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Creator:
William Dobson, 1611–1646
Title:

Portrait of a Family, Probably that of Richard Streatfeild

Former Title(s):

Portrait Group, Probably of the Streatfeild Family

Date:
ca. 1645
Materials & Techniques:
Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
42 x 49 inches (106.7 x 124.5 cm), Frame: 50 3/4 × 58 1/2 × 3 inches (128.9 × 148.6 × 7.6 cm)
Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
B1981.25.241
Classification:
Paintings
Collection:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
baby | black | cap | cherries | children | collar | conversation piece | couple | curtain | deaths | family | husband | man | pointing | portrait | skulls (skeleton components) | wife | woman
Associated People:
Streatfeild, Ann (née Terry) (born ca. 1615), daughter of William Terry Esq. (born ca. 1580) and wife of Richard Streatfeild Esq.
Streatfeild, Henry (1639–1718), son of Richard Streatfeild Esq. and Anne Terry
Streatfeild, Richard (1611–1676), ironmaster
Access:
Not on view
Link:
https://collections.britishart.yale.edu/catalog/tms:5027
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Anthony Van Dyck’s death in 1641 allowed William Dobson, an Englishman, to become the preeminent court portrait painter. Dobson’s sixty or so surviving canvases were all painted during the early 1640s in Oxford, where Charles I held court during the Civil War. When Oxford fell to the Parliamentarians, Dobson moved to London, where, lacking patronage, he was imprisoned for debt and died aged thirty-six. This group portrait is a remarkable representation of a gentry family: the Streatfeilds were ironmasters and wool merchants who rose to become landowners in Kent. It is also a memento mori portrait. The mother points toward her eldest child, singling her out as the recently departed. A red mantle further distinguishes her from the rest of the family, who are dressed in somber black. The multiple skulls foreshadow the ultimate fate of everyone in the portrait. The two children on the left were finished by another artist.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2016



This portrait passed down in the Streatfeild family of Chiddingston, Kent, and is thought to represent Richard Streatfeild (1611-1676), his wife Ann, and three of their children. The Streatfeilds were ironmasters and some of the wealthiest members of the region's gentry. The enigmatic inclusion of the naked child to whom the mother points, the cherries held by the youngest child, and the skulls piled atop a broken pedestal may allude symbolically to the premature death of some of the couple's children. One of Dobson's few surviving portraits, this was probably still incomplete at his death in 1646, and finished later by another artist. Certainly the two children on the left side appear to be the work of a different hand.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2005
This work is a testament to Dobson's painterly talent and to the promise of a career that would be cut short by his death in 1646. Passed down in the Streatfeild family of Chiddingstone, Kent, it has therefore traditionally been thought to represent Richard Streatfeild (1611-1676 ), his wife Ann, and three of their children. The Streatfeilds were ironmasters whose financial success had placed them by the mid-seventeenth century among the wealthier members of the region's gentry. Dobson creates a compelling portrait of a family whose destiny is fraught with the uncertainty of living in a nation imperiled and ravaged by civil war. Rich passages of light and shadow, particularly in the dreamy, almost melancholic face of the man, suffuse the canvas with a somber tone.
The father's hand on the head of the boy at the left would designate him as Henry, eldest son and heir (b. 1639). Unfortunately, the identities of the two other children remain shrouded in mystery; following Henry, the Streatfeilds had seven more children, among whom the only four to survive were born after this portrait was painted. The enigmatic allegorical symbols-the three cherries held up by the youngest child to the father; the strangely unclothed, impish, and inexplicable child who smiles mysteriously at the viewer; and the four foreboding skulls piled atop the broken pedestal-compel us to read into the picture meanings of mourning, loss, and even, perhaps, a stoic faith in providence. Ultimately the portrait conveys the realities-both affectionate and disturbing-of family life in mid-seventeenth-century England.
Originally identified as by Dobson in 1957, the portrait is now accepted as one of his relatively few known works. Nevertheless, questions remain as to how much of the extant picture is by Dobson's own hand and which areas belong to his original design. The debate centers on the wide piece of canvas that has been added to the left side of the painting. The seam, clearly visible to the left of the central male figure, runs vertically the height of the canvas, effectively severing the man's right arm from his shoulder and separating the two small children on the left from the other three figures. It was long postulated that this additional section was joined to the canvas after Dobson's death so as to add children to the composition as they came into the family. Certainly, an artist other than Dobson painted these children, who are clearly by a less accomplished hand. But, as Malcolm Rogers has convincingly suggested, Dobson most likely added the strip of canvas himself, designing the present composition but leaving the work unfinished.

Julia Marciari-Alexander

Julia Marciari-Alexander, This other Eden, paintings from the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1998, p. 32, no. 5, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA)

In a New Light: Paintings from the Yale Center for British Art (Yale University Art Gallery, 2023-03-24 - 2023-12-03) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

No More Fog at the Channel - Holbein to Hockney - 500 Years of British Art (Fundación Juan March, 2012-10-05 - 2013-01-20) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Art Gallery of South Australia, 1998-09-16 - 1998-11-15) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Queensland Art Gallery, 1998-07-15 - 1998-09-06) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1998-05-01 - 1998-07-05) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

Juxtapositions (Yale Center for British Art, 1997-11-19 - 1998-01-04) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

The Royalist at War - William Dobson 1611-46 (National Portrait Gallery, 1983-10-28 - 1984-01-08) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Christie's Sale Catalogue : Important English Pictures : 19 November 1965, Christie's, November 19, 1965, pp. 24-27 (addenda), Lot 28, Auction Catalogues (YCBA) [OCLC]

Malcolm Cormack, Concise Catalogue of Paintings in the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1985, pp. 88-89, N590.2 A83 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Antonia Fraser, The weaker vessel, woman's lot in seventeenth-century England , Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1984, p. 12, HQ1593 F7 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Julia Marciari-Alexander, This other Eden : Paintings from the Yale Center for British Art, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1998, pp. 32-33, no. 5, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Paul Mellon's Legacy : a passion for British art [large print labels], , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, v. 3, N5220 M552 P381 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Malcolm Rogers, Royalists on parade, William Dobson , 1994, pp. 72-86, V 0375 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Malcolm Rogers, William Dobson, 1611-46, National Portrait Gallery, London, 1983, pp. 65-7, no. 29, NJ18 D632 R65 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Some Little Known Portraits at the Royal Academy, Burlington Magazine, vol. 99,no.646, January, 1957, pp. 24-27, no. 28, N1 B87 + (YCBA) [YCBA]

Angus Trumble, The Finger : A Handbook, , Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2010, p. 82, GT498.F46 T78 2010 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Yale Center for British Art, Selected paintings, drawings & books, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 1977, p. 5, N590.2 A82 (YCBA) [YCBA]


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