Frances Cromwell’s Pearls for Sale

The Art of Pearls, The History of Pearls
Frances Cromwell in pearls
Frances Cromwell in pearls
(c) Glasgow Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Today, Frances Cromwell’s pearl are for sale.

In 1658, John Michael Wright painted the 20 year old Frances Cromwell, youngest daughter of Oliver Cromwell. John Michael Wright was a baroque portrait painter from England. He painted young Frances along with her older sister Elizabeth Claypole, who, unfortunately, had passed away the same year. Both of the girls wore pearls in their portraits.

Elizabeth_Claypole_by_John_Michael_Wright
Source: National Portrait Gallery, London

The artist, John Michael Wright, was a baroque portrait painter. He was trained in Scotland under painter George Jamesone and spent much of his career in Rome. There has been much dispute over his birthplace however it has been almost all but verified that he was in fact an Englishman, born in London in 1617. After considerable time away, he returned to England in 1656 and pandered himself to the rich and powerful. He became the painter at court, painting portraits of the nobility and royalty and no doubt sucked up to Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell.

Oliver Cromwell was intensely religious and a strong political and military figure in England in the mid-1600s. He was part of the movement to execute Charles I and basically end the monarchy rule of England and establish the Commonwealth of England. This is a long, involved story of history including the English Civil War, opposition by Scotland, a second Civil War and more. All of this took place around the same time of the burial of the Cheapside Hoard. Oliver Cromwell came out on top, being names the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth and being put in charge of the administration of the government. He was sworn in in 1653 and stayed in position until his death in 1658.

The same year of Oliver’s death (merely weeks after his daughter Elizabeth’s death), John Michael Wright painted portraits of his daughters. The interesting thing about John Michael Wright is that most all of his English portrait subjects are painted wearing a pearl choker. It appears to be the same pearl choker. See my blog post, John Michael Wright’s Pearl Necklace. However, Frances Cromwell’s portrait is different. Her portrait shows a pearl necklace distinctly different and longer. This necklace was a family heirloom that has been passed through her family for generations.

Today, this heirloom piece will leave the Cromwell family. Yes, Frances Cromwell’s pearls, captured in her portrait in 1658, are for sale. These pearls are being sold at Bonham’s Fine Jewelry Sale today in London. Bonham’s is an old auction house in London and they will be selling many natural pearl pieces but this is certainly the most famous. It is expected to be sold for the very reasonable price of between US$10,000 and US$13,000.

UPDATE: Are you interested in learning how much these pearls were sold for (hint…it was alot more!), see my post: Cromwell’s Natural Pearls

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