This painting by William Dobson reveals Oxford’s role in the English Civil War. It has been bought by the university’s Ashmolean Museum, becoming the first Dobson painting to enter the Oxford collection. Image courtesy of Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.

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The painting, commissioned by John Russell in the winter of 1645–46 and called Group Portrait of Prince Rupert, Colonel William Legge and Colonel John Russell, shows a meeting between three Royalist commanders in Oxford, home to the royal court in exile, when hopes of a Royalist victory were fading.

It depicts Prince Rupert, the king’s nephew (on the left), who had just suffered an ignominious defeat at Bristol, the main port in Royalist hands, which led to him falling out of favour with the king. On the right sits Colonel John Russell, commander of the prince’s elite Blue Coats. Russell was made famous for his ‘last stand’ at the Battle of Naseby. The painting is filled with symbols and references to the recent discord between the king and his nephew and to Rupert’s enduring loyalty.

Programme of Events

The painting, which is valued at an estimated £875,000, was acquired through the government's acceptance in lieu tax incentive scheme, from the collection of Richard and Patricia, Baron and Baroness Sandys. The scheme, which enables taxpayers to transfer artworks into public ownership as part of a payment for inheritance tax, was administered by the Arts Council.

The Ashmolean said it also received a £90,900 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) which will support a programme of events and activities to bring the picture, which is the first by Dobson to enter an Oxford collection, to a wide public audience.

The museum unveiled the painting as part of a celebration of the 400th anniversary of the birth of its founder Elias Ashmole this month.