King Edward IV

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King Edward IV

by Unknown English artist
oil on panel, circa 1540
13 in. x 10 3/4 in. (330 mm x 273 mm)
NPG 3542


New attribution: Unknown English artist

Key findings: Original dating confirmed. Red underdrawing (either chalk or paint) was identified in the face and hands. The wooden panel is much earlier than the painting and may have been felled around fifty years before usage. The authorship can be linked to the same studio as NPG 2457.

Historical summary
Purchased in 1947. Previously in the collection of the Earls of Ellenborough at Southam Delabere, Gloucestershire. Sold at Sotheby's on 11 June 1947 (lot 60).

The painting was produced towards the end of Henry VIII's reign, circa 1530s-1540s, and may have been part of a series of kings and queens, or possibly one of a pair. Several other paintings of kings have been identified from the same workshop, including Henry VI (NPG 2457). The painting has an engaged frame which is now detachable. However, originally, the patron would have purchased the portrait and frame as a single item.

Notes on likely authorship
The work is inscribed EDWARDE IIII. It derives from an English workshop and appears to have been painted by several different painters within one studio.

Commentary on condition, painting style, technique
Many areas of restoration are poorly matched to the original paint, for example around the sitter's neck (see micro 09). There is a large loss of paint in the green background to the left of the sitter's head, revealed under ultra violet light and paint samples have also shown some colour loss, for instance the colour of the outer coat would have been brighter.

Using a thin application of a warm brownish colour, the artist used a linear style to define the features of the sitter; this graphic quality is reflected in the representation of the eyes, lashes and jewellery which exude a naïve quality (see micro 01 and micro 03 which compare well). Very little modelling was used in the flesh areas, although this may not have been what the artist intended; some original glazing appears to have been lost during past cleaning campaigns.

Justification for dating
All materials used are consistent with the period. Dendrochronological analysis of the wooden panel revealed that the wood derived from a tree which cannot have been felled before 1478. Adding the minimum expected number of sapwood rings suggests that the panel can be no earlier than 1486. Stylistically, the paint handling dates from the 1530s-1540s.

Drawing and transfer technique
Using infrared reflectography no evidence of underdrawing was revealed in either the panel or the frame but surface examination indicates that some red underdrawing (possibly chalk) could be seen beneath the paint defining the sitter's nose (see for example micro 08).

Relevance to other known versions
All the known portraits of Edward IV are of the same type, which probably derives from a lost life portrait. The earliest known version is in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle (dated to 1524-56). The type relates to an engraving that was made in around 1470, probably in the Netherlands. NPG 3542 differs from the Royal Collection type in some respects, most notably in the costume, but it is probably derived from the same source. Another version from the same workshop belongs to the Government Art Collection.

Other versions:
- Government Art Collection, 1262

Less closely related versions:
- Royal Collection (two versions) - one from an Elizabethan set
- NPG 4980(10) - part of a set previously in the collection of the Duke of Leeds
- Syon House (Duke of Northumberland, formerly at Albury) - from a set
- Society of Antiquaries (two versions)
- Petworth House
- The Deanery, Ripon - part of a set
- Anglesey Abbey
- Longleat (Marquess of Bath) - part of a set
- Knebworth House - from a set

Anzelewsky, Fedja, 'An Unidentified Portrait of King Edward IV', The Burlington Magazine, 109: 777 (Dec. 1967), 702-03+705
Daunt, Catherine, 'Portrait Sets in Tudor and Jacobean England', unpublished PhD thesis, University of Sussex, 2015
Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, pp.86-7
Tudor-Craig, Pamela, Richard III, National Portrait Gallery, 1973, p.87


X-ray frame mosaic 01. X-ray mosaic of the fr…
IRR detail 01. Detail of the background and h…
Micro 01. Eye (left side), showing blue (azur…
Micro 02. Eyebrow (left side), showing fine c…
Micro 03. Eye (right side), showing modelling…
Micro 04. Detail of blue (azurite) in white o…
Micro 05. Strands of hair over flesh (7.1 x m…
Micro 06. Fine strands of the hair painted ov…
Micro 07. Lips, showing the simple technique…
Micro 08. Detail of nose, showing the simple…
Micro 09. Detail of chin, showing the order o…
Micro 11. Detail of jewel, showing technique…
Micro 12. Detail of the decoration in jacket,…
Micro 13. Detail of the shadows in sleeve (le…
Micro 14. Modelling in the knuckle of index f…
Micro 15. Detail of fingers (left side), with…
Micro 17. Edge of paint surface showing the o…

Compare Images (what's this? )

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Compare high-resolution images against the painting - mainly x-ray and infra-red photography images, but sometimes UV or raking light images - side by side with the ability to zoom in on details.

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There is some slightly raised horizontal paint 'tenting', which seems stable. There are many uneven and poorly matched areas of matte restoration, many of which have a gritty texture. There is an uneven layer of discoloured, slightly opaque varnish. A horizontal craquelure pattern can be seen throughout, following the direction of the wood grain. Under magnification, flecks of gold leaf are visible on the surface of the painting. There is a large paint loss which has been restored in the sitter's neck, and there is much restoration over craquelure in the flesh paint.


Support type: Eastern Baltic oak

Panel Orientation: Horizontal

Panel condition observations

The condition of the panel is good, although a very slight twist can be seen. The condition is generally good. There are shallow rough gouges out of the wood at the lower edge and upper right. A wormhole can also been seen along the lower edge.

Dendrochronology (what's this? )


An examination of tree rings, which can help to provide the earliest possible felling dates for the wood used for the panel. The technique can also indicate the geographical origin of the wood.

Number of boards: 1

Last date of tree ring: 1478


This is a single, horizontally aligned panel and this unusual alignment may indicate that it has been cut down from a larger panel. The last tree ring identified was from 1478. No sapwood was present at the outermost edge of the board at the lower edge, and so a terminus post quem can be applied to the panel. Adding the minimum expected number of sapwood rings suggested the tree used cannot have been felled before 1486. At 329 mm the panel is unusually wide, which suggests that there is a fairly low possibility that this board had been significantly trimmed.

X-radiography (what's this? )


A technique used to identify changes in composition beneath the surface of the paint layers and to understand the physical structure of a panel or canvas.

The horizontal wood grain and broad application of the priming layer are clearly visible in the x-ray. A large paint loss can be seen in the background to the left of the head, as can smaller losses within the background (see x-ray mosaic). The brushstrokes do not have the range and variety in handling seen in the x-ray of the painting of Henry VI (NPG 2457).

Infrared reflectography (what's this? )

Infra-Red Reflectographyclose

A technique used to observe the layers beneath the paint surface which can reveal underdrawing and changes to the initial design.

No underdrawing was noted with infrared reflectography in either the panel or the frame. However, during surface examination, it was thought that some red underdrawing (which is not detected by infrared reflectography as it does not contain infrared absorbing pigment) could be seen beneath the paint defining the sitter's nose (see micro 08 and Surface examination).

The large loss in the green background, to the left of the head, is visible in infrared reflectography (see X-ray).

Paint sampling (what's this? )

Paint Samplingclose

Investigation into microscopic pigment samples or samples of other media in order to help with dating, to reveal the order of the paint layers and help to understand the painting techniques used.

Preparation layers
The ground layer consists of a single layer of chalk. Over this (see sample 1), a pink priming was observed, consisting largely of lead white with a little vermilion.

The features have the same linearity and simplistic representation of the eyes, lashes and jewellery as the painting of Henry VI (NPG 2457). It is therefore surprising that in this painting a rather sophisticated approach to the painting of the eyes was used, indicating the use of several different colours depicting the pupil and whites.

Orange sleeve
The cross-section (sample 1) taken from the orange sleeve showed the full layer structure of the painting. An opaque layer of vermilion (either mixed with a little lead white, or perhaps of a rather more orange manufacture than usual) lies directly over the pink priming layer. Over this is a thick, opaque yellow layer - the decoration of the sleeve - which seems to be made with lead white and a yellow pigment. The yellow might be identifiable with energy dispersive x-ray analysis but this has not yet been carried out. Over the yellow layer are occasional traces of what might have been a glaze. The dispersions of paint from the sample showed only lead white and vermilion.

The shadows of the coat were sampled and examined in dispersion and were found to be largely vermilion, with only small quantities of brown added. It seems that the outer coat would have been a good deal brighter than it appears now, considering the quantity of vermilion used.

The black paint of the inner tunic was sampled, just below a row of pearls, and was found to contain lamp black. Two tiny particles which might be smalt could also be seen in the dispersion.

The painting has a very bright green background, and as with the painting of Henry VI (NPG 2457), the question of how it had been shaded was raised. Cross-sections taken from the green background did not have either the ground or priming layer present. They each show a solid layer of verdigris and lead white, and within this layer there are occasional large particles, probably of undissolved verdigris. Over this, in one of the samples, is a layer which appeared to be darkened varnish. However, in the dispersions, a slightly discoloured copper green glaze was identified. It is therefore likely that the original finish was a glaze.

Surface examination (what's this? )

Surface Examinationclose

An examination of the construction of paint layers, glazes and condition often using a microscope. This method provides important evidence concerning an artist’s technique and paint handling and can reveal a specific artist’s characteristic painting style.

Painting style and method
The method of execution is very simple, and is similar to that of the comparable painting of Henry VI (NPG 2457). The design appears to have been laid out in broadly painted areas, with a fine brush used for details such as the hair, features, jewels and the decoration of the sitter's jacket. Gold leaf has been used beneath the translucent glaze layers in the jewels on the sitter's tunic.

Very little modelling has been used in the flesh painting. Although it cannot be certain, it is possible that this was not the artist's intention, and that some original glazing may have been lost during past cleaning campaigns. The features have been depicted in a very linear/hatched manner, using a rather graphic painting method (see micro 01, micro 02, micro 03 and micro 05). They are generally defined with the use of thin applications of oil-rich brown colour (see micro 01 and micro 08). This same brown was used to create the eyebrows and probably the hair (see micro 02 and micro 05).

Paint layer structure
Preparation layers
The ground consists of a single layer of chalk. Over this is a light pink priming which was noted under high magnification examination of the 'barbe' along the right-hand edge of the panel (see micro 17 and Paint sampling). Over the priming it appears that the composition was broadly defined with red underdrawing, either red chalk or a liquid medium.
Red underdrawing can be seen along the line of the nose (see micro 08).

Flesh, eyes, hair and hat
The flesh and features appear to have been laid in first, with the limited modelling in these areas achieved with a very thin layer of probably the same reddish brown as used for the eyes, eyebrows and hair. The eye lashes and reinforcements of detail were executed with dark, black paint (probably lamp black), whereas red was used for the fairer lashes of Henry VI (NPG 2457). The highlights in the eyes were applied before the features were added with the translucent brown paint. Fine particles of azurite can be seen in the whites of the eyes and highlights of the iris, mixed wet-in-wet (see micro 04 and Paint sampling). The fingers were defined with more direct brushstrokes than the flesh, but the same brown appears to have been used. Details of the modelling can be seen in the knuckles and fingers (see micro 14 and micro 15). The nose has been modelled with a thin wash of the same brown previously mentioned, and the lips are simply defined with a thin application of red lake, with a thicker red lake glaze (possibly with a little black) in the shadows (see micro 07 and micro 08). The hair was then broadly laid in, followed by the hat. It is likely that the pigments used for both of these areas are similar, with the use of a higher proportion of black in the hat.

The gold leaf in the jewels was applied, followed by the black tunic. The pearls were then added, with the glaze details on the gilt jewels - here red lake and black pigments were used for the gems, with white highlights applied last (see micro 11). The orange jacket was broadly applied in varying degrees of thickness over the priming layer, to create highlight and mid-tone. In the shadow, a darker paint was applied wet-in-wet to the lighter-coloured tunic (see micro 13) and Paint sampling). The decoration in the jacket was then applied using fine brushstrokes of pure lead-tin yellow and a mixture of lead-tin yellow and vermilion, wet-in wet (see Paint sampling). Cross-hatching, parallel brushstrokes and a freehand fluid application of colour were all utilised to achieve the effect seen here, with brushstrokes often dragged through each other (see micro 12).

The background (see Paint sampling) appears to have been painted last, as it was in the similar portrait of Henry VI (NPG 2457) with the exception of a few final strands of hair painted over the still-wet green background paint (see micro 06).

Order of construction
- White chalk ground
- Pale pink priming
- Red underdrawing
- Flesh paint
- Gold for jewels
- Black tunic
- Pearls and glazes for gems
- Orange tunic
- Decoration on the tunic
- Green background
- Last strands of the hair

Pigments Lead white, vermilion, azurite, red lake, lamp black, verdigris, copper green glaze , lead-tin yellow, possibly another yellow, gold leaf

Ultra violet examination (what's this? )

Ultra Violetclose

A method which helps to reveal past restoration and the extent of varnish layers.

In ultra violet light the varnish was observed to be thick and opaque, with greenish fluorescence. Some dark retouchings were visible in the hair and the face, but the large areas of restoration, visible during surface examination, are obscured in ultra violet light by the varnish layers. The small-scale restoration visible throughout might be in two stages: some of the spots are very dark, and appear more recent (see UV 01).

Some varnish could be seen on the frame, mostly on the outer edges, and with more on the left-hand side. There is also some restoration on the frame.


Frame type: Original, engaged frame, now detachable.

Frame date: c.1540


The original frame has undergone some restoration. In its current state, the frame is painted black with gold borders (as is the frame for NPG 2457 Henry VI).
In 2000, paint samples were taken and examined by Catherine Hassall, in order to determine the layer structure and the original nature of the frame. The results of this indicate a layer structure as follows:
- Chalk ground
- Thin pink underlayer (composed of white lead and vermilion) beneath gilded areas. Areas to be painted were left as clean white chalk.
- Oil-gilding carried out over a dark yellow basecoat (yellow ochre mixed with a little red lead and lead white). The central fillet and innermost moulding were painted with a purple mixture (azurite and dark red lake). The red has faded to yellowish brown and now appears green.
- Outer moulding painted with a thin layer of pure carbon black.
Lead-tin yellow lettering covers the unfaded red lake and appears to be original.
The black has been repainted at least twice, with large coarsely ground lumps of charcoal black. Re-gilding covers more than the original and seems fairly recent. At least two coats of discoloured varnish can be seen on the faded purple layer.
As with the panel itself, infrared reflectography shows no evidence of underdrawing.

The structure of the frame, which is now detachable from the panel support, is evident in x-ray (see x-ray frame mosaic 01).