Kneller, Sir Godfrey [formerly Gottfried Kniller], baronet (1646–1723), history and portrait painter, was born Gottfried Kniller (which name he used, together with Kneller, until well into his thirties) at Lübeck, north Germany, on 8 August 1646, the third son of Zacharias Kniller (1611–1675) and Lucia Beuten (d. in or after 1676). Zacharias's father owned an estate near Halle in Saxony and served Count Mansfelt as surveyor-general of mines and inspector of revenues. Zacharias attended the University of Leipzig, was an official at Queen Eleanor of Sweden's court, and settled in Lübeck as chief surveyor.
Kneller was intended for the army and after a grounding in Latin went to the University of Leiden to study mathematics. But his inclination turned ‘strongly to drawing figures after the historical manner’ (Buckeridge, 393). He moved to Amsterdam where his father placed him ‘under the care of Rembrandt’, a fact also attested to by Marshall Smith (Smith, 23). J. C. Weyerman, a Dutch painter who became Kneller's assistant in 1709, said that he studied under Rembrandt and Ferdinand Bol (Weyerman, 3.68) as did the engraver and historian George Vertue (Vertue, Note books, 1.58, 2.119). Kneller's early work shows the influence of both artists, stylistically and in the emphasis on large-scale ‘history’ paintings, that is figure paintings with a didactic purpose, whose subjects were drawn from the Bible, or antiquity, including mythologies and allegories. From the time of Alberti, in the fifteenth century, istoria (history) was regarded as ‘the greatest work of the painter’ (Alberti, 70), a theory which was still accepted in seventeenth-century Holland (Blankert and others, 18).
Kneller's earliest dated painting is actually a portrait, the three-quarter-length Johann Philipp von Schönborn, Prince-Bishop of Würzburg and Elector of Mainz (1666; Kunsthistorischesmuseum, Vienna). Its high quality indicates that less mature works must have preceded it. A commission from this exalted sitter was doubtless due to the painter's nationality, aristocratic family connections, and his membership of the Rembrandt school.
Kneller's first dated history painting is his Isaac Blessing Jacob (1668; St Annenmuseum, Lübeck), whose composition recalls Rembrandt's Danaë (Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg), but the shadowed, profiled, hunched Jacob creates tension in this more compressed composition. Also of 1668 are the Old Student and Young Student, allegories of the contemplative and active life, painted for the Lübeck Stadtbibliothek (now St Annenmuseum). (The latter, much inferior in quality, is by John Zacharias [Zachary] Kneller (1642–1702), Kneller's elder brother, who was born in Lübeck on 15 December 1642.) Kneller's next dated painting, Elijah and the Angel (1672; Tate collection), is a bold, dramatic work.
Until 1986 the Vienna, Lübeck, and London works were the only known paintings from Kneller's Amsterdam period. In that year, in a remarkable scholarly breakthrough, Sumowski identified nine more early works by Kneller, including a large Self-Portrait (c.1670; priv. coll.) in which Kneller proclaims his allegiance to neo-stoicism, a popular philosophy in the period which attracted artists such as Poussin, Rubens, and Van Dyck. Kneller shows himself copying an engraving (probably of Andromeda, as a symbol of patience) below which is a skull. Behind are an archer écorché, and a bust of Seneca against a column, symbolizing the Stoic virtue of fortitude.
Kneller's composition appears to be inspired by the Duet, by the Antwerp painter Theodor Rombouts (1597–1637), perhaps via the engraving by Schelte à Bolswert. However, Kneller may have seen the original painting (now lost) in Antwerp, since we know that he visited that city ‘when he was young’ (Vertue, Note books, 5.26). His journey probably took placec.1669, and influenced Kneller to adopt bolder, more dynamic forms, including plunging diagonals and dramatic foreshortening.
The largest Kneller identified by Sumowski is the 8.5 by 6 feet Dismissal of Hagar (c.1670; Alte Pinakothek, Munich) whose composition derives from a Rembrandt etching. But Kneller's figures are grander and more dynamic, with expansive, poignant gestures and poses. The picture, formerly at the Würzburg Residenz, was probably commissioned by Prince-Bishop Schönborn. Another work attributed by Sumowski to Kneller is Joseph Interpreting the Dreams of the Butler and the Baker (Staatliches Museum, Schwerin), for which Kneller's composition drawing survives, wrongly attributed to Bol (Kunsthalle, Hamburg). The model for the baker also appears in the ‘Rest on the Flight’ (actually St Joseph's Dream in the Stable at Bethlehem) Malerisamling, Nivaagaards), attributed by Sumowski to Cornelis Bisschop. That model is seen yet again in Scholar in an Interior (ex Sothebys, New York, 4 June 1987, lot 37; priv. coll.) described in the catalogue as by a follower of Carel van der Pluym, which is closely related stylistically to the Lübeck Old Student. Hence St Joseph's Dream and Scholar in an Interior should also be attributed to Kneller (Stewart, Wisdom, 44). All these paintings have a gravity characteristic of many of his best mature works.
A remarkable recent early Kneller discovery by Wolff-Thomsen is the Sacrifice of Manoah, until 1945 in the St Katherinenkirche, Lübeck, and since then in the depot of the St Annenmuseum there, wrongly ascribed to an amateur. The Manoah dates from the mid- to late 1660s and is almost as large as the Dismissal of Hagar but the figures are less dynamic. Manoah's head derives from one by Bol in his Descent of Moses from Mount Sinai (Town Hall, Amsterdam) and Manoah's wife is based on the same model as Sarah in Kneller's 1668Isaac Blessing Jacob. A standing angel lights the sacrificial fire with his staff; normally he flies upwards from the fire. Kneller's inventive iconography derives from the story of Gideon and the Angel, which like Manoah's appears in the Book of Judges.
In 1672 Kneller went with his brother to Italy. He studied in Rome with Bernini and Carlo Maratta, and ‘began to acquire fame in history-painting, having first studied architecture and anatomy; the latter aptly disposing him to relish the antique statues, and to improve by them’ (Buckeridge, 394). He also ‘Copyed very much after Raphael’ (Smith, 23). In Venice he ‘studyed Titians Works, especially his Portraits’ and painted members of the Donado, Mocenigo, Garzoni, and Basadonna families (ibid.). His portrait of Cardinal Basadonna was engraved. The pastellist Rosalba Carriera later admired one of Kneller's portraits of a member of the Mocenigo family. Two oval bust paintings survive, one of the Nuremberg sculptor Georg Schweigger (1674; Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Brunswick), and the other of the most prominent contemporary Venetian painter, Sebastiano Bombelli (1675; Museo Civico, Udine).
Kneller's Titianesque Herr von Copet (1675; Kurpfälzisches Museum, Heidelberg) was painted in Nuremberg, where Kneller impressed Joachim von Sandrart. The return of the Kneller brothers to Lübeck in 1675 was prompted by the illness of their father, who died in April of that year. The following year they erected a painted wooden monument to their father in the St Katherinenkirche. From nearby Hamburg, they went to England because of Kneller's ‘longing to see Sir Anthony Van Dyck's Works, being most ambitious of imitating that great Master’ (Smith, 24).
In London Kneller lodged with the Hamburg merchant John Banckes, whose portrait he painted in 1676 (Tate collection). By April 1677 Kneller had moved to rooms in Durham Yard procured for him by the duke of Monmouth's secretary, James Vernon. Kneller's Marattesque James Vernon is now in the National Portrait Gallery, London. His early portrait of Anne Scott, duchess of Monmouth, is known from its engraving in mezzotint. The painter obtained commissions from her Scottish relations, the Hamiltons and the Tweeddales, who continued to be staunch patrons throughout his career.
In 1678 Kneller painted the armoured three-quarter-length Duke of Monmouth (priv. coll.). He used a Titian pose, but stylistically the painting was influenced by the work of such French émigrés as Henri Gascars. The next year Kneller painted a portrait of Charles II for Monmouth, competing with the king's principal painter, Sir Peter Lely. Kneller's portrait is known from Robert White's engraving after it of 1679. After painting the king Kneller's ‘reputation daily increased so that most noblemen & Ladies would have their picture done by him’ (Vertue, Note books, 1.28).
After his brief flirtation with the French style, Kneller mainly allied himself to the quieter colour and more painterly handling of the Lely–Van Dyck tradition. He borrowed a Lely design for his Duchess of Hamilton (1679; priv. coll.) and his full-lengths Henry Somerset, 1st Duke of Beaufort (priv. coll.) and James Cecil, 3rd Earl of Salisbury (priv. coll.) of about 1680–82 are variations of a pattern used by Lely for portraying sitters in garter robes.
In 1682 Kneller (and probably his brother John) moved to the Piazza, Covent Garden, where Lely had lived until his death in 1680. In 1683 the Kneller brothers were granted letters of denization. John Kneller painted small-scale portraits ‘about a foot square’ (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut, Kingsweston MS, fol. 14), miniatures, copies of Godfrey Kneller's work, and ‘several Pieces in still-life exceeding well’ (Vertue, Note books, 2.146). A panel, Dead Partridge and Implements of the Chase, signed ‘J. Z. Kneller’ was at Christies on 4 July 1952 (lot 11). John Kneller was buried in St Paul's, Covent Garden, on 31 August 1702.
Godfrey Kneller's Duke of York as Lord High Admiral (1684; NPG) for the Scottish privy council, Edinburgh, is more assured than earlier full-lengths and employs a swagger design. As a type, the full-length Duchess of Portsmouth (1684; priv. coll.) derives from Lely's Duchess of Norfolk (1677; priv. coll.), itself indebted to Van Dyck, but Kneller's figure has more thrust and energy and is more solidly planted on the ground. She is portrayed as Bathsheba (from Dryden's Absolom and Achitophel).
In 1684 Kneller painted a splendid life-size equestrian portrait (rare in England since those painted by Van Dyck) of Mohammed Ohadu, the Moroccan ambassador (Chiswick House, London). Ohadu and his retinue rode in Hyde Park ‘very short, & could stand upright in full speede, managing their spears with incredible agility’ (Evelyn, 4.269). The swirling forms and diagonals capture that verve. The subject recalls Rembrandt's copies of Mughal miniature equestrian portraits, while the rich colour and the detailed metal trappings are reminiscent of Kneller's own Amsterdam history paintings.
In late 1684 Charles II sent Kneller to paint Louis XIV in France, where he took the opportunity to make a large drawing of the antique Diane de Versailles (British Museum). On his return, the painter produced his most memorable image of Charles himself (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool). Also of 1685 is the full-length Philip, Lord Wharton (priv. coll.), a challenging commission, since Wharton had sat to Van Dyck, and possessed the largest private collection of that artist's portraits. The formal peer's robes are softened by Wharton's amiable expression and lolling posture. Their cool scarlet contrasts with austere greys and browns.
Kneller's portrait of Michael Alphonsus Shen Fu-Tsung (1687; Royal Collection) was painted for James II. The conical figure points to a crucifix in his left hand and looks to the light at the upper left. It is a picture of serene simplicity, whose numinous feeling is enhanced by the concave, apsidal space of the back wall. Kneller also worked for members of James's opposition such as the fifth earl (later first duke) of Bedford, for example the double full-length Ladies Catherine and Rachel Russell (1686; priv. coll.). The orphaned children of the whig ‘martyr’ Lord William Russell are shown below an urn on which one putto frightens another with a mask (symbolizing death), while at the right is a dog (symbolizing faith). Behind is a fountain of dolphins supporting a shell basin (adapted from Bernini's piazza Barberini Triton Fountain) on which Cupid subdues a lion, the Christian-antique consolatory theme of omnia vincit amor (love conquers all).
Kneller created further sympathetic portraits of fellow artists, for example Antonio Verrio (priv. coll.), and three of the medallist Abraham Simon. One of the latter is a remarkable reclining full-length (Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario) showing Simon in pilgrim dress looking towards heavenly light, but chained to a globe. Simon was a Cynic, despising material things, including personal hygiene. Perhaps common philosophy drew the Stoic and the Cynic together. It is to Kneller's credit that he could see beyond Simon's squalid appearance. Moreover he risked his reputation by association with one whose aggressively independent behaviour had alienated James II and members of the nobility.
By the mid-1680s Kneller was the most important portrait painter in England. His wide experience and the range of his work, especially in full-lengths, was unparalleled since Van Dyck. In his Self-Portrait (1685; NPG) he looks confidently over his shoulder, a pose derived from a Self-Portrait by Van Dyck (priv. coll.). Kneller had ‘a pleasant conversation finely entertaining when a Painting’ (Vertue, Note books, 2.122). His ability to capture a likeness was also recognized by contemporaries, whose familiarity with his work was assisted by mezzotint engravings. Kneller took considerable interest in prints made after his work and formed a close relationship with John Smith, the greatest mezzotinter of his age.
During the reign of William and Mary, Kneller's position as court and society painter was unrivalled. Antonio Verrio, successor to Sir Peter Lely as principal painter to the king, refused to work for the new regime. John Riley, who was made principal painter jointly with Kneller on 24 July 1689, died in 1691 leaving him in sole possession of the post. Kneller was knighted in 1692, given a sword as a special mark of favour, and made a gentleman of the privy chamber. Perhaps at the king's instance, Kneller received an honorary doctorate from the University of Oxford in 1695. Four years later William III gave him a large gold medal with the royal image and a gold chain, like those given to Van Dyck by Charles I. Honours also came from abroad. In 1700 Kneller was ennobled and made a knight of the Holy Roman empire by Emperor Leopold.
In 1690 Kneller painted full-length state portraits of the new sovereigns (Royal Collection). They recall Van Dyck's portraits of Charles I and Henrietta Maria, thus emulating Kneller's great Flemish predecessor and alluding to William and Mary's common ancestors. Copies were distributed at home and abroad, more widely than any royal images until Allan Ramsay's portraits of George III and Queen Charlotte.
Kneller's earliest large-scale work for William III was the equestrian Duke of Schomberg (c.1689; apparently formerly at Hampton Court, now priv. coll.), a powerful reinterpretation of Van Dyck's Duc d'Arenberg. In 1697 Kneller, having accompanied the king to Ryswick (Rijswijk), Holland, for the signing of a treaty, was sent to Brussels to paint an equestrian portrait (now lost) of Maximilian II Emanuel, elector of Bavaria.
In 1697 William III commissioned his own allegorical equestrian portrait from Kneller. In an oil sketch (formerly Gatschina Palace), the king is depicted in battle; his stallion is engaged in a levade, a battle movement whereby the horse rears up in order to trample down the enemy; the composition is based on Bernini's Louis XIV. Another oil sketch (Het Loo Palace, Apeldoorn) became the final model for the equestrian portrait of the king (1701) at Hampton Court Palace. Here the king is mounted on a horse which is seen pacing by the seashore, trampling only emblems of war, with Neptune behind at the left. The king is welcomed by Ceres and Flora at the right, while above Peace, Cupid, and Mercury look down. In the new composition William III is not just a victorious warrior, but a bringer of peace and prosperity. It is a joyful celebration of his deliverance of England from James II's despotism and foreign domination, and alludes to the imperial Roman adventus. William is conceived as a modern Hercules, inaugurating a new golden age, affirming thereby his ‘British Trojan’ descent from Aeneas.
In June 1689 Queen Mary told Goodwin Wharton that she would have sixteen of the most beautiful Dutch and English court ladies painted; he persuaded her ‘for the credit of the nation’ to select only English women (Wharton, 255–6). Kneller began with the duchess of Grafton in January 1690; by Michaelmas 1691 he had received £400 for eight full-length portraits. The Hampton Court Beauties were painted in emulation of those painted by Lely for Queen Mary's mother, Anne Hyde, duchess of York. Kneller's Beauties are much less sensual than those painted by Lely, but like his include Neoplatonic allusions. As part of the same rhetoric, the ‘Prologue’ to Purcell's 1689 Dido and Aeneas eulogized the king as Apollo and Queen Mary as Venus and ‘the Sovereign Queen of Beauty’ (Stewart, Sir Godfrey Kneller and the English Baroque Portrait, 44). Kneller personally commemorated Queen Mary's death in 1694 by a design, engraved by Smith, showing Cupid with a discarded broken bow and arrows by the queen's tomb, wistfully regarding the inscription ‘Pastora is no more’. Both imagery and text derive in part from William Congreve's memorial poem to the queen.
Kneller had a large private practice: an anonymous account of 1693 says that he received up to fourteen sitters in one day, but made some sit ten to twelve times (Ozias Humphry, memorandum book, 1777–95, vol. 2, fol. 39v, BL, Add. MS 22950). His range is wide and includes the elegiac Arabella Hunt (Gov. Art Coll.), inspired by Tobias Stimmer's engravingThe Lutenist; the Lady Lempster (ex Christies, 22 November 1935, lot 45) crouching by a stream in a pose adapted from an antique Venus with a Shell, now in the Louvre, but then in the Villa Borghese; and the Lady Howard (known through Smith's mezzotint), reclining by a stream in a pose inspired by the celebrated antique The Sleeping Ariadne (Vatican, Rome). Both the latter portraits also follow the English ‘melancholy’ portrait tradition which had developed in Elizabethan and Jacobean times, and derived from the Renaissance interpretation of the theory of the humours, in which the melancholy humour indicated a retiring, contemplative nature.
An outstanding male portrait is Kneller's Isaac Newton (1689; priv. coll.), whose fervent pose recalls Bernini's Gabriele Fonseca. His Grinling Gibbons (c.1690; Hermitage, St Petersburg) is an allegory of prudence, showing the sculptor aggressively confronting Bernini's Proserpina with the compasses of wisdom, like Aeneas with the golden bough in his descent to Hades. The posthumous Sir Thomas Wharton (1694; priv. coll.), ancient in breastplate and buff jerkin, is hommage à Van Dyck, a tough, earthy translation of Van Dyck's elegant full-length of the same sitter painted sixty years before. By contrast, his portraits of the five youthful sons of the duchess of Hamilton (priv. coll.) are all glamorous in black armour.
John Dryden (1697; Trinity College, Cambridge) with its varied texture (including primed canvas left visible) and cool lilac and warm brown tones, shows the impact of Rubens's late work on Kneller at Brussels. This impact is also evident in his drawings and can be seen in the dashing handling of chalk in the life-size head study (Courtauld Inst.)—a practice not seen in England since Holbein, which Kneller revived in the early 1680s—for his Jean Baptiste Monnoyer (lost). This ‘Rubenisme’ was part of a European trend away from ‘Poussinisme’.
To the standard portrait sizes—bust, 30 by 25 inches; three-quarter length, 50 by 40 inches; and full-length, about 90 by 60 inches—Kneller added the ‘kit-cat’ (36 × 28 inches) named after the famous whig dining club. The earliest are John Dryden (1697) and the 6th Earl of Dorset (only the latter being a Kit-Cat member). Both were first owned by the publisher and secretary of the club, Jacob Tonson, to whom some forty members presented their portraits by Kneller over the next quarter of a century [see also Kit-Cat Club]. All now belong to the National Portrait Gallery, London.
The kit-cat format allows the life-size depiction of the head and shoulders plus one or both hands. Kneller had portrayed this view of sitters in the 30 by 25 inches (bust) format, but under life-size, in, for example, John Smith (1696; Tate collection). The kit-cat scale heightens the sense of realism. The format was used by Raphael in the Castiglione (Musée du Louvre, Paris), which Rembrandt copied in 1640. Subsequently Rembrandt and members of his school occasionally used the format.
Peter the Great (Royal Collection) was painted for King William in 1698. Quieter in pose, but rich in colour and handling of paint are Nathaniel, Lord Crewe (1698) and Dr. John Wallis (1701) (both Bodl. Oxf.), the former in peer's robes, the latter in academic dress. Wallis was a famous elderly mathematician. Kneller claimed that he had ‘never done a better picture, nor one so good’ as that of this ‘great man’ (Letters … of Samuel Pepys, 310). The three-quarter-length Matthew Prior (1700; Trinity College, Cambridge) with its dramatic lighting, thin, angular forms, and the bravura handling of paint creates a memorable image. The absence of a wig gives Prior a fortuitously modern look—what the artist aimed at was the appearance of an ancient Roman. Another powerful example, of about 1696, is his head-and-shoulders portrait of Ishack Pereyra (Bevis Marks Synagogue, London).
Following the death of William III, Kneller continued as principal painter to Queen Anne. After the victory of Ramillies (1706), he planned an allegorical equestrian portrait of the duke of Marlborough in a brilliant Rubensian oil sketch (NPG). Its design emulates the early Christian Barberini Ivory (Musée du Louvre, Paris; then in Rome), a Roman emperor's gift to a consul, and was, perhaps, a royal commission. In 1708 he planned a large work, Queen Anne Presenting the Plans of Blenheim to Military Merit (priv. coll.) for Blenheim Palace Library. The central figures and the eagle derive from those of the emperor Constantine and his architect in Rubens's tapestry The Building of Constantinople, appropriately, since Constantine (then thought to be half-British) had been acclaimed emperor in Britain. A further witty touch is that, adjacent to a sun-king standard trophy, Apollo, the sun god, proclaims Marlborough's fame. Kneller was ‘much commended for his skill’ in designing this oil sketch, a commission from Queen Anne (Vertue, Note books, 3.23). Because of Marlborough's dismissal from office in 1712 neither of these projects was completed.
Another commission from Queen Anne was for a series of fourteen Admirals (NMM) painted in emulation of those done by Lely for her father, the duke of York. The series was divided between Kneller and Michael Dahl, a Swede who had been much patronized before her accession by the queen's husband, Prince George of Denmark. As principal painter Kneller may perhaps have regarded the division of the commission as a slight; but his admirals have a dash and martial spirit lacking in the Dahls. A serious challenger to Kneller's position was John Closterman who in 1702 defeated Kneller in a competition for the London Guildhall Queen Anne (lost) and acquired important patrons such as the duke of Marlborough. Closterman's early death in May 1711 left Kneller supreme again. In 1712 Lady Wentworth called him unequivocally ‘the best painter we have’ (Cartwright, 279n.).
Kneller's only surviving religious picture of this period is the Conversion of St. Paul (c.1705–10; Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario), a modello whose purpose is unknown. Its sources lie in works by Rubens and Raphael. The unusually prominent javelin in the foreground refers to Saul, from whom Paul derived his Jewish name. King Saul had infamously flung a javelin at David (Christ's ancestor), a prefiguration of the later Saul's persecution of Christians.
At this time Kneller painted several charming small-scale works (priv. coll.), complete in themselves, for Lady Elizabeth Southwell (née Cromwell). Of these, St. Cecilia (1703) may have been inspired by Congreve's Hymn to Harmony Written in Honour of St. Cecilia's Day, since a version was given to the poet. The unfinished Lady Elizabeth and her Family ofc.1706 is perhaps an allegory on marriage or the education of a prince. The scale and intimacy of these works anticipates the vogue for the conversation piece of the 1730s.
In 1712 Kneller painted a portrait of the duke of Marlborough for the duke of Chandos (priv. coll.), signing with the imperfect ‘faciebat’. Kneller signed two other paintings ‘faciebat’:William III (Royal Collection), Dr John Wallis (Bodl. Oxf.), and one drawing, Cupids Struggling for the Palm (the combat of earthly and celestial love) (c.1715–20; E. B. Crocker Art Gallery, Sacramento, California). In antiquity this was a ‘provisional signature … the artist … having intended to improve’ wherein Pliny saw ‘a wealth of diffidence’ (Pliny, 1.17). Kneller's diffidence about his ability to complete images of these three great figures and of the Neoplatonic doctrine of the triumph of celestial love says much about his choice of heroes, and his idealism.
William III defended European liberty against what Kneller called France's ‘Slavish Government’ (Letters … of Samuel Pepys, 204). The duke of Marlborough became Louis XIV's nemesis. Kneller had planned to be a soldier, and as an old man jocularly told John Gay: ‘I should have been a general of an army; for when I was in Venice, there was a Girandole, and all the Place St. Mark was in a smoke of gunpowder, and I did like the smell’ (Richardson, 204). In his youth Kneller also studied mathematics which may explain his great admiration for Wallis.
Despite his development of the kit-cat portrait, Kneller continued to use the 30 by 25 inches format for busts (head-and-shoulders views), often with brilliant results, for example the bewigged Newton (1702; NPG); John Locke (1704; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond), time-ravaged, in his own hair; and Anthony Henley (1705; priv. coll.) in a cap. Interestingly, Kneller had earlier painted fine portraits of all three sitters.
About 1710 Kneller's style became more classical, as can be seen by comparing the kit-cats William Congreve (1709), for which there is a fine head study in the Courtauld Institute, andJacob Tonson (1717). Congreve is tall, twisting, and lit by flickering light; the handling is painterly. The Tonson portrait is quiet and broader in proportion; although there are still painterly passages in the sleeve, the other forms are more solidly and carefully rendered.
In 1703 Kneller moved to Great Queen Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields. (At his death he owned numbers 57 and 58, and also numbers 55 and 56, having purchased the latter from Thomas Stonor in March 1718.) In 1709 Kneller built a villa at Whitton, Middlesex, about 8 miles from London, where he lived in the summer ‘visited & courted by all People of Honour & distinction’ (Vertue, Note books, 2.121). The unusual design of Kneller's villa (whose staircase was decorated by Louis Laguerre and Kneller) was attributed first to Christopher Wren and then to William Talman.
On 23 January 1704 Kneller married Susanna Grave (d. 1729), widow, daughter of the Revd John Cawley, archdeacon of London and rector of Henley-on-Thames. The marriage was childless. Kneller had had a mistress, Mrs Voss, with whom he had a daughter, Catherine (b. c.1685×90), whom he used as model for St Catherine (known from Smith's mezzotint) and as St Agnes (Yale U. CBA). Catherine married James Huckle about 1706–7, had a son, Godfrey (who later changed his name to Kneller and became the painter's heir), and died in February 1714.
Of himself and possibly his son-in-law, Kneller painted a small-scale portrait (Marquette University Collection of Fine Arts, Milwaukee, Wisconsin), whose design recalls Van Dyck'sEarl of Newport and Lord George Goring (Petworth House, Sussex). Another small self-portrait of c.1706–11, with the kit-cat collection, is a version of the three-quarter-length (Uffizi Gallery, Florence) that the artist presented to Grand Duke Cosimo III at his request. In these works and in his Self-Portrait (1721; priv. coll.) Kneller's gestures are expansive, and his expression confident. In all Kneller wears a wig, and the medal, chain, and sword presented to him by William III.
The Self-Portrait of 1710 (priv. coll.) depicts Kneller at the age of sixty-four, then an advanced age. His father and his master Bol both died at this age, and Rembrandt a year younger. Kneller wears a cap and plain grey coat, into which he tucks his right hand. There are no accessories except for what appears be the tip of the painter's brush under his right arm. There is grave, stoic resignation in the pose and expression, but also vulnerability.
In 1711 ‘an Accademy for Drawing and Painting was contrived and established in London’ (Vertue, Note books, 1.2). At the first meeting ‘Sir Godfrey Kneller was agreed unanimously to be the Governor’ (ibid., 6.168–9); he was re-elected annually until 1718, when factions developed and after two years the academy collapsed.
George I's accession in 1714 brought final honours for Kneller. The king retained him as principal painter and created him a baronet in 1715. This rank was not surpassed by any artist until Frederic Leighton received a peerage in 1896. In 1717 the seventy-one-year-old Kneller wrote that he was ‘Living altogether heer [Whitton] … Except extraordinary occassions in his Majesties and the Royal family Servis, and Sume particular good frinds’ (MSS L.1678.6.VI.1957, V&A). Of the king Kneller painted a fine profile bust for the coinage (Neuhaus bei Schliersee) and for the Guildhall, London, a full-length (destroyed in the Second World War) in state robes, crowned, holding the regalia, like van Somer's James I (Royal Collection). This was a dynastic statement: George I's claim to the throne was through James I's daughter.
Kneller remained creative throughout his last decade. He painted group portraits, the finest being the Duke of Chandos and Family (1713; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa), showing the duke, his recently deceased duchess, and their two boys in a design inspired by a famous relief (thought to be antique), The Image of Faith. Some of the colour and handling are influenced by Antonio Pellegrini, a Venetian painter then a director of the London academy.
Kneller painted splendid full-length female dismounted hunting portraits. The finest is the Countess of Mar (c.1715; on loan to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh), ravishing in colour and handling; the cool lilac and silver of the dress set off by pink ribbons; the featheriness of the trees foreshadowing those in late works by Gainsborough. His brilliant indoor female full-length Henrietta Howard, Countess of Suffolk (c.1719; Blickling Hall, Norfolk; mis-attributed to Dahl, and Thomas Gibson) shows the sitter in a masquerade dress of warm pink and cool silver against a severe architectural setting. In the statuesque ‘Beauties’ tradition are Elizabeth, Lady Middleton (1713; priv. coll.) and theMarchioness of Rockingham (1720; Aston Hall, Birmingham City Art Gallery), both featuring cupid–dolphin fountains. The former also includes a fine grisaille relief of Pan overcome by cupids (‘omnia vincit amor’). Perhaps the finest late male full-length is Thomas Pitt, 1st Earl of Londonderry (c.1720; Chevening, Kent), austere in design (the architecture recalling the Countess of Suffolk) yet rich in colour.
Of 1721 is Kneller's bust-length portrait of Alexander Pope (priv. coll.). The poet is ivy-crowned, in profile, looking upwards. The pose derives from a coin of Alexander the Great as Jupiter Ammon (reversed, like a succeeding monarch on coinage), the silhouette framed by a serpent biting its tail, the classical symbol of eternity. That this witty assemblage of numismatic motifs was the work of a seventy-five-year-old is not the least remarkable feature about it.
Also of 1721 is Kneller's bold profile pen-and-ink drawing of the antiquary William Stukeley, wigless (NPG), perhaps a study for an engraving. His free sketch in the same medium of the mezzotinter John Smith (priv. coll.) shows the sitter informally, in a cap. Its squiggly calligraphy recalls the Rembrandt school in which Kneller had been trained.
An outstanding three-quarter-length known as William Cheselden (1722; RCS Eng.), probably represents Dr Richard Mead, who saved Kneller from a violent fever in May that year. Beside the sitter is Hygeia (Health), a child of Aesculapius (implying that Mead is another). The design emulates Rubens's Sir Theodore de Mayerne (North Carolina Museum of Arts, Raleigh, North Carolina) then owned by Mead. Kneller entirely repainted Hygeia, probably to harmonize with the scale of the Aesculapius statue in the Rubens portrait, for which the Mead portrait may have been designed as a pendant.
Kneller's equestrian portrait King Henry IV as Duke of Hereford at the Coventry Duel (1723; priv. coll.) was painted for Earl Coningsby's Hampton Court, Herefordshire. Kneller reused the design and colour of the horse in his painting of William III in 1701 at Hampton Court, thus making Henry IV's sufferings under, and eventual triumph over, the despotic Richard II a type that prefigures the history of William III and James II.
Kneller died on 26 October 1723 and was:
laid in state at his [London] house … over his Coffin his Arms Crest Sur coat. gold spurrs &c. ecocheon & penants & he was carryd out of Town in a herse thursday November 7 … many coaches 6 horses & men in Cloaks on horse back in a grand manner. (Vertue, Note books, 2.123)
He was buried in St Mary's Church, Twickenham, on 7 November.
Kneller ‘lost 20 thousand pounds in the South Sea [Company]. yet has  clear 2 thousand a Year income’ (Vertue, Note books, 3.15). In his will of 27 April 1723 Kneller left his wife a life interest in his estate, which was then to go to his godson, Godfrey Kneller Huckle, which led to chancery suits (1725–33). Along with Whitton and the London houses, Kneller owned another property, the famous tavern, Pontack's, in Abchurch Lane, and shares in mining machinery, Becker's Engine. Kneller left £300 and a design (British Museum) for his monument, which he wanted to be erected in Twickenham. But this would have involved moving the memorial to Pope's father, at which Pope demurred, although he did write Kneller's epitaph. The monument to Kneller, by Rysbrack, was set up in Westminster Abbey in 1730.
Vertue characterized ‘Ho[garth as] a man whose high conceit of himself & of all his operations, puts all the painters at defiance not excepting the late famous Sr. Godf. Kneller—& Vandyke amongst them’ (Vertue, Note books, 3.111). This puts Kneller in fine company, but seems to clash with Marshall Smith's comment in 1692 that Kneller was ‘a gentleman of good Morals, True to his Friends, Affable and free from … Affectation or Pride’ (Smith, 23). Both assessments may be correct. To his friends and contemporaries Kneller may have been as Smith described him. For some of the younger generation, impatient with authority and what they saw as pomposity, Kneller became an object of derision. In 1760 Hogarth recalled that the London academy had been started:
by some gentlemen painters of the first rank, who, in their forms imitated the Academy in France, but conducted their business with less fuss and solemnity; yet the little that there was of it soon became the object of ridicule … and [Kneller] and his adherents … found themselves comically represented marching in ridiculous procession round the walls of their room. (Pye, 20)
But it is unlikely that the caricaturists included George Vertue, a younger academy member, despite his belief in the Governor's ‘high conceit’. In 1721 he extolled Kneller as ‘This great & Admirable Genius’, ‘this great man’, and ‘the Morning Star for all other Portrait Painters in his Time’ (Vertue, Note books, 2.119, 122, 121).
Kneller's reputation remained high long after his death. In Henry Fielding's Tom Jones the heroine, Sophia Western, is ‘most like the picture of Lady Ranelagh’, a Hampton Court Beauty (1749, bk 4, chap. 2). The painters Joseph Highmore, John Vanderbank, Allan Ramsay, and Joseph Wright of Derby paid homage by making copies of Kneller's works or reusing his designs. Gainsborough wrote enthusiastically of Kneller's ‘pencil or touch’ (Gainsborough, 63), and Reynolds, who owned a Kneller self-portrait, ‘admired and studied’ (Dallaway, 73) his Lord Crewe (Bodl. Oxf.). Abroad, he had at least one German pupil, J. L. Hirschmann of Nuremberg. Dutch artists employed Kneller's designs through mezzotints and in Russia the Dane Virgilius Eriksen ‘borrowed’ the horse from the William III at Hampton Court for the equestrian portraits of Catherine the Great he painted in 1762. American colonial painters also availed themselves of Kneller's patterns, like the Dutch, through mezzotints.
Change came with Horace Walpole's enormously influential Anecdotes of Painting in England (1762–80), reprinted by J. Dallaway with additional notes in 1826. Walpole crassly condemned Kneller's patron William III: ‘This prince, like most in our annals, contributed nothing to the advancement of the arts. He was born in a country [Holland] where taste never flourished’ (Walpole, 2.201). Walpole also castigated Kneller's ‘master Rembrandt's unnatural chiaroscuro’ (ibid., 2.205).
Although Walpole admired Kneller's equestrian oil sketch of William III (then at Houghton Hall, Norfolk), and praised the Kit-Cat Club series and the Grinling Gibbons (also then at Houghton), he thought the Hampton Court picture a ‘tame and poor performance’ (Walpole, 2.203). Walpole also wrote that Kneller's ‘draperies are [usually] so carelessly finished, that they resemble no silk or stuff the world ever saw’ (ibid., 2.204 n. 3). On this Dallaway enlarged: ‘He, sometimes, in the haste of finishing, left part of the primed cloth uncovered. This fault … proceeded from haste and rapaciousness’. With the latter Dallaway expanded on Walpole's baseless charge that ‘where [Kneller] offered one picture to fame, he sacrificed twenty to lucre [because] he met with customers of so little judgment’ (ibid., 2.201–13).
In their criticism of Kneller's technique Walpole and Dallaway reflected neoclassical prejudice against baroque ‘visible’ brushwork, in favour of smooth ‘finished’ surfaces. But in response to their writings, Kneller's reputation plummeted. In 1848 his monument at Westminster Abbey was moved from the nave to the south aisle, truncated, and the remaining portion was placed too high to be properly noticed. Whitton became the Royal School of Military Music and was entirely rebuilt, thus destroying its unusual design.
Xenophobia in England increased prejudice against Kneller. In 1845 the engraver John Pye dismissed Kneller as ‘a German’ (Pye, 19). ‘British art’, as recorded in Pye's Patronage of British Art (1845), only began with Hogarth, a view which is still encountered. By the early twentieth century Kneller's continental achievements were almost forgotten. The estimate of his level of intelligence also fell. ‘The matter [of being a Rembrandt pupil] is not very important as regards Kneller's formation … the revelation of [Rembrandt's] deep communings with life was no doubt beyond the puzzled Godfrey’ (Baker, Lely and the Stuart Portrait Painters, 76–7). In his In Good King Charles's Golden Days (1939) Bernard Shaw wanted to include Hogarth but for chronological reasons had instead to use Kneller: ‘Kneller had not Hogarth's brains; but I have had to endow him with them to provide Newton with a victorious antagonist’ (Bodley Head Bernard Shaw, 205).
Ironically Kneller was admired by Hogarth, who told Archbishop Herring that ‘some of our chief Dignitaries in the Church have had the best luck in their portraits. The most excellent heads painted by Van Dyck and Kneller were those of Laud and Tillotson’ (Antal, 225). The design of the chauvinist portrait signed ‘W. Hogarth Anglus’ (Dulwich Picture Gallery, London) derives from Kneller's Sir Richard Steele (1711), a Kit-Cat Club portrait the engravings of which Hogarth owned. Indeed Hogarth's directness owes much to works by Kneller such as Ishack Pereyra and Jacob Tonson. Kneller's Self-Portrait (1710) was long attributed to Hogarth.
The later twentieth century saw a reassessment of Kneller. Collins Baker, reversing the judgements of Walpole and Dallaway (and his own earlier opinion), lauded Kneller ‘as a technician … not unworthy of … [the] company [of Hals, Rembrandt and Velázquez] … in England no predecessor [of Kneller's] had practised his particular use of open, fluent brushwork, interplaying broken colour’ (Baker, ‘Craftsmanship’, 29). Sir Ellis Waterhouse and Sir Oliver Millar stressed the high quality of many of Kneller's English works and his unusual range in full-length and equestrian portraits. Sumowski brilliantly recovered some of Kneller's Amsterdam works.
In Amsterdam Kneller was a history painter of distinction. In England he painted a few (fine) histories, and created a remarkable portrait gallery including virtually everyone of importance from the time of Charles II to George I. He developed the Van Dyck–Lely tradition along simpler, more direct lines, especially after the experience of seeing works by Rubens in Brussels in 1697. Kneller ran a studio, which produced much routine work, as had Lely, Van Dyck, Rubens, and Titian. But Kneller's own works are always soundly drawn and painted—at their best they are inspired. His grasp of the character and mind of his sitters, and his ability to express them in design and colour, is often brilliant. With a Newton, a Locke, a Dryden, a Prior, or a Pope he almost always rose to the occasion and produced a masterpiece. His intense, virtually religious, dedication to his art is attested to by Pope in a letter to Jonathan Richardson (13 January 1731): ‘Sir Godfrey Kneller call'd imploying the pencil [paint-brush], the prayer of the painter, and affirm'd it to be his proper way of serving God, by the talent he gave him’ (Wimsatt, 139). Kneller's strong sense of duty to his profession is shown by his acceptance of the governorship of the London academy at the age of sixty-five, and remaining in that office, a thankless task, for seven years.
Nevertheless, Kneller's teaching at the London academy and the legacy of his works had a powerful impact on succeeding generations. Thanks to renewed interest in the seventeenth century, Kneller's technical qualities as a painter and designer are now once more appreciated. But the intellectual side of his art, including his invention, imaginative use of allegory, and wit, are still inadequately recognized. Nor is sufficient account taken of Kneller's influence on later English painters, including Hogarth, Gainsborough, and Reynolds. Because of his industry and longevity Kneller has long been known as Britain's most prolific portraitist. He should also be acknowledged as one of her greatest and most important.
J. Douglas Stewart DNB