The Duff House Portrait

Among the index cards referring to portraits of Lady jane Grey in the Heinz Archive, London, is a card recording a portrait of her once in the collection of the Earl of Fife.  Until recently this portrait was thought to have been lost, and to my knowledge it has not been studied by historians or exhibited in any public exhibition as a representation of her.

The first record regarding this image located today was published in a privately printed book from 1798.  The book details the large collection of paintings and portraits belonging to James Duff, 4th Earl of Fife (1776-1854) across his various properties.  Recorded as being displayed in the large drawing room at Duff House, an eighteenth-century estate house designed for the family by William, Adam is a portrait of Lady Jane Grey.   The entry reads    

item 18. Lady Jane Grey – half length. This unfortunate lady was forced to accept the crown, 5th July 1553, and was beheaded 12th February, 1554. She was daughter to Henry Grey, Duke of Dorset, by Lady Frances Brandon, by Mary queen of France.  She was remarkable for her learning and virtue.  Her husband, Lord Guildford Dudley, was beheaded on the same day.  Zucchero.[1]

This description is vague and gives us very little detail about the actual painting itself. The description does give us our first clue that this painting was not a portrait of Lady Jane Grey, however.  The artist recorded as creating the painting is a “Zucchero,” which suggests the portrait was later in period than that of Jane Grey’s lifetime.

Federigo Zuccaro (c.1540 – 1609), as he is better known, was an Italian artist who first visited England in 1574.  During that visit he was commissioned by Robert Dudley (Jane’s brother in law) to paint an image of himself and Queen Elizabeth.  Compositional drawings for both portraits survive today in the collection of the British Museum.   If the Duff House portrait was painted by this artist, then it could not have been an authentic image of Jane Grey since she had died some twenty years earlier.

Duff House remained in the possession of the Earls of Fife until 1906.  The property was then gifted to the village of Banff Burgh in which the house was built by the then Duke of Fife, Alexander William George Duff (1849-1912).  Alexander Duff had inherited the property and its contents by descent, and when marrying Princess Louise in 1889, he no longer required the property as a principal residence.  Though he did donate the building for the use of the people of Banff, its contents were sold off through auction.  The auction was facilitated by Messrs. Christies, Mason and Woods and took place on 7th June 1907.  The auction catalogue for this sale records that all “pictures are part of a very large collection which was made by James, Earl of Fife towards the end of the eighteenth century and all were displayed at Duff House.”[2]  A portrait thought by the family to depict Lady Jane Grey in 1907 was also included in this auction, and the catalogue does give us our first detailed description.

item 43 Lucas De Heere, portrait of Lady Jane Grey, in rich flowered bodice with lace cuffs and collar, green skirt and crimson robe, lace headdress with red bows.  Holding a kerchief in her left hand and leaning her right arm upon the back of a chair.  On panel 41 ½ x 29 ½ inches[3]

Though the artist associated with this work had changed since the 1798 reference, it is possible that the portrait sold in 1907 was the same image as that described as being Jane Grey in the earlier book. 

I have as yet been unable to locate any reference regarding who purchased the painting at the 1907 sale.  Due to this, I am unable to track fully the documented provenance from this portrait, though I do have a suggestion.

A portrait matching the above description does show up in 1908, one year after the Duff House sale. This painting is described as being in the collection of French collector and gallery owner Edward Brandus (1857-1937).  Brandus was well known for purchasing Old Master portraits at a low price and then selling them on to other collectors via his gallery in New York.   The magazine “American Art News” dated 28th March 1908 records the painting in his collection as a portrait of Lady Jane Grey by Antonis Mor Van Dashorst[4].  A photograph of the portrait was also included in the article, and though it is not clear from the poor quality image, when magnified this image does show a female sitter with a flowered embroidered bodice, holding a kerchief in her left hand and leaning her right arm upon the back of a chair as described in the 1907 auction catalogue. Various bows are also seen around the headdress and down the front of the bodice, like those mentioned in the catalogue of 1907. This then gives us the impression that this painting was the portrait sold from the Duke of Fife’s collection.

Lady Jane Grey by Antonis Van Dashorst-Edward Brandus Collection 1908

This painting was then sold by the Edward Brandus Gallery in April 1908. It eventually ended up in the collection of a “Mrs Flake” and was subsequently purchased as a portrait of Lady Jane Grey by John George Graves, an English collector, at Christie’s auction in July of 1930.[5]

In 1935 Graves gifted this portrait along with others from his collection to the Museum of Sheffield.  The painting remains in the museum’s collection today, though it is rightfully catalogued and referred to as a portrait of an unknown lady rather than its previous title of Jane Grey.

Unknown Lady
oil on panel
41 1/2 x 29 1/2 inches
(c) Museum of Sheffield

When looking at the colour photograph of this image, this portrait is closer in comparison to the description given in the 1907 auction catalogue that also refers to the green skirt and red robe. The measurements of the wooden panel used as the support for the painting also matches the measurements provided in 1907.

Due to the lack of documented provenance for this painting, it cannot be said for certain that this is indeed the portrait described as being that of Jane Grey at Duff House in 1798.  This is the closest image related to the description given in 1907, however, and this painting has also been identified in the past as an image of Jane Grey. 

The costume seen in this painting is again inconsistent with that worn by ladies during Jane Grey’s lifetime, and therefore this is not an authentic portrait of her taken from life or a panting which was created at later period which was meant to represent her.  From the style of clothing worn by the sitter, it appears to date towards the end of the sixteenth century or early seventeenth century.  There is some evidence to state that the embroidered jacket worn by the sitter was in use toward the later decades of Queen Elizabeth I reign, with several being documented in the inventory made in July of 1600 listing clothing stored within the royal wardrobe.  This style of jacket does appear to have become popular between the period of 1600-1620 where it appears in many paintings of female sitters from this time.

Elizabeth Cary?
oil on canvas
c.1610
William Larkin

The ruff also worn by the sitter gives us some indication that this was painted after 1600 as it no longer folds into the figure of eight pleats worn during the reign of Queen Elizabeth and is now seen as a flat collar which was probably heavily starched or suspended using a wire frame or “underpropper,” as it was referred at the time.  The style of headwear seen in the painting is also of interest and does not fit with anything worn by English sitters during this period. This suggests that the painting may possibly be continental in origin, though until testing is done on the pigment used and the painting is studied further this cannot be established.

What this painting does demonstrate is the extreme measures that people would go to when wanting to own a portrait of Lady Jane Grey.  The identification, given to this portrait was done with little research into the period in which she lived, and her name was simply attached to an image that did not really fit with what was known about her at the time.   It is now clear that she can be eliminated as the possible sitter due to the costume worn by the lady depicted.  If the portrait now in the collection of the museum of Sheffield is in fact the painting from Duff House, it can, however, be removed from the list of portraits that potentially depict Jane Grey.


[1]Catalogue of The Portraits and Pictures in The Different Houses Belonging to The Earl of Fife, 1798, page 15-16

[2] Catalogue of Pictures by Old Masters and Historical Portraits, The Property of His Grace the Duke of Fife, Messrs. Christie, Mason & Wood. 7th June 1907, page 2

[3] Catalouge of Pictures by Old Masters and Historical Portraits, The Property of His Grace the Duke of Fife, Messrs. Christie, Mason & Wood. 7th June 1907, page 10

[4] American Art News, Volume 6, No 24, March 28, 1908, page 24

[5] Electronic communication, Museums of Sheffield, 31st May 2018

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