King Charles II, eldest son of Charles I and Henrietta Maria, was proclaimed King after his father's execution in 1649. However, he was defeated by Cromwell at the Battle of Dunbar in 1650. Charles invaded England the following year, in an attempt to regain the throne. After defeat at Worcester, he escaped to the Continent and remained in exile, settling his court at Bruges, until he was restored to the throne in 1660.
That year this portrait was presented by the King to Admiral Edward Montagu, first Earl of Sandwich, who had commanded the flagship which returned Charles to England. It is attributed to Antwerp artist Pieter Thys, who painted Charles from life in 1659/60. Charles’ court commissioned a series of portraits from Thys, including two further ‘originals’ and six ‘copies’, presumably executed by studio assistants. This work is mentioned in the diary of Samuel Pepys:
‘My Lord [Sandwich] did this day show me the King’s picture which was done in Flanders, that the King did promise my Lord... it is the most pleasant and the most like him that ever I saw a picture in my life.’
The portrait remained with the Montagu family, at Hinchingbrook House in Huntingdonshire, until it was sold to the Government in 1980.
Pieter Thys, a painter of portraits, religious and history subjects, was born in Antwerp. He studied under Artus Deurwerders and established a studio in Antwerp in 1645. In 1648 Thys married Constantia van der Beken. He later served as Dean of the Guild in Antwerp (1660–61), but was called to Holland by Stathouder William II. Thys became a painter in the court of Emperor Leopold I. He was married for a second time, to Anna Buyrdezom, in 1670. His religious works include paintings for the churches of St James in Antwerp; St Peter in Louvain, Belgium; Notre Dame in Dendermonde, Belgium; and Arc-et-Senans, eastern France. His portraits include those of King Charles II and Herman Joseph van der Porter, Abbot of Saint Michael's church, Antwerp.
Purchased from the Montagu Family and Trustees, December 1980
bl: King Charles 2; verso, on label located at top left of stretcher: W.O. / Y438 / 10/5/35
Collection of the sitter; by whom presented to Admiral Edward Montagu of Hinchingbrooke House, Cambridgeshire, in 1660; by family descent to [Alexander] Victor [Edward Paulet] Montagu, 10th Earl of Sandwich, Viscount Hinchingbrooke (1906-1995) and on loan to the Ministry of Works from 1957; from whom purchased by Agnew's Gallery, London, on behalf of the Department of the Environment in 1980
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