The portrait presented here is a head and shoulders version from the full length of Charles I painted c.1636 and now at the State Hermitage Museum, St.Petersburg. Glad in armour and wearing the gold chain of the garter, the King is presented as a military leader, as opposed to his earlier depiction by van Dyck as a family man in the informal group portrait of 1632 known as ‘The great Peece’ (Royal Collection). The sculptor Bernini, when in receipt of the now famous triple portrait of Charles by van Dyck is said to have observed a certain sadness in the eyes, a feature which the artist here appears to have also identified. A certain melancholic air is perceptible in the facial expression which is subtlety different from the original; a wetness around the eyes and slightly drawn look to the face, compounded by the rendering of the mouth, creates an image less confident in tone than that of 1636. Although difficult to date precisely these reduced copies of van Dyck’s works were produced largely around the middle of the 17th century, including the time of the civil war and the King’s execution, and were much in demand as ‘closet pictures’.
There has been much scholarly debate over these small portrait panels and ultimately it is difficult to determind authorship beyond doubt, (Karen Hearn: Van Dyke & Britain, Tate London, 2009 p.176). A group in the Royal collection has been suggested to be by Remigius van Leemput (1607-1675) and others such as those at Woburn have been thought to be the work of Roussel. Stylistic differences clearly exist amongst them which point to the fact that more than one artist was copying van Dyke’s work in this manner. However, broadly speaking, distinctions can be made by comparison; enough to observe that Roussel’s attributed works tend to display a greater linear definition, particularly around the face, whilst those of Leemput are often more softly delineated. As can clearly be seen in this portrait of Charles both the face and the body are worked up from a light grey ground with the paint applied thickly in some areas and sparcely in others, with certain aspects, noticeably the hair, being strongly drawn with the brush. There is a strong sense of characterization, not that common with these copies, which makes this particular image of the King distinctive.
Theodore Roussel (Russell) was born in London in 1614. His father, Nicasius, a goldsmith and jeweller, left Bruges for England around 1567 and married his second wife Clara in 1604. She was the sister of the eminent portrait painter Cornelis Johnson with whom Theodore reputedly spent a nine year apprenticeship before working as an assistant to van Dyck. Following the master’s death in 1641, Roussel seems to have started copying his portraits “very tolerably on small pannels”. No contemporary accounts have surfaced to corroborate this however and confusion with what are now accepted as small works by Leemput have cast some doubt on the volume of work he undertook in such a manner. A set of five bust-length portraits at Knebworth House, Hertfordshire, includes a male portrait, signed and dated 1644, but generally signed portraits by him are rare. Small panel portrait sets including works attributable to both Leemput and Roussel (some copied directly from van Dyck) can be found at Knowle, Woburn and Southside in Wimbledon, as well as in the Royal Collection.
By the early nineteenth century this portrait was recorded in the collection of John Boscawen Monro (1792-1847) and descended through this family until recently. Monro, earlier in his life, was a barrister in London and a label on the reverse of the panel states that he “had it hanging in his chambers in the middle temple where he lived as a young man”. He was a relative of Dr. Thomas Monro, the artist and physician.