King Charles I portrait restoration reveals centuries old mystery in Guildhall

Press Release: 15/09/2017

King Charles I before restoration

A portrait of King Charles I, displayed in Guildhall Winchester’s King Charles Hall has revealed some fascinating secrets during restoration.

As part of a wider art restoration project by Winchester City Council in partnership with Hampshire Cultural Trust the portrait was removed and sent to April Johnson at The Brick House. During close inspection undertaken in the hope that the artist would be identified, a far bigger secret was revealed.

Charles I’s portrait bore many similarities to the style of famous court painter, Peter Lely and was widely expected to be identified as a Lely piece. However, during the inspection, it was revealed that the sceptre held in the King’s right hand was originally painted as a staff and had been overpainted. It was also noted that Charles’ head was painted by a different hand to the rest of the painting.

Although not unusual for paintings by Lely - he would often paint the face of his subjects then ask one of his students to complete the work - in this case, there was a noticeable difference. The paint used and the quality of the work on the head was not up to the standard expected of Lely. Further investigation revealed that the ruff round the neck of the King was thinning and that details of a different ruff were showing through. When the area below the feet was cleaned an inscription - ‘Henry Jermain Earl of St Albans’ was revealed. Leading restorers to ponder whether the original painting by Lely was overpainted with the King’s head.

Ross Turle, Curator of Social and Industrial History for Hampshire Cultural Trust said

It is not unusual for artists to re-use canvases, the city has another example in Abbey House, but what is enticing in this case is that we know who the former sitter was. We have a starting point for further research and hopefully a bit of dogged detective work will throw some light on the mystery.

Councillor Rob Humby, Portfolio holder for Economy and Arts said:

The City Council is fortunate to own several unique and much-loved pieces of art and we take our responsibilities to their care very seriously. The portrait of King Charles gives name to the Guildhall’s King Charles Hall. After all these years it is fascinating to discover that he has been concealing this secret all this time. We look forward to learning more about the other pieces in the Guildhall and hope that our visitors enjoy them just as much as we do.