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The Family of Sir Robert Vyner

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The Family of Sir Robert Vyner

by John Michael Wright
oil on canvas, 1673
57 in. x 77 in. (1448 mm x 1956 mm)
Purchased, 1983
Primary Collection
NPG 5568

Sittersback to top

Artistback to top

This portraitback to top

The sitters are Sir Robert (1631--1688) and his wife Mary (née Whitchurch; d. 1674), the wealthy widow of Sir Thomas Hyde, whom he married in 1665; Bridget Hyde (1662-1734), Lady Vyner's daughter by her first marriage; and Charles Vyner (1666-88), their only son. The family is shown in the garden of their house, Swakeleys, in Middlesex, which according to Samuel Pepys was 'a place not very moderne in the gardens nor the house, but the most uniforme in all that I ever saw - and some things to excess'.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Smartify image discovery app
  • The British Portrait, 1660-1960, 1991, p. 49 number 41
  • Gibson, Robin, The Face in the Corner: Animal Portraits from the Collections of the National Portrait Gallery, 1998, p. 30
  • Macleod, Catharine; Alexander, Julia Marciari, Painted Ladies: Women at the Court of Charles II, 2001 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 11 October 2001 to 6 January 2002), p. 33
  • Ribeiro, Aileen; Blackman, Cally, A Portrait of Fashion: Six Centuries of Dress at the National Portrait Gallery, 2015, p. 98
  • Robin Gibson, Pets in Portraits, 2015, p. 54 Read entry

    Sir Robert Vyner was an extremely wealthy goldsmith and banker, whose constant favours to the newly restored Charles II (he made and presented the regalia used at the Coronation in 1661) not only put him on an intimate footing with the King but also eventually brought about his financial ruin. This opulent but rather touching family group was painted the year before he became Lord Mayor of London, marking the occasion with one of the most lavish banquets yet seen. It was only natural that he should also use one of Charles’s painters, the Scottish-born John Michael Wright, from whom he had been instrumental in commissioning other works.

    The group includes (from left to right) Vyner himself, his only son, Charles, his wife, Mary, and his step-daughter from his wife’s first marriage, Bridget. The portrait is a significant one in British painting and marks a provincial, more realistic and bourgeois development from its Van Dyck predecessors. The little boy’s dog with its traditional symbolism of fidelity and obedience was a standard accessory for the family heir and is used here as a masculine counterpart to the flowers that his sister is holding. Spaniels of all sorts were popular in the seventeenth century and were used for flushing out game, particularly in connection with the gentlemanly sport of falconry. This one, apparently a predecessor of the modern springer spaniel has an opulent collar and is undoubtedly a status symbol, indicating not only gentlemanly rank but also a country estate with hunting. The domestic bliss pictured here was not to last for long. Vyner’s wife died the following year; in 1683 Vyner was declared bankrupt. The boy Charles died in 1688, and Vyner himself followed two months later, broken-hearted at the death of his only child.

  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 71
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, p. 71 Read entry

    Sir Robert Vyner (1631-88) was a prominent City goldsmith, who supplied the regalia for Charles II's coronation in 1661 and made enough money to build a country house at Swakeleys in Middlesex. Pepys visited him there and described it as 'a place not very moderne in the gardens nor house, but the most uniforme in all that I ever saw - and some things to excess'. This portrait of him, in company with his wife, two children and their dog, surrounded by the trappings of their country estate, gives a good idea of the prominence and prosperity of City financiers in the period after the Restoration.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 725
  • Simon, Jacob, The Art of the Picture Frame: Artists, Patrons and the Framing of Portraits in Britain, 1997 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 8 November 1996 - 9 February 1997), p. 60, 155 Read entry

    Carved and gilt pine, mitred and keyed, the keys modern and the mitres probably reshot, the two panels on each side and the husks next to the sight edge burnished on a black bole, the ground of the foliage punched. 4 1⁄ 2 inches wide.

    A panel frame of a type popular from the 1680s until the 1710s. As is usual with this style, the curved profile out of which the running foliage pattern was carved corresponds with that of the panels. The frame appears to be an early example of the style, made for a particularly wealthy patron, the goldsmith Sir Robert Viner, in whose family the picture remained until acquired by the National Portrait Gallery. The frame was clearly made for the picture, but the mitres apparently have been opened and reshot in the twentieth century. The surface of the frame was refinished in the nineteenth century; this work may have caused some loss of detail in the leaves and flowers, and the inappropriate water gilding on the panels and elsewhere was probably done at the same time.

  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, pp. 90 - 91 Read entry

    This sympathetic group portrait depicts a leading goldsmith and banker of the late seventeenth century, Sir Robert Vyner, and his family. The artist’s positioning of the children illustrates the family relationships; the setting is probably Swakeley’s, the Vyners’ house in Middlesex. The family fortunes were to fall dramatically in the years after this portrait was painted. Lady Vyner died on New Year’s Day, 1675; her daughter Bridget was kidnapped in that year as part of a tussle between two rival suitors; Sir Robert’s enormous loans to Charles II led to his bankruptcy in 1684; and finally Charles died as a young man in 1688. Sir Robert himself died shortly afterwards, allegedly of a broken heart.

    John Michael Wright (1617-94) was one of the most talented and original portrait painters working in England in the second half of the seventeenth century. Much of the portraiture of this period tends to make both male and female sitters conform to a fashionable type, with idealised features and simplified, classically influenced costumes. Wright resisted this tendency; his sitters look like distinctive individuals and their elaborate, embroidered clothing represents actual court dress.

Events of 1673back to top

Current affairs

Controversially, James, Duke of York marries a Catholic, Mary of Modena, daughter of Alfonso IV, Duke of Modena.
Parliament passes anti-Catholic legislation, the Test Act, which excludes recusants from public office. Officials are required to take an oath and deny the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation.

Art and science

Poet laureate, John Dryden, influenced by the war against Holland, writes Amboyna, a tragedy about the Amboyna massacre,1623, when English sailors were murdered by Dutch traders in Indonesia.
The Chelsea Physic Garden is established by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries to train apprentices in plant identification.


War with Holland culminates in the Battle of Texel which effectively exhausts both sides, but results in a strategic Dutch victory. With tension mounting between the allies, lord of the Admiralty, Prince Rupert, blames the unsatisfactory outcome on French admiral d'Estrees, and poor provisions.

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