Tucked away in one of the rooms on the second floor of the National Portrait Gallery there is a small exhibition. It takes up no more than half a not very large room and consists of four portraits, four engravings and another, separate engraving of the artist, William Dobson, who was born in 1611 and died in 1646, soon after the collapse of the Royalist cause and his return to London.

He had stayed with the King in Oxford as long as he could, painting portraits of Royalists, officers and politicians, and, back in London was imprisoned briefly for debts and died soon after his release, at the age of 36 and in poverty. It is fair to say that Royalist money was running out by the mid-forties but one wonders exactly how concerned either the King or the Prince of Wales were concerned with the fate of loyal servants.

There is a serious attempt being made to celebrate this talented English portraitist with various exhibitions and art-trails across the country. One can applaud that and we certainly hope that readers of this site will take note of whatever may be happening near them (if they happen to be in England).

His biography shows many gaps. Did he learn from Van Dyck directly or merely was influenced by the man's gemius? It is fair to say that Dobson's portraits eschew Van Dyck's elegance, which is, presumably, the result of conditions. Dobson was not painting the golden court of Charles I but the Royalistss besieged in Oxford, running out of money, support and, in the artist's case, painting supplies.

There is some evidence that after his return to London and release from prison he tried to revive his career. His name, as the brief biography points out, appears in the records of the London painters' guild, which would suggest that either his Royalist links were not known or, more likely, overlooked by the guild.

Another attempt by Royalist artists of various kind to earn money was to publish engravings. Several of Dobson's portraits were engraved by William Faithorne, who had fought in the Royalist army, had been captured at the end of Basing House siege and was actually in prison when he was making the engravements, published by Thomas Rowlett. As the notes for this part of the exhibition say,this may well have been an attempt for Royalists to earn some money after the defeat of the King's army.

Rowlett closed his publishing after the King's execution and the business was sold to Peter Stent who used some of the old plates, including one of Endymion Porter, which he reproduced as the Parliamentarian Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex.

The exhibition may be small but the portraits and engravings on display are very fine (the best one may well be that of Richard Neville, above) and there is a great deal of fascinating information.


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