While such pictures do not appear every day, portraits of women who had liaisons with the Restoration monarch are not as rare as you might think (he did father at least 14 illegitimate children by seven mistresses, after all).
Portraits depicting Moll Davis, Nell Gwyn and Barbara Palmer, Duchess of Cleveland, have all been sold in recent decades.
More recently a Peter Lely (1618-80) painting of Charles’ favourite mistress in the early and mid-1670s, Louise Renée de Penancoët de Kérouaille, Duchess of Portsmouth (1649-1734), took £48,000 at Christie’s in July 2020. It was sold as part of the auction of works owned by the late Dowager Countess Bathurst.
The Bellmans portrait, which was offered at the Wisborough Green saleroom on October 12, depicted the same sitter but a bit later in life and more flamboyantly dressed.
The 3ft 6in x 3ft 2in (1.07m x 97cm) oil on canvas showed the duchess, who was sometimes disparagingly referred to as ‘the French Spy’, with a cupid and doves and was catalogued as ‘attributed to’ French artist Henri Gascars (1635-1701).
It had been in a private collection in Gloucestershire from the early 19th century before it was sold by Lane Fine Art to the vendor’s father.
Louise, who was born into a noble family at the Château de Kéroualle, near Brest, met Charles II when accompanying his sister Henrietta Anne Stuart, Duchess of Orléans, to Dover in 1670. He later appointed her a lady-in-waiting to his own queen, Catherine of Braganza, with whom she remained on amicable terms throughout her spell as the king’s mistress.
In 1673, she was granted the titles Baroness Petersfield, Countess of Fareham and Duchess of Portsmouth, but Charles affectionately called her ‘Fubbs’. In 1682 renamed the royal yacht HMY Fubbs in her honour.
Gascars had arrived in England c.1674, probably at the request of Louise herself whom he painted a number of times between 1672-75. He received numerous commissions from the English court but had returned to France by 1680, probably due to the rising anti-Catholic sentiment in England.
An oval portrait of Louise by Gascars had made £38,500 at Sotheby’s back in June 2008 which meant that the £8000- 12,000 estimate here looked somewhat modest, although this may have reflected the fact that this was an ‘attributed to’ picture rather than a fully ascribed work.
Condition-wise the relined canvas had some retouching as well as varnish to the surface.
It was knocked down at £13,000 to a bidder in the room who saw off interest on the phone. As the bidding was rising, the auctioneer having almost missed a bid commented: “A room bidder there, sorry, still getting used to them again.”
Bellmans described the buyer as a private collector who was an art historian interested in historical paintings and portraits – “this certainly ticked both boxes”, said a spokesman.
The price, although above estimate, nevertheless still looked a bit underwhelming considering the combination of artist and sitter which may have implied some differing opinions among potential bidders.
A bit further down the price scale, another portrait drawing interest was a Walter William Ouless (1848-1933) painting of a leading judge.
The 4ft 2in x 3ft 4in (1.27 x 1.02m) oil on canvas was signed and dated 1876. It depicted Sir Richard Paul Amphlett, one of the judges of the High Court of Appeal and Baron of Exchequer.
While, on the face of it, the subject was hardly commercial and the condition slightly compromised by extensive craquelure and stretcher marks, the painting caught the eye of a number of bidders to whom its painterly quality and strong characterisation appealed.
Being sold to benefit a charitable trust, it was estimated at just £200-400 but was taken up to a final £3800, seemingly the highest price for an Ouless portrait at auction for over five years.