Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and British Portraits


GILBERT JACKSON (British, active 1621 – 1643)

Portrait of a gentleman, possibly a member of the Poulett family, late 1620s

oil on canvas

80 x 45 inches          (203.2 x 114.3 cm.)


Private Collection, Vermont

Private Collection, Massachusetts


In works such as this magnificent portrait Gilbert Jackson represents the last flowering of one of the most poetic and distinctly English phases of British painting. By this date painters of the Netherlandish school such as Paul van Somer, Cornelius Johnson and Daniel Mytens had been making claims on fashionable patronage for over a decade. Jackson’s career demonstrates not only the continuing popularity of the native English style, but also its evolution after the deaths of Robert Peake the Elder and William Larkin in 1619.

As our portrait shows, this is a style with its roots in the linear, emblematic tradition of Elizabethan portraiture. The sitter is placed in the foreground of a space whose depth is suggested by the illusionistic perspective of a tiling floor. An elaborate costume and accessories act as the crucial indicators of his rank. But within this bare formula, which Jackson later repeats with variations in his masterpiece, John Lord Belasyse of Worlaby, 1636 (National Portrait Gallery, London), Jackson conjures a vivid, highly atmospheric sense of the man and his world, and a static pose is brought alive with aristocratic swagger. The sitter is poised in the balance of two hands, one bare, placed solidly on the table, the other, in perhaps the finest passage of the portrait, rests gloved on his hip, the gauntlet pulled down in a froth of trimmings to show the rich red lining. This touch of foppish elegance is juxtaposed with the elaborate swept-hilt of his rapier, a hint of the martial steel that was as much a part of being a gentleman as an elegant costume.

We do not know the identity of our sitter. Many of Jackson’s named sitters can be placed in distinct patronage circles, and this sitter may relate to four brothers whose portraits are attributable to Jackson. [1]  Three were formerly in the collection of the Earl Poulett at Hinton St George (Sotheby’s, London, March 5,1969, lot 1) and a fourth was later sold from an unknown collection (Christie's, London, April 26,1985, lot 81). There is a clear family resemblance between the boys and our sitter, and their representation in terms of costume and pose is strikingly similar. The Hinton St George portraits may date very slightly later than ours - the boys’ hair is longer and the points at their waists attaching their breeches to their doublets are more elaborate, following the fashion of c.1630 - but the apparent kinship is tantalising. Jackson was patronised by the Pouletts’ more famous relative the Earl of Winchester, and it seems possible that the four brothers – and therefore our sitter - are a connection of that extended family.

In this portrait, the minute delineation of detail has a rhythmic quality: the fall of light along the tassels of this sitter’s gloves, the precise attention to the embroidered points to his doublet and the way in which these counterpoint the myriad shades of silver in the panelled doublet form a complex pictorial harmony. The painter, however, advances beyond ‘neo-medieval’ conventions of Elizabethan art. He is more attuned to the private as well as the public character of his sitter’s lives. In Lord Belasyse’s portrait the painter extends a formal – and imaginary - interior of geometric tiling and Solomonic column into the real space of the sitter’s bedchamber, complete with his wife’s picture on the wall and his coat tossed casually on the bed. Jackson is aware that his sitters inhabit not only a social space, but also their own private world, and this gives his sitters flashes of simple humanity: they are foremost people of flesh and blood, like the nineteen year-old Marchioness of Winchester, 1627 (Powerscourt sale, Christie’s, September 24-25, 1984, lot 28) who is framed by a stately curtain and seat of authority but allowed a disarming half-smile. Sir Roger Mostyn, 1634 (Private Collection) is shown in a tiled and columned hall, but his florid face and spurred boots suggest the squire who might rather be out on a horse.

Waterhouse describes Jackson as ‘probably itinerant’ [2] but this suggestion, with all its connotations of unfashionability, makes the conventional error of forgetting how closely county families were bound to London and how much time they routinely spent there. Jackson’s earliest patronage was in London from the great officers of Court and State, not only the Marquesses of Winchester and Worcester but the Lord Keeper John Williams Bishop of York, 1625 (St John’s College, Cambridge). Bishop Williams – whose portrait is Jackson’s most extravagant exercise in armorial pomp and official dignity – may well have introduced the artist to the Welsh gentry Jackson painted in the 1630s. Certainly Sir Roger Mostyn was a relation of the Bishop’s by marriage. The names of other sitters at this period such as Sir Frederick Villiers, 1630 (Private Collection) convey a flavour more of Court than country.

It is true, though, that after the mid-1630s Jackson’s output seems to suffer a diminution in vision. The arrival of Van Dyck had made even Jackson’s Dutch rivals seem old-fashioned. After the high-point of John Lord Belasyse Jackson’s commissioned work seems to be a succession of – largely forgotten – sitters in sub-Van Dyckian attitudes. It is especially satisfying, therefore, that one of his last works should rekindle the spirit of his old invention. A Young Lady with a Child, 1640 (Tate Britain) is a work of great freshness and immediacy and all the life that simmers under the surface of his painting is brought out in this one exuberant portrait. In the same year Jackson was made free of the Painter Stainers’ Company, his first appearance in the written record. [3]  His last known work was a portrait of Chief Justice Sir John Banks dated 1643 (Kingston Lacy, Dorset), which must have been painted in Oxford where the sitter remained with King Charles I until his death the following year.

We are grateful to David Taylor Senior Curator Scottish National Portrait Gallery for confirming the attribution to Gilbert Jackson. 



[1] Private correspondence with David Taylor.

[2] Professor Ellis Waterhouse, The Dictionary of 16th and 17th Century British Painters, Antique Collectors’ Club, 1988, p.139.

[3] Arianne Burnette, “Gilbert Jackson (fl. 1621–1643)”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.


Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts

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