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Friday, June 8, 2012

A Fine 16th century Portrait of a Lady

Francois Quesnel (c. 1543-5 - 1619)
Portrait of a Lady in a Black Robe
30 1/3 x 24 2/3 inches
Framed: 38 1/4 x 43 1/2 inches
Oil on panel
Labels verso (see images)

Francois Quesnel was among the best known members of a dynasty of French painters active in the 16th and 17th centuries. His father Pierre (d. c. 1574) worked at the Scottish court, while Francois spent his career in France. He was an active painter in various fields, but mainly served as a portraitist, carrying on the Clouet tradition into the 17th century. His work is known mainly through his polished drawings.

On the back of our painting, which we title as ‘Portrait of a Lady in a Black Robe’ for lack of a clear character attribution, we find an exhibition label from the Stockholm National Museum as the piece was number 31 in a show titled ‘Fem Sekler Fransk Konst: Miniatyrer, MÃ¥lningar, Teckningar, 1400–1900’ or Five centuries French Art: Miniatures, Paintings, Drawings that was held from August 15 - November 9, 1958.

Portrait of a Lady depicts all of the stylistic similarities to other works attributed to Quesnel. He did indeed have a certain recognizable way of rendering forms and figures. It is known that only one painting  is securely identified as his by his monogram - a portrait of a lady named Mary Anne Waltham executed in 1572. This work’s provenance is quite special, having been in the collection of Earl Spencer, Althorp, Northamptonshire. Interestingly, Mary Anne (b. 1547) was the friend and attendant of Mary Queen of Scots during her imprisonment in Fotheringay Castle.

The Stockholm exhibition catalog states that the attribution to Quesnel rests on the strong similarity and style of our painting to his work in 1572 of Mary Anne Waltham which means we cannot necessarily identify our lady as Mary Anne (although there are striking similarities between ours and the 1572 portrait) but we can almost certainly say that the painting is by Quesnel because we can draw stylistic comparisons that are indisputable between the two.

Quesnel has works in several prominent museums, to name a few: Kunsthistorisches Museum Databank, Vienna; Louvre Museum, Paris; The Royal Collection, London, UK.

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