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King Charles II

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King Charles II

attributed to Thomas Hawker
oil on canvas, circa 1680
89 1/4 in. x 53 3/8 in. (2267 mm x 1356 mm)
Purchased, 1969
Primary Collection
NPG 4691

Sitterback to top

  • King Charles II (1630-1685), Reigned 1660-85. Sitter associated with 295 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Thomas Hawker (circa 1640-circa 1722), Artist. Artist associated with 6 portraits.

This portraitback to top

This portrait of Charles II shows him towards the end of his life, looking rather lascivious and a little glum. It is not a particularly attractive image but an important one, assumed to have been painted by the minor artist Thomas (or Edward) Hawker, on the basis of a comparison with a portrait of the 1st Duke of Grafton at Euston Hall in Suffolk.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Portraits, p. 37
  • Audio Guide
  • Smartify image discovery app
  • Cannadine, Sir David (Introduction); Cooper, Tarnya; Stewart, Louise; MacGibbon, Rab; Cox, Paul; Peltz, Lucy; Moorhouse, Paul; Broadley, Rosie; Jascot-Gill, Sabina, Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits, 2018 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, USA, 7 October 2018 -3 February 2019. Bendigo Art Gallery, Australia, 16 March - 14 July 2019.), p. 131 Read entry

    This portrait shows King Charles II near the end of his life and conveys both his striking appearance and something of his personality. He was unusually tall and dark for an Englishman of his time, and whilst charming, clever and affectionate, he was also cynical and lazy. His childhood and youth, dominated by civil war, the execution of his father and years of uncertainty and poverty in exile, shaped him both as a man and a ruler. Often criticised in his lifetime and subsequently for his numerous mistresses and illegitimate children, and his secret treaty with France, he nevertheless maintained a certain degree of popularity with the general public and was at ease with ordinary people. He also supported the development of science and technology, and managed a sometimes very difficult political context with a degree of adroitness.

    The artist Thomas Hawker was a follower of Peter Lely, working in a style close to Lely's after his death in 1680. Little is known of Hawker's work, but he painted a full-length portrait of one of Charles's illegitimate sons, Henry, Duke of Grafton, which is comparable to this portrait of the Duke's father, with its shimmering textiles and soft modelling of the hands.

  • Cooper, John, Visitor's Guide, 2000, p. 38
  • John Cooper, National Portrait Gallery Visitor's Guide, 2006, p. 38 Read entry

    This portrait bears close scrutiny: the hair hands and strangely articulated legs reveal something of the process of making such images, with everything below the chin being assembled somewhat piecemeal by assistants in the artist’s studio; the face, though, is lively enough, and even bears a striking resemblance to the actor Walter Matthau!

  • Ollard, Richard, Pepys and his Contemporaries, 2015, p. 41
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 73
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, p. 73 Read entry

    This portrait of Charles II shows him towards the end of his life, looking lubricious and rather saturnine. It is not a particularly attractive image but an important one, assumed to have been painted by the minor artist Edward (or Thomas) Hawker, on the basis of a comparison with a portrait of the 1st Duke of Grafton at Euston Hall in Suffolk.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 117
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 93 Read entry

    Cynical and lazy, but also clever and charming, Charles II has always divided opinion. He is remembered for his numerous mistresses and illegitimate children and his secret treaty with France, but also for his interest in and support for the development of science and technology, and his popularity and ease with ordinary people. He was shaped by experience: his childhood was hugely disrupted by civil war, and he spent most of his youth in exile on the Continent, returning to ascend to the throne at the age of thirty in 1660, after the failure of the Commonwealth.

    Very little is known about the artist Thomas Hawker (died c.1722), who worked in the style of Sir Peter Lely, probably mostly after the Principal Painter’s death in 1680. Hawker’s depiction of the King seems to reveal something of the effects of Charles’s rather dissolute and unsettled life; he looks magnificent but also rather jaded and tired.

Events of 1680back to top

Current affairs

William Howard, Viscount Stafford, is convicted of impeachment and beheaded on account of his alleged involvement in the Popish Plot.
Whigs' sponsorship of a pope-burning procession, for the second consecutive year, supports their campaign to exclude James, Duke of York from the throne.

Art and science

Writer, John Bunyan, publishes, The Life and Death of Mr. Badman. Novelistic in form and conceived as a dialogue between two gentlemen, the book was intended as a sequel to the first part of The Pilgrim's Progress.


Revelations surface of a Catholic uprising in Ireland with French support. The government launches an inquiry, ultimately leading to the execution of Oliver Plunket, Archbishop of Armagh.
Secretary of State, Robert Spencer, in adopting an anti-French foreign policy, forges a defensive Anglo-Spanish treaty while seeking an alliance with the Dutch.

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