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!

Can you imagine spending three years searching for 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 we picture that person to be. And it’s interesting to note your own reaction at the moment of first sighting. Did you change your opinion of them based just on what they look like? Did you expect the person to be handsome or homely?  Tall or short? Imposing or bookish?  Proud or humble? Would 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? No matter how you imagine someone, it seems a human truth that we never seem to feel a tangible sense of them until we have the chance to “look them in the eye”…

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that the only confirmed portrait of Lord Keeper Richard Lane known to exist 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 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 might have captured a recognizable image of the portrait as it hung among a total of 1030 portraits in that exhibition.  The odds were not good, but I was running out of better options!

The  one clear record that this portrait existed was its entry 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. It also includes an incorrect location of where he died – stating that he died in exile in France, not Jersey.

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 1645 “lost portrait” of Richard Lane by painter Daniel Mytens.  Rather (in a bit of a “diving catch”), it found me.   About a month before my 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!

David Lowe is a Photography Specialist for the New York Public Library

David 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.  While working his way through a collection of loose photographs in a box, he came across one that had included some text in the photograph.  In an attempt to discover more about the subject of the photograph, he entered the terms “Lane” “Lord Keeper” and “Mytens” into the Google search engine – which quickly brought him to my site, including the two articles of 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 them and found the photograph of the portrait matches the character depicted in the 1844 painting at Westminster!

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 Burse 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 any 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!

The Burse 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.

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, it doesn’t appear any other, similar photographs from the 1866 exhibition are included.

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.


A comparison of a similar photograph I found of #723 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 a set of 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 it. 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 I believe published both of these photographs – got their founding namesake’s photograph mixed up with another?

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.  No one would have noticed if he had been a little less exact in his dedication to the details around the photographs in the collection he helps manage (among many other duties).  But if he had not done the internet search and 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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