Sir William Campion of Combwell (1585 – 1640)

Cornelius Johnson
1593 – 1661

Sir William Campion of Combwell (1585 – 1640)

Oil on panel: 30 x 24 3/4 inches, 76.2 x 62.8 cm



  • By family descent through the Campions of Danny Park, Hurstpierpoint, Sussex;
  • Sotheby’s, London, 11 July 1984, lot 17;
  • Susanna York, until c.1986;
  • Private collection, England.


  • Alexander J. Finberg, A Chronological List of Portraits by Cornelius Johnson, or Jonson, 1930, p. 23, no. XLI.
  • John Trevor Cliffe, The World of the Country Seventeenth-century England, New Haven 1999, p.41. no. 38.

Painted around 1633, when Johnson was at the peak of his British career, and only a year after he was appointed ‘his Majesty’s servant in ye quality of Picture Drawer’, in this subtle portrait Johnson has mastered the ability to formally convey his sitters’ character and person in an unpretentious manner, an accomplishment which was soon to prove too modest in light of the nouveau style of the young Van Dyck who took London by storm in 1635. Yet here we have an impressive psychological study of a man who sustained a prestigious career in the law.

The subtle and carefully limited palette render it an especially fine example of Johnson’s work; his masterly handling of the paint in the intricate lacework of the sitter’s collar, and the delicate brushstrokes around the sitter’s curly hair and cavalier beard are exceptional, as are the judicious highlights to the sitter’s right cheek and nose. Further highlights to his slashed doublet are implied through carefully positioned spots, and a strong diagonal beam of light emphasises Campion’s refined costume and smooth facial features. The painting is comparable in its luminous effects to Johnson’s Unknown Gentleman of 1632 (The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA), where the sitter is cloaked in a dramatic light emphasising Johnson’s sfumato technique.[1]

This portrait once hung on the historic walls of Danny Park in Hurstpierpoint, Sussex, amongst several other likenesses of the Campion family by the artist from 1633. The estate was dispersed at auction in 1984 and our portrait has recently resurfaced after several decades in a private collection.[2] The painting was last recorded in Alexander Finberg’s Chronological List of Portraits by Cornelius Johnson (op. cit.), of 1930, as ‘Signed and dated: C.J. fecit 1633.’[3] Today, the full inscription is too indistinct to read beyond ‘C.J.’, but a date of circa 1633 is extremely likely given the other family portraits by Johnson are inscribed with that date. The Campions of Combwell and Danny were a family of considerable antiquary and breadth, with a coat-of-arms: ‘Argent, on a chief gules an eagle displayed or’. The name ‘Campion’ has various spellings, including ‘Champagne’ and it is likely that this Norman name originates from the time of William the Conqueror. Indeed, ‘William’ was a popular name within the immediate family, and it may have been inspired by the Norman king.

Sir William Campion of Combwell was admitted to Lincoln's Inn on 24 October 1604.[4] He was knighted on 26 June 1618 and was latterly appointed sheriff of Kent in 1628.[5] Like his father, also named William, he married into a wealthy London family, his wife being Elizabeth, the eldest daughter and co-heir of Sir William Stone.[6] His inheritance and marriage enabled him to cultivate estates in Kent, Essex, Sussex, and Norfolk, and he also owned a valuable property in Barbican, London.[7] The Campions of Combwell and Danny were a family of considerable antiquary and breadth; the name ‘Campion’ has various spellings, including ‘Champion’ and ‘Champagne’ and it is likely that this Norman name originates from the time of William the Conqueror.[8] The sitter’s son, also Sir William, was a prominent historic figure of the early seventeenth-century Kentish gentry; in 1645 he commanded, as governor, the Royalist garrison of Boarstall House in the Civil War – where he surrendered to the Parliamentarians on account of the King’s finances.[9] He briefly escaped to the continent, returning valiantly as a colonel for the Royalists’ cavalry, before he was killed in an engagement near Colchester on 13 June 1648.[10] The armour he wore to battle was preserved in the Great Hall at Danny Park until the dispersal of its contents in 1984.[11]

From about 1619 through to the mid-1630s, prior to the arrival of Anthony van Dyck in England, Cornelius Johnson was the portrait-painter par excellence of the English nobility and gentry. Born in London, the son of Dutch émigrés, his family originated from Cologne. His parents were part of the great influx of Protestants from the Netherlands who fled religious persecution following the Spanish conquest of Flanders and the fall of Antwerp in 1584/5. It has been speculated that Johnson may have trained in the Netherlands with Michiel Jansz. van Miereveld, however, it also may well be that that he studied under Marcus Gheeraerts in London.[12] Not only do Johnson’s first signed and dated works, which appear from 1619 onwards, use a form of inscription similar to that of Gheeraerts, but stylistically they very much continue the Jacobean traditions encapsulated in that artist’s oeuvre.

Johnson’s art captured the reticence of the English landed gentry and minor aristocracy, and by the 1630s he had perfected a style and pattern all his own. The artist was patronised by the Campion family when he moved to Kent in the mid-1630s, arguably due to the increasing respective patronisation of the virile Van Dyck, though he still remained one of the King’s ‘servants in ordinary of the chamber.’ In 1641, however, as described by Vertue, he ‘Stayd in England till the Troublesom civil war… being terrifyd with those apprehensions & the constant persuasions of his wife went to Holland’.[13] Thus he and his family left for Holland in October 1643, where he continued to paint into his final years, dying in Utrecht in 1661.


[1] Though unlike the present portrait, the Huntington’s mannered pose is closer to Van Dyck’s in its use of contrapposto.

[2]A portrait identified as the present sitter’s daughter, Elizabeth (1614 – 1673), was sold in the same sale in 1984 and recently passed again through Christie’s, London for £88,275 (see, while another portrait of Peter Courthope, also painted by Johnson, was sold by The Weiss Gallery in 2009.

[3] See p. 23. The inscription even then must have been indistinct, for Finberg stated of the date 1633 that ‘I am not sure that the last figure may not be a ‘5’.

[4] See Basil Duke Henning, The House of Commons, 1660 – 1690, Vol. 1. Boydell & Brewer, London, 1983. p.5. Whilst practising the law he resided in the London borough of Barbican. See: John Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses: A Biographical List of All Known Students, Graduates and Holders of Office at the University of Cambridge, from the Earliest Times to 1900, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2011. p.287.

[5] See:

[6] Interestingly, the present sitter’s father, Sir William Campion () married the widow of Sir William Stone, Dame Barbara. His step-daughter from this marriage, Elizabeth, would marry his son, the sitter of the present portrait. See:

[7] His great-grandson, Henry Campion, went on to marry Barbara, heiress of Peter Courthope of Danny, and, on his death, the couple inherited the estate, thus the removal of the family from Essex to Danny Park in Sussex.

[8] William Smith Ellis, Husrtpierpoint: Its Lords and families, ancient and modern. London. 1866. p.21

[9] William Smith Ellis, A History of Hurstpierpoint, Phillips, London, 1837. p.36

[10] Brian Lyndon, ‘Essex and the King’s cause in 1648’ from The Historical Journal, Vol. 2, no. 1 (Mar., 1986), p.27.

[11] Colin and Judith Brent, Danny House: A Sussex Mansion through Seven Centuries, Phillimore, Andover, 2013. p.47

[12] Karen Hearn, ‘The English Career of Cornelius Johnson’ from Dutch and Flemish Artists in Britain 1550 - 1700, Leiden, 2003, ed. E. Domela et al., pp.113-128.

[13] Karen Hearn, Cornelius Johnson, Paul Holberton Publishing, London, 2015. p. 52.