The Streatham Portrait

Called Lady Jane Grey
by unknown artist
after 1590
Oil on oak panel
33.75 in. x 23.75 in.
National Portrait Gallery, London
(Click anywhere on image above to open larger version in new window)
     Following the publication of my article on the portrait by Hans Eworth now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, an article appeared in The Guardian newspaper (16 January 2006) reporting the emergence of yet another mid-sixteenth century painting that may depict Lady Jane Grey. The portrait has belonged for several generations to a family in Streatham, an area of London south of the Thames. The painting is now in the custody of Lane Fine Art of London pending evaluation by the National Portrait Gallery.

     The painting (above) has undergone significant study since being brought forward into the public eye. Dr Libby Sheldon of the University College of London has examined the portrait using various scientific techniques, including spectroscopy and Raman laser microscopy. She concludes that the painting is authentically Tudor-period in origin. Unfortunately, a more precise date must await dendrochronological analysis of the boards on which the picture was painted ... a process that can take a great deal of time. A date from sometime in the second half of the sixteenth century seems certain. Whether the date will prove to be pre- or post-1554 remains to be seen. In order for the painting to be an authentic life protrait, the boards must have been cut before Jane died in February 1554. A date after 1554 would render the painting a posthumous one. But for the moment, a date of execution in the mid- to late-sixteenth century seems supportable.

     The painting has a fragmentary inscription in the upper left quadrant that apparently once read Lady Jayne. Much of the paint of the inscription has deteriorated, rendering the writing less than clear, but authorities agree that Lady Jayne is the likely text. Dr Sheldon believes that the inscription is exactly contemporaneous with the painting itself. This is critical, as it supports the veracity of the association of the inscription with the sitter depicted. It was not unusual for inscriptions to be added years or decades later; nor was it unusual for such later inscriptions to be erroneous. An exactly contemporaneous inscription that uses the same paint, as this one seems to do, suggests that the sitter really is someone called Lady Jayne.

          The style of the costume is also correct for the period 1550–1553. The V-shaped bottom hem of the bodice became popular after the 1540s. The farthingale sleeves passed out of popularity around 1555, so that the painting probably pre-dates that time. The French hood and partlet with standing collar are also correct for the early 1550s. As with the Eworth portrait, the number and quality of the jewels also suggest a person of quite high social and economic status. The richly embroidered silken and velvet fabrics are also indicative of high status. And again as with the Eworth portrait, the sitter wears no wedding ring, suggesting the young lady was unmarried. If Jane is the sitter, the portrait must therefore date to before her marriage in May 1553.

          There are, however, certain questions that arise from the costume. The partlet lining is embroidered along the edge with fleur-de-lis. That design served as a heraldic emblem for the Crown of France. And while the English monarchs of the Tudor period also laid nominal claim to the crown of France, and Jane’s grandmother was briefly Queen Consort of France, the right to bear those emblems was limited in law. Jane was not, prior to June 1553, herself an heir to the throne of England, and thus would have had no right to the French heraldic emblems. Their usage in this portrait is, to me, a reason to question an identification of the sitter as Jane Grey, though not an insurmountable one.

          The floral design of the embroidery on the underskirt is contentious and ambiguous, according to Christopher Foley of Lane Fine Art. The design has variously been identified as strawberries, gilly flowers, and pinks. To my eye, they resemble Scots thistles. Pinks were, however, a badge of the Grey family (see T.E. Scott-Ellis, Baron Howard de Walden, Banners, Standards, and Badges from a Tudor Manuscript in the College of Arms [London: De Walden Library, 1904], p. 98). Indeed, the sitter in the Jane Grey/Katherine Parr portrait in the National Portrait Gallery (NPG 4451) holds a pink, one reason why that painting was formerly identified as Jane Grey. A more definitive identification of the design, if such a determination is even possible, would be useful for firming up the identification of the sitter.

          The Streatham Portrait (my ‘nickname’ for it) is exactly identical to another portrait once owned by Lord Houghton. That picture (the ‘Houghton Portrait,’ I shall call it) originated with the Rodes family of Houghton Hall in Yorkshire and was part of a larger collection of portraits of Protestant luminaries. The Houghton portrait was displayed in a national exhibition in 1866 as a portrait of Jane Grey. The existence of two identical but quite separate works under the same identification suggests that the identification is authentic.

          The overall quality of the painting is notably crude. It was painted by an artist with considerably less skill than someone like Eworth or Holbein. The quality might be described as naive, primitive, or even folk art. This does not mean, however, that it is not an authentic portrait of Jane Grey. In my opinion, this suggests that both the Streatham and Houghton portraits are in all likelihood copies of a now-lost original, possibly an original of much higher quality. The results of any eventual dendrochronological analysis may clarify this issue. It seems unlikely, for example, that an artist of such relatively low skill working after Jane’s death would have known to portray her in clothing from an earlier period. However, a post-1554 copyist working from a pre-1554 original would have reproduced the earlier costume ... on post-1554 boards.

          For the time being, pending a full evaluation by the National Portrait Gallery, I am comfortable that the painting is an authentic but primitive attempt to depict Lady Jane Grey. I strongly suspect, however, that it is not an original life portrait. It is at best a later copy of an earlier but now lost original, itself perhaps but not necessarily a life portrait. At worst, it is another of the many posthumous portraits created as part of the emergent hagiography created to construct Jane Grey as a Protestant martyr. If the latter is the case, it may well be one of the first of that kind. The National Portrait Gallery’s assessment will hopefully provide a greater degree of confidence in the painting’s authenticity as a true portrait of Jane Grey, whether ad vivum or posthumous.


J. Stephan Edwards, Ph.D.
Palm Springs, California
February 2006

  ADDENDUM, 22 May 2014:  
          Since creating this webpage over eight years ago, I have continued my research on portraiture of Jane Grey, though I have chosen not to include all of my findings on this site. I have instead, since January 2014, been engaged in writing a book on the early iconography of Jane Grey. That book is now ninety percent complete, and a draft manuscript (which included the material below) was submitted to a potential publisher in early April 2014. But I also considered that I might share some of my findings on the Streatham Portrait, in particular, with its owner, the National Portrait Gallery. Though I have long been aware of their Making Art in Tudor Britain Project, they have not yet published the findings of that project, and thus there has been no indication that they were independently aware of some of the issues I have uncovered.

          The emailed response that I received from the NPG regarding what I had hoped would be a helpful submission was, at best, puzzling. I have therefore decided to post here my findings on the Streatham Portrait immediately rather than waiting for any future publication of my entire book.

          There is no documentation available at present to confirm that the curators at the NPG have compared the Streatham Portrait to either the Norris Portrait or to a recently-discovered portrait of Katherine Parr inscribed with her name (detail, below, right), yet the similarities between the three, though perhaps not quite definitive for identifying a specific source or reference image, are nonetheless compelling. The Streatham Portrait is much more naive in its execution, but the overall facial shape is all but identical to that of the Inscribed Parr. The Streatham lady’s eyes do appear darker, the tip of the nose more rounded, and the mouth narrower, yet some of those differences may be a product of the lesser skill of the Streatham artist in comparison to the artist who painted the Inscribed Parr. The hood worn by the Streatham lady is remarkably comparable to that seen in the Inscribed Parr, the only obvious difference being in the nether billiment with pyramidal pointed gemstones added to the Streatham. Yet precisely the same type of nether billiment is notable in the Norris Portrait, the stones being more prominent in the latter. But the most obvious elements of commonality across the three portraits lie once again in the jewels. The repetition of the necklace of festooned pearls cannot be mere coincidence, but must instead indicate some common reference image. The pendant suspended from the necklace of the lady in the Inscribed Parr is circular with at least four stones visible, which does differentiate it from the Norris and Streatham Portraits. Yet the pendants in the latter two are essentially identical: quatrefoils set with a central square dark stone, a teardrop pearl suspended from each. As noted in previous discussion of the Norris, the bodice jewel worn by that sitter is exceedingly similar to the same element seen in the Inscribed Parr, though the Parr jewel is much more finely rendered. The bodice jewel worn by the Streatham lady is larger in relative scale and the middle element is more nearly round and set with five stones, so that it is admittedly different from the others, yet the overall form remains the same in all three: a small quatrefoil above a larger central piece set with one or more gemstones, with a large pearl suspended from the whole. Taken together, the similarities of the principal jewels depicted in the three portraits strongly suggest a single common reference image or pattern from which three separate artists created their own unique and individualized interpretations.
Streatham Portrait detail
Norris Portrait detail
Inscribed Parr detail
          The gowns worn by the Streatham and Norris ladies are also very similar, though Parr’s dress is noticeably different. All three include a partlet with a standing collar and blackwork embellishment, however. The Streatham lady is attired in deep red, with embroidery and brocading confined to the oversleeves, undersleeves, and underskirt. The Norris lady is likewise dressed in red velvet, according to a handwritten note on a photograph of the painting, though only the yoke of her partlet and her undersleeves are embroidered in a large floral pattern. In contrast, the lady in the Inscribed Parr wears solid black and the gown is entirely unembellished, except for a band of pearls and gem-set goldwork quaterfoils across the breast. The slight variation in the Streatham and Norris costumes can again be reasonably attributed to discretionary variation on the part of the respective artists seeking to produce unique portrayals of their subjects. On the whole, it seems entirely likely that the Streatham Portrait was based upon some earlier reference image that depicted Katherine Parr but, like the Norris Portrait, was adapted to “become” Jane Grey in the absence of an accessible authentic portrait of Jane. 
    J. Stephan Edwards, Ph.D.
Palm Springs, California
22 May 2014

Post Script : In an email of 1 November 2006, Mr. Christopher Foley of Lane Fine Art was kind enough to convey to me the results of a dendrochronological analysis of the boards on which this portrait was painted. Dendrochronology, the study of the age of wood samples based on tree ring patterns, is a precise science that can determine within a few years the time at which wood was harvested. In the case of this portrait, the analysis reveals that the wood was harvested no earlier than the 1590s. The painting therefore cannot have been created before that time, so that this cannot be a life portrait of Jane Grey. It may, however, be a later copy of a lost original.

Post post script, January 2007 : The National Portrait Gallery (London) has now acquired the portrait (NPG accession number 6804) and will be placing it on permanent display in the Tudor Gallery in the summer of 2007 following conservation work. The NPG believes the portrait does, in fact, depict Lady Jane Grey, though they also note that it was not painted until at least forty years after her death, perhaps as a copy of a lost original.

Another Post Script, Spring 2010 : The Streatham Portrait has been removed from public display, and there are reportedly no plans at present to return it to the public galleries at the NPG. No reason for the removal has been released.

Yet another post script, Spring 2013 : The Streatham Portrait has been re-hung at Montacute House in Somerset as part of a group of paintings exhbited there by the National Portrait Gallery in cooperation with the National Trust.

Much of the information used to produce this assessment was generously provided by
Mr Christopher Foley of Lane Fine Art of London.
The opinions expressed here are entirely my own.

    Portraits of Lady Jane Grey
    The Wrest Park Portrait     Other Portraits Called
‘Lady Jane Grey’
    The South Carolina Portrait 
(Added April 2015)


Historian "at" somegreymatter "dot" com

Page created February 2006, Revised 1 August 2014

Copyright © 2005 – 2014, J. Stephan Edwards
May not be reproduced in part or in whole without written permission of the author.