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.

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