyond the means of a provincial baronet, and he was obliged to marry for money. He was contracted to marry Mary van de Bempde, the daughter of a Dutch merchant, but sadly he died of smallpox at Lamport on August 9th 1681.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.