Pryor’s Bank Portrait-Lady Jane Grey

Very little is known about this portrait and that it was once thought to represent Lady Jane grey in the first place appears to have been missed by modern scholars,  its current location has yet to be found. 

Its existence is purely known through a short article published in the Musical Courier magazine on 8th November 1917 where its discovery as a portrait of Lady Jane Grey was discussed in detail and an image was also reproduced showing the painting with its current owner.

The article reported that the painting was discovered in a small inn by singer Marguerite Namara (1888-1974) prior to 1917 when on vacation near Saint Margaret’s Bay.  It records that when staying at the inn Namara observed the portrait hanging in her room however she was unable to distinguish the image due to dirt on the panel.  Upon taking the painting off the wall and inspecting under natural light Namara recalls that she found an inscription on the back of the panel stating that it had come from the collection of Thomas Baylis at Pryor’s bank in Fulham.

It is then noted that Namara immediately purchased the portrait from its current owner where she then sent the painting away to be cleaned and restored.  She later discovered that “it had sold at auction in 1842 as a portrait of Lady Jane Grey by Holbein”[1] though during cleaning and the conservation process it was then suggested that the creator of the work was Guilliame Streets (William Scrots) and that the portrait was probably painted towards the end of her life.

An explanation for the appearance of the golden chalice within the painting and used to back up the identity of the sitter being that of Jane Grey was also given within the article where it was reported that Jane Grey once owned chalice which is recorded on an “inventory of the effects of Jane Grey contained in the National Archives of Great Britain”. 

No such inventory of the personal possessions belonging to Jane Grey has yet surfaced during modern research and the only other mention regarding the survival of any inventory is written by the Victorian biographer Richard Davey in his book “The Nine days Queen”. 

When discussing the Althorp Portrait (once thought to represent Jane Grey) in the appendix of his book Davey dismisses George Scharf’s opinion that this painting represents Mary Magdalene due to the presence of the golden chalice, Davey states that:

“an extraordinary number of Tudor portraits represent great ladies with a similar goblet standing beside them.  These gold and silver chalices or cups were common gifts from royal god-fathers and mothers in Tudor times and where frequently stolen from churches.  Lady Jane, we know from inventories of her effects, had several in her possession”. [2]

Davey also reports earlier in the book that:

“Lady Jane appears to have made a will (which may still be in existence, though for the time being it has disappeared) in which she left certain jewels, clocks, and valuables to her sisters, her women and her servants, and strange to relate, a gold cup or chalice to queen Mary”[3]

As discussed above if these documents were in existence then it’s almost certain that they would have been located and studied by modern historians today who have searched archives across the globe in hope to locate new information regarding Jane Grey.  Since Davey is the only author to ever have mentioned the existence of these documents without citing the source and whereabouts, we must then presume that this was in fact made up to pad out his biography.  

Today we know that his biography on Jane should be viewed with caution and not as historical fact as seen with his famous description of Jane Grey’s entry into the Tower which was used for generations as the only detailed description of what she looked like.  Today this has now been found to be a forgery based on some true facts of the event, a description of Mary Tudor and possibly a Victorian costume illustration during the research for her biography “sisters who would be Queen” by Leanda De Leslie and Jane Grey portrait specialist John Stephan Edwards.

In 1837 Thomas Baylis who is reported by Namara as being a previous owner of the painting and enthusiastic collector of antiques purchased the then Vine Cottage on the banks of the river Thames and subsequently demolished the original cottage to build in its place the pseudo-gothic house known as Pryor’s Bank to display his vast collection of antiques.  The sale of his collection took place on the 3rd May 1841 (not 1842 as stated in the Musical Courier article) and lasted a week.

The catalouge for this sale is rare and the copy supposed to be in the collection of the British Library was destroyed due to bombing in the 1940.  There is a copy in the collection of the Biblioteca Nacional de Espana which lists the many portraits thought to represent the prominent figures of the Tudor period in Baylis’s collection including “item 510, A portrait on panel of Lady Jane Grey”[4].

Frustratingly as with the majority of catalogues from this period no description of the painting is given though it is noted as being displayed in the Library when at Pryor’s Bank. No attribution is also given to the artist who created the picture as mentioned by Namara in the magazine article.  

Weather this was in fact the painting in Namara’s collection is uncertain as the article does not give any indication as to how Namara came up with the identity as Jane Grey other than the reference to a portrait being sold in the Pryor’s Bank sale.  It may be possible that a number was imprinted in the back of the panel which coincides with the reference in the auction catalogue and until the original is located then this remains uncertain.What is for certain is that unfortunately Namara did not own or find a previously unidentified authentic portrait of Jane grey but actually a portrait that was made to represent Mary Magdalene. This can be clearly seen from the early posed photograph of the singer and her newly acquired painting displayed alongside the article.

In the picture the portrait is seen displayed in the background at the right-hand side of the singer.  Though the image is not detailed a basic understanding of the composition can be made. The portrait shows a young female standing to the waist with her head facing slightly to her left.  In her right hand she is holding a book and though not visible until magnified the sitter also appears to be holding a chalice or large gold cup with her left hand. 

The composition of the Pryors Bank portrait is almost identical to that seen in a small group of paintings produced during the sixteenth century by an artist or group of artists known as the Master of Female half lengths.  This name of convenience was applied in the 19th century to identify the maker of makers of a small group of paintings displaying female figures in domestic environments, religious works and mythological paintings. 

The works attributed to this artist have been debated and discussed between art historians since the name was applied.  It is now thought today though not proven that the paintings where not in fact produced by one artist but by a small group or workshop working in the Netherlands that was established between the 1520’s and 1530’s.

Various paintings produced by this group survive in collections today including a large amount that display a lone female sitter with the inclusion of a large gold cup or chalice which are thought to represent Mary Magdalene.   

The use of the chalice within these images is symbolic and there to represent the jar of oil used by Mary to wash the feet of Jesus as stated in the bible, also the Magdalene is usually always portrayed wearing the colour red and is seen in these depictions in isolation often portrayed reading, writing or playing a musical instrument.

Though again debated, it is thought that the use of the colour red within religious art represented love in sense of charity, martyrdom, sacrifice on the cross and redemption through crucifixion.  This is also seen with the common use of blue within representations of the Virgin Mary it’s meaning is to represent the empress and the heavenly divine.  So rather than the paintings representing different individuals it is highly likely that they were produced as fictious representations of Mary Magdalen or at least a portrayal of an individua dressed as the Magdalene with the use of props within the painting as symbolism to back this up.

Another set of paintings also attributed to the same group of artists discussed above is closer in composition to that seen with the Pryor’s Bank portrait and as seen from the images displayed all show a female sitter painted to the waist, standing behind a table containing a book and chalice. 

The first image on the left was sold through an art dealer in Amsterdam in 1942 where at the time it was thought to represent “Mary Magdalene”[5] and the second appeared at Christies auction, London and was sold on the 10th July 2002 where it was again described in the catalogue for the sale as “Mary Magdalene”[6].

Though not identical to the Pryor’s Bank portrait as the lady is seen turning the page of book laid flat on the table in front rather than holding it which is seen in the Pryor’s copy the paintings are at lease related if only in composition.

Another Painting related to this set and is almost identical was also sold through auction at Christie’s New York on 13th April 2016 and again described as the “Saint Mary Magdalene”[7].  What is interesting about this image is the sitter is seen holding the book as seen in the image of the Pryors painting rather turning the page as seen in the subsequent copies and it may just possibly be the actual painting in the photograph.

This painting is again described as being oil on panel measuring 22 1/8 x 16 3/8 inches. The provenance of the portrait is briefly recorded as coming from a New Jersey estate where it was acquired prior to 1961 by the grandfather of the current owner from a Lady Hilda Seeley.  

Whether or not this portrait is deemed important enough to be located and studied further is up to the individual reader however from this study this painting can now be removed from the list of possible portraits of Lady Jane Grey as it is neither an authentic image or an image made to represent her but Mary Magdalene.

[1] Musical Courier, Namara Discovers Valuable Portrait, 8th November 1917, page 43

[2] Davey, Richard, Nine Days Queen, Lady Jane Grey and Her Times. G.P Putnam’s & sons, 1909, page 360

[3] Davey, Richard, Nine Days Queen, Lady Jane Grey and Her Times. G.P Putnam’s & sons, 1909, page 294

[4] Mr Deacon, Pryor’s Bank Sales Catalouge, 3rd May 1841, page 33

[5] accessed 20th May 2018

[6] accessed 20th May 2018

[7] accessed 20th May 2018 �

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