A POTENTIALLY unique miniature painting of Charles II has relieved the disappointment felt by the Scottish National Portrait Gallery when the owner of the famed Albion Collection of portrait miniatures decided to sell off the 175 pictures at auction.
The gallery had hoped to include them in a summer exhibition, but the National Art Collections Fund couldn’t afford the 1.5 million price-tag.
Last year, the National Gallery of Scotland bought Titian’s 500-year-old masterpiece Venus Anadyomene for 11.6 million. But with the 30 million Playfair project due for completion this summer, acquisition funds are tight. So the fund decided to bid for a single miniature: a rare painting of Charles II when he was King of Scotland, but not England.
The 2.5 inch-high portrait by the English artist David des Granges in about 1653, was acquired for less than 20,000, including commissions. "We bought it because it’s a very beautiful, very early image of Charles as king," said James Holloway, the Portrait Gallery’s director. "I’m absolutely thrilled to have it."
Another miniature with Scottish connections, of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, Bonnie Prince Charlie, painted when he was aged about eight, sold to an unknown buyer for 17,925.
Some of the finest pieces in the collection reached prices of more than 70,000, breaking several records in the most valuable sale of its kind since the 1930s.
Painted on copper, ivory, or vellum - calves’ skin - portrait miniatures were kept as mementoes or lovers’ keepsakes. They virtually disappeared with the advent of photography 150 years ago.
Once the formalities are completed, the Charles II portrait will become part of an exhibition, opening on 13 May, of some 75 of the gallery’s own miniatures collection. A show of contemporary miniatures by the artist Moyna Flannigan will run alongside it.
Charles II, the son of Charles I, was born in 1630. He fought the parliamentary forces until his father’s execution in 1649, fled to France but then returned to Scotland in 1650 where he was crowned at Scone on 1 January, 1651.
Later that year, his forces were defeated by Oliver Cromwell at Worcester, and he remained a fugitive until he once more fled to France. It was not until 1660, following his restoration, that he returned to England to be crowned king.
It was while he was in Scotland that Charles II, like his father before him, named an official royal painter. David des Granges, a well-known oil painter, accompanied Charles to Scotland, and became "His Majesty’s Limner" in 1651.
"The king was virtually on the run from Cromwell. It’s surprising that he had time to appoint an artist," said Mr Holloway. "Des Granges came up to Scotland and then painted the king in those rather crucial years."
The gallery has a portrait of Charles II as a boy at the time of the Civil War battle of Edgehill, outside Oxford. "But this one is of interest because it was actually painted when he was King of Scotland and not England," said Mr Holloway. The artist painted several miniatures as gifts for the king’s followers. This one shows the king in armour, an embroidered collar and the blue Garter ribbon.
Des Granges was apparently never paid for his work. In 1671, close to death, he petitioned Charles II for what he was owed for his services.
The gallery has a letter from that year saying how des Granges, with his "eyesight and labour failing him", had served the king "faithfully and diligently".
Mr Holloway said: "Although his claim was granted, he had died, and no record of him being paid can be found."