Admiral Sir Richard Hawkins, 1560-1622 (?)

(Updated, July 2023) (Updated, July 2023) Oil painting, with the sitter half-length turned slightly to the left but facing the viewer, wearing parade armour and with his bare right hand visible resting on a plumed helmet that he may be holding at waist height in front of him with his unseen left hand. An 'impresa' of a rock and reeds amid waves, with a Latin motto, fills the top right corner of the otherwise dark background.

This portrait has historically been thought to depict Richard Hawkins. Son of the more celebrated Sir John Hawkins, Drake's kinsman, sailed with Drake's West Indian expedition of 1585-86, commanded the 'Swallow' in the Armada campaign of 1588 and the 'Crane' in his father's Azores expedition of 1590. He then sailed in the 'Dainty' as commander of a South American expedition against the Spaniards in 1593. In 1594 he was captured, badly wounded, at San Mateo Bay on the Pacific coast of Peru after plundering Valparaiso, and was imprisoned at Lima to 1597 and in Spain until 1602. He was knighted in 1603 on his return and in 1604 became MP for Plymouth and Vice-Admiral of Devon. He was also vice-admiral in Sir Robert Maunsell's expedition against Algiers in 1620-21 and published an important account of his early career and exploits in the Pacific in 1622, the year he died suddenly during a council meeting.

The Latin motto and impresa here are appropriate to his powers of endurance: UNDIS. ARUNDO VIRES. REPARAT. / COEDENS. Q. FOUETUR / FUNDITUS. AT. RUPES. E / SCOPULOSA. RUIT (The reed recovers strength amid the waves and by yielding grows strong, but the rugged cliff perishes utterly). The design is, however, a second thought, since X-rays reveal a simpler one beneath of tents appropriate to a tournament and the expensive parade armour that he is wearing. The portrait may therefore have originally commemorated the sitter's part in one of the annual lists that took place under Elizabeth I, or at least his military life before 1593, with the visible design painted over it after his release from captivity in 1602.

The painting was formally acquired in 1986 after previous technical examination from 1984. Some doubt has since been cast on Richard Hawkins being the sitter, as the Hawkins family is only known to have held the picture as early as 1866, not from origin: it was first recorded when sold from Lord North's collection in 1802. The visible design at top right is also on a 'thick layer of brown-green restoration paint that may date from as late as the nineteenth century'. The two vertically joined Baltic oak boards on which the image is painted have a felling date of 1555-71 (the overall size having also been reduced by cutting down, especially at the bottom).

These factors have led to the suggestion it was painted perhaps as early as the 1560s and, on grounds of painting style, that it may be by the artist known as the Master of the Countess of Warwick (Arnold Derickson?). It was exhibited as such at Compton Verney in 2023, when comparison of the sitter's armour (though considerably restored) and the hidden tents design was pointed out as similar to those in the 1563 portrait of John Farnham, a gentleman-pensioner of Elizabeth I, attributed to Stephen van der Meulen and now in the Worcester Art Museum, Mass.

It was also then suggested that, rather than Richard Hawkins, the sitter might be an earlier likeness of his father, Sir John, based on comparison with the 1581 NMM portrait of the latter (BHC2755) and that of 1591 by Hieronymus Custodis in Plymouth Art Gallery. However, this suggestion remains speculative. A felling date of 1555-71 does not prove painting use either within that span or until (perhaps much) later and further paint analysis is required to determine earliest possible date for the emblematic alteration. The device and inscription themselves suggest an early date (i.e. early 17th century at latest) rather than a later attempt at deception.

Object Details

ID: BHC4185
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: English School, 16th century
Date made: 16th century, with later additions; circa 1565, with later additions circa 1590 (?)
People: Hawkins, Richard
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Measurements: Painting: 595 mm x 395 mm; Frame: 696 mm x 494 mm x 60 mm; Overall: 5.4 kg

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