Portrait of a Court Beauty, possibly Nell Gwynn, reclining in a landscape, a château in the distance, c. 1670s
Anon. sale; Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 17 March 1923 (as ‘attributed to Mignard’, according to an old label, verso).
‘The Property of a Gentleman’ sale; Sotheby’s, London, 30 April 2014, lot 747.
Private Collection, UK, acquired at the above sale.
French-born artist Henri Gascar (also spelled Garcard or Gascars) made a name for himself for his elegant portraits of court ladies during the reign of Charles II. He arrived in England sometime around 1674, probably summoned by Louise de Kérouaille, Duchess of Portsmouth, one of the King’s mistresses. Her patronage ensured his success in England, and his talent for depicting sumptuous draperies in vibrant colours made him a fashionable choice. In addition to painting the Duchess and her family, Gascar was commissioned to paint portraits of Charles II and other favourite mistresses Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland, and the actress Nell Gwynn. Indeed, this painting may depict Nell herself based on its striking compositional similarities to an engraving, in reverse, of Nell Gwynn and her two sons. The engraving, probably by Antoine Masson and dated circa 1677-80, is inscribed ‘Madame Ellen Groinn and her troo Sons, Charles / Earl of Beaufort and James Lord Beauclaire / Henry Gascar Pinxit’. An impression now in the Royal Collection is charmingly annotated in pencil ‘In the lace shift she had stolen from the Duchess of Portsmouth given by Charles the 2d’. The lace shift, and classical palace with arcades, also appear in this portrait by Gascar.
Gascar subsequently returned to Paris sometime before 1680, possibly aware of mounting anti-French Catholic sentiments in Britain, and was elected a member of the Académie Royale. From there he travelled on to Rome, where he enjoyed a prestigious reputation for the remainder of his life and career.