Lord John Stuart and his Brother, Lord Bernard Stuart

The morning after Hamilton, Anne and I had hoped to get down to the Dulwich Picture Gallery to see the Tove Jansson exhibition; but time was against us, so we settled for the National Gallery instead, just a short walk from the place we were staying opposite Foyle's.

I confess that I had never actually been to the National Gallery before, and we only had an hour and a half. So it was a quick zoom through to The Ambassadors, The Rokeby Venus, and The Sunflowers, and whatever else we could fit in.

In the Van Dyck room, one portrait jumped out at me: Lord John Stuart and his Brother.

These two kids are both wealthy, privileged teenagers, cousins of the king (and his wards since the early death of their father), about to set off on a three year tour of Europe. John, on the left, is 17 and Bernard, on the right, is 16. You can tell that they are brothers, and indeed you can tell that they are related to the king from their noses. Van Dyck never got around to finishing the background, but concentrated on the swagger and fine garments of his subjects, the two youngest of the many children of the Duke of Lennox. I don't think the effect is as flattering as they no doubt thought it was.

The portrait was painted in 1638. Soon after they returned from Europe, England was at war, and both boys were knighted in 1642 and soon were made generals, despite their total lack of any relevant experience. And both were killed in combat at the age of 22ish, John at the battle of Cheriton in 1644, and Bernard at the Battle of Rowton Heath in 1645, just before he would have been created the Earl of Lichfield. In 1066 And All That, W.C. Sellar memorably described the Cavaliers as "Wrong but Wromantic", and this portrait beautifully illustrates that. (He also described the Roundheads as "Right but Repulsive"; from the Irish perspective, I'd agree with half of that.)

Lots more to see in the National Gallery; but someone wise once advised me to look out for the one thing that jumps out at you when you are at an exhibition, and this was what jumped out at me this time.