Dress and Textiles, Portraits: British 19th C 89 Who is this lady in a black dress with a cameo on a red ribbon, and who painted her?

Portrait of a Lady in a Black Dress with a Cameo on a Red Ribbon
Topic: Subject or sitter

Further information is sought on the identity of the sitter and the artist of this painting. Peterhouse, University of Cambridge does not have more information about this picture in its own records and would be happy to receive suggestions.

Edward Stone, Entry reviewed by Art UK


Sophie Grillet,

It would help to be have a close-up of the plants in the vase, as she may be a botanist. Women botanists tend to be ignored or listed as plant illustrators rather than botanists or plant collectors.
Katherine Wheelwright Saunders (1824 - 1901) is one possibility, although she seems to have a narrower face and no cleft chin.

Osmund Bullock,

I can't identify the tall, upright stems, but the drooping pinky blooms are fuchsias - see attached enhanced image. This would seem to rule out Saunders, who I think worked entirely in South Africa.

Numerous Fuchsia hybrids like these were already widely grown in England by the mid-19th Century, so I fear they won't help us - I think it's just a little informal background vase of flowers. Nor, alas, will the vase itself, which from its shape looks to be Japanese export ware - blue-and-white Arita or similar, and again widely available in Europe in the C19th. Ditto the cameo brooch.

I would guess from dress and hairstyle that the portrait dates from the late 1840s, perhaps a tad later. If someone (certainly not me!) were able to pronounce definitively on the artist - it's a fairly distinctive and rather attractive hand - exhibition records might possibly produce something. But if not, unless there is some clue on the back - have the Collection looked? - I can't see us making much progress with this. A nice portrait, though - there is real character in the face.

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Timothy Taylor,

It seems to be of a business man's wife. The attire and jewellery are surely later Victorian if not Edwardian. Note the carved walnut or mahogany chair with rattan backing. My own family had portraits done and one had similar dress and cameo but not as well painted as above. Mine is thought to be of my grandmother's grandparent, probably 1880s- 1890s, please see attached.

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The sitter's hairstyle is definitely mid-nineteenth century, probably late 1840s as Osmund proposes, with a centre parting and hair smoothly dressed to cover the ears completely -- in total contrast to Timothy's ancestress whose ears are totally exposed in a much later fashion. If only to prompt further debate, I suggest that the portrait has the look of an artist working within the orbit of Pre-Raphaelitism in its early years,

I would date this portrait to c 1845-49. Please see a calotype from the National Portrait Gallery of SOPHIA FINLAY 1843-48 by Hill and Adamson NPG P6 (ii8) The hair style, cut of the dress, the narrow sleeves, V point to centre front of dress, style of small lace collar placing of brooch at centre front neck are all very much the same.

I would date this to the 1850s. I agree with Richard that this painting shows the influence of the Pre-Raphaelites, who would have been more widely known by the early/ mid 1850s.

Edward Stone,

As there is consensus that this is a nineteenth-century portrait, I have removed this discussion from the Portraits: British 18th C group.

Andrea Kollmann,

Could the sitter be Katherine Clerk Maxwell (nee Dewar), wife of James Clerk Maxwell?
The two photos in the attachment show her in the late 1860s.
According to the website of the James Clerk Maxwell foundation (http://www.clerkmaxwellfoundation.org/) Peterhouse College also owns photos of her and her husband.
She died without issue and bequeathed £10,000 to the University of Cambridge to found a scholarship in the Cavendish Laboratory. Maybe this is when the portrait came to Cambridge? All of this is speculation, based solemnly on the similarities (I think I see) between the photos and the portrait, I found no other reference to this portrait.
There is another portrait of her with her husband in the collection of the Cavendish Laboratory: http://bit.ly/2k4Vi2l

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It's likely -- though by no means certain -- that the sitter is the wife (or widow) of a sometime student at Peterhouse or of a fellow or master. I assume that in the nineteenth century students and fellows there were men only but am open to correction on this. Certainly all the masters were men until the present incumbent Bridget Kendal.

Even allowing for the passage of time between the probable date of the portrait and that of the Clerk Maxwell photographs, I do not see the sitters as being the same. The subject of the painting has a fuller neck and face and, unlike Mrs Clerk Maxwell, has eyebrows with a distinctive angled bend.

Jacinto Regalado,

The woman in the portrait under investigation appears to be of stolid middle class stock, neither especially cultured nor intellectual, though no doubt respectable. The facial expression is rather vacant or flat in affect; it seems the painter was not much moved to flattery. The most striking element is the red ribbon, which is vaguely shocking and at odds with the placid blankness of the face. Still, the overall effect is intriguing.

Malcolm Fowles,

If we take Richard's suggestion of the wife of a Peterhouse man, might we not expect to find his portrait too?

Starting from date range of Lou and Barbara, I see two possibles on the Art UK website.

1. William Hopkins http://www.artuk.org/discover/artworks/william-hopkins-17921866-frs-esquire-bedell-231606

2. Barnard Smith http://www.artuk.org/discover/artworks/barnard-smith-18171890-fellow-231517

Both are by Henry William Pickersgill, who clearly has the right level of competence, and gives us someone who was active in the college at the time rather than a one-off.

Further, taking Sophie's original comment on the flowers, Pickersgill also painted "Robert Brown, botanist". The image is not on Art UK but is on Wikipedia, and may have been sourced in Germany.

Would someone please get up close to all three of these portraits and look for clues in the paint?

Jacinto Regalado,

Pickersgill primarily painted men, and his female portraits are less successful. However, in general his pictures tend to have an air of refined gracefulness, which is quite absent in this "square" and relatively prosaic portrait, honest though it may be.

Malcolm Fowles,

So, we have "it's a fairly distinctive and rather attractive hand ... a nice portrait ... there is real character in the face" versus "an air of refined gracefulness, which is quite absent in this 'square' and relatively prosaic portrait, honest though it may be".

Personally, I share Osmund's view from the image alone, and I don't think Jacinto's generalisation of Pickersgill bears scrutiny of his 127 works on Art UK. He is right about the women, though, and I'd say our portrait stands up very well amongst them; indeed a few seem dire.

However any assessment is questionable if not made in front of the actual work. Therefore it is still worth someone comparing the technique of the Peterhouse Pickersgills (and indeed any other of their portraits of known 1845-55 date) with this one.

If this is not Pickersgill (and I only suggested him from logic) it cannot be a one-off by an otherwise unknown artist. It is much too good for that.

Malcolm Fowles,

At the foot of the painting there are two items of interest.

First, the artist is showing off a bit with the necklace, in terms of the way it twists in the light and hangs over the clothes. Does anyone recall this as a motif in other works?

Second, there seems to be a fabric bow, or similar, with its knot under the necklace. Does that change the dating of the clothes? Further, it seems to carry an intricate design, especially in the standing end falling to our left. We'll never tell from this image, but might it be hiding an artist's identifer? Something else for the collection to have a look at.

Jacinto Regalado,

Impressions naturally vary with the observer, but both of the male Peterhouse portraits by Pickersgill linked above (Hopkins and Smith) strike me as significantly more elegant and graceful than that of the lady with the red ribbon. It may be, as I noted, that the painter was simply being honest with her, but one would think that a given portraitist would treat women no less flatteringly than he did men.

I do not, by the way, object to Osmund's opinion of the picture, which I do find intriguing and certainly worth the attention it is receiving here.

Martin Hopkinson,

Has Peterhouse inspected the back of the frame, stretcher and canvas for any information which might be prove helpful including canvas stamp, frame maker's label, auctioneer's or dealer's codes?
An authoritative opinion from a historian of dress as to the date of the sitter's dress would be helpful
Also could the college provide a higher resolution detail photo of the 19th century vase in the background? It could well be possible to identify the pottery which produced it and give a fairly narrow dating for the vase's execution.

Patty Macsisak,

Ref. "A Visitor's Guide to Victorian England" by Michelle Higgs, Pen and Sword, Feb 12, 2014, via Google Books.

The following phases describe the routine for a middle-class widow.

Phase 1 - First or deep mourning - 13 months duration; attire was bombazine covered with crape, widow's cap, lawn cuffs and collar

Phase 2 - Second mourning - 6 months duration; attire was same as above, only less crape

Phase 3 - Ordinary mourning - 6 months duration; silk or wool replaced the bombazine, no crape. In the last 3 months, it was permissible to wear jet jewelry and ribbons.

Phase 4 - Half-mourning (respectable widows) - 6 months duration; colors permitted include grey, lavender, mauve, and black

Based on these guidelines, the sitter may be in Phase 4, but bucking the norms.

Osmund Bullock,

I agree with Richard that this cannot be Katherine Clerk Maxwell, whose features and pale Celtic colouring seem very different.

Malcolm, your approach is extremely interesting...but I don't think it's Pickersgill. Although considered in his earlier career as "natural" and unmannered compared with some contemporaries and predecessors, to modern eyes most of his sitters (bar family) seem somewhat affected and posed in a way this portrait emphatically is not. Actually his oil of Robert Brown [ http://bit.ly/2iJT506 & http://bit.ly/2iK0koJ ] is one of his most unaffected: the original was painted for the the Linnean Society of London in 1837 and is still there - a print after it of the same year http://bit.ly/2j2An29 is widely held. But born at the end of 1773, Brown was a man of an earlier age: in 1850 he was nearer 80 than 70, and this is more likely to be his daughter or even grand-daughter...or would be if he had one. In fact he never married, and he was also unconnected with Cambridge.

Martin, I did address the matter of the vase (Japanese export, Arita-type) above - I should perhaps mention that I worked for a top oriental export porcelain dealer for some years in the 70s & 80s. Re what she's wearing, Lou has written that she thinks that dress-wise it is c1845-49. But I thoroughly agree that if possible we need to see/know about anything on the back.

Jacinto, I was just about to write the same thing - that it's funny how portraits speak to different people in quite different ways. Where you see stolidity, I see benevolent calmness; where you, vacancy of expression - I, intelligent thoughtfulness! To me she is attractive in the eyes of the painter, and he has portrayed her in an intentionally simple, unshowy and honest way. I also think that's the message of the little vase of small, pretty flowers just picked from a garden - if they were to be read in a botanical context the point would surely be made differently (as indeed it is in Robert Brown's portrait). Difficult to be sure at this resolution, but could it be that she has an engagement ring, but no wedding band?

Osmund Bullock,

Like Lou, I still feel it's more likely to be before 1850 than after, and while looking for images with the right hairstyle (of which there are many in the 1840s) I came across the attached (?miniature) portrait (artist not identified) of Ford Madox Brown's cousin and first wife Elisabeth Bromley. Not only do we have the hair, we have almost exactly the same type and arrangement of collar, ribbon and cameo. It is not dated, but Elisabeth died at Paris in June 1846 - she is seen here http://bit.ly/2k9tJF7 (bottom right) in a painting by FMB of the older members of her family, completed in 1844. Sorry, I should make clear I'm not suggesting it's her, merely using her as a dating guide.

Also bottom right in this last portrait is another vase of flowers - rather showier, and in a showier vase...but it is Japanese again. And following up on FMB I came across this little 1846 oil sketch by him** http://bit.ly/2jJ5G3u - Chinese export porcelain this time, but thematically close to ours. And interestingly in an 1847 entry in FMB's diary (a fascinating read) he mentions that he had planted a Fuchsia on his wife's grave. All of which is not to say, sadly, that our portrait might be by him; but it does rather support Richard's suggestion that it "has the look of an artist working within the orbit of Pre-Raphaelitism in its early years". And I do think the artist has something that takes him/her out of the realms of bog-standard mid-C19th portraiture.

[**The ArtUK version of this http://bit.ly/2iLQ4N2 is one of many with pretty poor colour balance]

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Martin Hopkinson,

Osmund - thank you for pointing out that I had not read far enough back in the discussion. I am sure that you are right that this is likely to be of the late 1840s - indeed it is much more like portraits by FMB than by the true Pre-Raphaelites who became his friends. But as you say it is not by Brown , or for that matter very close to his portraits .It need not be by a metropolitan artist. There were portraitists of this calibre operating in East Anglia - and indeed even in Cambridge

This is turning into a fascinating discussion, so, to echo Martin, might we, Art UK, have more details of physical evidence--higher res, images of the back of canvas, marks on stretcher, labels (if any), etc.

Malcolm Fowles,

The portrait on Art UK is scaled down, but the original is accessible. I downloaded it to examine the bow, as discussed above.

I find that it is in poor (digital) condition, with pixel artefacts everywhere. For all I know, the bow might even be plain black fabric and the patterning be all artefactual. Maybe this is done to detect plagiarism, but it sure does prevent investigation.

So to echo Barbara: not only hi. res., but also original information carefully preserved please. (This includes using lossless compression; .png would be preferable to .jpg.)

Jacinto Regalado,

It might help to get a closer look at her cameo brooch. Is it a purely decorative one, with the profile of some generic "pretty lady," or is it something more specific and potentially telling, such as the profile of a Roman emperor/empress, which could relate to her husband's field of study?

Patty Macsisak,

“During the early Victorian era the requirements weren’t as strict as they would become later (after Prince Albert died of typhoid fever, 14 Dec 1861). “http://www.katetattersall.com/mourning-dress-victorian/

“Red I hold to be no color with black and white.”
“Red had long been used as a mourning color. In the Christian Church it represents the blood of Christ. Funeral palls…were usually in white, gold and red.” Ref. “Mourning Dress (Routledge Revivals): A Costume and Social History, Lou Taylor, Routledge, July 15, 2009, via GoogleBooks

Could the red ribbon in this and other examples cited by Jacinto Regalado be funeral souvenirs (e.g., a ribbon from the funeral pall)?

Jacinto Regalado,

I am certainly no expert on Victorian mourning dress, but the three comparable portraits I linked above and this one all strike me as women in such dress. The touch of bright red against so much black might seem "wrong" or visually wayward, but if it is a symbolic rather than a decorative matter, it makes rather more sense.

Malcolm Fowles,

If this is the lady of the Master of Peterhouse, then from late 1847 he was Henry Cookson Wilkinson, who married Emily Valence in 1855. That might account for an engagement ring, if the suggestion is correct, rather than a wedding ring.

She was the elder daughter of Gilbert Ainslie, master of Pembroke College, so the change of name suggests she may have been previously married and widowed.


The previous Master was Rev William Hodgson, who married Charlotte Tarleton in July 1838. Their first son was born in Nov 1839, so she too may have been the right age for this portrait.

See Alumni Cantabrigienses: A Biographical List of All Known Students [of Cambridge University] (2011), or search for Rev W Hodgson Peterhouse in Google Books. [That looks like one very useful reference!]

Malcolm Fowles,

An update: Valence is Emily's middle name, she is recorded in a family tree as Emily Valence Ainslie. Not a widow.


This raises another intriguing possibility, that for the second time in a few days we may find a family historian with an interest in the portrait.

Malcolm, thanks for your excellent ideas, but just one correction. The Master of Peterhouse was Henry Wilkinson Cookson, so the question is are we looking at a portrait of Mrs Emily Cookson, or the about to be married, Emily Valence Ainslie.

Martin Hopkinson,

Of course the sitter may have been a benefactor to Peterhouse, rather than a relation of a Master or a Fellow. The College must have a list of 19th century benefactors. She could have been the mother of a student at the college.

Martin Hopkinson,

She may have been short sighted in one eye - for is that not a lorgnette hanging down from behind the cameo into her lap?

Martin Hopkinson,

Are the dark blue blooms irises? The combination of flowers might well be symbolic.

Malcolm Fowles,

Art UK has portraits of both Cookson and Ainslie, though painted at later dates.

Cookson: http://artuk.org/discover/artworks/henry-wilkinson-cookson-master-18471876-231548, by Lowes Cato Dickinson. There is another (and I think better) close-up portrait, same artist and sitter, in the Abbott Hall Gallery, Kendal.

Dickinson's early works on Art UK are not so fine, and our portrait would sit nicely among them. See (e.g.) http://artuk.org/discover/artworks/rear-admiral-sir-henry-john-codrington-18081877-173406. Dickinson was active in Cambridge colleges in the 1850s: see http://artuk.org/discover/artworks/thomas-gejetan-ragland-18151858-fellow-18411858-missionary-193646

Ainslie: http://artuk.org/discover/artworks/gilbert-ainslie-17931870-195476, by Frederick Bacon Barwell (1831–1922). Barwell's early works on Art UK make our portrait look magnificent, so perhaps he doesn't fit the timescale.

Nor is there much likeness to his supposed daughter in Ainslie's face. But wait, what about his father Henry, who was a Fellow of Pembroke College? http://artuk.org/discover/artworks/henry-ainslie-17601834-195511. He appears to be of the same "stolid middle class stock, neither especially cultured nor intellectual", but in fact was quite the opposite! Look him up.

I am beginning to warm to this woman.

Malcolm Fowles,

I speculate that the sitter is still named Emily Valence Ainslie, but that this is an engagement portrait. It could have been commissioned by either college's Master, her father or her fiancé, but as it belongs to Peterhouse I would favour the latter.

The date would be 1854. She married Cookson on 23 January 1855 at St. Mary-The-Less, Cambridge. (familysearch.org).

No proof, just logic.

Malcolm Fowles,

Could someone tell us whether the style of the "engagement" ring in 1850 was our familiar thin band + jewel to fit your bank balance? If so, this is certainly an engagement portrait and, Martin, she isn't any student's mum yet. :-)

Patty Macsisak,

Via the reference provided by Malcolm Fowles, I find that Montague Ainslie, brother of Emily Valence Ainslie, died in 1853.

Patty Macsisak,

Re: flowers...for the blue flower, consider sage (wisdom, immortality) or salvia (I am thinking of you).

Jacinto Regalado,

So, Emily Ainslie could have been wearing mourning for her brother in 1854, when an engagement portrait could have been painted. She need not look too much like her father if she looked like her mother, also named Emily, a daughter of William Coxhead Marsh, of Park Hall, Theydon Garnon, Essex.


Jacinto Regalado,

The handling of the background, especially on the left side of the picture, is similar to the background of an 1861 portrait by Dickinson:


The back of the chair is also similar, but that is weaker evidence.

This undated female portrait by Dickinson, which I expect is a good decade later and better painted, is more artful and flattering, but there is still a certain "squareness" or stiffness to the pose, albeit mitigated by the rather prettier subject:


As with Pickersgill, Dickinson's clients were mostly men, and unlike Allan Ramsay according to Walpole, all portrait painters are not formed to paint women.

Jacinto Regalado,

Regarding the pre-Raphaelite quality which was noted early on, Dickinson's Wikipedia entry states that he "corresponded and worked with the central participants of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, lecturing with both Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Ruskin. He had a studio in the same building as John Everett Millais and taught Ford Madox Brown."


Martin Hopkinson,

Malcolm - I am sorry that I did not make myself clear - I was suggesting [rather speculatively] that she may have been a donor to Peterhouse much later in life and that her son's death could have been much later in the century.

Malcolm Fowles,

This is getting to the point at which the college ought to look for documentation relating to the portrait.

The end date is January 1855. An engagement notice would give us a start date. I cannot find one either via Google or via the British Newspaper Archive. However, results from the latter suggest major problems in its digitisation of Cambridgeshire papers, with much text rendered as gobbledegook. One publication to include is "University and Church", since both Cookson and Ainslie were Reverends. Cookson conducted marriages, chaired the Police Court, and appears with Ainslie numerous times in University meeting reports.

What's not to like in this story? A mystery woman, a female portrait out of place among the fellows, a hairstyle to rival Princess Leia, pre-Raphaelite influence, postmodern aesthetics and, to cap it all, Victorian era intercourse between ancient colleges. I choose my words carefully. :-)

Surely the present Master of Peterhouse, with her background in journalism, would want to lead this personally!

Yes, Lowes Cato Dickinson had connections with the Pre-Raphaelites and Cambridge. Also worth noting that Frederick Barwell (cited above by Malcolm as the painter of a portrait of Gilbert Ainslie of Pembroke) was a close personal friend of John Everett Millais and Millais frequently used Barwell's studio in the 1850s.

Malcolm Fowles,

To add to Jacinto, here are two other items from Dickinson's Wikipedia entry:

"... he became a partner ... in the firm of Dickinson Brothers of Bond Street ... the firm were photographers ... and **many of Dickinson's portraits were painted from photographs**". That explains the pose problem.

"His papers are at Princeton, Oxford and Cambridge Universities." Would the college please follow this up?

Martin Hopkinson,

Fellows at Cambridge University were NOT permitted to marry until 1860. I do not know at what date heads of college were allowed to be married - possibly not until then too

Malcolm Fowles,

The Alumni Cantabriensis makes it clear that the three Masters Cookson, Ainslie and Hodgson were married long before 1860. Interestingly the old newspapers, where readable, suggest that their wives and children were active in the university community.

Malcolm Fowles,

Ah, I see your point now. This lady can *only* be related to someone who is not a fellow. This takes us very close to a conclusion. I cannot see a young engaged woman having the importance to Peterhouse of, for example, a benefactor.

Martin Hopkinson,

It appears that heads of college who were ordained priests could marry , but not lay heads of college - rather strange rules see Bridget Duckenfield, College Cloisters - Married bachelors, Newcastle upon Tyne ,2013, pp. 72-3
This volume undoubtedly says more elsewhere.
So the above may not be the whole story

Martin Hopkinson,

Ainslie was ordained and Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University in 1830. His death in 1870 was reported in the Cambridge Independent Press on 15 January 1870. This , however, states that his predecessor as Master was a Dr Turner, who had been Master for 42 years and that there had been only 2 Masters since 1784.
So Henry Wilkinson Cookson can only have been Master for 2 years after Ainslie's death

Martin Hopkinson,

Malcolm - what I mean is that this sitter or a very close member of her family may have been a benefactor many years after the portrait was painted.

Jacinto Regalado,

Turner was Master of Pembroke 1784-1828; Ainslie succeeded him in 1828 and held the post until his death in 1870. Cookson was Master of Peterhouse from 1847 until his death in 1876.

Jacinto Regalado,

And yes, Malcolm, this portrait must have been painted from a photograph, which might still exist. That would explain not only the rudimentary and prosaic pose but also the rather blank expression. If she had posed for the painter, there would presumably have been interaction between them to encourage a more animated visage.

Martin Hopkinson,

There is an article by Veronica Carter on the Good Women of Peterhouse , Journal of Design History 28, 2, 2015, pp. 113-127 and a couple of publications on donors to the college's library

There is likely to be a relatively modern history of the college

I see no PreRaphaelite influence here either in hair style or dress. The whole look is a moderate version of fashionable style c 1845-50. Nor do I think this dress has anything to do with mourning. The fabric seems to be a shiny black silk satin- used only in the very very last stages of mourning. In c 1845 this would have been after 18m months to 2 years after the start of widowhood. It is funny to be quoted back to myself but my remarks about the use of red in mourning have been placed out of context. The quotes used referred not to the use of a small very bright red, fashionable, trimming, as in this portrait. The first wearer was Lady Charlotte Schreiber in 1856 for her eldest son's comimg of age ceremony. four years into her widowhood. Her daytime dress for the ceremony was 'a simple muslin' [white]with a scarlet scarf to relieve the too bride-like appearance.' As quoted by the Cunnningtons, Mrs Sherwood opted, thirty years later for 'a deep red as a proper alternative for mourning black,' but only if the wearer had to attend wedding during her period of first year's mourning. Wearing red whilst in mourning- even four year's into widowhood, was therefore never usual practice and seems a highly unlikely choice for a widow's portrait. Black was worn as a fashion colour even then. Additionally, neither such a fine and fancy lace collar, as shown here, along with such a large decorative cameo brooch (clearly not mourning jewellery) would have been acceptable for mourning wear- so I am of the opinion that we can rule that idea out. (ref. Taylor, Mourning Dress, 1983. 258.reprint 2010)

Malcolm Fowles,

The Good Women of Peterhouse is a rather ironic reference. It is actuall a modern feminist analysis of a Burne-Jones window installed in Peterhouse in 1870, depicting Chaucer's "The Legend of Good Women". I quote:

"I contend that both poet and artist defined ideal femininity as an expression of masculine mastery, and a ‘good woman’ as compliant to male authority in love and life. I then frame the ‘goodness’ of the window’s figures within the contemporary discourses levelled against female undergraduate students. Taking surviving archival evidence into account, I interpret the decision to include the window’s visual illustration and material incarnation of fragile femininity within the cloistered, homosocial space of the Combination Room as a defensive one, intended to bolster a masculine community that feared itself besieged by power-hungry women."

Given that Emily was the Master's wife then, I wonder what hand she had in the window's creation, and what she'd think of this analysis.

Patty Macsisak,

I agree that the cameo would have been unacceptable for all but the latter stages of mourning. If in fact this is a portrait of Emily Marsh Ainslie, she would have been required to mourn for her brother Montague Ainslie for six months ("The death of a sibling required three months of deep mourning and three months of half-mourning."), but at her option, sentimentally or frugally extended the use of her mourning clothes past the proscribed period ("Half-mourning lasted for three to six months and was represented by more elaborate fabrics used as trim. Gradually easing back into color was expected coming out of half-mourning. All manner of jewelry could be worn.")

Ref. "The Book of the Dead", E. R. Vernor, Lulu.com, Nov 23, 2016, via GoogleBooks

Malcolm Fowles,

Question for the collection. Where is the portrait kept now, and how long has it been there? Is there any memory or photograph of it hanging elsewhere?

Malcolm Fowles,

Lady in a Black Dress: a summary thus far, including a bit of new information.

The portrait is of a young woman wearing an engagement ring, and a (disputed) suggestion of mourning dress.

The dress style is dated to the decade around 1850.

The female subject is almost unique among the male portraits owned by Peterhouse College, which needs to be accounted for.

The style of painting is assessed as being influenced by the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (fl.1848-1853), but not as being painted by one of its members.

Most unusually for a Cambridge College, the Master from 1847 to 1876, Henry Wilkinson Cookson, married in post on 23 January 1855 to Emily Valence Ainslie, 22 year old daughter of the Master of Pembroke College, who was also twice Vice Chancellor of the University. The rarity of this event, her family’s social importance in the University, and of course the Master’s influence, each provides an argument as to why her portrait would be deemed worthy of Peterhouse at the time.

The two college masters were probably very close, perhaps having a mentor-protegé relationship. Both were born in Kendal, to families with deep roots in the clergy of Westmorland. Emily remarried after Cookson’s death, to yet another clergyman; her own death in 1895 was registered in Carlisle and she was buried in Crosby-in-Eden, Cumberland.

Emily’s brother Montague died aged 19 in the Royal Naval Hospital, Gosport, in October 1853. This would explain the sitter’s mourning dress, if such it is; the dress may be a red herring.

All of these threads point to the sitter being Emily Valence Ainslie, painted in 1854 while she was engaged to Cookson. Say, 80% probable.

The identity of the artist is an entirely different matter.

Martin Hopkinson,

Lou is almost certainly correct in saying that this is not a mourning dress - what it is is a morning dress something quite different

Malcolm, thank you for the summary. Eliminating the idea that she is wearing mourning dress, we now need further information from Peterhouse. Especially useful, in addition to any further clues on the painting itself, is how and when the portrait arrived at the college. We should be able to learn more about all this in the next days or week, once contact has been made with the college.

Martin Hopkinson,

The latest book that seems to be a history of Peterhouse is Thomas Alfred Walker, Peterhouse, 1935

Martin Hopkinson,

The Ward Library, Peterhouse has a collection of 19th century photographs of people connected with the college and 'others'

Malcolm Fowles,

Richard, I wouldn't trust any of this portrait's fine detail. I pointed out earlier that *all* of the texture on the dress bow, seems to come from digital artefacts. The same can be said of the right hand.

This is what happens when a .jpg image is repeatedly saved at less than full resolution, even when the area concerned has not been touched. Each time, the software thinks "now what can I compress?" Lord knows how many times this one has been edited; a lot, from the pixellation.

A high quality original image would be most welcome.

Malcolm Fowles,

Thanks Barbara. I hope that the probability put on the date is high enough to persuade Peterhouse that it is their turn now. This should be a joint enterprise. Given the narrowed date range, two main lines of inquiry are now feaible:

1. Comparison of what we know of Emily with what they know of Cookson's wife.

2. Pursuit of their documentation of portrait acquisition, and any relationship with the possible artists mentioned above. This has to included Cambridge's collection of Dickinson's papers, and one also hopes that Princeton and Oxford would not be churlish about giving assistance.

Jacinto Regalado,

The perceived pre-Raphaelite air, to call it that, of this picture is not a matter of the dress or hair, which were no doubt perfectly in keeping with the lady's social context. She is quite obviously not a Rossetti "stunner." However, to my eye, the air is still there.

Jacinto Regalado,

Peterhouse should have photographs of Emily Cookson, which should be simple enough to locate and compare to this painting.

Patty Macsisak,

Concerning Miss Katherine Hodgson (1889*-1935), daughter of Thomas Hesketh Hodgson (1841-1917) and Elizabeth Cookson (1855-1935)...

"Tullie House Museum, Carlisle, holds a large cardboard box of photographic negatives etc. of Miss Hodgson, ref. Accession 67 – 1974, which Miss Clare Fell brought in to Tullie House in July 1974, the accession register noting that the deposit included a few
fragments of sherd pottery and flints, renumbered 67-1974. 1 – 16 (see IRGMA Archaeology Cards). It should be noted that a prior appointment is necessary to consult these negatives, etc.

Besides negatives relating to Miss Hodgson’s archaeological work (Askerton, Bewcastle, Broomrigg, Castlesteads, Glassonby, Mayburgh, etc., also of Lamonby Farm, a clay constructed house at Burgh by Sands), there are negatives of ‘Portraits’ [? Hodgson family members]...."


*Note that other sources say she was born December 6, 1888).

Patty Macsisak,


Concerning Miss Katherine Hodgson (1889*-1975), daughter of Thomas Hesketh Hodgson (1841-1917) and Elizabeth Cookson (1855-1935)...

Patty Macsisak,


Concerning Miss Katherine Hodgson (1889*-1974), daughter of Thomas Hesketh Hodgson (1841-1917) and Elizabeth Cookson (1855-1935)...

Osmund Bullock,

Thank you, Lou, for that calm, clear and expert analysis. I was in any case going to caution against focusing too much on the mourning aspect. Even if she *were* in the very last stages, the wide spread of those requiring some sort of mourning recognition for one duration or another – together with large Victorian families and frequent deaths – would make any firm family conclusions near-impossible. The truth is that for whatever reasons there is a vast number – perhaps even a majority – of mid-C19th female portraits where (if in day dress) the fabric is of sombre hue or black.

Malcolm, Peterhouse has already said that it "does not have more information about this picture in its own records". I don't think it's reasonable to ask that they do another (non-specific) trawl through their archives to “look for documentation relating to the portrait ". Nor are they likely to have the time or staff to "follow up" the Dickinson papers references, which we can do online ourselves** – particularly with Dickinson being (in my view) a fairly tenuous suggestion as to artist. As to the image, I'm not sure what you mean by “the original is accessible”, unless you mean the slightly higher-res version always available in the main ArtUK area from the link on the Art Detective page – if not, do you have a link? A somewhat higher-res (but still JPG) version is normally held by ArtUK and is sometimes available to us if the collection authorizes it. The collection itself may possibly hold a still higher-res image, and will occasionally show us at least a detail. But for many good reasons - technical, legal and logistical - to post a truly high-res PNG here is an impossible ask.

A view of the back, however, is something we might hope for – as indeed is Jacinto’s suggestion of any photograph they may hold of the Master's wife Emily (they seem to have become engaged in about Nov 1854 http://bit.ly/2j2YF91 ). But I’m not too hopeful about the ones in the Ward Library – the full catalogue entries are not promising. It would also be very valuable if Peterhouse have even a rough idea (perhaps from the accession no. 70) as to when the portrait might have entered or first been recorded in their possession.

**The only papers of his at Cambridge are at King's: 21 letters of c1883-1904 – much too late and unlikely to be on artistic subjects – to Oscar Browning, who was a fellow and tutor there: http://bit.ly/2jdmoHa . The Oxford reference is to a single letter from Rossetti of unknown date in the Ashmolean (whose website seems to be currently down): http://bit.ly/2k62jke . Princeton has a substantial collection of letters to Dickinson from various members of the Pre-Raphaelite circle, but apart from those from Madox Brown (which start in 1851), all are probably too late: http://bit.ly/2kgG8ag . You can email Princeton if you think it’s worth pursuing, but I won’t be doing so unless we have better evidence of Dickinson's plausibility.

Osmund Bullock,

I hope I will be forgiven for trying to slow things down a little here – not least because I’m finding it hard to keep up in terms of deeper research and response. Malcolm’s hypothesis that this is Emily Cookson is interesting, and certainly worthy of that research. But I think the idea that it is 80% certain is way too high. There is actually no *evidence* as yet for it beyond the gender of the sitter, the approximate date of the painting (but see below), and that it may be an engagement portrait because she *may* have no wedding ring (unconfirmed since we cannot see for certain). The rest is supposition based on the idea that she must have been very significant to the College for them to hold the portrait at all; ergo she was perhaps the wife of the Master. If she was so exceptional and important to them, I am a bit surprised that her identity has been lost.

In the opposite direction we have dress and hair evidence that may date it half a decade or more too early for Emily, and that she appears too young (I agree with Richard that the sitter must be more than 22 years old). And although she may possibly have been important to the College, it is at least as likely that (like many portraits we see here) it ended up in their collection by default, i.e. nobody else wanted it – in those days usually because the donor had no children or close family. If – IF – the sitter had living descendants, I would expect such a portrait to have descended with them until well into the C20th – especially granted Oxbridge’s disinclination to hang portraits that are not of distinguished alumnae / fellows / substantial benefactors, and (historically) preferably not women. Families moving somewhere smaller offload large portraits of men first, especially when unidentified (or valuable) – smaller portraits of non-ugly women usually last longer, especially where the sitter is still remembered. Emily died in 1895, and had a daughter Elizabeth (who looks utterly unlike our portrait’s sitter: http://bit.ly/2jOIoZt ) and did not die until 1935 (when she was still living in a big house). She in turn had a daughter Katherine who did not die until 1974, and knew her granny till she was six.

That’s not all. Emily also had a son, Henry (b.1882) by her next marriage, not to mention six step-children aged one to sixteen when she married their father, and to whom she became a mother. That’s a lot of people, with who knows how many descendants, not to want a very decent portrait.

I have many other things to say (e.g. about the idea that it’s based on a photograph – I am quite sure it isn’t), but have already extended this already very long thread by far too much. I really think we need to pause now to give the Collection a chance to see if they can help on those three specifics (though of course *any* real new evidence is welcome – just seen Patty’s info on possible negatives of family members at Tullie House).

Osmund Bullock,

Correction: I cannot find confirmation about this son Henry, b.1882, and it may be wrong; however Emily had even more stepchildren than I thought, several of whom appear to have lived into the 1950s/60s & beyond. They seem to have descendants, so another potential source of family photos - someone has uploaded on to Ancestry a poor photo of the Rev Joseph Hudson, Emily's second husband, who died in 1919 worth a substantial sum for the time (£30K+).

Martin Hopkinson,

Professor Adrian Dixon , who retired as Master of Peterhouse last year, says that he thinks that the sitter is the mother of one of the college's distinguished scientists [ but cannot remember which]

Martin Hopkinson,

The 1906 edition of Walker's Peterhouse is on line [University of Toronto Library]

Oliver Perry,

There's a detailed list of portraits in the College on pages 204-6. The only female subject mentioned is the 16th century benefactor Mrs Wolfe.

Martin Hopkinson,

One of these scientists and one of Peterhouse's most famous Fellows was William Thomson, Lord Kelvin [1824-1907] of whom the college has a portrait of 1869 by Lowes Cato Dickinson. Thomson was painted in 1846 by the leading Glasgow portraitist of the day, John Graham Gilbert [certainly not the artist of this portrait]

There will be several biographies of Lord Kelvin

Martin Hopkinson,

There is a list of portraits in the college in this 1906 book, which does not include the picture under discussion - but one should remember that Kelvin died in 1907, if the painting came from his estate.

Martin Hopkinson,

Another Scotsman and leading academic was the physicist Peter Guthrie Tait FRSE [1831-1901] coauthor with Kelvin of 'Treatise on Natural Philosophy' , who was both a student and Fellow of the college c.1852-4
Yet another Scot Sir James Dewar FRS [1842-1923] , chemist and physi cist, inventor of the vacuum flask , was Jacksonian Professor of Experimental Philosophy and Fellow from 1875.
James Clark Maxwell [1831-79] was a student at Peterhouse in 1850, returning to Cambridge as the first Cavendish Professor of Physics in 1871, but to what college was he attached then?

The Hunterian Art Gallery owns a portrait of Kelvin's wife, Francis Anna, of 1896 by Hugh Goldwin Riviere

Patty Macsisak,

The list of "Eminent Petreans" contains a possibility: William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin (1824-1907). The women in his wife include his mother, Margaret Gardner (d. 1830), his sister, Anna Thomson (b. 1820 d. 1857), mother of James Thomson Bottomley, physicist; his first wife Margaret Crum (m. 1852 d. 1870); and his second wife Frances Anna Blandy (b. 1837 m. 1874 d. 1916). He had no children. His will may contain legacies to Peterhouse.

Martin Hopkinson,

Kelvin's papers are in Glasgow University Library. Birmingham Museum has a portrait by Dyce of James Clerk Maxwell and his mother by William Dyce. His mother died in 1839
The Cavendish Laboratory owns a portrait of him with his wife attributed to the Scottish painter, Jemima Blackburn [1823-1909] . Katherine Mary Dewar's dates 1824-86 - she does not look like the sitter of this portrait. Blackburn's husband was a Scottish mathematician and friend of Kelvin, Hugh Blackburn [1823-99] . His wife was a cousin of James Clerk Maxwell. He was a Professor of Mathematics at Glasgow from 1849 to 1879.
There is a book on Jemima published in 1998, Jemima: the paintings and memoirs of a Victorian lady - a photograph of her in 1852 incidentally shows that the hairstyle in the Peterhouse portrait was still in use

Jacinto Regalado,

The young Thomson in the Glasgow portrait does not look like the lady in question. His mother was married in 1817 and died in 1830, and this portrait was virtually certainly painted rather later than 1830.

Malcolm Fowles,

It is worth placing the Wikipedia image of Sir James Dewar beside our portrait. He was born in 1842, closest to our dating of the sitter's dress. What you you think?

Jacinto Regalado,

It is possible, Malcolm, but hardly certain. The dates for his mother, by the way, according to Rowlinson, are 1806-52.

Jacinto Regalado,

Rowlinson adds that the mother (variably known as Ann, Anna or Agnes) was the daughter of a local shipbuilder in Kincardine-on-Forth and reportedly "a very charming and clever" lady.

Patty Macsisak,

Although the discussion has taken a turn, thanks much to Mr. Bullock for the reference re: the engagement of Emily Valence Ainslie and Henry Wilkinson Cookson. “Tait has doubtless heard from Steele that the Master [Henry Wilkinson Cookson] is imminently to be married to [Emily Valence] Ainslie [daughter of Gilbert Ainslie, Master of Pembroke] who is only 22 years of age. 'Poor Kate of Fitzwilliam Street must set her cap at some other head.' General opinion of the marriage. 'The select few who knew of the disturbance of friendly relations between the neighbouring rival houses thought that the the poor girl was sacrificed for state reasons however...'.”

Is it possible that Emily had “set her cap” on William John Steele (September 16, 1831-March 11, 1855), whose star burned brightly at Peterhouse from 1847 until his untimely death? His friend of long-standing, Peter Guthrie Tait (aka P.G. Tait), named him co-author of “Dynamics of a Particle” (1856). Could the “state reasons” be the protection/isolation of a young scholar whose work held so much promise?

http://www.knoxthedonegalroutes.net/Centenary Celebrations Stranorlar Presbyterian Church.pdf


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