Tate buys portrait by one of Britain’s earliest female artists
Work by Joan Carlile discovered in a country auction
The Tate has acquired its earliest picture by a female artist, a work discovered in a country auction. It is a portrait by Joan Carlile, who was one of the first British painters to work professionally, making miniature copies of Italian pictures and doing portraits. The purchase is part of Tate’s new focus on acquiring works by female artists for its collection.
The Carlile portrait (1650-55) of an unidentified woman was a “sleeper” in a Woolley & Wallis auction in Salisbury, where it sold on 10 December 2014. The buyer was the dealer and historian Bendor Grosvenor, who bought the “English School” painting for £4,200 (hammer price). It had earlier been owned by C.J. Douglas, who sold it at Christie’s in 1927 as a Van Dyck. The painting is now going to be conserved and will go on display next April.
The daughter of one of the first keepers of the Royal Parks, Carlile worked in Covent Garden – then centre of the country’s artistic community – specialising in small scale, full length portraits, usually of women.
A list of contemporary English artists deemed worthy of note, published in 1658, records her as chief among only four female artists working in oil at the time.
The Tate acquired Portrait of an Unknown Lady from Mr Grosvenor for £35,000 to add to its collection of British artists.
Until now, the earliest works in the collection by a female artist were sketches by Mary Beale, dated around 1660.