Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

Oil painting - An Unknown man (formerly called Lord Fairfax)

An Unknown man (formerly called Lord Fairfax)

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Date:

    17th century (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on canvas

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Melmoth Walters

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    On display at Osterley Park House, London

Physical description

Half length portrait of a man against a dark background. The figure is clean shaven with long hair, a t-bar moustache and beard. He wears a black doublet with a falling lace edged ruff and cuffs. He is shown placing his right hand on his chest.


17th century (painted)



Materials and Techniques

Oil on canvas


Height: 24.75 in estimate, Width: 23.375 in estimate

Object history note

Given by Melmoth Walters, 1867

Historical significance: This painting was acquired as a portrait of Lord General Fairfax. It was believed to be a portrait of Ferdinando Fairfax 2nd Lord Fairfax (1584-1648) or Thomas Fairfax 3rd Lord Fairfax (1612-1671) of Denton, Yorkshire. A note on the object file from 1932 states that after comparing 28-1867 with known portraits of the 2nd and 3rd Lord Fairfax it was decided that the sitter in this anonymous work did not bear a close resemblance to either of these figures. The title of the portrait was subsequently changed to reflect this.

In this half-length portrait the sitter is shown against a neutral dark brown background looking out of the painting. He wears a black doublet and a falling ruff of thin layers of fine layers of linen which are edged with lace. The sleeves of his doublet are edged with broad cuffs of the same material and lace as that of the ruff. Ruffs of this style started to be worn in the 1620s and 1630s. This style can be seen in the portrait of Robert Hitcham by an unknown artist dating to circa 1620 (National Portrait Gallery, NPG 467). The doublet follows the line of the falling ruff with the shoulders cut in a steep slope in the fashion of the 1620s. The sitter wears a ring of a large square cut stone on the little finger of his left hand which is raised to his chest. It was customary during the first half of the seventeenth century for men to wear rings such as this and documents survive of gloves being cut in order to reveal rings worn below (see: Cunnington, p.79). He has a small "T-bar moustache and beard and wears his hair to just the length of his ruff, just below his ears. The type of ruff, cut of the doublet and hairstyle all support the date of this portrait to 1620-30.

This painting was acquired as anonymous British School and remains with this attribution. There is a softer observation in the depiction of the figure, which is introduced into British Portraiture in the opening decades of the seventeenth century through the work of the Dutch immigrant Mytens (1590-1647) who had arrived in London in 1618 and Scottish portrait painter George Jameson (1589-1644). This has been achieved partly through the artist's loose application of fine brushstrokes to build up the gradations of tone in the skin and show the fall of light on the lace trim. These qualities suggest that the artist was combining contemporary trends in portraiture in this painting.

References: Cunnington, W and Cunnington, P. The Handbook of English Costume in the Seventeenth Century, London, 1955

Descriptive line

Oil painting, 'An Unknown Man (formerly called Lord Fairfax)', British School, 17th century


Oil paint; Canvas


Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Figure; Moustaches; Facial hair; Ruffs


Paintings; Portraits; Hair and hairstyles


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.