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John Michael Wright 1636-1694
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John Michael Wright 1636-1694

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Head and shoulders portrait of Dorothy Tuke of Layer Marney Tower in Essex, wife of Sir Robert Filmer

Oil painting on oval canvas 30 x 25 inches, and contained in its original carved and giltwood “Lely Panel” type oval frame


Provenance: Descended from the sitter's husband, Sir Robert Filnmer; Lt. Col. Randal Tristram Toke of Godington House near Great Chart, Kent, before 1910; by inheritance to Miss E M Blennerhasset, Cranbrook, Kent, where recorded by the Kent Family Portrait Survey in 1967

Catharine Macleod of the National Portrait Gallery has propsed a dating to the later 1660's, and draws an analogy between the present picture and the portrait of Margaret Aston, wife of Sir Robert Burdett by John Michael Wright.

John Michael Wright was baptised in London on 25th May 1617. It is likely that his family were London-based Scots, for he was apprenticed to the Scottish portrait painter George Jamesone (1589-1644) on 6th April 1636. At the end of his apprenticeship, he travelled to Rome where he became a Roman Catholic and sudied to become a learned antiquary. His painting style developed from the provincial drudgery of Jamesone's studio, and by 1648 he had become a member of the Academy of Saint Luke. He seems to have worked as antiquary/dealer for Archduke Leopole Wilhelm in Flanders 1653-56, when he returned to London, leaving his family in Rome.

By the end of the decade, he had become a successful London portrait painter in a colourful baroque style, but with a due care for character and honesty which is sometimes missing from the productions of Peter Lely, his fashionable rival. He was occasionally employed by the Crown (he painted the ceiling for Charles II's bedroom at Whitehall Palace (Nottingham Castle Museum) and a long series of portraits of Judges for the Guildhall (all but two destroyed in WWII). He was the first portrait painter of substance to visit Ireland (1679-80) and was back in Rome 1685-7 as part of Lord Castlemaine's embassy to the Pope. His career now went into decline as court patronage was lost when James II abdicated, and taste moved towards the newly arrived Sir Godfrey Kneller. His later life was spent in genteel poverty amidst his books and art collection (which he bequeathed to his nephew Michael Wright).

Wright style is vigorous and bold, his colours well saturated and his handling of paint free and confident. His portraits are usually direct and appealing, and have a strong sense of character and strongly suggest an accurate likeness.

Dorothy Tuke was the daughter of Maurice Tuke (occasionally Toke) of Layer Marney Tower in Essex and his wife Amy, daughter and heiress of Reginald Kempe of Ollantigh, Kent, whose fortune was likewise inherited by Dorothy. She married Robert Filmer, 2nd son of Sir Robert Filmer Kt (“A great sufferer for his loyalty to Charles I”) who was promoted Baronet in 1674 in recognition of his father's services to the Crown during the Civil War. He was born in 1622 and attended Christ Churcg Oxford, being admitted a barrister of Gray's Inn in 1651. His marriage to Dorothy Tuke took place in 1648. She died at East Sutton on 10th June 1671 aged about 40; she died and was buried there 22nd March 1675/6, aged 53.


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