Arabella Hunt, a celebrated singer and musician of the late 17th century, is portrayed here in a deep rust-coloured dress, playing a lute.
Arabella Hunt was born in London. She probably began singing in court masques in her early teens. When her father died in 1678 or 1679, she inherited a house and land in Upton, Buckinghamshire. At the age of 36 Hunt married someone claiming to be ‘James Howard’. The couple separated just six months later, with Hunt announcing that Howard was in fact a cross-dressing married woman named Amy Poulter (died 1682/3). The union was annulled and Hunt never remarried. During Hunt’s successful career within the English court she became a favourite of Queen Mary. She died aged 43 at her home in Haymarket, London, leaving all her possessions to her mother. In 1706, the year after Hunt’s death, engraver John Smith published a mezzotint of this portrait.
On the back of the canvas of this painting, the artist has written the inscription: ‘Godfrey Kneller In Memoriam faciebat [made in] 1692.’ The words 'in memoriam' indicate that Kneller inscribed the painting after Hunt’s death, despite having painted the work in 1692.
Godfrey Kneller was born in Lübeck, Germany. He moved to Amsterdam in 1662 to study painting under Rembrandt and Ferdinand Bol. He later trained with Gianlorenzo Bernini and Carlo Maratta in Rome. He returned to Lübeck in 1675, before moving to Hamburg and then to London to study the works of van Dyck. In England he received commissions from prominent figures, including Charles II. Charles sent Kneller to France in 1684, to paint the portrait of Louis XIV. Kneller maintained his position at court after the accession of James II in 1685 and, when William and Mary came to the throne, he and portraitist John Riley became joint Principal Painters to the Crown. Following Riley’s death, Kneller alone retained the position. He was 77 when he died.
bl: signed with monogram; verso: Mrs Arrabella Hunt / Godfrey Kneller In Memoriam faciebat / 1692
Collection of ‘Perey Miur’; from whom purchased by Colnaghi, London, on 18 January 1951; from whom purchased by G. Knowles on 15 December 1953; sold through Christie's, London, ‘Old Master Pictures’ sale, on 16 May 1980 (Lot 61); from which sale purchased by the Ministry of Works
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