Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portait of Admiral Sir John Berry c.1689 1689c.

Michael Dahl (1659-1743)

Portait of Admiral Sir John Berry c.1689, Michael Dahl
Oil on canvas
17th Century
42 1/4 x 32 inches 107.32 x 81.28 cm
The sitter; Probably by descent according to Sir John Berry's will; By family descent to Mrs John Seslie; By inheritance to February 2004.
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John Berry was born in Knowlestone in North Devon, where his father Daniel Berry was vicar. Daniel Berry's resolute Royalism caused him to be turned out of his living during the Civil Wars, and John Berry, a younger son and one of several brothers went to serve at sea with his brother John. After a period of service on merchant ships he joined the Royal Navy in 1663 as boatswain to the ketch Swallow in the West Indies. His aptitude earned him swift promotion to lieutenant, and when he helped to defeat a stronger force of pirates in 1665 was appointed the vessel's commander. He then returned to England to command successively the Little Mary and then in 1666 the Guinea. In the following year he was dispatched to the West Indies again, in the fifty-six gun warship the Coronation, as there were concern about the threat posed by Dutch and French ships to British interests in the region. Berry was given command as Captain of the squadron that defeated a superior force of enemy ships off Nevis, driving them back under the British guns at St Kitts. In 1668/9 he commanded the Pear/in Sir Thomas Allin's Mediterranean expedition against the Algerian pirates — the ''barbarians'' referred to in his memorial inscription in Stepney Church - and then transferred in the same station to the Nonsuch.

In 1671 he commanded the Dover, but it was as commander of the Resolution that he reached the pinnacle of his martial service. The Battle of Sole Bay marked the beginning of the Third Anglo-Dutch War, a continuing consequence of the too-similar trading and colonial ambitions of the British and the Dutch. On May 28th 1672 a numerically inferior British and French fleet under the Earl of Sandwich, with James Duke of York Lord High Admiral in command in the Prince. The issue in the battle was as confused as ther excitement that had preceded it. Such was the enthusiasm for the battle that not only were the usual ship's companies of sailors augmented by a detachment of the 1st Foot Guards, but by a group of Gentleman Volunteers which included John Churchill, later to be created Duke of Marlborough. On the first day of the battle the French force retired, whether by accident or otherwise, and the Duke of York was left to face the Dutch Admiral De Ruyter outnumbered two to one. Despite the ferocious attacks on his flagship the Duke was able to resist and remain in command. Eventually he was forced to transfer his flag to the St Michael, until she too was damaged beyond use. John Berry was one of the Duke's squadron, and he was commended for the close assistance he was able to give throughout the battle. For this he was specially knighted by King Charles II when the fleet returned to the Nore. The true outcome of the battle was contested by each side; both had sustained very heavy losses in men and ships, although the Anglo-French fleet had held their ground and taken prizes. On the other hand the Earl of Sandwich was dead, having thrown himself into the sea from the Quarterdeck of the Royal James where he had remained with his officers until the fire became unbearable. The actions of the Navy, and of Sir John Berry, were considered exemplary, however, and it was an action remembered with a particular pride and camaraderie by those who fought in it.

In the mid-decade Berry began the task for which he is remembered in Canada, and which was to prove of the most lasting importance in the settling of Newfoundland. In July 1675 Berry arrived in Newfoundland aboard the Bristol charged with conducting a survey of the fishermen of Newfoundland. The status of Newfoundland was anomalous among England's overseas settlements. It was viewed less as a colony, as in the case of the American possessions, than as an industrial station. The region had become a de facto settlement of migrant West Country fishermen, who were believed to be a menace to the plantations of their more established neighbours. The danger they represented was considered so great that the Committee for Trade and Plantations had actually instructed that planters should leave. Berry's instructions were that he should encourage the settlers either to relocate themselves to the West Indies or return to England.

The affection with which he is remembered in Newfoundland is testament to his more pragmatic assessment of the situation on his arrival. It is probable that Berry found the Newfoundland settlers to be people very much of his own kind. Like them he was a West Countryman who had gone to sea both out of necessity and following the custom of the place in which he had been raised. Instead of expelling the settlers he conducted the first census of Newfoundland, and from Bulls Bay in the north to Cape Bonavista in the south he surveyed some thirty harbours along the English shore, recording the names of 1,700 of Newfoundland''s inhabitants. This survey, known as ''Berry's List'' was the first census of the region, and was followed by a further census conducted by Berry in 1677. In September 1675 Berry also made a list of the ships making voyages from Newfoundland harbours, along with the names of their boatkeepers. Beyond the sheer value to settlers and government alike of the information that Berry gathered, the exercise served to formalise the status of Newfoundland as a British settlement, and it is not exaggeration to suggest that without Berry's work in 1675 the colony might not have achieved its swift maturity.

This was not Berry's sole involvement in colonial affairs at this time. He was sent on a Royal Commission with Colonel Francis Morrison to investigate the events of Bacon's Rebellion in Jamestown in the colony of Virginia. This clash of wills between the colony's ageing long-serving Governor Sir William Berkeley and the leader of a party of aggrieved colonists led by Nathaniel Bacon was once read as a precursor to the American Revolution some hundred years later, just as Berry's arrival at the colony with troops was seen as predicting that of Lord Comwallis, but the affair is more easily understood in terms of a local political disagreement that escalated to an armed struggle over, among other causes, disagreement over the proper treatment of the Indians. Berry was charged with restoring order, and brought with him four warships, merchantmen and seventy men and their arms. The authority vested in him by the King's warrant was considerable, and in a letter to Sir William, Berry states that ''the King hath given mee full Power of Comanding all Merchants Shipps and Seamen within the Rivers of Virginia to be ayding and assisting in His Majesties Service, to the suppressing and Quieting the Disorders of the Country.''9

Bacon''s death in October 1676 diffused an ugly rebellion that had resulted in the burning of Jamestown. Berry and Morrison presented their report to Charles II in August 1677, by which time Berkeley had been replaced as governor on account of the cruelty with which he punished the rebels, and which had been censured by Berry and Morrison. The affair of Bacon's Rebellion shows not only the degree of royal trust placed in Sir John Berry, but, as with his actions in Newfoundland, the degree to which the administration of the distant, embryo colonies could be assumed by the King's officers at their initiative when operating so far from London.

In 1682 Berry again faced danger at sea with the Duke of York. During the Exclusion Crisis, King Charles had sent his controversial brother to Scotland as High Commissioner, as an attempt to dampen the opposition that was calling for his removal from the Succession. Having returned to London earlier in the year, the Duke set out again by sea on May 3rd to bring his wife the Duchess of York back to England from Edinburgh. He sailed on the frigate Gloucester, commanded by Sir John Berry, a man whom by now he must have trusted considerably. Through the error of the pilot, the Gloucester was stranded on a sandbank off the Yorkshire coast. The vessel was evacuated, and the Duke of York and his entourage were saved. The Duke's unpopularity resulted in allegations that he had saved himself at the cost of some one hundred and fifty on board who drowned when the ship eventually foundered, but an enquiry acquitted him of all blame, as it did Sir John Berry, who remained with the ship until its last moments.

In 1683 Berry was posted to the Henrietta as Vice Admiral of the squadron that went to bring back the garrison of Algiers, the troublesome possession that had been part of the dowery of Queen Catherine of Braganza. On his return he was made one of the commissioners of the Navy, and was placed at the very heart of the Stuart naval establishment. As Vice Admiral of the Red he was in effect second in command of the Royal Navy at sea. This very proximity to the Duke of York, who succeeded as King James II in 1685, was to prove the undoing of Berry's career as a high-flier in the Stuart Navy, and like Samuel Pepys Secretary to the Navy, would soon suffer for his close association with the unpopular monarch. In 1688 Berry was second in command of the fleet that set out under William Legge Lord Dartmouth to oppose the coming of Prince William of Orange. In fact William''s landing was made unopposed, not least since the commanders could not trust the loyalty of their seamen. With the arrival of the new regime, King James fled the country. Lord Dartmouth was imprisoned in the Tower of London where he died in 1691, and Sir John Berry was sent to administer the Navy in London and then in Portsmouth. He died in Portsmouth on February 14th 1690. Contemporaries believed10 that Berry's loyal service under James II had made him unacceptable to the new regime, and although he was not considered in any way a danger, it must be significant that he never again commanded a vessel afloat after he stood second in command of the fleet that had been detailed to resist the Williamite invasion in 1688.

The portrait shows Admiral Sir John Berry three-quarter length on a rocky promontory that overlooks the sea, where the sitter's flagship is shown in full sail. The red ensign flying at the stem identifies the ship, a warship of around forty guns, as a vessel of the red squadron. This was the senior of the three divisions of the British fleet, the others, taking their name from the colours of the Union flag, were the white and the blue. The red pennant flying from the foremast identifies the frigate as the flagship of the Vice Admiral of the Red, a rank that Berry held from 1683 until his retirement from active service in 1688. Berry first hoisted his flag aboard the Henrietta and this may well be the ship intended by the painter, as an enduring record of his command. Since Berry was the only holder of this rank during the period in question, the information conveyed by the flags serves incontrovertibly to identify Berry as the sitter in this portrait, and confirms the traditional identification transmitted by family ownership. The pride suggested in the sitter's demeanour is justified, as the Vice Admiral of the Red was the second highest rank at sea in the British Navy.

Dahl's gift for suggesting the forceful character of capable men is demonstrated even in this early portrait as clearly as in the famous later series of Admirals' portraits, now in the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. Berry's stolid and imperturbable air justly distils the character of a man who made his career at sea from an early age, and who survived battles with the French, with pirates in the West Indies and the Mediterranean and the titanic clashes between the great naval powers of England and Holland. Berry was unquestionably a man of great resources: not only did he survive the routine dangers of crossing the Atlantic by sailing ship, but he was able to act in Newfoundland and Virginia as a prudent and humane administrator, for which in Canada he is still remembered.

This is an early use by Dahl of a composition that was fixed well into the eighteenth century as the standard for the depiction of admirals and high-ranking naval officers. These portraits, reflecting Britain's great dependence on the navy for its survival and suggesting the great achievements of their subjects, have become powerful icons of their age. They had been painted some years previously when the then Duke of York, later King James II, commissioned Sir Peter Lely to paint the portraits of the Flag Officers who had served against the Dutch at the Battle of Lowestoft in June 1665. The twelve portraits of ''The Flagmen of Lowestoft'' were executed from 1666 — 1667, and were hung in the Duke of York''s apartments.

Without doubt Berry and his fellow officers would have known them, recognising them both as a memorial and an inspiration. They set the pattern for naval portraiture, and their composition of sitter and vessel is closely followed by Dahl's portrait of Berry, whose portrait as much as whose life appears to be an emulation of theirs.

From the apparent age of the sitter, this portrait must have been painted by Dahl in these last years of Sir John Berry's life, at the time of his retirement from active service in 1688/9. Dahl had only just returned from a four-year stay in Rome in 1688, and had begun to secure patronage from the circle of courtiers and officials whose leaders were the future Queen Anne and her husband Prince George of Denmark. This group was marked by a tacit hostility to the newly-arrived William of Orange which was less political — since they were mostly Protestants — than personal. They were people who felt that they had been shunted aside by the arriviste, as might Sir John Berry who, despite his high rank and untroubled health, began his retirement from sea at this time.

Dahl's connection with the naval part of this group is exemplified by the commission that he later received from Prince George to paint the set of admirals' portraits that are now in the collection of the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. It is worth noting that of the Greenwich admirals, though younger by a decade than Sir John Berry, several had been his comrades-in-arms at Solebay - such as Sir George Rooke, Sir Thomas Hopsonn and, very probably, Sir Cloudisley Shovell — and a number had been under the command of Lord Dartmouth in the anti-Williamite fleet of 1688. Sir John Leake, Sir John Munden and Sir Cloudisley Shovell were among those officers, and Hopsonn and Rooke would seem to have shared Berry's ambiguous acceptance of the new order.
Sir John Berry is significant in representing one of the earliest portraits of this naval generation to be executed along lines that were by 1710 to have become the standard type of Admirals' portraiture.

It is also, most interestingly, one of the first products of Dahl's mature manner after his formative stay in Italy in the mid-1680s, and marks an important statement of his intentions to rival Sir Godfrey Kneller as a portraitist. The accompanying portrait of the Admiral's sister is closely comparable with the portrait of Queen Kristina of Sweden that Dahl had painted two years previously (Grimsthorpe Castle collection). The two portraits share several details of composition, most notably the posine of the arms, which show that Dahl early in his career had arrived at an elegant formula for depicting middle-aged women whose realism is not too uncompromising. Already stylistic traits typical of Dahl's work can be detected in the treatment of passages such as the sitter''s hair, where it is teased into a crest above the forehead, a feature so typical in his portraits of women and children that recognising it serves as a tool to confirm attribution. The age of the sitter in the Berry portrait would support the traditional, if surprising, identification as the Admiral''s sister rather than his wife as she is clearly middle-aged, whereas even in the codicil of 1689, Berry''s will allows for the possibility of children by his wife.

Michael Dahl received his training in the workshop of David Klocker Ehrenstahl, a Swedish court painter who specialised in the production of images of the royal family. In his early twenties he sought more international opportunities with the help of John Souters, an English merchant who appears to have acted as an intermediary between the artistic communities of London and Stockholm. Vertue records that he arrived with Dahl in 1682 when the artist was twenty-three1

Dahl's first stay in England is recorded as lasting between one and two years and exposed him to influences far more lasting and beneficial than those of the royal portrait factory in Stockholm. Details remain scarce, but it is clear that in 1682/3 Dahl was an associate of Kneller, if not briefly his pupil. Kneller painted Dahl's portrait, apparently an accomplished work- more so in the opinion of Vertue than that which Dahl made of himself2
In 1684 he set off on a trip to France, and then Italy in the company of the artist Henry Tilson. The sojourn took in Paris, Naples and Venice but it was in Rome, in 1686, that Dahl was presented with the opportunity of his first major commission from his fellow countryman, Queen Christina of Sweden. The portrait, together with his European experience, proved to be the foundation of Dahl's career. Pope Innocent XI presented him with a medal, and in a letter of October 1687 the artist tells his mother that he would much like to return from Rome, but that he could not leave without Queen Christina''s express permission3 A passport was granted later that month and although Dahl was never to work for Christina again, the rewards of their association became apparent. Claes Ekeblad, a Swedish emigre in Frankfurt writes of the artist during a stay in that city in 1688 as ''Mons. Daal, a famous painter of Swedish extraction.'

Dahl had also used his Italian experiences to refine his drawing and colour through numerous repetitions of the old masters, all of which remained with him till his death
When Dahl returned to England in 1688/9 he did so as an accomplished talent of Baroque portraiture, but also into a market eclipsed by the growing presence and productivity of Godfrey Kneller. According to Vertue however the Great business and high carriage of Kneller gave a lustre to the actions of workes of Mr Dahl- a man of great modesty and few words..5By the early 1690s, Dahl had secured a bank of patronage from the anti-Williamite set that gathered around Princess Anne and her husband, Prince George of Denmark.6 Prince George may well have been Dahl''s entree into this circle which also included the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, who led court patronage after William''s death in 1702. Despite these advantages however, position at Court eluded him. Although he was the favourite painter of Queen Anne and Prince George, whom he painted on numerous occasions, Kneller firmly retained the title of Principal Painter. Dahl did benefit from the patronage of the Troud Duke'' of Somerset,7 and from 1696 onwards executed the series of Petworth Beauties, undoubtedly inspired by Kneller's Hampton Court Beauties, which allowed him to hone his elegant female portrait vernacular (illustration). But even his most influential employers were to be of little use when the Hanoverian Succession pushed so many into Opposition in 1714.
When Kneller died in 1723 Dahl may have had hopes of succeeding him, but the role went to the less controversial figure of Charles Jervas. This may have had something to with Dahl''s circumstantial links to the Swedish party who had plotted with the Jacobites in 1719. Dahl's association with men such as the disgraced Swedish Ambassador Count Gyllenborg, who had gained him the prestigious commission to paint King Carl XII some five years previously, would now not have proved helpful. It is also undeniable that although a list of Dahl''s patrons at this time would include men of both parties, his more important sponsors, men such as the Duke of Ormond, the Earl of Oxford, were known opponents of the governing party.

It would be wrong, however, to see this end of Dahl's career as a period of obscurity and failure. He continued to live in Leicester Fields and remained rich from the invested proceeds of his success. His will speaks of ''my personal estate in the Bank of England, South Sea Company and all other stocks and funds''8 among the items to be divided between his children. He also worked well into the 1720''s and 30''s, producing some of his most individual male portraits such as those of James Gibbs, the architect, and the Jacobite Sir Watkin Williams. Dahl died in autumn 1743, and was buried in St James's Piccadilly.

1. George Vertue Notebooks V.17 British Museum. Reproduced Walpole Society vols. XVIII (1930), XX (1932), XXII (1934), XXIV (1936), XXVI (1938), XXIX (1947) and XXX (1955).
2.Vertue Notebooks V.I, dating the portrait by Kneller to 1684/5. His own portrait is less well-received: in the same year M'' Dabl painted his own picture. But there appears little or no likenes. And as to the skill I think far inferior to Knellers. Nay indeed I don't think M Dahl has painted any picture more like him. (Vertue V.22)
3.Manuscript Collection of Uppsala University Library X. 219, translated Nisserjft.12:1 have... toldyou my reverend Mother, thatl wantedto leave Rome as I was minded to do for several months but as there was an occasion for me tohave the honour of making Queen Christina'' Portrait not once but several times, my journey was delayed and I cannot now at the monenl say for certain a/hen I may leave hen because the Queen has commanded me not to go hence without her permission, which I have asked for but she will not yet reply thereto, but says that I must remain here...
4.Quoted Nisser/.14 Manuscript in the collection of C.V. Jacobowsky (1927).
5. Vertue Notebooks V.24b
b.ibid. ''Prince George of Denmark was his Royal Patron- and great promoter of his fortune-''
7.Vertue Notebooks V.24
S.Public Record Office PROB 11/729 sig.307
9. Print or microfilm copy consulted: VCRP 578 -- section 2582. Virginia Colonial Records Project Cambridge -- Magdalene College
Library Manuscripts: Crandall Shifflett© 1999, 2000
10.J Charnock, Biographia Navalis London, 1796 Part 1.
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