Sunday, 22 July 2018

Two portraits by John Constable?

In my last post I argued that two paintings which came up for sale in November 2015 at Clevedon Salerooms near Bristol (see Here and Here) are in fact portraits of Louisa Manners Tollemache, Countess of Dysart and her relative Henry Greswolde Lewis of Malvern Hall.

The pictures have been neglected and their whereabouts prior to their appearance at the Clevedon auction in November 2015 is something of a mystery.

'Mr Jones' or Henry Greswolde Lewis                                              'Mrs Smith' or Louisa Manners Tollemache


Henry Greswolde Lewis aged 55 and at 69 


Louisa Manners Tollemache at 16 and at 78


If I am correct, then there is one artist whose name is inextricably linked with both the Tollemache and the Lewis family.

John Constable was introduced to Wilbraham Tollemache, the 6th Lord Dysart, in 1807 when the latter was looking for someone to copy some family portraits. In November 1807 John Constable wrote that he had for the past three months been employed by Lord Dysart in copying pictures and painting original portraits at the Earl's house in Piccadilly.

It was probably at this time that he met Lord Dysart's sister, Louisa Manners Tollemache, and in the following year Constable is recorded as carrying out work for her. By 1809, John Constable was also receiving commissions from Henry Greswolde Lewis whose two sisters, Magdalene and Anna Maria Lewis, had married into the Tollemache family:



In July 1809, Constable's mother wrote to her son: 'I hope you will go to Mr Lewis's, as you mention, & that it will prove to your advantage.'

Constable painted Henry Greswolde Lewis' portrait that year, as well as his home, Malvern Hall and his ward Mary Freer.

Mary Freer, ward of Henry Greswolde Lewis
 by John Constable 1809

Malvern Hall, Home of Henry Greswolde Lewis
by John Constable 1809

Henry Greswolde Lewis by John Constable 1809

In March 1811 Ann Constable wrote to her son, 'I am glad to know you have received a friendly letter from Mr Lewis, tho' he is a very eccentric character, he is a friend of value to you  - and such, artists must cultivate.'

Over the next ten years came regular commissions from Henry Greswolde Lewis, some of which were rather strange, such as Lewis' request to paint Mary Freer's eye for a shirt pin. In 1818 Lewis asked Constable to paint a nine foot portrait of Lewis' Norman ancestor for the stairwell at Malvern Hall and later, in 1829, Constable designed a sign for a pub that Lewis owned in Solihull. As Christie's remark in their essay to accompany the sale of Constable's original 1809 portrait of Henry Greswolde Lewis in 2011, 'That Constable was prepared to carry out such commissions is testimony to a strong and enduring friendship.'

When the 6th Earl of Dysart, Wilbraham Tollemache, died in March 1821, the male line of the Tollemache family became extinct, and Wilbraham's sister, 75 year-old Louisa Manners Tollemache inherited the title and estates, including Ham House. Long since widowed, after her inheritance Louisa appears to have relied on Constable even more than previously. On 24 March 1821, Henry Greswolde Lewis wrote to Constable from Ham House: 'I am desired by Lady Louisa Manners to ask you to come down here, after Monday – any day at your convenience, you will find a bed for you if necessary to stop here. It is some arrangement of pictures she wishes to consult you about.'

Constable was tasked with collecting some pictures from Mansion House, Piccadilly to take to Helmingham Hall as required by the late Earl's will. Two views of Malvern Hall by Constable went to Magdalene Tollemache. She died two years later, leaving her collection to her brother Henry Greswolde Lewis. Constable was called upon again, to take charge of the pictures until they could be sent down to Malvern Hall.

Constable's biographer R B Beckett notes, 'the somewhat tiresome patronage that Constable had long received from Louisa Countess of Dysart was now intensified; but it was blended with so much kindness – one might almost say affection – that he never seems to have resented it.'

Although Beckett may have perceived Louisa's requests as 'tiresome', perhaps Constable saw things differently - Louisa was supportive of Constable, even providing employment for his elder brother Golding Constable as a warden of woods on the Helmingham Hall estate which Louisa had inherited. There does seem to have been a genuine fondness between them which developed into a lifelong friendship.

The Dell at Helmingham Park
John Constable 1800
Henry Greswolde Lewis died in 1829, John Constable in 1837. Louisa outlived them both; she died at Ham House in September 1840 at the age of 95. When she died, Mary Constable (John’s sister) wrote to her nephew John: ‘alas – the Countess of Dysart is no more - her memory must ever be mixed in our sweetest cup…; we are only left to be thankful that we ever received her favours’.

Given the close relationship that existed between artist and patron, it is almost inconceivable that the portraits of Henry Greswolde Lewis and Louisa Manners Tollemache the Countess of Dysart would be painted by anyone but John Constable.

Stylistically the two portraits very much fit with Constable's known works.

The size of the portraits are three-quarter-size, Constable's preferred format. After 1816 with a family to maintain, Constable made considerable efforts to develop a practice as a portrait painter and almost all his portraits after this date are painted in the three-quarter-size format. (Read more Here.)

Constable used minimal props and the lack of distraction meant he could focus on the facial expression of the subject and this is exactly what we see in the two portraits of Louisa and Henry, where in both cases the eye is drawn towards the face of the sitter.

Constable did not like painting hands, something he found difficult. In Constable Portraits The Painter and His Circle co-written by Martin Gayford and Anne Lyles to accompany the exhibition of the same at the National Portrait Gallery in 2009, the authors write: ‘When Constable includes one or both hands – which happens more frequently in the case of female sitters, perhaps at their request to show off their wedding rings – they often fall dangerously close to the lower edge of the picture.’


Mrs James Andrew by John Constable c1818

Mrs Edwards by John Constable c1818

Mrs Tuder by John Constable c1818

Golding Constable by John Constable c1815

Particularly interesting is this portrait of Constable's mother which is in the Tate Gallery and thought to have been painted in Constable's studio:

Ann Constable by John Constable 1815?

There is a noticeable similarity in the poses of Ann Constable, Henry Greswolde Lewis and Louisa Manners:

     Ann Constable                                       Henry Greswolde Lewis                                      Louisa Manners   

Furthermore, Ann Constable and Henry Greswolde Lewis are seated on the same chair:

Ann Constable                          Henry Greswolde Lewis

Louisa is sitting on a coordinating chair of the same colour and on hers we can see more clearly the gold studding which is evident on the chair in the portrait of Ann Constable:

Louisa Manners                             Ann Constable 

Also of interest is Constable's portrait of Reverend Dr James Andrew, painted in about 1818 and also held at the Tate:

Revd Dr James Andrew by John Constable c1818

The pose is similar to Henry Greswolde Lewis, with one hand resting on an object near the bottom of the painting:



Also, if you look closely at Revd James Andrew, he too appears to be sitting in the same red chair as Ann Constable and Henry Greswolde Lewis:




This suggests that the portraits of Louisa Manners and Henry Greswolde Lewis were painted at Constable's studio in London.

There is more evidence that the portraits are the work of Constable.

On the NPG's website there is an image of a frame stamp on Constable's painting, Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows. The frame mark was a stamp placed by the canvas supplier, in this case Henry Matley. Rectangular in shape, the frame mark gives the dimensions of the cloth sold, the date, and a 'progressive control number' or serial number applied by the supplier. (You can read more about frame marks on the NPG website Here.) Although Constable did not paint Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows until around 1829, the date on the frame mark is 1816 or 1818. The progressive control number, or serial number, is 607.


On the back of the portrait of Henry Greswolde Lewis ('Mr Jones') there is a stamp which shows a progressive control number of 610. This would suggest that this canvas was supplied by the same supplier at the same time or very shortly after Constable purchased the canvas for Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows in 1816 or 1818. Unfortunately the date stamp is not visible.



The frame mark is not visible on the portrait of Louisa Manners Tollemache, Lady Dysart, ('Mrs Smith') save for the end of the last digit '2' on the date stamp on the far right of the image. The rest of the frame mark is obscured by the stretcher bar but I believe the complete date, were it visible, would read 1822.



In February 1823 Magdalene Tollemache Lewis died. Lady Louisa was now the only surviving descendant of the sixteen children of the 4th Earl of Dysart and Henry Greswolde Lewis' three sisters were all dead too.

Anjana Ahuja, the owner of the portrait which she calls 'Mrs Smith', wrote that she calls her picture 'the Merry Widow'. The sitter is wearing half-mourning - predominantly black with a black veil but with a cream blouse. ('Half mourning' was the stage after 'deep mourning', during which phase the bereaved relative wears lighter clothing or accessories.) But the mourning was not for Louisa's husband John Manners who died thirty years previously but for her recently deceased sister-in-law Magdalene Lewis Tollemache. The two women were of a similar age and had been related by marriage for over thirty years.

Henry Greswolde Lewis was now aged 69. The death of his sister meant that he was the last survivor of the family and as neither he nor any of his three sisters had any offspring, Henry knew that when he died the family line would become extinct.



Lady Louisa celebrated her 78th birthday on 02 July 1823. She held a grand party at Ham House on 10 July, recorded by John Constable in a letter to his friend Fisher: 'Lady Dysart (the last of the Tollemaches) has a grand party tonight. I was there yesterday.' 

That Louisa and Henry were the last of their generation would be reason enough for Lady Louisa to commission portraits of the two of them But another reason may have been to help Constable financially.

Since 1819 Constable had devoted time to producing large scale landscapes for exhibition at the Royal Academy. 1823 was the only year he did not produce a landscape for exhibition and the reason, it seems, was because he was occupied in working for other people. During the previous winter Constable and other members of his family were unwell, which resulted in him accruing large medical bills. In consequence Constable needed more commissions to pay off his debts. That year Constable told his friend Fisher, 'my difficulty lies in what I am to do for the world, next year I must work for myself – and must have a large canvas.'  While portrait painting was not Constable's first choice - he dismissively referred to them as 'jobs' or 'dead horses'  - a commission from Lady Dysart for two portraits would have provided him with much needed income.

On 18 August 1823 Constable wrote to Fisher: ‘I was at the Countess of Dysart’s (the last of the Tollemache’s) fête champêtre at the old house at Ham. I have pleased her by painting two portraits lately, and she has sent me half a buck.’

So here is written evidence, from Constable himself, confirming that he painted two portraits for Lady Louisa in the summer of 1823.

The portraits are noted in the 1937 edition of C R Leslie's Memoirs of the Life of John Constable, edited by Andrew Shirley but their whereabouts are unknown.

Shirley lists the portraits but no asterisk denotes that he had never personally seen them

I believe the portraits of 'Mrs Smith' and 'Mr Jones' that mysteriously surfaced at auction in November 2015 are the two portraits which Constable painted for Lady Dysart in 1823.

The obvious question now is how did they end up at auction in Clevedon with one of them bearing the signature of James Northcote?



Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Alias Smith and Jones

It is 201 years ago today that Jane Austen died at the early age of 41. Last year, for the 200th anniversary of her death, there were countless events and exhibitions celebrating the life of this extraordinary writer. Yet for the most part, one portrait of Jane Austen - the most attractive portrait of her - painted while a teenager and known as the Rice portrait - was side-lined, the result of decades of opposition to the portrait by the National Portrait Gallery and associated supporters.

In my previous post I outlined recent events with regard to the Rice portrait of Jane Austen. In summary, a newly discovered portrait said to be of 'Mrs Smith', signed James Northcote and dated 1803 is claimed by the National Portrait Gallery to disprove the claim of the Rice portrait to be of Jane Austen. The portrait was purchased by Anjana Ahuja, a journalist for the Financial Times, who ran a prominent story in that paper in April 2017 claiming that her portrait proved that the Rice portrait dated to after 1800 and so could not be Jane Austen.

'Mrs Smith' was Lot 148 in a sale held at Clevedon Salerooms on 19 November 2015. Clevedon Salerooms is a provincial auctioneers situated in rural Somerset.

The previous lot, 147, was a an unsigned portrait of a man. The auctioneer's description was 'Early 19th Century English School - Oil on Canvas - Half length portrait of a gentleman wearing a brown jacket and high collar'. In his adjudication of my complaint to the Financial Times, the newspaper's complaints commissioner Mr Greg Callus, dubbed this painting 'Mr Jones' and for ease of reference I will do the same in this article.

Here are the portraits of 'Mr Jones' and 'Mrs Smith':



As I have demonstrated before on this blog, these pictures are companion pieces despite being sold as separate (but adjacent) lots in the auction at Clevedon in 2015.

Anjana Ahuja herself, in an email to Jacob Simon dated 24 March 2017, refers to them as companions. In that email (held in the Heinz Archive at the National Portrait Gallery) she says: 'We went back online to the Clevedon site to look at the companion portrait that arrived with Mrs Smith. It’s probably lot 144 – a rather handsome portrait of a man in a brown jacket with a fine nose. A bit scuffed but striking I thought, and a little more expensive than ours.'
(In fact it was Lot 147 and was less expensive than the £400 she paid for Lot 148, 'Mrs Smith')

Despite this, in his adjudication report Mr Callus wrote: 'Ms Ahuja has told me she was aware of the second portrait, she did rather like it, but given that she was buying a painting ‘attributed to Northcote’ (on the basis of a signature and date), she did not choose to speculate by buying a second un-dated, and un-signed picture that not even the seller suggested was also a Northcote. She did not consider it was a Northcote just from its style, and there was nothing beyond similar frames and sizes to suggest that the portraits were ‘companion’ portraits at all.'

The paintings have more in common than just similar frames and sizes. They are painted in the same plain style, without any props or embellishments and in similar poses. Both subjects are seated on red chairs which appear to match. They are both in very similar Carlo Maratta style frames. Both also show scuffing/rubbing and, in the case of Mrs Smith, 'a strange rubbed/greyish area around the signature' as the auctioneer described it. They were entered into the auction together by the same vendor. These pictures are companion portraits of two people who are very probably related.


These images are taken from the auction website  - the camera's white balance has been set differently for each photograph producing different shades but the similarity of the portraits and the frames is evident.

Ms Ahuja describes herself as 'an amateur fan of British portraiture'. Yet according to another email (also held in the Heinz archive of the NPG), she and her husband Tom Parker, in addition to the two other Northcote portraits they possess of Samuel Brooking and Thomasine Yonge, also own paintings by Sir Thomas Lawrence, George Romney and John Constable. These artists command serious prices when they come up for sale. (A Lawrence painting of the Countess of Wilton sold for £1.7 million in 2010.) With an art collection like this they could easily afford the relatively miniscule price of £700 for the two portraits. Indeed, if they own a Romney, a Lawrence and a Constable, one wonders why they were ever interested in the 'slightly shabby Northcote' at all.

Thomasine Yonge by James Northcote
currently owned by Anjana Ahuja and Tom Parker

According to Mr Callus, Ms Ahuja did not purchase both portraits because although an 'amateur fan', Ms Ahuja was apparently expert enough to decide that the portrait of 'Mr Jones' was not a Northcote 'just from its style'.

The portrait of 'Mr Jones' was sold to a private buyer. I tried to contact the purchaser via the auction house but I understand from them that this buyer had subsequently sold the picture on. Its whereabouts is currently unknown.

Given the similarities in style and composition between the two portraits it therefore begs the question whether 'Mrs Smith' is a Northcote either. The auction house was not confident enough to describe 'Mrs Smith' as being by James Northcote, instead using the more cautious 'attributed to James Northcote', which as Ms Ahuja says in her article is 'a hesitant assertion intended to exonerate the auctioneers from future claims of mis-selling'. In other words, the auction house had doubts whether the portrait was painted by James Northcote - and they were not confident enough to describe it as such.

I did not believe that 'Mrs Smith' was the painting mentioned in James Northcote's notebook for 1803. But as my complaint to the FT had got nowhere and as Ms Ahuja would not allow her picture to be examined, the only way to prove this would be to somehow discover the true identity of 'Mrs Smith' and her companion 'Mr Jones'.

The only way I could think of doing this would be to search through images of early nineteenth century paintings in the hope that one or both of them had an alternative portrait from which I could identify them. It was a daunting task, all the more difficult when it is remembered that I was looking at portraits rather than photographs. Photography was invented in the 1820s and was not used commercially until 1839. As the Tate Gallery website explains: 'Until the early nineteenth century both landscape and the human figure in art tended to be idealised or stylised according to conventions derived from the classical tradition.' Portraits are not necessarily exact representations of the sitter, particularly when dealing with the period before the advent of naturalism in the 1830s.

I spent many hours searching thousands of images of portraits on the internet. Then I had a breakthrough. Scrolling down the page of portraits of nineteenth century gentlemen, it was something about the way he held himself - the slightly arrogant, self-confident air of the man - that caught my attention. 'Mr Jones' has the same air. On closer inspection there were many other similarities. Same pale eyes, same sideburns, same long nose and narrow lips.

The painting was a portrait of Henry Greswolde Lewis of Malvern Hall in Solihull, painted by John Constable in 1809. Henry Greswolde Lewis was so pleased with the portrait that he had Constable paint several copies to give to his friends, one of which now hangs at Weston Park in Shropshire, the home of his wife’s family.

Henry Greswolde Lewis

There is also another portrait of Henry Griswolde Lewis, painted when he was much younger. This portrait was painted by Daniel Gardner in around 1776.

Henry Greswolde Lewis

Here is Constable's portrait and 'Mr Jones':





Here is Gardner's portrait and 'Mr Jones'



They looked similar enough to convince me I was on the right track. If I could also find a relative of Henry Greswolde Lewis who looked like 'Mrs Smith' then this would prove that the pictures were indeed companion portraits.

Henry Greswolde Lewis was born in 1754, and so was aged about 55 when Constable painted his portrait in 1809. The most obvious difference between Henry Greswolde Lewis and 'Mr Jones' is that the latter has less hair - if they are the same person then 'Mr Jones' was clearly painted some years after 1809, and certainly not in 1803. 'Mr Jones' looks like a man well into his sixties. It could not be later than 1829 as Henry Greswolde Lewis died in July of that year, so it seemed the portrait was more likely to date to the 1820s than to 1803. So who was 'Mrs Smith'?

My first thought was that she could be Henry Greswolde Lewis' wife despite the fact the sitters are not facing one another. He married Charlotte Bridgeman, the daughter of Lord Bradford of Weston Park in 1784. But they separated the following year and poor Charlotte died in 1802 at the age of 41 'from the excessive use of laudanum and "ardent spirits'. She wasn't a likely candidate.

If 'Mrs Smith' was not Charlotte Bridgeman then who was she? Some other relative perhaps? Henry Greswolde Lewis' mother Mary Greswolde had died when Henry was very young so it could not be her. Henry also had three sisters, Anna-Maria, Magdalene and Elizabeth Lewis. Anna-Maria Lewis died 14 September 1804, at the age of 59, too early for her to be 'Mrs Smith' who looks to be at least 70 years old. Elizabeth Lewis who married Sir Herbert Croft, died in August 1815 at the age of 60, again too young to be 'Mrs Smith'. Magdalene Lewis was born in 1748 and died February 1823 at the age of 75 so she was a possibility.

It was while I was searching for an image of Magdelene Lewis that I came across portraits of another member of the family, Louisa Manners. Born Louisa Tollemache, she was one of 16 children of Lionel Tollemache the 4th Earl of Dysart and his wife Grace Carteret. The family seat is Helmingham Hall in Suffolk and they also owned Ham House in Surrey and extensive estates elsewhere. By the time the 4th Earl died in 1770, only 7 of the 16 children were still living and 2 more were to die over the next decade, leaving only 5 remaining offspring - Lionel, Wilbraham, Louisa and her two sisters, Frances and Jane.

Lionel Tollemache succeeded his father as the 5th Earl Dysart. He married Henry Greswolde Lewis' sister Magdalene, in 1791. On Lionel's death in 1799 the title and properties passed to his brother Wilbraham Tollemache, the 6th Earl of Dysart ,who was married to their sister Anna-Maria Lewis.

By the time Wilbraham Tollemache died in 1821, Louisa was the only remaining child of the 4th Earl. Widowed almost 30 years previously by the death of her husband John Manners, Louisa Manners became the Countess of Dysart in March 1821 at the age of 75, inheriting Ham House and the surrounding estates. She also inherited Helmingham House and related property for life.

There are a number of portraits of Louisa Tollemache in existence.

Of particular interest here are the portraits by Catherine (or Katherine) Reid (or Reed) and John Hoppner. This is the portrait by Catherine Reid, painted in pastels in about 1761:


It was later copied by Moses Haughton (either the elder or younger):


(Note the variation in Louisa's hairstyle)

John Hoppner painted Louisa Tollemache dressed in a peasant dress. A print of Hoppner's painting by Charles Turner in 1807 is held at The British Museum



I have not been able to find an image of Hoppner's original painting which I understand is in the North Carolina Museum of Art, according to the National Trust (see HERE)

The portrait was later copied by John Constable, and this painting hangs at Ham House:



Next I compared the portraits to 'Mrs Smith':






The nose is the same shape and we have the same centre parting and heavily lidded eyes.



The portraits of Louisa Manners showed a remarkable likeness to 'Mrs Smith' despite the difference in age of some 60 years.


We can now understand the relationship between the companion portraits of 'Mrs Smith' and 'Mr Jones'. Louisa Manners, the Countess of Dysart, was the sister-in-law of two of Henry Greswolde Lewis' sisters.

If 'Mr Jones' and 'Mrs Smith' are not Henry Greswolde Lewis and Louisa Manners then it is a most remarkable coincidence that portraits of two entirely separate individuals who closely resemble these two members of the same family should happen to turn up in the same auction, at the same time, submitted by the same vendor.

I was sure I had found the real 'Mr Jones' and 'Mrs Smith'. The evidence I found when researching the identity of the artist convinced me that I was correct.

My next blogpost, coming soon, will reveal who painted these two portraits, and when.





Monday, 16 July 2018

The Rice Portrait - an update

The Rice Portrait

It has been a while since I added a post to this blog, the reasons for which are explained below.

Regular readers will know that I am a firm supporter of the Rice Portrait and believe it to be a portrait of Jane Austen when a teenager. You can find plenty of information about the portrait here on my blog and also on the official Rice Portrait website Here.

However the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) has been implacably opposed to the picture for many years. In particular, Jacob Simon who until his retirement was Chief Curator at the NPG, has long campaigned against the Rice Portrait. Jacob Simon still works voluntarily at the NPG and continues to update the research pages on the NPG website.




In 2017 there were two major developments relating to the Rice Portrait.

1. Firstly, the National Portrait Gallery finally agreed to examine the Rice Portrait. Jacob Simon claimed to have examined the portrait twice, at an exhibition at Olympia and at Falmouth Art Gallery. Both claims were false. I sent statements from curators of both exhibitions confirming that Jacob Simon had not examined the portrait. The NPG could hardly continue to deny the validity of the picture when they had never actually seen it. Representatives from the NPG, including the Director Nicholas Cullinan, Curatorial Director Dr Tarnya Cooper and Jacob Simon's successor as Senior Curator of 18th Century Collections Dr Lucy Peltz, examined the Rice Portrait at the end of April 2017. Jacob Simon did not attend and to this date has never examined the Rice portrait. In their report after the viewing, issued in May 2017, unsurprisingly, the position of the NPG remained unchanged - that they believed the portrait dated to 1801-1806.

2. Secondly, at the beginning of April 2017, science journalist Anjana Ahuja published a prominent article in the Financial Times about a portrait she had purchased at auction 15 months previously. The portrait, which has the signature of the artist 'James Northcote' and the date '1803' on the front of the picture, has on the back a canvas supplier's stamp for 'Wm Legg' - an identical stamp to the one of the back of the Rice Portrait. Jacob Simon, an authority on James Northcote, authenticated the picture which he and the owner claim to be of a 'Mrs Smith' whom Northcote mentions in his account book for 1803. You can read the online version of the FT article Here.

'Mrs Smith'

The NPG's statement issued after their viewing of the Rice portrait made no mention of the Northcote portrait which had recently come to light save to refer to the NPG's own online database. However an internal report on the Rice portrait written by Dr Lucy Peltz on 13 April 2017, prior to the NPG viewing, used the newly discovered Northcote as support for her assertion that the Wm Legg stamp on the back of the Rice portrait dates to 1801/2-1805/6. She cites these dates as this is when an artist's supplier named William Legg, who hailed from Reading, was known to have been trading in High Holborn.

You can read the NPG statement and the report written by Lucy Peltz on the What Do They Know website which holds my Freedom of Information Request Here. The relevant documents are attached to the letter from the NPG dated 18 September 2017.

Until the appearance of the Northcote portrait, all known canvas stamps for William Legg from Reading bear William and his brother' John's initial as follows: 'W&J Legg'. The Rice portrait was unique in bearing the stamp 'Wm Legg' as distinct from 'W&J Legg'.

Supporters of the Rice portrait including myself argued that the stamp on the back of the Rice portrait could therefore belong to a different William Legg, possibly another member of the same family, trading from the same area at an earlier date. Businesses in the late eighteenth century were very much family affairs and it is known that William Legg from Reading had an uncle William Legg who traded in London.

The discovery of the Northcote painting with its stamp of Wm Legg is therefore crucial for the dating of the Rice portrait. If genuine it would indicate that Wm Legg and W&J Legg are the same person ie. the William Legg who traded in High Holborn from 1801/2 until 1805/6 and so disprove the claim of the Rice Portrait to be Jane Austen.

Wm Legg stamp on the back of 'Mrs Smith'

The Northcote painting has been endorsed by both the previous and the current Senior Curators at the National Portrait Gallery and is also referenced on the National Portrait Gallery's website which you can read Here. The Northcote attribution has also been supported by Bendor Grosvenor who wrote about the painting on his blog which you can read Here.

The Northcote signature and date on 'Mrs Smith'

Despite this, it was my belief that there was something very wrong with this so called Northcote painting. The auction house clearly had doubts about it - despite being signed, they described the painting only as 'attributed to Northcote'. The picture has no provenance whatsoever, Ms Ahuja states only that it came from a house clearance. There is - inexplicably - also no formal authentication report from Jacob Simon, despite the importance this picture has for the claims of the Rice portrait. My request for high resolution images of the Legg stamp on the back of the Northcote painting have been refused and Ms Ahuja has also refused to allow any independent examination of her picture.

During the course of the summer of 2017 I made a Freedom of Information request to the NPG which you can read Here and also a complaint to the Financial Times which finally ended with an adjudication by the FT's barrister, Greg Callus, which you can read Here. (Following the closure of the Press Complaints Commission the FT refused to join the Independent Press Standards Organisation and deals with complaints internally.)

Having my complaint roundly rejected by Mr Callus was a severe blow. I had hoped - perhaps optimistically - that my concerns about the circumstances surrounding the Northcote portrait would be properly investigated.

For a while I put the matter aside. I felt thoroughly deflated. Six years of research had been undone by the sudden appearance of this Northcote portrait. But it would not rest. I knew that something was amiss. All the research carried out over the years pointed to the Rice portrait being genuine. The sudden and mysterious appearance of this signed and dated 'Northcote' with its Wm Legg stamp on the back was too convenient. And then for it to be purchased by an Financial Times journalist who was so biased against the Rice Portrait that she did not contact its owner until the day before she was due to publish her article was suspicious.

I decided to have one last attempt to discover the truth. It seemed to me that the only possible chance of proving that things were not as they appeared would be to find out the true identity of 'Mrs Smith', the subject of the portrait.

It seemed an impossible task, I had so little to go on.

But now, finally, after months of searching, I have discovered the true identity of 'Mrs Smith'. To find out who she is, look out for my next blogpost, coming soon.