The Arkwright Portrait

Katherine De Vere
Oil on panel
18 1/2 X 13 3/4 inches
(c) Private Collection

Sold at Christie’s auction, London, on 9th December 2016, lot 151 was rightfully described as a portrait of Katherine de Vere, Lady Windsor (1540-1600) and associated to the artist known today as Master of The Countess of Warwick.   What is not commonly known about this painting is that prior to the 1960’s, it was thought to depict Lady Jane Grey. Due to this painting once being associated with Jane Grey, I have decided to discuss it on this website.  This portrait is a good example of how Jane Grey’s name was applied to a sixteenth century portrait, depicting a female sitter, even if the inscription detailing facts about the sitter did not match with what was known about Jane.   

The Arkwright portrait shows a lady, painted to just above the waist and facing the viewer’s left. She has auburn hair that is pulled away from the face, and her eyes are blue.  The sitter wears a black loose gown/night gown, with large puffed short sleeves and a high collar.  This style of gown was popular in England from the 1530’s onwards. It was worn as an alternative to the tight-fitted French Gowns with the low square necklines and large sleeves.  Generally worn over a kirtle by both the middle and upper class lady, this gown was easier to put on independently due to its front fastening and was a comfortable gown to wear during the day or when in the bedchamber as informal wear. During the 1560’s the loose gown became tighter and more fitted around the bodice, much like that seen in the Arkwright portrait.  An embroidered chemise is also seen worn under the gown. This is embroidered using black and gold thread and incorporates the use of an acorn within the design.  A small figure-of-eight ruff is worn surrounding the face.  This is also embroidered with black work and gold thread.  On her head, she wears a French hood with an upper and lower billament of goldsmith work containing gemstones and pearls. The traditional black veil is also visible falling from the back of the hood.  A small cross suspended from a pearl necklace is seen at the neck, and she holds with her left hand a large pendant suspended from a larger necklace of goldwork.  The sitter is depicted in front of a brown background, and a contemporary inscription in the top left-hand corner has been added identifying the sitter’s age as twenty-four and the year as 1567.

The artist associated with the Arkwright portrait is an anonymous painter who is known to have produced several portraits of female sitters during the second half of the sixteenth century.  We do know that he worked in England between the years of 1567-1569 and that he also painted a portrait of Anne Russell, Countess of Warwick, now at Woburn Abbey.  As a result, other works thought to have been produced by this artist are simply grouped under the attribution of “Master of The Countess of Warwick.”

Early photographic image showing Lady Jane Grey inscription.
(c) Heinz Archive

The only evidence I have been able to locate to date which shows us that this painting was indeed thought in the past to depict Jane Grey is an early photographic image stored in the Heinz Archives, London.[1] This photograph shows the Arkwright painting prior to modern cleaning and restoration.  What is seen from the above image is that an inscription was added to the panel surface on the left-hand side at some point to inform the viewer that this portrait was supposed to be of Lady Jane Grey.  This inscription no longer survives on the panel surface today.  This suggests that during the recent cleaning process it was identified to be a much later addition, and it was removed from the surface.   

As with many of the other portraits thought to represent Jane Grey, no information has been located about the Arkwright portrait to inform us, the modern-day viewer, when and why this painting was thought to depict her.  It is possible that her name was simply attached to the Arkwright portrait in the nineteenth or early twentieth century due to a high demand and need for a physical image of Jane Grey. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Jane’s popularity was at its height. Many published biographies, plays, and paintings depicting various scenes from her life were created during this period.  This in turn made Jane’s story more accessible to the viewing public and in some cases captured people’s interest in her as a historical figure. Her popularity then created a demand for her image and allowed owners of various portraits that fitted with what was being recorded at that time to attach her name to their painting with no evidence to support this.  Today, some of these portraits are now being re-evaluated due to easier access to documentation, a better understanding of the progression of fashion during the sixteenth century, and new scientific techniques which were not available during the earlier periods.

What is clear from the early photograph of the Arkwright portrait is that the identification as an image of Jane Grey was made with very little thought.  The inscription clearly indicates the sitter’s age as twenty-four and the year as 1567.  Both the age and the date are inconsistent with Jane Grey. It may have been possible that the owner who had the Jane Grey inscription applied to the panel surface may have thought the earlier inscription to be false and a later addition.  This cannot be known for certain due to missing documentation.  Jane Grey’s birth has over the centuries been debated by various writers due to lack of documentation, and no exact date is known. It was commonly known and recorded, however, that she died in 1554 and was sixteen/seventeen years old at the time of her death.  This does bring about the question as to why her name was attached to a portrait with incorrect information.     

In a book published by Roy Strong in 1969 entitled The English Icon the provenance for the Arkwright portrait was briefly discussed[2].  Strong records that the portrait was once in the collection at Hampton Court, Herefordshire and that by 1969 the portrait was in the collection of David Arkwright Esq, who was noted to live at Kinsham Court.   

Hampton Court Castle, as it is known today, dates to the fifteenth century and was home to the Coningsby family from 1510 until 1810. The castle and estate were then purchased by John Arkwright (1785-1858), the great grandson of the cotton-spinning industrialist Sir Richard Arkwright.  The estate remained in the family until it was sold by Sir John Stanhope Arkwright (1872-1954) in 1910.  John Stanhope Arkwright then purchased Kinsham Court, Herefordshire, and it appears he had taken the portrait with him. David Lyndon Arkwright (1911-1983) inherited Kinsham Court from his father in 1954. He died without ever marrying or producing issue in 1983, leaving Kinsham Court and its contents to his mother’s great niece Mrs. Susan Wood.

Two years after Susan Wood inherited Kinsham Court, the portrait appears for the first time at auction on 19th July 1985, when it was sold by Christie’s Auction House, London as a portrait of Katherine de Vere. By 2016, the portrait was once again up for public auction, and it was again described as a portrait of Katherine de Vere, Lady Windsor[3]

Edward Lord Windsor and Family
(c) Marquess of Bute

It appears that prior to 1969 the Arkwright portrait was compared to an almost identical image thought to be by the same artist and now in the collection of the Marquess of Bute. That painting uses the identical individual portrait image seen in the Arkwright portrait, though the sitter is painted three quarter length and is incorporated into a family group.  The Bute Family Portrait includes a contemporary inscription made by the artist identifying the year in which the portrait was painted and the sitter’s ages.  A later inscription has also been added to the panel surface that identifies the sitter’s as Edward Lord Windsor, and his lady, daughter to the Earl of Oxford. Their children, Lord Frederick Windsor, Lord Thomas Windsor, and two younger brothers.  Though this inscription is a later addition, it does appear to be an early one.  In some cases, inscriptions that included the names of the sitters where applied to a portrait at some later period in time by other family members in hopes of fixing the identities of the sitters depicted before they passed from living memory.  This is very similar to what we do today with photographs of loved ones.  Though Edward Windsor’s lady is not named within this description, he did marry Katherine de Vere in 1555.  Katherine de Vere was the daughter of John de Vere, 16th Earl of Oxford, who is also noted in the inscription, it was then decided that the Arkwright portrait was mostly likely to depict Katherine de Vere and not Lady Jane Grey.


[1] NPG018643, Artist Box, Master of The Countess of Warwick

[2] Strong, Roy, The English Icon, Elizabethan and Jacobean Portraiture, 1969, page 108

[3] https://www.mutualart.com/Artwork/Portrait-of-Katherine-de-Vere–Lady-Wind/D25D6374F8362979 accessed, 10th April 2019

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