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.

Tory Historian was thrilled to read yesterday in the Evening Standard that a previously unknown portrait by Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velazquez has been found among various paintings by a little known British artist, Matthew Shepperson, whose own work, about to be auctioned is unlikely to bring in more than a few hundred pounds apiece.


The BBC has the story as well:art
Portrait of a gentleman, bust-length, in a black tunic and white collar, was previously owned by 19th Century British artist Matthew Shepperson.

It was discovered after a number of artworks by Shepperson were consigned for sale last year.

Further examination and an x-ray confirmed the work to be Velazquez.

The painting first came to attention when the current owner - a descendant of Shepperson - brought the works to Bonhams auction house in Oxford. In-house experts noticed the stylistic similarities to works by the Spanish master Velazquez.

It led to extensive research which was confirmed by Dr Peter Cherry - professor of art history at the University of Dublin and one of the world's foremost authorities on Velazquez - and then by the Prado Museum in Madrid, which carried out the technical analysis.
The portrait will be auctioned in December by Bonhams and is expected to fetch £3 million. As a corollary, there may well be a renewed interest in Matthew Shepperson's work as well, an example of which, the 1828 portrait of John Childs is here.

Nigel Fletcher, Director of the Conservative History Group and new editor of the Conservative History Journal has an interesting piece about Prime Minister's Questions at the age of 50 (more or less). On the whole, he thinks the experiment has worked as it places the British Prime Minister, uniquely, in a position where he (or she, let us not forget) is bombarded by questions from the Opposition and sometimes his (her) own backbenchers. The fact that many of the questions are put-up jobs remains a minor detail.

Some themes that emerge are familiar: PMQs has become a circus; more heat than light; Punch and Judy… and so on. But there is also the positive view – that there are few if any other countries where the chief executive has to come to Parliament weekly to be questioned by their critics. Some would say this fact on its own – whatever the quality of the questions and answers- is a profound statement of representative democracy. I tend to agree.

We shouldn’t underestimate the symbolism of this political endurance sport. However grand and ‘Presidential’ a Prime Minister may aspire to be, the weekly bear-pit of the Commons reminds them from where they draw their authority. The US President may be obstructed and defeated by Congress, but on the rare occasions he turns up to address them he is treated with the full courtesy, bordering on reverence, due to a Head of State. The fact that the British Prime Minister can have the leader of the main opposition party literally shouting in his face may not be pretty, but it is important.
Hmm. That ignores the fact that the Prime Minister is not the Head of State and, also, that the American system is one of true separation of powers, perhaps a more useful check on Executive power than a weekly question session.

It started with this

and went on to this. (And many other things that are less attractive.)


Budapest, October 23, 1956

Following the publication of the highly praised biography of Sir Nikolaus Pevsner by Susie Harries, the Victorian Society will be holding a one-day seminar on October 29 about Pevsner and Victorian architecture. All details, including fees, place and time to be found through the link above. (Susie Harries's blog about Pevsner is here and very interesting it looks, too.)


October 21, 1805

Tim Stanley, the Contrarian, has a good piece in History Today, which deals with the ridiculous issue of David Starkey's comment about the lootings of this summer, that

a particular sort of nihilistic gangster culture has become the fashion. And black and white, boy and girl, operate in this language together'.
The ridiculousness does not come from the rightness or wrongness of that comment. There are good historical reasons for disagreeing with Mr Starkey; it comes from the curious reaction from various members of the pontificating classes, including, apparently and shamefully, historians.
Some people argued that the BBC should stop classing Starkey as a historian. Over a hundred academics signed an open letter that 'the BBC and other broadcasters think carefully before they next invite Starkey to comment as a historian on matters for which his historical training and record of teaching, research and publication have ill-fitted him to speak … We would ask that he is no longer allowed to bring our profession into disrepute by being introduced as "the historian, David Starkey".'
The man is unquestionably and historian though other historians may disagree with what he says. The idea that historians should not be allowed to comment and be described as such on matters that are outside their obvious competence is plainly ridiculous.

Some historians spread their interests more widely than just one period or geographic area. Andrew Roberts springs to mind. He has written about nineteenth century politics, twentieth century warfare, Napoleonic clashes and and update to Churchill's History of the English-Speaking People. He holds strong political opinions and often comments on current affairs. What, actually, is wrong with any of that.

As Tim Stanley points out, both Professor Hugh Trevor-Roper and A. J. P. Taylor were known to comment and to argue about many things outside their wide historic subjects. (It is a pity that one of Professor Trevor-Roper's involvements with modern politics was the Hitler diaries scandal and A. J. P. Taylor tended to talk unmitigated rubbish about current affairs.)

Tory Historian agrees: the notion of pigeon-holing historians according to what they may have studied at the beginning of their careers is not just ridiculous, it is destructive of the study of history and any growth of interest in the subject. Of course, one could argue that the letter probably came from historians who spend much of their time complaining about those of their colleagues who happen to have a popular following.

Tory Historian is reading Edward Glaeser's Triumph of the City, an unashamed and sometimes slightly too gung-ho praise of the idea and reality of the city in history. Not that TH disagrees with that; it's just that the language is sometimes immoderately joyful, a mode that is alien to TH. At an early stage, Glaeser says this:

I find studying cities so engrossing because they pose fascinating, important, and often troubling questions. Why do the richest and the poorest people in the world so often live cheek by jowl? How do once-mighty cities fall into disrepair? Why do some stage dramatic comebacks? Why do so many artisitic movement arise so quickly in particular cities at particular moments? Why do so many smart people enact so many foolish urban policies?
The last of those, TH thinks, begs the question of whether those people who enact foolish urban policies really are all that smart.

Actually it was yesterday but Tory Historian was busy with other non-cyber matters. A belated happy birthday to Baroness Thatcher, three-times Conservative Prime Minister and still an inspiration to many across the world, for yesterday.

Tory Historian is something of a Wyndham Lewis fan, considering him to be one of the most underrated artists and writers of the twentieth century. Leafing through the 1954 collection of essays, first published in The Listener, entitled The Demon of Progress in the Arts, TH found a very fine piece, called The Glamour of the Extreme and was particularly taken by the second paragraph:

I have a friend who is a natural bourgeois. He was the son of a minor Eminence. At the university, during the fellow-travelling decade, he got in the habit of talking big and bloody about social revolution. He was not intelligent or mentally mature enough to udnerstand the guillotine and the firing squad; he had not even read Karl Marx. But for the rest of his life, and he is now over fifty, he has remained a sort of undergraduate communist
Well, thought Tory Historian, more than half a century later we still know people like that. Far too many of them.

Children's literature, if it is to be successful with children has to tread a fine line between conservatism (which is what most children are most of the time) and subtle rebelliousness (which is what their parents are most of the time). The William Brown stories, written by a true-blue Conservative, Richmal Crompton, manage to tread that line very successfully, though there is the odd exception, as Derek Turner discusses in this highly entertaining and knowledgeable article on the writer and her work. The story of the Outlaws becoming the "Nasties" and deciding to attack Mr Isaacs's sweet shop is rather unpleasant but has a happy ending, but for many modern readers the unpleasantness negates the ending. It is an odd story, for it shows that Richmal Crompton was fully aware as early as 1934 the sheer nastiness of the Nazi regime, yet decided to make something light-hearted of it. This is not quite the same as William's on-off liking for the Communists as there are no details of Stalinist policy involved.


That is an unusual mis-step on Ms Crompton's part. The other stories are a delight, especially the ones of the thirties. Mr Turner does them justice with one exception: there is no mention of the wonderful Violet Elizabeth Bott. If she knew this she would thcream and thcream until she was thick.

And, of course, while we are on the subject of William Brown and the Outlaws, here is a link to a previous posting by Tory Historian.

Fought 440 years ago on October 7, 1571 it is also the cause of a great poem by one of the most conservative poets of the twentieth century, G. K. Chesterton, published 100 years ago, in 1911 (well, not to the day).

Cervantes on his galley sets the sword back in the sheath
(Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath.)
And he sees across a weary land a straggling road in Spain,
Up which a lean and foolish knight for ever rides in vain,
And he smiles, but not as Sultans smile, and settles back the blade....
(But Don John of Austria rides home from the Crusade.)

The National Portrait Gallery is a wonderful institution and is of great value to anyone who finds history and its players interesting. Its special exhibitions, on the other hand, are variable from that point of view and are too often merely collections of various glamour photographs of recent stars.


This exhibition, about to open, however, will be a collection of glamour portraits of the stars of the past.
The First Actresses presents a vivid spectacle of femininity, fashion and theatricality in seventeenth and eighteenth-century Britain.

Taking centre stage are the intriguing and notorious female performers of the period whose lives outside of the theatre ranged from royal mistresses to admired writers and businesswomen. The exhibition reveals the many ways in which these early celebrities used portraiture to enhance their reputations, deflect scandal and create their professional identities.
Well, really, who can resist that?

For various reasons to do with an article to be completed Tory Historian has been reading a fascinating book by Alison K. Smith, called Recipes for Russia, subtitled Food and Nationhood under the Tsars. It deals partly with attempts to discuss and reform agriculture in Russia in the nineteenth century and partly with the late development of cookery books from the end of the eighteenth to the middle of the nineteenth century, analyzing the links between agriculture or food and national identity.


Quoting others, Professor Smith describes the growth of Russian literature (also from the second half of the eighteenth century)
particularly the art of translating - became the source of a new image of the Russian nation as an imperializing and assimilating one. Incorporating foreign literary works into the Russian canon helped suggest the power of the Russian state, and its ability to borrow from abroad without losing its sense of self.
She then draws a parallel with writing about food:
Something rather similar developed on the tables of Russia's elite. By choosing to eat foods labeled [sic] Russian, even the westernized elite could still think of themselves as tied to the land. Or, alternatively, the persistence of Russian foods even among those whose dress, carriages, and even language had shifted enormously displays a raeal connection between Russians of different social estates. Whether mere fa├žade, the mixture of foreign and native foods struck many foreign visitors as deeply disturbing.
For Russian authors, though, she adds, this was a source of pride as native Russian and foreign influences were combined to create a Russian cuisine beyond the old-fashioned, rather crude Russian cooking.

Tory Historian has read many accounts of Russia by foreign travellers and the number of things that disturbed these people is very high. One cannot really go by that, any more than by the fact that almost every national cuisine consists of many "native" dishes and others that became "native" at various times. However, Russian pride in ability to "borrow" and incorporate is real enough, especially at times when there is yet another drive to build up some kind of an official national identity.

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