Frederick Kerseboom, The Elder
Sir John Langham, Bt. (1671 – 1747), as a boy aged 12, playing the viola da gamba
Sir William Langham (father of the sitter), Cottesbrooke Hall, Northamptonshire; thence by descent to
Sir James Langham, Tempo Manor, County Fermanagh; and by descent.
Bailey, G. Isham, ‘Cottesbrooke Hall Revisited’, Country Life, 19 Feb. 1970, p. 436 (illus.)
E.K. Waterhouse, Dictionary of 16th and 17th Century British Painters, Suffolk, 1988, p. 148.
Leppert, Music and Image: Domesticity, Ideology and Socio-cultural Formation in Eighteenth-Century England, Cambridge, 1993, p. 134 (illus. no. 48).
Gockel, Kunst und Politik der Farbe: Gainsboroughs Porträtmalerei, Berlin, 1999, p. 127.
Holman, Life After Death: The Viola Da Gamba in Britain from Purcell to Dolmetsch, Woodbridge and Rochester, 2010, p. 57 (illus. pl. 2).
Fleming & J. Bryan, Early English Viols: Instruments, Makers and Music, Oxford and New York, 2016 (illus. nos. 21 & 22).
This portrait represents Sir John Langham, 4th Bt. (1671 – 1747), as a youth playing the viola da gamba. John was the only son of Sir William and his second wife Martha Hay, of Glyndebourne, Sussex. He was named for his great-grandfather John Langham, 1st Bt. (1584 – 1671), Alderman and Sheriff of London, subsequently MP. The first Sir John amassed a considerable fortune in the City of London, where he was involved in the mercantile industry which traded with the Levant. A staunch Royalist, he was twice committed to the Tower of London for his loyalty, and was created a baronet by Charles II following the restoration in 1660. He resided at Crosby Hall, a medieval mansion that was originally constructed in 1466 in the City of London for the wool merchant and Alderman John Crosby (d. 1476). This house was described by the historian and antiquarian John Stow in his 1598 Survey of London as being ‘of stone and timber, very large and beautiful, and the highest at that time in London’. During his lifetime, Crosby lent the great hall of the house to be used for Protestant worship. Crosby Hall was acquired some time before 1483 by the Duke of Gloucester, later King Richard III, and in 1910 it was moved stone by stone to its present location on Cheyne Walk.
This painting was commissioned by John Langham’s father Sir William Langham, 3rd Bt. (1631 – 1701) and MP for Northampton; Sir William was himself painted by Frederick Kerseboom in a fur cap, open green shirt, and white stock (sold Hok Fine Art, Dublin, 27 Sept. 2004, lot 149). Sir John, the present sitter, inherited the baronetcy upon the death of his father in 1701, and with it a substantial inheritance and large estates in Northamptonshire, Sussex and London; he was made Sheriff of Northamptonshire two years later. Sir John married firstly Elizabeth, eldest daughter and co-heiress of Sir Thomas Samwell, Bt., of Upton, Northamptonshire, with whom he had three sons. Following her death, he married secondly Maria, co-heir of the 1st Viscount Cobham, with whom he had a further three sons. He died in 1747 and was succeeded by his son and heir James, 5th Bt. (c. 1696 – 1749). This portrait hung at the family seat, Cottesbrooke Hall, in Northamptonshire. A Queen Anne hall in a parkland estate, Cottesbrooke was designed for Sir John and completed in 1713, and is said to have inspired the setting for Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (see Country Life, 15 and 22 Feb. 1936; and 17 and 24 March 1955, for further information.)
In this portrait, the young Sir John is depicted with a viola da gamba, its top carved into the shape of a head, an embellishment that was not uncommon on instruments from this period (see The Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments and Instrument Makers, London, 1984, pp. 743-47). The reign of Charles II marked a huge revival of interest in the polite arts in England, and musical training was one of the hallmarks of a gentleman’s education. The setting is almost certainly the village of Walgrave in Northamptonshire, where John was born and baptised; in the far distance we can see the sandstone spire of the local church, St. Peter’s. The artist, Frederick (or Friedrich) Kerseboom, was noted for his work as both a history painter and a portraitist. Born in Germany, he spent two years studying in Paris under Charles Le Brun in the early 1650s, before moving to Rome for fourteen years, two of which were spent in Nicolas Poussin’s studio. He moved to England in the 1680s, possibly drawn by the gap in the portraiture market created by the death of Sir Peter Lely in 1680, and spent the remainder of his life and career in London. In addition to the obvious Poussinesque influences, Kerseboom’s portrait style shares affinities with the work of a Dutch contemporary in London, Willem Wissing (1656 – 1687). His clientele was composed primarily of aristocrats of the middle rank, but there are few extant examples of his work, and Waterhouse wrote of the present painting that it ‘may well be his masterpiece’. The barely-perceptible alterations to the size of the canvas were made by the artist himself. Given that the signature reads only ‘Kerseboom’, Waterhouse was unable to establish whether it was by Frederick or his nephew Johannes (d. 1708), who worked as a studio apprentice. More recently, Tabitha Barber of the Tate Britain, who has examined the painting in the original, confirms that it is by the elder Kerseboom, and will include it in her forthcoming publication on the Kerseboom family of painters.