Breakthrough – The Chance Discovery of a Photograph of the Lost Portrait of Sir Richard Lane!

I have searched for the Lost Portrait of Sir Richard Lane(or any image of it) for three years – with no luck. That just changed!

Imagine spending three years researching someone you’ve never seen an image of.  We humans are a visual tribe.  The mind will fill a visual void with a “placeholder” concept of who you picture that person to be. What would it be like to one day finally discover what they really looked like? Would their real appearance affect your understanding of who they were?  Did you expect the person to be handsome or homely?  Tall or short? Imposing or bookish?  Proud or humble? Had I expected Sir Richard Lane be portly, like his predecessor, Lord Keeper Littleton? Or perhaps gaunt? Would his hair be fair, thin and curly,  or perhaps thick, straight and black? It seems a human truth that we never seem to feel a tangible sense of someone until we have the chance to “look them in the eye”…

In the 1600’s, there were no cameras. Only portraits.  If you’ve been following this blog, you know that the only confirmed portrait of Lord Keeper Richard Lane known to exist was painted in 1645, and seems to have vanished after it was exhibited in the First Special Exhibition of National Portraits in London in 1866 (see the first article and second article on the portrait and this exhibition).  You may also be aware that I have scoured the internet in futility, looking for any photograph of that portrait – or any verifiable image of Richard Lane.  You might even recall that my first appointment after arriving in London last month was at the Royal Collection Trust, housed in the “Round Tower” at Windsor Castle.  This appointment was an unlikely gambit to see if one of the 77 photographs in a one-of-a-kind photo book there (a gift to Queen Victoria) might have captured a recognizable image of Sir Richard Lane’s portrait as it hung as one among a total of 1030 portraits in that exhibition.  The odds were not good, but I was running out of other options!

The  one clear record that this portrait even existed was its background information in the catalogue of the 1866 First Special Exhibition of National Portraits, which provided an excellent description of the portrait and Richard Lane’s accomplishments. Highlighting the mystery about his fate, this information provides an incorrect location of where he died – stating that he died in exile in France (not Jersey).

SurreyDescription
Excerpt from the Catalogue of the 1866 National Portrait Exposition showing the entries for portraits #723 and #724.

An Unlikely Discovery, with Perfect Timing

In the end, I didn’t find the photograph of the “lost portrait” of Richard Lane (created by the Dutch painter Daniel Mytens).  Rather (in a bit of a “diving catch”), it found me.   About a month before my Spring 2018 trip to the UK, I received a message from a photo archivist with the New York Public Library providing a link he thought I would find interesting. It was a link to a photograph in their collection he had stumbled onto – a photograph my articles had revealed to be of the portrait of Lord Keeper Richard Lane from the 1866 exhibition in London!

davidlowe-937df689c04b1e4bf14a2d0fc25eb69703a899812a4e450ea1e2943956431887
David Lowe is a Photography Specialist for the New York Public Library

David Lowe had been working to clean up the name and life dates information (where possible) for a collection of 70,000 photographs of individuals in their collection.  Within a collection of loose photographs in a box, there was one that had included some text in the photograph.  Attempting to establish what he could about the subject of the photograph, he entered the terms “Lane” “Lord Keeper” and “Mytens” into the Google search engine.  Near the top of the search results were my two articles about the Lost Portrait of Sir Richard Lane!

The timing could not have been better, as I was finalizing the analysis I was preparing to present at Westminster of the 1844 painting of the Trial of Strafford.  One part of that analysis was the case that a dramatic enshadowed foreground character in that painting was an intentional depiction of Richard Lane (most likely based upon the since disappeared 1645 Mytens portrait).  That argument became much more compelling when I compared the figure in the 1844 painting with Richard Lane’s portrait in the newly found 1866 photograph, and found them to be an excellent match!

The Lost Portrait of Sir Richard Lane

There is no doubt this photograph is of the 1645 Mytens portrait of Lord Keeper Richard Lane.  The description matches it perfectly, and it is plain he is holding the “purse” of the Great Seal (the special, ornamental bag in which the silver moulds of the Great Seal are carried).  What is interesting is that Richard Lane is not wearing the sort of formal, elaborate robes normally worn in portraits of so many Lord Keepers. Instead, he is wearing the black dress and white collar of a judge.  This makes sense, because he was made Lord Keeper at Oxford during a shooting war – it would have been an inappropriate time to ask for new ornamental clothing!

BurseOfGreatSeal
The Purse of the Great Seal held by Lord Keeper Richard Lane and a surviving example from a museum.

It was very fortunate that David did the search that brought him to my site, as I don’t believe any search I would have done would have led me to this particular photograph.  This photograph wasn’t fully labelled, and it wasn’t in a university or other specialized collection I would have thought to look into.

The origins of the Photograph

According to David, the photograph was part of a collection originally donated to the New York Public Library in 1907.  It was one among many in a box of loose “miscellaneous portraits” from the collection of Gordon Leister (1823-1891).   This collection is largely made up of private papers and correspondence without any special focus on photographs.  Further, this collection does not include any similar photographs from the 1866 exhibition.

On the bottom of the photograph are words indicating the photograph was originally published by the Arundel Society – a London Society of the second half of the 1800’s dedicated to the reproduction of art.  It is interesting that the photograph of the portrait was cropped to only show the canvas itself (no frame), that lines were drawn in framing the photograph, and that the portrait’s number from the 1866 exhibition appears without any explanation.  The appearance of the number without an indication of the exhibition implies that the photograph was taken from a collection or book of similar photographs of individual portraits from this exhibition.

photoTagComparison.PNG

A comparison of a similar photograph I found previously (#723) of Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel (the man who the Arundel Society’s name honors) reveals that the same font, content and style are used in the informational tag at the bottom of both photographs.  These two photographs appear to have been created as part of the same project. Were they part of a published book of photographs, or perhaps sold as individual photographs of individual portraits from the 1866 exhibition? I have never encountered any mention of a book like this (the singular book I did find in the Royal Collection Trust was photographs of entire walls of portraits, not individuals).

Since the mission of the Arundel Society was the reproduction of art, and that society was thriving at the time of the exhibition, it makes sense that they would have taken advantage of the exhibition. It would have been a tremendous opportunity to photograph these works of art before they all disappeared back into the private collections from which they had been drawn!  And in the case of the now lost portrait of Sir Richard Lane, possibly before it disappeared altogether…

A Funny Related Story

Those of you who enjoy humorous ironies will love this one.  Both Richard Lane and Thomas Howard (Earl of Arundel) appear in the 1844 painting, “The Trial of Strafford”.  Thomas Howard is the imposing man leading the trial from the far end of Winchester Hall, seated higher than anyone else in that scene, and nearest the empty chair of the King.  Would you believe that the Arundel Society – which published both of these photographs – got their founding namesake’s photograph mixed up with another?

No723-NPG1866
Excerpt from a book containing photographs of a selection of portraits from the 1866 portrait exhibition, reportedly showing portrait #723.

If you read the entries in the catalog (which includes a bit of descriptive detail not included in these tags), you’ll discover that the photograph tagged as #723 does not match the description of that painting in the catalogue (which describes a man in armor, his right hand leaning on a baton).

I had suspected this error when I studied the published photograph of portrait #723 (above).  I was able to confirm it when I inspected the book of 77 photographs of the galleries of the 1866 exhibition held in the Royal Collection Trust at Windsor Castle.  The painting described in the catalog was there, but it was not next to that of Richard Lane. There wasn’t room for it at that location – the painting of Lord Arundel in armor (#723) was on the backside of the same wall.   As soon as the Royal Collection Trust gets the photographs of that book published online (which I’ve been told my research has prompted them to do), I will write a followup article on the 1866 exhibition and highlight this fun discovery!

I would like to restate my gratitude to the careful work done by David Lowe at the New York Public Library.  If he had not contacted me after his internet search found my articles on the Lost Portrait of Sir Richard Lane, I doubt I ever would have known of that photograph.  And I have found no other in three years of looking.

Kudos, David, and thank you.

——

Your comments and corrections are gladly welcomed.  I admire great writing, but have little choice but to approach this task as one of grinding a workable edge onto a rough blade – with my thanks for your generosity of spirit and firm critique in the meantime! 

-Greg Sherwood

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