19 September 2012

The Suffolk Collection

One of the finest collections of Jacobean portraiture explored.

The stories of the paintings and their sitters re-examined.

Richard Sackville, 3rd Earl of Dorset

William Larkin, Portrait of Richard Sackville, 3rd Earl of Dorset, 1613

A Collection Explored

The Suffolk Collection is a lavishly illustrated book written by English Heritage curator Laura Houliston. It tells the story of a collection of paintings that belonged to the Earls of Suffolk and Berkshire prior to being gifted to the nation in 1974. The collection is now in the care of English Heritage and was until recently on display at Kenwood House. Dating from the late 16th to the late 19th century, the collection includes nine significant full-length portraits by the English artist, William Larkin (c.1580-1619), which depict key personalities and a fascinating family history of the early Jacobean period.

Lady Diana Cecil

William Larkin, Portrait of Lady Diana Cecil, c. 1614-18

The People Behind the Paintings

The collection boasts several portraits of strong women from the Jacobean age, revealing a fascinating insight in to the period. Katherine Knyvett, 1st Countess of Suffolk, who likely formed the initial portrait collection, is depicted by William Larkin. Ambitious for status and wealth Knyvett allegedly spied for the Spanish Government, and was found guilty of the sale of honours and extorting money from individuals on Treasury business with her husband. Then there is the painting of Maria Maddalena of Austria by Justus Sustermans, one of the most powerful women in Florence in the 1620s, acting as regent with her mother-in-law when her husband died and before her son came of age. Perhaps most intriguingly, there is an alternative identification of the full-length portrait by William Larkin of Lady Dorothy Cary as Elizabeth Cary, later Viscountess Falkland. As well as having a family of 11 children, her education and flair for linguistics led to her being one of the earliest female writers of original drama in English.

Three Centuries of Painting

Author of the book and English Heritage curator Laura Houliston said: “The Suffolk Collection spans three centuries of painting styles and fashions and contains a fascinating and unique group of early English portraits This new publication allows us to share more widely the latest research, including the discussions about the sitters and the artists who created these works. There is also great interest in the costume depicted in the portraits, so we have incorporated this information throughout the book”

Amongst the introductory chapters, freelance conservator, Sarah Cove, has written an essay outlining her discoveries when inspecting the Jacobean full-length oil paintings attributed to the English artist, William Larkin. As the paintings are not signed, and no documentation about their commission survives, this is a compelling look at the materials and techniques used. The reader is taken step-by-step through some of the analysis completed and comparatives made, to conclude that all nine full-length portraits within the collection were produced from the studio led by Larkin.

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