Cornelius Johnson: Charles I’s Forgotten Painter at the National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery opens its doors to the first display of little-known 17th century portrait artist Cornelius Johnson. He was positioned as court painter for Charles I and also completed many portraits for the gentry in the Netherlands. Curator of the display Karen Hearn divulges that we are in fact likely to find many paintings by Johnson among British country houses today.
Having rarely been seen before, eight portraits and six engraving prints (most of which were produced as subsequent studies of Johnson’s paintings) are presented, predominately from the National Portrait Gallery’s own collection with a few pieces on loan from Tate that complete the small-scale survey of Johnson’s works. Being one of the first British-born artists to sign and date his paintings, our attention is brought to the evolution of Johnson’s signatures in relation to his development as an artist. We see that whilst trying to promote himself, his earlier paintings bear a larger, more flamboyant signature as opposed to the more reserved signatures on later paintings once he had become established.
Hearn informs us that dress historians often use Johnson’s paintings as a result of them being dated clearly. All of Johnson’s portraits boast the status and rank in society of the sitter, the high fashion and access to luxury accentuated by his meticulous attention to detail in decorative lace and finery. The exquisitely rendered intricacy of his paintings, such as three miniature, full-length portraits of Charles I’s children, also demonstrates the skill of the artist and his polished technique. In each of these pieces, as well as his best known The Capel Family, Johnson paints a picturesque background that enhances the wealth and characteristics of the protagonists.
Among the portraits is a painting of Charles II, aged nine. In a proud dramatic flourish Hearn reveals that, standing from a certain position in the neighbouring gallery and looking through to the two subsequent galleries, we can see three portraits of Charles II: one as a baby in the first gallery, one as a young boy as part of Johnson’s display, and finally a grand portrait of him as adult and king in the third gallery. This is quite an expected and certainly pleasing surprise.
Photos: Rosie Yang
Cornelius Johnson: Charles I’s Forgotten Painter is at the National Portrait Gallery 15th April until 13th September 2015, for further information visit here.