Home Art sale Rare painting by Joan Carlile, one of England’s first female portrait painters, is up for auction in London

Rare painting by Joan Carlile, one of England’s first female portrait painters, is up for auction in London


Dreweatts Auction House in London will offer a work by Joan Carlile, widely regarded as the first female portrait painter active in 17th-century Britain, at its Ancient, British and European Art sale on May 26.

The oil painting, titled Portrait of Anne, Philadelphia and Thomas Wharton, later 5th Lord Wartonis expected to fetch between £30,000 and £50,000 ($38,000 and $63,000).

It depicts members of the Wharton family adorned with lush fabrics made in typical Carlile style. The drapery of silk folds over the child’s clothing, flanked by his two siblings, each positioned in front of a classical column with a red velvet curtain, reflects what was then the fashionable dress of British nobility in the Seventeenth century.

By the mid-17th century, however, it was virtually impossible for a woman to gain entry as a portrait painter in English high society.

Carlile was different. His work was rediscovered, in part, through good record keeping. In a 1658 list of notable English artists, her name is mentioned as one of only four female oil painters.

As one of the earliest known female portrait painters in England, Carlile’s works are also held in the public collections of Tate Britain, Ham House, Surrey and the National Portrait Gallery, London.

His pioneering style eventually led to his rediscovery, known primarily for his small-scale portraits of female figures, the work on offer tomorrow being considered one of his most important.

In 2016, Tate Britain acquired Carlile’s Portrait of an unknown lady after British television art historian Bendor Grosvenor identified it as the artist. He bought it at the Woolley and Wallis auction house in Salisbury in December 2014 for £4,200 ($5,452), then returned it to the Tate for £35,000 ($45,438).

Speaking at the time, Tabitha Barber, Curator of British Art at Tate, told the BBC, “It’s a built-in bias. You start to think that great artists are male artists. We have a big strategy to try to make women more visible on our walls.

It is believed that only 10 of Carlile’s portraits have survived, including that of Sir Thomas Browne and Lady Dorothy Browne, housed in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

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