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John Evelyn

1 portrait matching these criteria:

Later Stuart Portraits Catalogue

John Evelyn

by Robert Walker
1648-circa 1656
34 5/8 in. x 25 1/4 in. (879 mm x 641 mm)
NPG 6179

Inscriptionback to top

Inscribed on paper: Mortem/Venientem Nemo/hilaris excipit/[nisi] Qui se ad [eam]/[diu] composuerat/Sen. Ep.XXX,1 and above, on the column, in Greek: ‘repentance itself is the beginning of wisdom’.2

1 Seneca, Epistulae, XXX: ‘he cannot with cheerfulness and joy receive his death, unless he bestowed much time and care in preparations against that sad solemnity’. Taylor wrote: ‘Nemo mortem venientem hilaris excipit, nisi qui se ad eam diu composuerat’, translating the passage as quoted above.
2 Hieroclis, in Aureum Pythagoreorum Carmen Commentarius, 1853 ed., XIV, p 98 (trans. quoted above as given by Taylor).

This portraitback to top

On 1 July 1648 Evelyn recorded retrospectively [1] ‘I sate for my Picture (the same wherein is a Deaths head) to Mr Walker that excellent Painter’. It was sent to his 13-year-old wife in Paris in September. Evelyn had married Mary Browne (c.1635-1709) in Paris on 27 June 1647; two months later he returned to England where he stayed until May 1649. Alone in England he composed Instructions Oeconomique, a confidential manual on the practice of marriage, which he sent his wife in September 1648 together with the portrait, telling her that he would have preferred a miniature ‘but since the late death of Oliver, and absence of Hoskins, Johnson and the rest, could meet with none capable’. [2] This could suggest he was originally shown holding a miniature (rather than a medal).
The changes to the picture were evidently made some time after 1648. Walker died in 1658 but the alterations need not be by him (would he have agreed to cut off the top of his composition?), although Evelyn’s description is ambiguous (see note 1). The changes, introducing an altogether more profound melancholy, were apparently inspired by Evelyn’s friendship with Jeremy Taylor, whom he met in 1655 and used ‘thenceforward as my Ghostly Father &c’. [3] Both quotations used in the portrait occur in Taylor’s Unum Necessarium [4] which Evelyn read in 1655, [5] suggesting the portrait was altered then or very soon after.

Footnotesback to top

1) Diary, II, p 541; but this part of the Diary was written c.1660-66 (Diary, I, p 73), i.e. after the changes described above had been made to the portrait.
2) Letter of 16 September 1648, see W. G. Hiscock, John Evelyn and his Family Circle, 1955, pp 20-21; Evelyn refers to Peter Oliver (c.1594-1647), John Hoskins (c.1590-1665) and Cornelius Johnson (1593-1661).
3) Diary, III, p 148, 2 March 1655. Taylor’s celebrated Holy Living and Holy Dying had appeared in 1650 and 1651.
4) ‘Unum Necessarium’ in The Whole Works of Jeremy Taylor, VII, 1861, pp 64 (Hierocles), 226 (Seneca).
5) In a letter of 9 February 1655(ns) Evelyn told Taylor he had already seen the Unum Necessarium, or the Doctrine and Practice of Repentance (Diary and Corr., p 66) and acknowledged return of his copy from William Oughtred on 28 August 1655 (Diary, III, p 158). Evelyn’s copy is now in the British Library (Eve.a.56), inscribed perlegi 1655; it was sold with the Evelyn library at Christie’s, 12 July 1978, lot 1458.

Referenceback to top

Rogers 1992
M. Rogers, NACF Review 1992, pp 39-40, and FMR, 66, XIV, February 1994, pp 15-18.

Simon & Saywell (eds.) 2004
Complete Illustrated Catalogue, NPG, ed. J. Simon & D. Saywell, 2004, p 211.

Provenanceback to top

By descent in the sitter’s family; Christie’s, 10 April 1992, lot 12, bought by Artemis Fine Art, from whom purchased with help from the National Art-Collections Fund, the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Dame Helen Gardner Bequest 1992.

Exhibitionsback to top

First Special Exhibition of National Portraits ( ... ending with the reign of James the second), South Kensington, 1867, no.1015a; lent to Christ Church, Oxford 1949–77; John Evelyn, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1953; British Portraits, RA, 1956, no.64; Age of Charles I, Tate Gallery, 1972–73, no.161; lent to the NPG (L166) 1977–91; British Painting, Haus der Kunst, Munich, 1979–80, no.5; Grinling Gibbons, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1998–99.


This extended catalogue entry is from the National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Ingamells, National Portrait Gallery: Later Stuart Portraits 1685–1714, National Portrait Gallery, 2009, and is as published then. For the most up-to-date details on individual Collection works, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text.

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