'...all my pictures'

May 24 2013

Image of '...all my pictures'

Picture: The National Archives

It's always tempting to check wills when doing provenance research, but I'd say that almost all of the time I come across the above short, dispiriting phrase. It's interesting to note the extent to which land was described in wills, often over countless pages, whereas even great art collections were invariably just described as 'all my pictures', along with the linen and cutlery. Have any readers had lucky hits with pictures in wills?

Update - the king of all things pastel, Neil Jeffares, writes:

Indeed: how many £3.36s [the price for downloading a will here in the UK] have we all thrown away! But yes one does occasionally find gold, as in my long piece on La Tour’s Mlle Ferrand.  

But the main value in wills (and in law cases which are often even more fruitful, and show a less public side to the people we encounter) is the biographical information they give on artists and sitters.

 I started to draw up a list of more minor discoveries: instant examples included Katherine Thornhill identified from Sarah Clayton’s will (copied from a pastel which I tentatively attribute to Cotes), whle the pastellist/opera singer Mrs Du Parc was properly identified through her will (and that of Goupy), as was Mrs Gibbons but it instantly became obvious that this would take far too long…

 I’m not sure that I would call these “lucky” hits as they involve quite a lot of work!

Update II - Dr. Richard Stephens, editor of the University of York's online project The Art World in Britain 1660 to 1735, writes:

Quite a nice example is the will of painter Edmond Lilly, 1715, in which he gives "to my said nephew Edward Lilly the originall Picture of the blessed Virgin and the Angell commonly called the Salutation about 5 foot in breadth and 7 and half in height, one Picture of the Goddess Minerva about 5 foot in breadth and above 8 foot in height, one whole length picture of Queen Ann of or near the size of the said picture of Minerva. Also a picture of a devout Virgin 3 foot 4 Inches by 4 foot 2 Inches or thereabout" A year later he added a codicil, in which he mentions: "one whole length Picture of the Dutchess of Richmond copyed after Vandike 5 foot and half in height and above 4 foot in broeadth marked on the back with Letter (L) and likewise the Picture of Grapes soe much esteemed by his Papa 30 Inches by twenty five."

In 1708 Simon Dubois bequeathed to Lord Somers "my father and mothers Pictures drawn by Van Dyke" and to his wife "my Pictures of the Tower of Bable and of a Woman playing upon the Lute a little fruit piece that my Wife's Sister Coppied and the Battle of my own painting which hangs in the inward[?] Room"

Update III - another reader has news of of the Dobson family:

...it seems William Dobson's grandmother was a bit of a collector, leaving ‘a great picture of Judyth cutting of Hollofernes head',  ‘six small pictures of allabastor’, ‘twelve round pictures of the twelve monthes of the yeare’, and a picture each of King James and the King of Denmark. 

Interestingly for the grandma of a Royalist, she left the Judyth picture to another grandchild's husband, the regicide Sir James Harington...

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