The re-cataloguing of the Royal Society's collection of oil paintings has thrown up some interesting questions about works of art no longer in the Society's care, and in particular the whereabouts of at least four (or possibly five) ‘missing’ pictures that were very early acquisitions and that formed an important display element in the organization's houses at Gresham College and Crane Court during the Society's first century of activity. Although all of these works must have been painted in the seventeenth century, only two were donated then: a further two were eighteenth-century acquisitions. This last pair survived into the nineteenth century before disappearing from the occasional catalogues produced by the Society. What were they and what happened to them?
Milo Keynes's excellent short paper on the Society's picture of William Harvey (1578–1657) attributes the work now in Carlton House Terrace to a copyist after a lost original by Sir Peter Lely (1618–80) and argues that it was in the Society's custody from 1683.1 The donation was by John Mappletoft FRS (1631–1721), and there is some clear evidence to support this within the Society's minutes, which state that ‘Dr Mapletoft presented the Picture of Dr. Wm. Harvey; for which Mr. Hill was desired to return him the thanks of the Company.’2 The association of the painting and donor is recorded in the first list of artworks printed by the Royal Society in 1834.3
However, there is a slight complicating element to this story, not dealt with by Keynes. A minute of 1696 records that ‘Mr. Povey presented the Society with the picture of the fam'd Dr. Harvey and Mr. Buchanan, both of wch. were order'd to be hung in the Society's meeting room.’ This implies that a second Harvey portrait was gifted to the Society by Thomas Povey FRS (ca. 1615–ca. 1702) and that in common with the accompanying likeness of George Buchanan (1506–82) it was an oil painting rather than a print. Keynes's main argument is unaffected (that the Royal Society's surviving Harvey portrait has a seventeenth-century provenance), but there now seems to be an element of uncertainty as to which donor originally owned the image. Oddly, although Keynes cited a list of the Society's pictures compiled by the eighteenth-century engraver George Vertue (1684–1756) in 1737 within his article, he seems to have missed the second portrait (it is there as ‘ditto’, after the first).4 If confirmation of the nature of the additional work were needed, a later piece describing the Society's paintings from The Gentleman's Magazine lists two Harvey portraits as late as 1768,5 one on the staircase at Crane Court, the other in the meeting room. The anonymous writer distinguishes between original pictures, busts and prints, confirming the medium of both works as oils. No clue as to the appearance of the second Harvey portrait is given in these sources. Only one picture features in the 1834 printed list and therefore the second work passed out of the Society's hands sometime between 1768 and that date.
The notebook entry by Vertue records that the Society had 32 paintings in 1737 and that, apart from the second Harvey work, there was also a portrait of Jonathan Goddard FRS (1617–75). This is a very serious loss, because today there is no known picture of this founding Fellow. Robert Hooke's diary for 1672 indicates that such a painting was seemingly solicited by the organization: ‘Dr Godderd presented Mr Gunters picture. Lord Brounker, Mr Colwall and Dr Godderd promisd theirs.’6 Brouncker's and Colwall's likenesses are still with the Society. Gunter is presumably the English mathematician and Gresham professor Edmund Gunter (1581–1626). Because this is the sole reference to such a work, we can only speculate as to its nature and fate. If it was indeed an oil painting, perhaps it was left at Gresham College when the Society moved premises. There is no obvious record of the later whereabouts of either the Royal Society's second Harvey portrait or the Goddard image beyond the mid-to-late eighteenth century.
Two more acquisitions are noted in the Royal Society's 1834 catalogue list: oil paintings of the minister Jeremiah Burroughes (bap. 1601–46) and of the Dean of Windsor, Christopher Wren DD (1589–1658), father of the architect and founding Fellow of the Royal Society. Although there are many surviving paintings of Harvey and a significant body of iconography around them building upon Geoffrey Keynes's well-known study,7 there are few pictures of either Burroughes or of the elder Wren. The Oxford dictionary of national biography (ODNB) lists only one for each sitter. The reality is that there are more images than the ODNB articles would suggest, but it is true that there are limited ‘type’ portraits for each, copied several times in oils in the case of Wren and engraved for both. Therefore, it is possible to speculate what the originals at the Royal Society might have been with a reasonable degree of certainty.
The Jeremiah Burroughes portrait featured in the 1768 Gentleman's Magazine article, hanging in the Crane Court antechamber, but it is not on Vertue's earlier list, indicating acquisition within the 30-year period 1737–68. Surviving images of Burroughes are limited to variations on an engraving by Thomas Cross (fl. 1644–82) and it may be that the Society's portrait was similar in nature to this (figure 1). By 1834 the anonymous work was still in the Society's hands (one of eight paintings not hung) and it is listed again in 1848 as part of the holdings recorded in Weld's A History of the Royal Society. But by 1860 it was absent from Charles Weld's longer descriptive catalogue.8
However, it is the second of the two eighteenth-century gifts, the portrait of Christopher Wren DD, that is far more significant to the Society's collections, because of its relationship with the extant portrait of his son Sir Christopher Wren FRS (1632–1723) by John Closterman (1660–1711). The Royal Society's Journal Books contain the following note of donation from 1750: ‘Christopher Wren, Dean of Windsor and his son Sir Christopher Wren formerly president of this Society donated by Stephen Wren Sir Chris Wren's grandson.’9 A contemporary list of presents suggests, somewhat confusingly, a single work: ‘A portrait of the heads of Sir Christopher Wren and his father.’10 However, this was not simply a dual donation by the author of Parentalia but a joint painting as a record of the Wren family and a father-and-son relationship. The two canvases were framed together, as one.
The key minute in this regard is the instruction for their reframing, a mere 23 years after the acquisition of the paintings: ‘Ordered … that the joint pictures of Sir Christopher Wren, and his Father, be divided and fitted up separately.’11 One can see immediately why this would have been done: Sir Christopher's portrait measures a little over 143 cm×121 cm, and if one supposes that the Dean of Windsor's picture was on a similar scale and the pair had a robust enough frame, then the result would have been one of the biggest artefacts that the Society owned at that time. The pair must have dominated the Crane Court meeting room.12
Between 1860 and 1892, the Dean of Windsor's portrait had passed out of the Society's care, because it does not appear in a list prepared for the Proceedings in that later year.13 Indeed, the production of this catalogue alerted the Society to its loss.14 Existing Wren pictures may be found at the Deanery of Canterbury and within the collection of the College of St George at Windsor Castle. Another was sold at Christies in October 2012.15 Each of them shows Wren with the trappings of his office, including the Garter Register book. Of these, only the last two pictures are on a similar scale to the Society's Closterman portrait of Christopher Wren FRS, and the version reproduced here gives an impression how of such a pairing might have looked (figure 2).
Irritatingly, there were at least two opportunities in the nineteenth century through which the Society might have preserved at least a copy of the Wren painting, yielding a definite record of its appearance. The collector Charles Turnor employed the miniaturist George Perfect Harding (1779/80–1853) to copy several of the Society's paintings for the purpose of adding them to his Newtonian volumes Collectanea Newtoniana. Being a selection of the most authentic engraved portraits of Sir Isaac Newton Knt., and other eminent Philosophers Mathematicians and Distinguished Men … (1837– ), and these were subsequently acquired for the Society's archive collections.16 Christopher Wren's portrait was not among the pictures selected to be copied. Later, the compiling of a catalogue of paintings by Charles Richard Weld (1813–69) during the period 1858–6017 seems to have prompted Sir Henry James FRS (1803–77) to put to the Society's Council the idea that a photographic record of the pictures might be created to illustrate Weld's work. Despite some discussion, this was not done.18
The four paintings noted here (five, if one counts the uncorroborated reference to a Gunter portrait) are by no means the only art losses suffered by the Society. One would expect that certain classes of more fragile material, such as the wax head of Sir Robert Moray FRS (1608/09–73) owned by the organization in its early days, might be particularly vulnerable to irreparable harm.19 However, oil paintings are quite robust: there have been many instances in which pictures in the collections have sustained quite serious damage but have survived. Sachiko Kusukawa has suggested that study of the hanging locations of the Society's paintings and furnishings might reveal hierarchies or relationships that the Fellows wished to present to the world.20 Perhaps lost works, too, could signal something of changing reputations. Certainly, one could argue that the paintings of early modern ecclesiastical figures might have seemed of less importance by the later nineteenth century, and it is quite telling that Wren and Burroughes, two of eight paintings reduced to storage in 1834, slipped away unnoticed. However, it would be difficult to sustain such an argument with the two leading physicians, Harvey and Goddard. A serious historical study of the Society's portraiture, one that considered its growth and meaning as a major London collection, seems long overdue.
For information and for their help in allowing me to view the surviving portraits of Christopher Wren DD, I am most grateful to Anne Neal, personal assistant to the Bishop of Dover; Dr Rachel Cosgrave, Senior Archivist, Lambeth Palace Library; Eleanor Cracknell, Enid Davies and Dr Clare Rider of St George's Chapel Archives and Chapter Library; Julie Hopes, Private Secretary to the Dean of Windsor; and the Rt Revd David Connor KCVO, Dean of Windsor.
↵1 Milo Keynes, ‘The portrait of Dr. William Harvey in the Royal Society since 1683’, Notes Rec. R. Soc. 60, 249–252 (2006).
↵2 Royal Society manuscript, Journal Book Original JBO/7, meeting of 27 February 1683/8, p. 213.
↵3 ‘Portraits in possession of the Royal Society’ (London, November 1834).
↵4 ‘A list of Pictures in the Royal Society. Aug 2 1737’, in The twenty-fourth volume of the Walpole Society 1935–1936 (Vertue Note Books), vol. 4, p. 146 (University Press for the Walpole Society, Oxford, 1936).
↵5 ‘A list of original pictures at the Royal Society House. Communicated by a Connoisseur’, Gentleman's Mag. 38, 62–63 (1768).
↵6 Henry W. Robinson and Walter Adams (eds), The diary of Robert Hooke … 1672–1680 (Taylor & Francis, London, 1935), p. 11.
↵7 Geoffrey Keynes, The portraiture of William Harvey (Royal College of Surgeons, London, 1949).
↵8 Charles Richard Weld, A history of the Royal Society, with memoirs of the Presidents … (2 volumes) (John W. Parker, London, 1848), vol. 2, pp. 579–581; Charles Richard Weld, Descriptive catalogue of the portraits in the possession of the Royal Society (Taylor & Francis, London, 1860).
↵9 Royal Society manuscript, Journal Book Original JBO/21, meeting of 26 April 1750, p. 310.
↵10 Royal Society manuscript MS/419, ‘Donations to the Library and Museum 1744–1779, Mr Robertson's extracts from the Journals’, 26 April 1750.
↵11 Royal Society manuscript, Council Minutes Original CMO/6, meeting of 21 January 1773, p. 160.
↵12 Gentleman's Mag., op. cit. (note 5), p. 63.
↵13 List of portraits and busts and catalogue of medals in the possession of the Royal Society (Harrison & Sons, London, 1892). Reprinted from the Proceedings of the Royal Society, vol. 50.
↵14 ‘Mr Fuller then commenced to make a catalogue of the Portraits and Busts. In making this catalogue it was discovered that two oil paintings, portraits of Christopher Wren and Sir John Chardin, were missing … beyond this we are unable to get any information on the matter.’ Royal Society manuscript, minutes of the Library Committee 1876–97, CMB/47d, meeting of 23 October 1890. A marginal note states that the Chardin portrait had been mislabelled and was subsequently found.
↵15 Christie's Old Master and Early British Paintings sale 7201, lot 65, 24 October 2012.
↵16 Royal Society manuscript MS/648.
↵17 Weld's catalogue was ordered to be commenced from 28 October 1858 and was laid before the Council on 29 March 1860. Royal Society Council Minutes, Printed, CMP/2 (1846–58), p. 450, and CMP/3 (1858–69), p. 56.
↵18 ‘Resolved, on the motion of Colonel James,—That it be referred to the Library Committee to consider and report whether it would be advisable to introduce Photographic copies of the Portraits, or of a select number of them, into the Catalogue which has been ordered to be printed.’ 14 April 1859, Royal Society Council Minutes, Printed, CMP/3 (1858–69), p. 16.
↵19 Royal Society manuscript MS/414, Catalogue of the Royal Society's Repository. Under the section ‘Artificial Curiosities’ and the subset ‘Modern Statues, Busts, &c.’, p. 21.
↵20 Sachiko Kusukawa, ‘Portraits and furnishings’, blog post dated 6 December 2011; see http://picturingscience.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/portraits-and-furnishings.
- © 2013 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society.