Tate acquires rare Joan Carlile portrait

September 21 2016

Image of Tate acquires rare Joan Carlile portrait

Picture: Tate

Joan Carlile was the first British professional female painter. She was active in London in the mid 17th Century, though only a handful of works are recognised today. Perhaps the best known is a group portrait of The Carlile Family with Sir Justinian Isham at Lamport Hall in Northamptonshire.

The Tate has today announced the acquisition of a whol-length portrait by Carlile, above. The picture, I'm rather proud to say, was discovered by me, and was my first museum sale as an independent dealer. Although her oeuvre is small, her style is quite distinctive, so when the picture came up at a regional auction described as 'English School' the old connoisseurial connections whirred away and I was confident enough to place a bid. You can compare the Tate's new picture to other examples here and here.

The sitter alas is unknown; I was able to discern no meaningful provenance, and the only tantalising contemporary reference I could find was in Carlile's will, which mentioned a portrait of a 'princess in white satin'. Who this was and whether it related to the Tate's picture I don't know, so for now she is just a 'Lady in a White Dress'. Maybe we'll get there one day. 'Princess' could have been one of Charles I's daughters or perhaps even one of Cromwell's daughters during the Protectorate.

Update - more here in The Art Newspaper. Martin Bailey has cunningly found out what I paid for it, £4,500 hammer, or £5,300 with premium. The Tate bought it for £35,000. Subtract from that all manner of taxes, and a bill for conservation and framing, and your left with... well, not a great deal it turns out. But enough to keep going!

Update II - delighted to see that in Tate's press photocall there was no sight of the 'leggy girl walks past a painting seductively' shot. Instead, we have (says the Rex Features site) "Stella Cartwright (aged 8) sketches the painting - Portrait of an Unknown Lady 1650-5 by Joan Carlile (1606-1679)". Bravo all round.

Update III - thanks for all your kind emails!

Update IV - the consensus amongst my dealing colleagues is that the Tate got a bargain. Which I think is probably true, but it was the best possible home for the picture.

Update V - well this is a surprise; the New York Times has covered the story.

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