Portrait of Sir William ButtsHans Holbein the Younger (German, 1497/8-1543)
Oil on panel, about 1541-1543
Inscribed: ANNO AETATIS SVE ˑLIXˑ [aged 59]
Pair purchased by Isabella Stewart Gardner from the art dealers Colnaghi & Co., London, in 1899 for £20,000 (about $2.9 million today), through the American art historian Bernard Berenson.
Hans Holbein transfixed Tudor England with his exacting portraits of royal courtiers. Loyal subjects both, Sir William Butts and his wife Lady Margaret served respectively as the King’s doctor and lady-in-waiting to Princess Mary. Shakespeare even immortalized this royal physician in Henry VIII.
By the turn of the twentieth century, Holbein inspired the same acquisitive fervor as Rembrandt. Henry Clay Frick’s failed attempt to buy his masterpiece, Christina of Denmark, Duchess of Milan, provoked a public uproar in England, an event fictionalized by Henry James in The Outcry (1909). Gardner and Berenson had also failed in three separate efforts to capture Holbeins, but their eventual success in 1899 was sensational. As Berenson would quip, “Holbeins of any kind are hard to get, as you might recall...as good as unheard of are a pair of pendants.”
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