- Museum number
Portrait of Sir John Cotton (1621-1702). Head and shoulders turned half-l., eyes looking full; wearing breastplate.
Oil painting on canvas
- Production date
- 1638 (circa)
Height: 94 centimetres
Width: 82 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- Sir John Cotton, 3rd Bt was responsible for the donation of the Cottonian Lilbrary to the nation in 1700 just before his death. The collection, particularly rich in historical manuscripts, had been begun by the 1st Bt Sir Robert Bruce Cotton (1571-1631) and both preserved and augmented by his descendants. Neglected for many years after 1700, it became one of the three founding collections of the British Museum under the terms of the Act of Parliament of 1753.
This portrait was offered for sale in 1931 (see Acquisition comments). Mr Gardner, a Cotton descendant, provided information to the Trustees about the sale, referring to four paintings and writing of one (d)::
“Portrait ‘of Sir John Cotton, Bart., when a youth, in breast-plate, with white cravat. Oval, 29 in.”.
“On the back of this, there was, to the best of my recollection, and according to a note I put in my catalogue at the time, a paper label inscribed in faded ink ‘My mother’s great-grandfather. J. Bowdler Sept. 4th, 1794’. This would point to the portrait being of Sir John Cotton, 3rd Bt.”
At the same time the BM Trustees consulted the National Portrait Gallery for an opinion as to the artist responsible. The attribution to Soest but more probably Hayls, by a National Portrait Gallery curator, is recorded in Trustees’ Standing Committee Minutes, 14 March 1931 (c. 4758).
The British Museum owns a confusing selection of portraits of the Cotton family who amassed and handed over to the nation one of the three founding collections. These are:
(1) This portrait, Sir John Cotton (1621-1702), attr. Hayls, bought 1931.
(2) Sir Thomas Cotton (1592-1662), given by Mrs Bowdler.
(3) Sir Thomas Cotton (1592-1662) (previously identified as Sir John Cotton), attr Cornelius Johnson, came with the Cotton Library.
(4) Sir Robert Bruce Cotton (1571-1631), attr. Cornelius Johnson, came with the Cotton Library.
(5) Sir Robert Cotton. Presented in 1792 by Paul Methuen, Esq. of Corsham - now in the National Portrait Gallery.
When the BM was established in 1753 the Cotton family were given the right to appoint two trustees in acknowledgement of their generosity to the nation. The last Cottonian Trustee (an appointment which ceased with the 1963 Act of Parliament) was Sir Richard Thompson through his wife's family (the Annesleys).
- On display (G2)
- Exhibition history
Ante Room to Boardroom (New Wing) (23.4.1982)
- Examined 2.iv.63. Could be improved by surface cleaning and re-varnishing.
For most recent condition report see Lynne Harrison, DCDS 2.8.05
For Conservation Report March 2008 see Conservation Merlin requisition no. 92335.
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- The portrait was purchased by the BM Trustees from Arthur Ackermann & Son, Ltd. acting on behalf of an owner in Sweden, for £50 (less than the offer price of £78 15s. 0d., on 31 March 1931.
The surviving papers are somewhat ambiguous but a letter from a Mr R C Bruce Gardner to the Museum Secretary dated 8 March 1931 appears to indicate that the painting was one of four included at the Bowdler Gipps sale at Christies on June 13th 1930 of pictures belonging to the Bowdler family, descendants of the Cottons through a female line [See Harriet M Bowdler qv]. Mr Gardner said that he too was a member of the Bowdler family.
Trustees' Standing Committee Minutes, 14 March 1931 (c. 4758): Portrait of Sir John Cotton.- The Director submitted a portrait of Sir John Cotton, the 3rd Baronet, of whom the Trustees possessed no portrait.
The present portrait, painted in the sitter's youth, i.e., about 1638, was sold at the sale of pictures belonging to the Bowdler family, descendants of the Cottons. The attribution, which lacked clear documentary evidence, was considered certain. Mr Collins Baker, of the National Gallery, attributed the painting to Soest or Hayls, preferring the latter.
The picture was offered by Messrs Arthur Ackermann, Ltd., on behalf of an owner in Sweden, for £78 15s. 0d.
The Trustees instructed the Director to endeavour to acquire the picture at a lower figure, and ordered that their thanks be returned to Mr. R.C. Bruce Gardner, a descendant of the Cottons, who had called the Director's attention to the picture and had greatly asssisted him with special information as to the family portraits.
Standing Committee Minutes 11 April 1931 (c. 4769): The Trustees approved the following purchases made since their last meeting viz.- Board Room - on a report from the Director, from Messrs Arthur Ackermann & Son, an oil painting of Sir John Cotton, Bart, attributed to Hayls £50.'
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number