Overview

The political strength of Henry VIII's regime lay in his ability to choose advisors who were both wise and learned. One of these men was Sir Brian Tuke. As Master of the Posts, he organized and established England's postal service. In 1528 Sir Brian was appointed treasurer and secretary of the royal household, a position he held until his death in 1545. He was also admired as an eloquent speaker and literary figure who authored a preface to an edition of Chaucer.

The portrait, which shows Tuke at the age of 57, exemplifies the qualities most praised in Holbein's work: precise observation of detail and impartial, accurate portrayal of the face. Yet the image is also tinged with gentle sorrow. On the table beneath Tuke's left hand is a folded paper bearing a quotation from the Book of Job (10:20) which begins, "Are not my days few?" The gravity of the sentiment is echoed in Tuke's countenance; his faint smile is pained and his eyes, fixed but not focused, seem melancholy.

Inscription

across top: BRIANVS TVKE, MILES, ANo ETATIS SVAE, LVII; across center: .DROIT ET AVANT. (Upright and forward [the sitter's motto]); lower left on folded paper: NVNQVID NON PAVCITAS DIERVM / MEORVM FINIETVR BREVI? (Are not the days of my life few?); at top of cross: INRI

Marks and Labels

null

Provenance

Probably Sir Paul Methuen [1672-1757], London; by inheritance to his cousin and godson, Paul Methuen [1723-1795], Corsham Court, Wiltshire;[1] by inheritance to his son, Paul Cobb Methuen [1752-1816], Corsham Court; by inheritance to his son, Paul Methuen, 1st baron Methuen [1779-1849], Corsham Court. Richard Sanderson, London and Edinburgh; (sale, Christie's, London, 17 June 1848, no. 7); possibly to Seguier(?), London.[2] Richard Grosvenor [d. 1869], 2nd marquis of Westminster, Eaton Hall, Cheshire, by 1867;[3] probably by inheritance 1869 to his daughter, Lady Theodora Guest, Inwood, Somerset, until 1913; (Robert Langton Douglas, London), 1913, held jointly with (P. & D. Colnaghi, Ltd., London);[4] sold 20 May 1913 to (M. Knoedler & Co., London and New York);[5] sold April 1914 to Watson B. Dickerman [d. 1923], New York; his widow, Mrs. Watson B. Dickerman, New York, probably 1923-1929/1930; consigned 1929 to (M. Knoedler & Co., New York);[6] purchased April 1930 by Andrew W. Mellon, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.; deeded 30 March 1932 to The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh; gift 1937 to NGA.

Exhibition History

1868
Third Special Exhibition of National Portraits, South Kensington Museum, London, 1868, no. 625.
1880
Exhibition of Works by the Old Masters and by Deceased Masters of the British School, Royal Academy, London, 1880, no. 188.
1909
Exhibition Illustrative of Early English Portraiture, Burlington Fine Arts Club, London, 1909, no. 43.
1915
Loan Exhibition of Masterpieces by Old and Modern Painters, M. Knoedler & Co., New York, 1915, no. 4.
2006
Holbein in England, Tate Britain, London, 2006-2007, no. 141, repro.

Bibliography

1836
Passavant, Johann David. Tour of a German Artist in England. Translated by Elizabeth Eastlake. 2 vols. London, 1836: 2:87.
1837
Waagen, Gustav Friedrich. Kunstwerke und Künstler in England und Paris. 3 vols. Berlin, 1837-1839: 2(1838):304-305.
1838
Waagen, Gustav Friedrich. Works of Art and Artists in England. 3 vols. Translated by H. E. Lloyd. London, 1838: 3:93-94.
1867
Wornum, Ralph Nicholson. Some Account of the Life and Works of Hans Holbein, Painter, of Augsburg. London, 1867: 294-295.
1869
T.H.D. "Holbein's Portrait of Sir Brian Tuke." The Athenaeum no. 2186 (18 September, 1869): 376.
1872
Woltmann, Alfred. Holbein and his Time. London, 1872: 315-317.
1876
Walpole, Horace. Anecdotes of Painting in England; with some Account of the Principal Artists. 3 vols. London, 1876: 1:82.
1879
Crowe, J. A., ed. Handbook of Painting. The German, Flemish, and Dutch Schools. Based on the Handbook of Kugler. 2 vols. London, 1879: 1:208-209.
1903
Davies, Gerald S. Hans Holbein the Younger. London, 1903: 219.
1907
Schmid, Heinrich Alfred. "Holbein, Hans, d. J." In Thieme-Becker. 37 vols. Leipzig, 1907-1950: 17(1924):352.
1909
Fry, Roger E. "Early English Portraiture at the Burlington Fine Arts Club." The Burlington Magazine 15 (1909): 74.
1910
Cust, Lionel. "A Portrait of Queen Catherine Howard, by Hans Holbein the Younger." The Burlington Magazine 17 (1910): 194.
1912
Ganz, Paul. Hans Holbein d.J.: des Meisters Gemälde in 252 Abbildungen. (Klassiker der Kunst, vol. 20) Stuttgart and Leipzig, 1912: 20:79, 238, repro.
1913
Chamberlain, Arthur B. Hans Holbein the Younger. 2 vols. London, 1913: 1:299, 331-333, 337, repro.
1923
Tatlock, Robert Rattray. "Sir Bryan Tuke, by Holbein." The Burlington Magazine 42, no 142 (May 1923): 246, 251, repro.
1927
Vaughan, Malcolm. "Holbein Portraits in America." International Studio 88 (1927): 23, 25, repro.
1936
Kuhn, Charles L. A Catalogue of German Paintings of the Middle Ages and Renaissance in American Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1936: 79-80, no. 351.
1937
Cortissoz, Royal. An Introduction to the Mellon Collection. Boston, 1937: 43.
1941
Held, Julius S. "Masters of Northern Europe, 1430-1660, in the National Gallery." Art News 40, no. 8 (June 1941): 12.
1941
Preliminary Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1941: 99, no. 65.
1942
National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution. Book of Illustrations. Washington, 1942: 38, 240, fig. 65.
1948
Schmid, Heinrich Alfred. Hans Holbein der Jüngere. Sein Aufstieg zur Meisterschaft und sein Englischer Stil. 3 vols., 1945-1948. Basel, 1948: 2:386.
1949
Paintings and Sculpture from the Mellon Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1949 (reprinted 1953 and 1958): 63, repro.
1950
Christoffel, Ulrich. Hans Holbein d.J. Berlin, 1950: 38.
1950
Ganz, Paul. Hans Holbein: Die Gemälde, eine Gesamtausgabe. Basel, 1950: 217, no. 51, fig. 88. (English ed. The Paintings of Hans Holbein, First Complete Edition. London, 1950: 11, 234, no. 51, pl.88)
1952
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Great Paintings from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1952: 92, color repro.
1955
Evelyn, John. "Kalendarium 1673-1689." In Diary of John Evelyn, edited by E.S. de Beer. 6 vols. Oxford, 1955: 4:141, 143.
1959
Frankfurter, Alfred. "Midas on Parnassus." Art News Annual no. 28 (1959): 53, repro.
1960
Broadley Hugh T. German Painting in the National Gallery of Art (Booklet no. 9 in Ten Schools of Painting in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC). Washington, 1960: 10-11, 38-39, color repro.
1963
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 122, repro. 123.
1965
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 69
1966
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 1:118, color repro.
1968
Christensen, Erwin O. A Guide to Art Museums in the United States. New York, 1968: 131, no. 282, repro.
1968
Cuttler, Charles D. Northern Painting, from Pucelle to Bruegel: Fourteenth, Fifteenth, and Sixteenth Centuries. New York, 1968: 411, fig. 551.
1968
European Paintings and Sculpture: Illustrations (Companion to the Summary Catalogue, 1965). Washington, 1968: 60, no. 65, repro.
1971
Salvini, Roberto and Hans Werner Grohn. L'opera pittorica completa di Holbein il Giovane. Milan, 1971: 107, no. 120, repro.
1975
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 178, 179, no. 65, repro.
1975
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1975: 156, no. 174, repro. 157.
1979
Sutton, Denys. "Robert Langton Douglas. Part III: Agent for the Metropolita Museum." Apollo 109, no. 208 (June 1979): 423, 425, fig. 34; 427 nt. 17.
1980
Hand, John Oliver. "The Portrait of Sir Brian Tuke by Hans Holbein the Younger." Studies in the History of Art 9 (1980): 33-49, fig. 2, 7.
1981
Sutton, Denys. "British Collecting, I. Early Patrons and Collectors." Apollo 114, no. 237 (November 1981): 284, 286, fig. 5.
1983
Fletcher, John and Margaret Cholmondeley Tapper. "Hans Holbein the Younger at Antwerp and in England, 1526-28." Apollo 117, no. 252 (February 1983): 93.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 156, no. 168, color repro.
1985
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 205, repro.
1985
Rowlands, John. Holbein. The Paintings of Hans Holbein the Younger. Complete Edition. Oxford, 1985: 144-145, no. 64, pl. 102.
1988
Rowlands, John. The Age of Dürer and Holbein. German Drawings 1400-1550. Exh. cat. British Museum. London, 1988: 238, under no. 206.
1989
Goodwin, Jack C. "n to Ally-Pally: Stemp World London 90 to Be Held at Alexandra Palace." The American Philatelist 103, no. 12 (December 1989): 1145, fig.
1989
Howard, Maurice and Nigel Llewellyn. "Painting and Imagery." The Cambridge Guide to the Arts in Britain, edited by Boris Ford. 9 vols. (Vol. 3: Renaissance and Reformation.) Cambridge, 1989: 3:230, repro. 231.
1991
Hand, John Oliver. "Research on the Collections." Circle Bulletin No. 8 (Fall 1991): 3 p., unpaginated.
1992
Cherry, John. "The Milton Keynes Medieval Gold Cross." Minerva 3, no. 2 (May/June 1992): 35, fig.
1992
National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 65, repro.
1993
Cuttler, Charles D. "Holbein's Inscriptions." Sixteenth Century Journal 34 no. 2 (1993): 374, fig. 3
1993
Hand, John Oliver, with the assistance of Sally E. Mansfield. German Paintings of the Fifteenth through Seventeenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1993: 91-97, color repro. 93.
1993
Russell, Stella Pandell. Art in the World 4th ed. Fort Worth, 1993: 321, fig. 13.22.
1995
Löcher, Kurt. Review of German Paintings of the Fifteenth through Seventeenth Centuries, by John Oliver Hand with the assistance of Sally E. Mansfield. Kunstchronik 43 no. 1 (January 1995): 17.
1997
Bätschmann, Oskar, and Pascal Griener. Hans Holbein. Translated from German by Cecilia Hurley and Pascal Griener. London, 1997: 176-177, 180, color fig. 235.
1998
Klinger, D. M. and Antje Hötter. Die Malerbrüder Ambrosius und Hans d.J. Holbein: Werkverzeichnis, Gemälde und Miniaturen. Nürnberg, 1998: 202-203, no. 67, repro.
2002
North, John. The Ambassadors’ Secret: Holbein and the World of the Renaissance. London, 2002: 320, nt. 304.
2004
Foister, Susan. Holbein and England. New Haven, 2004: 42, 241, fig. 241.
2004
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 150-151, no. 115, color repro.
2005
Sander, Jochen. Hans Holbein D.J. Tafelmaler in Basel 1515-1532. Munich, 2005: 311 nt. 178, 347, nt. 16.
2014
Bätschmann, Oskar, and Pascal Griener. Hans Holbein. Rev. and expanded second edition. Translated from German by Cecilia Hurley and Pascal Griener. London, 2014: 250, 252, color fig. 248.

Conservation Notes

The painting is composed of two boards with vertical grain. The panel has been thinned very slightly; this is indicated by the presence on the reverse, at the upper right, of a red resinous seal that sits about 2mm above the surface of the panel.[1] The picture has been cradled. Peter Klein's dendrochronological examination indicated that the wood was from the Baltic/Polish region and provided felling dates of 1525 +4/-2 and 1530 +4/-2 for the two boards.[2] Examination with infrared reflectography did not disclose underdrawing. While there are no major alterations, infrared reflectography and x-radiography indicated very minor alterations in the outline of the figure, such as the reduction in size of the outer edge of the left elbow and changes in the position of the thumb.

In general the painting is in very good condition. There are two checks at the left. There is retouching along the left and right edges and scattered retouching in the face and hands. The painting exhibits an unusual craquelure pattern with localized areas of wide drying cracks.


[1] Also on the reverse is a paper sticker that reads: 93007D/40 x 56/Knoedler/pour ce soir/5 heures.
[2] Peter Klein, examination report, 3 December 1986, and letter to the author, 28 March 1990, in NGA curatorial files.

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