Portrait of Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector (1599-1658)
Attributed to Charles Jervas (1675-1739)
“Charles Jervas was one of the leading portrait painters of the early 18thCentury, and served as King’s Painter to both George I and George II.”
Oil on canvas
49 ¼ x 39 ½ inches, 125.1 x 103.5 cm
American Private Collection
Charles Jervas was one of the leading portrait painters of the early 18thCentury, and served as King’s Painter to both George I and George II. Born in Ireland, he is recorded by the art historian George Vertue as being Godfrey Kneller’s assistant in London by the 1690s. At this time Kneller’s studio was the closest thing England had to an academy of art. Jervas’ early and obvious proficiency soon earned him enough money to embark on the then essential ‘grand tour’, taking in Paris and Rome. It is in Rome that we first hear of the confident bombast that gained him both admiration and criticism on his return to London in 1708; ‘Poor little Tit!’, Jervas remarked having completed a fine copy of a Titian, ‘How he would stare!’ Jervas’ self-confidence must have been deserved, however, for Tatler remarked in 1709 that he was ‘the last great painter Italy has sent us’. On his return to England Jervas easily gained the patronage of many of the ruling and intellectual elite, most notably Sir Robert Walpole and Alexander Pope, whom he taught to paint.
Jervas was also a prolific copyist and student of the Old Masters. He produced numerous replicas of works by the great names of Renaissance painting, from Raphael to Titian, not only for his own tuition but for patrons who wanted to hang a ‘Titian’ in their home, but who could never dream of going to Europe to see one themselves, yet alone own one. He also made many portraits of historical figures, such as the present example of Oliver Cromwell. The head is based on the original life portrait by Sir Peter Lely, but the body is an invention by Jervas, as is the battle scene in the background. While Jervas admitted his lack of confidence in drawing he was particularly admired for his fresh and bold use of colour, not least in drapery and costume, where he consciously copied the techniques of Old Masters such as Anthony Van Dyck. Such traits can be seen in the present example, which is vividly and freshly painted, particularly in the hands, which are painted in a Van Dyckian manner with their red outlines. Jervas’ studio sale contains many references to his portraits of Cromwell, including full-lengths.