Portrait of a Lady wearing an oyster satin dress

Joan Carlile (1606 - 1679)

Oil on canvas

  • About the work
    Country: UK
    City: London
    Place: Downing Street
    Joan Carlile was one of the first professional female portrait painters working in England. The present work, discovered in a private collection in France, is a recent  addition to Carlile’s recorded oeuvre. The attribution of this painting has been confirmed by Dr Jane Eade, curator at the National Trust and Nicole Ryder, conservator at the National Trust.

    The life and work of Joan Carlile is currently undergoing extensive reappraisal and, over the last few years, several of her works have been rediscovered (e.g. Portrait of an Unknown Lady, Tate). Carlile’s work is also being studied more closely on a technical level, and ongoing conservation work on the triple Portrait of Elizabeth Murray, Countess of Dysart with her first husband Sir Lionel Tollemache and sister Margaret Murray at Ham House has allowed a more in-depth study of Carlile’s painting style. It has been observed that many of her works share compositional affinities and certain stylistic traits such as the silvery highlighting of facial features. There is also a clear consistency in the way she depicted the hanging curls of the female subject’s hair.

    Dr Eade has suggested in a recent article that the subject of this portrait is Elizabeth Murray, Countess of Dysart (1626-1698), who Carlile painted on several occasions. Elizabeth Murray was the eldest of the five daughters of William Murray, first Earl of Dysart and Catherine Murray. Her father was a close companion of King Charles I. He also obtained a royal lease for Ham House in Richmond, a place which would play a major role in Elizabeth’s life. In 1653, Elizabeth joined the Sealed Knot, a secret organisation committed to restoring the Stuart monarchy. She was a skillful political operator, who protected herself by maintaining relations with opposing political forces. In 1660, Charles II was restored and he rewarded Elizabeth with a pension of £800 a year for life. Following the death of her husband, she married John Maitland, earl of Lauderdale and became involved in the refurbishment of the Ham estate. She was a keen collector and patronised Joan Carlile.

    Dr Eade has also suggested that the sitter in the present portrait bears close resemblance to the subject of another portrait very likely to be by Carlile, now in the Bute Collection at Mount Stuart, identified in a later inscription as Elizabeth Murray (National Trust Annual 2018 and email correspondence). 
  • About the artist
    Joan Carlile (1606-1679) was born Joan Palmer in c. 1606 and was the daughter of William Palmer, an employee of the royal parks of St James’s, and his wife Mary. Joan Palmer married in 1626, a poet and court dramatist named Lodowick Carlell (called Carlile), who was also groom of the privy chamber and gentleman of the bows to King Charles I. In 1637, Lodowick was made a keeper of Richmond Park and the Carlile family moved to Petersham and lived in Petersham Lodge in the north-west corner of the park. Although information of Carlile’s early life is scant, the surviving correspondence of Bishop Duppa (1589-1662), a royalist advisor who was exiled to Richmond during the Interregnum reveals that the Carlile’s took in wealthy aristocratic lodgers. In 1654, the Carliles relocated to Covent Garden which was already home to a number of prominent artists including Samuel Cooper (1608-1672) and Mary Beale (1633-1699). By 1656, Carlile was back in Petersham and in 1663, Carlile and her family moved back to London. She died in 1679.
  • Explore
    Materials & Techniques
    canvas, oil, oil painting
  • Details
    Portrait of a Lady wearing an oyster satin dress
    Oil on canvas
    height: 30.8 cm; width: 25.5 cm
    Purchased from Philip Mould Ltd, August 2018
    on stretcher verso bottom left: by Peter Lely 1665
    The Earls of Hardwicke (as suggested by an old label on the reverse); private collection, France; Ader Normann, Paris, 15 December 2017: Mobilier et Objets d'Art (lot 20); with Philip Mould Gallery, London; from whom purchased by GAC 2018
    GAC number