Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Gertrude Sadleir, Lady Aston of Forfar (b.c.1582-7) 

 English School Early Seventeenth Century 

Portrait of Gertrude Sadleir, Lady Aston of Forfar (b.c.1582-7),  English School Early Seventeenth Century
Oil on Panel
17th Century
26 x 20 inches, 66 x 50 cm
English private collection
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This unusually attractive female portrait dates from the early seventeenth century, and was evidently painted by an artist of quality. The sitter’s gold hood, adorned with flowers, is well detailed, as is the pattern of the dress and the jewelled chain, while the face is sensitively drawn with delicate flesh tones. The sitter is identified by a contemporary inscription lower left as ‘Lady Aston’, and so must be one of two Lady Astons alive in the early seventeenth century; Magdalene Aston (d.1635), née Poultney, was the wife of Sir Thomas Aston of Cheshire, while Gertrude Aston (b.c1582-7), née Sadleir, was the wife of Walter, Baron Aston. Fortunately, likenesses for both Lady Astons exist, allowing us to identify the sitter in the present portrait.

Unfortunately, however, the situation is somewhat complicated by the fact that one of the portraits of ‘Lady Aston’ is known in two identical versions, which have been identified in the past as both Gertrude and Magdelene Aston. The two versions are in the Tate, London, and The Art Gallery of South Australia.

However, the full-length ‘Lady Aston’ can now be definitively identified as Gertrude Aston thanks to the emergence of the present portrait. The likeness seen here is very close to that seen in the full-length portraits, but it is quite different to that of the securely identified portrait of Magdalene Aston by John Souch, where she appears twice in ‘Sir Thomas Aston at the Deathbed of his Wife’, today housed in Manchester City Art Galleries. Furthermore, Magdalene Aston’s husband, Sir Thomas, was only appointed a baronet in 1628, which would not allow his wife to be identified as ‘Lady Aston’ in the present portrait, which, to judge from the fashion, dates to around 1615-1625. Walter Aston, on the other hand, was appointed a knight in 1603 and a baronet in 1611, thus allowing his wife to be called ‘Lady Aston’ from 1603 onwards. Given that the sitter seen here seems somewhat younger than the full-length Lady Aston in the Tate, we can probably deduce that the present portrait dates to between 1615 and 1620.

Walter Aston was one of Charles I’s favourite ambassadors, whom he called ‘dear Wat’. He acted as the English ambassador to Spain on a number of occasions from his appointment in 1619 to shortly before his death in 1639. His tasks included the failed attempt to broker a marriage between Charles and the Infanta, and despite his relative lack of success in persuading the Habsburg court to support England, he was amply rewarded by the king with a Scottish peerage, land in Forfar, and sinecures that included the office of Keeper of the King’s Mulberry Garden in St James’ park, for which arduous task he received a fee of £60.

Towards the end of his life, in 1623, Aston became a Catholic, and we can therefore presume that his wife practised Catholicism too. She had married Aston in 1607. At that time Aston was a ward of Edward Coke, on account of his father’s premature death, and his marriage to Gertrude was in fact his second. He had married Anne Barnes in 1600, but because he did so without the permission of Coke, the marriage was annulled. Aston’s marriage to Gertrude could only go ahead after Coke had been paid a fee of £4000. Gertrude was the only daughter of Sir Thomas Sadleir of Standon and Gertrude Markham of Nottinghamshire. She and Aston had six children.
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