Sir John Crewe was the son of John Crewe, (1598-1679) and Mary Done (1604-1690), his paternal grandfather being the Lord Chief Justice Sir Randolph Crewe. He married firstly Mary daughter of Thomas Wagstaffe of Tachbrooke, Warwickshire; and secondly Mary, daughter of Sir Willoughby Aston, of Aston, Chester. Through his mother he inherited Utkinton Hall and the title of Master Forester for the Royal hunting ground of Delamere Forest in Cheshire, a title held by the Done family for over four hundred years. This together with other large estates in Cheshire meant that he “delighted in country life (and) spent the greatest part of his time at Utkinton Hall”. He was a keen supporter of the Protestant succession of 1688 and was a charitable and learned man. He died in 1711 when his remains were interred in a Baroque marble tomb in Tarporley church. Whilst Hinchliffe observed that he was “a portly gentleman as his portrait bespeaks”, (referring to a painting by John Michael Wright, Grosvenor Museum, Chester) it is clear from this recently discovered portrait that Riley also was confronted by a gentleman who had dined well for his years.
John Riley was born in London in 1646, one of the sons of William Riley, Lancaster Herald. He studied painting under Isaac Fuller and Gerard Soest, leaving to set up his own practice as a portraitist when still quite young. He gradually achieved a reputation amongst the middle classes and was brought to the notice of Charles II after the death of Sir Peter Lely in 1680. At the accession of William and Mary in 1688 he was appointed principal painter to the court jointly with Godfrey Kneller. Around this time he engaged as his drapery painter and partner the immigrant German artist John Closterman, later employing in the same capacity Lely’s assistant, John Baptist Gaspars. Riley’s chief pupil was Jonathan Richardson Sr., who stayed with him in his latter years and managed his affairs following his death. The art historian Sir Ellis Waterhouse observed that Riley had “a good sense of the character of unpretentious sitters and serious men”. The portrait presented here demonstrates this sentiment well.
Principal Reference: Rev. Edward Hinchliffe, “Barthomley”, 1856, p.365-367. With thanks to Peter Boughton, Keeper of Art, Grosvenor Museum, Chester and Rev. Keith Hine, Tarporley Church, Cheshire.
I am grateful to the art historian Stephen Conrad for his opinions concerning attribution