Anthony van Dyck, Francois Langlois as a Savoyard, about 1637. Oil on canvas. Collection of James Stunt. Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
BOSTON, MASS.- Five portraits by European masters Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641), Peter Lely (1618–1680), Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792), Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830) and John Constable (1776–1837)—on loan from British collector James Stunt—will be on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, this spring. The paintings by Van Dyck, Lely and Reynolds portray notable musical and theatrical performers of the period. Francois Langlois as a Savoyard (about 1637) by Van Dyck is on view in the Museum’s Leo and Phyllis Beranek Gallery dedicated to the art of Northern Europe in the 17th century, and Portrait of Moll Davis (final third of the 17th century) by Lely is on display in the MFA’s Hamilton Palace Room. The impressive Mrs. Siddons as the Tragic Muse (about 1789) by Reynolds—measuring approximately 8 feet by 5 feet—will be installed next week in the MFA’s gallery of British Portraits along with full-length portraits of Charles Gardiner, 1st Earl of Blessington (begun about 1815), by Lawrence, and The Hon. Mrs. Tollemache as Miranda in The Tempest (1807), by Constable.
“We’re extremely grateful to Mr. Stunt for sharing these important portraits with the MFA,” said Malcolm Rogers, Ann and Graham Gund Director. “The works complement the MFA’s collection of European portraiture, giving our visitors added insight into art of the period and providing an opportunity to see artists that are not found in great depth in New England collections.”
In the jovial, relaxed portrait Francois Langlois as a Savoyard by Van Dyck, the artist depicts the French art dealer, publisher and amateur musician as an itinerant performer or shepherd (savoyard) with a musette de cour—a small bagpipe popular among French aristocrats. Van Dyck painted two versions of the composition, one for himself (the version jointly owned by the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham, UK, and the National Gallery, London) and one for Langlois (the painting on loan to the MFA). Van Dyck, the most talented student of Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640), worked in England from around April 1632 until his death in 1641. He served as court painter to Charles I of England, and achieved acclaim for his regal, yet sensitive portrayals of the royal family and local aristocracy. There are two full-length portraits by Van Dyck in the MFA’s collection—Princess Mary, Daughter of Charles I (about 1637) and Isabella, Lady de La Warr (about 1638), both on view in the William I. Koch Gallery. (When the gallery reopened in 2012 after renovations, Isabella, Lady de la Warr was put on view for the first time in decades, following an 18-month conservation treatment of the painting. Joining the sumptuously dressed Isabella—daughter of diplomat Thomas Edmonds and wife of Henry, the 4th Lord de la Warr—is Van Dyck’s Princess Mary, which underwent conservation at the MFA a decade earlier.) The gallery also displays panel paintings by Van Dyck of Saint Mathias and Saint James, on loan from another private collector.
Sir Peter Lely (Dutch (active in England), 1618–1680), Portrait of Moll Davis. Collection of James Stunt. Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Lely’s Portrait of Moll Davis is the only work by the renowned artist on view at the MFA. This canvas depicts the notorious entertainer and socialite (about 1648–1708), one of many mistresses to Charles II of England and a rival of Nell Gwyn for the King’s affections. The portrait has a late 17th-century, auricular-style frame, itself a splendid example of British carving of the period. Displayed in the Museum’s Hamilton Palace Room, the picture hangs above a pair of gu-shaped and bangchuiping vases (China, Qing dynasty, 1662–1722), which are set on a cabinet-on-stand (English, about 1680–90) featuring Chinese Coromandel lacquer panels and engraved gilt brass mounts. Created by a master woodcarver, the oak-paneled Hamilton Palace dining room (dating to 1700) is from the residence of the Dukes of Hamilton and part of the MFA’s Alan and Simone Hartman Galleries, which also includes English silver made between 1680 and 1760.
The monumental Mrs. Siddons as the Tragic Muse depicts Shakespearean actress Sarah Siddons (1755–1831), who was known for portraying tragic heroines such as Lady Macbeth. The celebrated portrait, one of two versions signed and dated in 1784, achieved widespread fame (the other version is on view at The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, CA). It is believed that Reynolds gave the Stunt version to Robert Bateson Harvey (d. 1825) of Langley Park, Stowe, Buckinghamshire, in exchange for a large painting of a boar hunt, then-attributed to Rubens but likely by Frans Snyders (1579–1657)—the MFA has its own Boar Hunt (about 1625–30) by Snyders on view in the Koch Gallery. The MFA currently displays another portrait by Reynolds, Mrs. Richard Hoare Holding her Child (about 1763)—an unfinished painting modeled on traditional images of the Madonna and Child. This canvas, either an abandoned first attempt or a study for the finished full-length portrait currently in London’s Wallace Collection, is on view in the MFA’s gallery of British Portraits.
Two additional loans will also be installed in the British Portrait gallery next week. Charles Gardiner, 1st Earl of Blessington is one of approximately 150 unfinished works that remained in Lawrence’s studio at the time of his death. In the portrait, Blessington (1782-1829) is dashingly portrayed wearing his peer’s robes made of crimson silk velvet. The Hon. Mrs. Tollemache as Miranda in The Tempest, depicting Ana Maria, Countess of Dysart (1754-1804), is Constable’s largest known painting. She is portrayed as Miranda in Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, at the moment she first spies her future husband, Ferdinand, son of the King of Naples. Ferdinand’s ship was wrecked by Miranda’s magician father Prospero—who is peering out from behind a tree. Crouching on the right of the composition is the monstrous Caliban, Prospero’s deformed slave. The subject of the painting probably marks the occasion of Lady Dysart’s marriage to Wilbraham Tollemache, 6th Earl of Dysart (1739-1821) in 1773. The work is a fascinating example of the great landscapist Constable copying an earlier portrait by Reynolds (Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood House, London) and belongs to a series that Tollemache commissioned from the artist beginning in September 1807.
Mr. Stunt, a businessman with homes in London and Los Angeles, is a prominent collector of British portraiture. He recently offered to purchase Van Dyck’s last self portrait, which he had intended to loan to the MFA. After a groundswell of public support to keep the painting in England, Mr. Stunt withdrew his offer out of respect for the emotional response generated by the possible export of the work. There is currently an ongoing public fundraising appeal to purchase the portrait so that it will remain on view in London. “We would have loved to display the painting in Boston,” said Rogers. “However, as an American and a Briton, I appreciate Mr. Stunt’s gesture to protect the cultural heritage of the UK.”