The Brocklebank/Taylor Portrait

During a recent visit to the Heinz Archive in London, I came across a collection of letters written in 1917 concerning a portrait of Lady Jane Grey.  All three letters were addressed to James Milner, the then director of the National Portrait Gallery and were written by a R. Brocklebank of Houghton Hall in Cheshire. 

Upon locating these I instantly thought, “great, I have another new portrait search to get my teeth into.”  Sadly, it turns out that the actual painting was sitting right under my nose all the time, and all I had discovered was some new provenance information regarding a portrait already known to us.

R. Brocklebank, or Ralph Brocklebank as he is better known, was a wealthy shipowner and art collector who purchased Houghton Hall in the nineteenth century and had it rebuilt between 1891 and 1894 to house his valuable collection of art.  In his first letter written on 27th July 1917, Brocklebank reports ownership of a portrait thought to depict Lady Jane Grey and suggests that he would like to leave it on his death to the gallery.  He reports that he purchased the painting from a picture shop on Bond Street in 1892 and requests a meeting during his next visit to London so the gallery could view the portrait themselves.  Brocklebank also informs the gallery that his portrait is oil on panel, measuring 10 x 7 ¾ inches, and is thought to be by the school of Clouet.  A photograph of the actual painting is also supplied with the letter, but this was no longer stored with the documents in the archive.[1]

Fortunately, Ralph Brocklebank had a book published in 1904 documenting his collection of over 150 paintings and engravings held at Houghton Hall.  Within this book is a portrait referred to as representing Lady Jane Grey by the school of Clouet.  Item number 39 is discussed and a detailed description of the painting is also given. 

Portrait of Lady Jane Grey

School of Clouet

Portrait (bust) of Lady Jane Grey, with face turned to the right.  She is handsomely attired in the fashionable costume of the period. A high, close-fitting ruff reaches to her ears, entirely concealing her neck.  Her hair is pulled back from her forehead, and covered by a jewelled net.  The collar of her elaborately braided doublet reaches as high as the ruff, and spreads out on either side, showing a gold collar, heavily gemmed, from which a large jewelled pendant hangs on her breast.  A portrait in The National Portrait Gallery, by Lucas de Heere (No. 764) confirms the truth of this likeness.[2]

It appears that the portrait remained in Broclebank’s collection until his death in 1921.  No documentation has been located within The National Portrait Galleries archives to identify that his portrait was left to the gallery upon his death, as suggested in his first letter, and it may be possible that upon viewing the actual portrait it was decided that it was not something the gallery wanted in their collection.  The portrait again appears in 1922 in the Christie’s auction catalouge for the sale of Ralph Brocklebank’s collection, but rather than  being described as a portrait of Lady Jane Grey as seen in the earlier book, it is referred to as a portrait of a lady said to represent Lady Jane Grey.  This suggests that the gallery may have informed Brocklebank that the painting may not represent Lady Jane Grey in the first place.  

Portrait of a Lady

(Said to represent Lady Jane Grey)

In white dress, with high collar and linen ruff, richly jewelled necklace and head-dress

On panel – 10 in. by 7 ½ [3]

On completion of the sale, the portrait was purchased by a E. Brock for the sum of £28.8 shillings and thus, I thought the trail ran dry. 

When discussing the various portraits associated with Jane Grey, one of my main goals is to locate an image of the portrait so that the painting can actually be seen by the person reading this article.  Unfortunately, in some cases a photographic image may not have been taken or, as with the Brocklebank portrait, the image may have been lost during the passage of time.  Many thousands of photographs of portraits are held within the various boxes at the Heinz archive, and it would literally be like attempting to find a needle in a haystack when looking for the missing Brocklebank photograph.  In all honesty I had come to terms with just adding this particular portrait to the Auction/collections page on this website.  I did, however, manage to find the photograph, and as discussed above it had been sitting under my nose all the time.

After reading Carter’s 1904 description and attempting a frantic internet search in the hope of a portrait matching this, it suddenly came to mind that I had seen this painting before.  It is discussed in Stephan Edward’s book A Queen of a New Invention Portraits of Lady Jane Grey as the Taylor portrait.  Edwards concludes that this image is unfortunately not a portrait of Lady Jane Grey, but a portrait probably of Elizabeth of Austria and that the provenance discussed in the 1998 sales catalouge for this painting contributed nothing useful.[4]  As  Edwards reports, this portrait was sold by Christie’s, London on 12th November 1998 and was described in the catalouge as a portrait of a Lady, previously identified as Lady Jane Grey.  The catalouge also records that the portrait was once in the collection of A.M and B Taylor, but nothing more is mentioned regarding the provenance for this image during the sale.[5]

The Taylor Portrait
Called Lady Jane Grey, Perhaps Elizabeth of Austria
Oil on Wood Panel
10 x 8 inches
© Private Collection

Upon accessing my own file on the Taylor Portrait, I came across a photocopy of an old image of the portrait located in the artist box for Francios Clouet at Heinz Archive.  Over the years, the gallery have used the back of this image to scribble various notes regarding the portrait in pencil and seen in the centre of this is writing made in ink identifying the sitter as supposed to be Lady Jane Grey, written in the same handwriting as the letter from Ralph Brocklebank.

It appears that this is the lost photograph which accompanied the Brocklebank letters sent to James Milner in 1917 and though most definitely not a portrait of Lady Jane Grey these letters do provide more provenance for this painting and its one time association with her.  


[1] Heinz Archive, NPG 104/8/2, Correspondence Received 1917, accessed July 2019

[2] Carter. R. Radcliffe, Pictures & Engravings at Houghton Hall Tarporley in The Possession of Ralph Brocklebank, 1904, Item 39.  My sincere thanks to the staff at the library of the University of Dundee for assisting me with gaining access to this book.

[3] Christies Auction Catalouge, 7th July 1922, lot 80.  My sincere thanks to Simona Dolari of Christie’s auction house for providing me with the information regarding this sale.

[4] Edwards. John Stephan, A Queen of a New Invention Portraits of Lady Jane Grey, Old John Publishing, 2015, page 99

[5] Christie’s Auction Catalouge, 12th November 1998, lot 4

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