Topic: Subject or sitter

It may serve a specific occupational purpose or, perhaps less likely, 'institutional' in some form. If the white material is canvas, he may be a sailmaker with the patches sewn on to prevent wear of his clothing while handling heavy canvas.

The same figure also appears in a much more complex tavern scene sold on 1 June 2022 by Adams in Dublin This previously passed through Lawrence's of Crewkerne in October 2021 also stated to be Condy's 'Interior of an Irish cottage at Ballyboyleboo, Antrim' (exh. RA, 1843). (The place name is invented, perhaps based on Ballyboyle, Co. Donegal). It is undated but interestingly signed, 'Lt. Condy bf [of?] 43rd regt' along the edge of the stool on the left: he had been a soldier.

In it the two men in white at the table are most probably Royal Naval seamen (plus the one on the floor), the peg-legged black man likely to be an ex-seaman from his dress, and there are three naval battle prints on the walls. Despite the soldier in the background, the bust on the mantlepiece is probably Nelson rather than Wellington as the Adams description suggests. The whole thing is therefore more likely to be a tavern interior in or near Plymouth - where Condy was generally based - though probably a fictitious one, since much of the 'kit-of-parts' in it appear in other paintings by him on the Art UK list. There is nothing I can see that suggests Northern Ireland.

There is also a good possibility that this 'Interior, Girl Spinning', - which includes some of the same cooking ware over the fire - is Condy's 'Interior of a Cornish cottage' that in 1842 was his only Society of British Artists exhibit.

The Condys (father and son, Nicholas Matthew) are something of a nightmare to distinguish, though genre scenes are more usually and primarily the father's. [Group leader: Sheena Stoddard]

Pieter van der Merwe, Maritime Subjects, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The sitter’s dress has been identified as the canvas-reinforced working clothes of a fisherman. The title has been updated from 'Old Man Smoking' to 'Old Fisherman Taking His Ease' which is how the donors exhibited it at the RAMM exhibition in 1885. The former title appears to have been a practical description applied by whoever drew up the inventory in 1892.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.


Charles Payton,

I do not know but may I ask or rather submit a few more observations?

1. He is old but not so that he is not working. He sits in a fashion that shows health and strength...if one is all aches one would not be able to slump happily like this. His hands are good and not arthritic or damaged by work. He appears to be at home.

2. His clothes overall are not cheap they are substantial, well made and not ragged.

3. His shoes are startling. Good well made but not of a kind for hard outside work. And polished to a shine!

4. The light "facings" to legs and left arm as well as maybe the jacket skirt are well applied.

There is a good image of a sailmaker at work in vol 2 of David Steel's
'Elements and Practice of Rigging and Seamanship...' first publishd in 1794, but unfortunately with his knees covered:

The BM also has a 1911 lithograph that may at least show a sailmaker in light coloured trousers but its not clear

Late 19th and 20th c. images tend to show then wearing long protective aprons, as here:
Our man also appears to be one-eyed.

Marcie Doran,

I think he patched his clothes himself. Some thread is dangling from the drawer and extra material is on the bench. There is also a green patch on his sleeve. In the larger painting, there are two green patches on his sleeve. In my opinion, he is supposed to be a man who does not have a wife to mend his clothing or cook him a meal but who is very content with his life.

He may well have done it himself but it all looks pretty consistently like canvas (i.e. not a more usual clothing or domestic fabric) and done for a utilitarian purpose beyond normal repair. The left sleeve reinforcing is also different from the right and apparently longer, to above the elbow and mainly on the underside (though both are seen from different angles).That would be consistent with a right-handed man using his left arm to pull heavy sail canvas across his knees, right-to-lef, as he worked, the unerside of the left arm being particularly subject to wear by doing so. The print on the wall underlines a seafaring connection. The fabric on the bench in front of his inverted hat looks as though it has a coloured pattern (i.e. a cloth one) though picture condition including an apparently yellowed varnish doesn't help. Overall it may be idiosyncratic, but it looks like occupational dress and my money is on 'one-eyed and probably ex-seaman sailmaker'.

Kieran Owens,

A close of the smoker in the larger painting of Condy's 'Interior of an Irish Inn at Ballyboyleboo' shows that he has only one eye and that his clothing is definitely a patchwork of repairs.

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Well-spotted and certainly within the ball-park: nets or canvas would make little odds in wear terms, not least for the water resistant quality of the latter if hauling out the former wet. That might also explain better the canvas added round the bottom of the coat, which would overlap that on the trousers when buttoned up. The 'Old Fisherman' was bequeathed to Exeter in 1892 and the point might be proved if if there's a lender list to the 1885 show.

Here's something a bit similar in the way of fisherman's knee protection (1840)

and here, on the right:

note the canvas 'shorts' over-trousers at centre doing the same thing. (Long canvas overtrousers, or aprons, are fairly common in later 19th and early 20th c. fishermen pictures.)

The picture was bequeathed to the museum in 1892 as per the estate of Kent and Jane Kingdon. Having checked the original bequest, the painting was called 'Old Man Smoking' (accession #K241) at the point when it entered the collection. The Kingdon's were the owners of the picture in 1885 when they lent it to the Fine Art exhibition at RAMM where it was referred to as 'Old Fisherman taking his ease' (#66) in the exhibition catalogue. I have looked at the minutes recorded from the time when the bequest was made, but I am yet to find any mention of the change to the title of the work.

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Thank you Exeter. The Kingdons presumably lent it in 1885 with the title they knew it by, though whether that was the artist's or not remains an open question. Being closer to its pre-1857 date of origin gives it some credibiity, while the apparently 'DIY' canvas reinforcing of the sitter's clothes against wear and/or wet ( shown in better detail in the version recently sold in Ireland) also supports 'fisherman's working dress' identification. It's also clearly the same one-eyed man in both pictures.

The Kingdons were already 'late' when their bequest inventory was drawn up. 'Old man smoking' is therefore most likely to be a practical description applied by whoever did that, without reference to what they had known and lent it as in 1885. At the least, on that front, the 'More information' slot on Art UK should say it was definitely the picture lent by them in 1885 as 'An old fisherman taking his ease'.

Subject to Sheens Stoddard' view as nominated leader here, I think the sitter is credibly identifiable as an 'old fisherman' in (perhaps idiosyncratic) canvas-reinforced working dress, since we have not yet found a closely similar example. Given that the other painting recently sold does not stand up as Condy's 'Ballyboyleboo' interior, and both have apparently naval prints in the background, the obvious default setting for both images is likely to be based on somewhere in the Plymouth area - i.e. Devon/Cornwall.

Kieran Owens,

A hi-res image of the posted notices on the wall behind the gentleman standing on his two wooden legs on the right hand side of the painting might better help identify the scene. One seems to say "Able seamen" and the other "Town...". This might be Condy's ironic joke as few of men in the painting seem "able". To me it they look like a group of veteran but disabled sailors, and the coloured naval battle print, left-of-centre, might be a reference to some war-time engagement in which they all participated.

Another clue that might help would be the identity of the military figure at the back, right-of-centre. Surely his uniform and the rosette on his hat could be identified by one of our naval expert contributors. As the painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1843 the uniform could date from the 1820s to that year.

The 'Able Seamen' bill is a likely to be a naval recruiting poster and the military figure may be a Marine rather than a soldier, Both might also suggest the intended date shown is before 1815 or not much later, but they also show why it is not the 'Ballyboyleboo' picture exhibited 1843. They are not the sort of thing one would see in an Antrim cottage/ inn, even an imaginary one.

Kieran Owens,

The Royal Academy's archive for 1843, the year of the exhibition of the Ballyboyleboo painting, shows that Condy had an address at Devonshire Terrace, in Plymouth, in July and August of that year:

This correspondence was with General Lambert Richard Loveday who died in December of that same year of 1843.


(Please excuse the long URL but I am away in Portugal and do not have access to my usual editing tools).

The same interior appears in this work by Condy in the Art UK database, so it would appear that it is a rather generic set up:

Mount Edgcumbe is also in Plymouth.

See also Condy's "The Fisherman's Wares":

Pieter's suggestion that this painting is a Plymouth scene rather than it being an Antrim one, is, on this evidence, highly plausible.

A biographical entry for Nicholas Condy, and his son Nicholas Matthew/s Condy (1818-1851), can be seen here:"43rd+regiment"&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiFmpfjrMf4AhXCRPEDHU2iA2MQ6AF6BAgCEAI#v=onepage&q=condy "43rd regiment"&f=false

Thanks Kieran: as mentioned at the top (and shown by the examples on Art UK) Condy senior is painter whose interior scenes show frequent re-use of the same general settings and details, and sometimes the same figures. It is at least likely that it was the dress of the Exeter sitter that caught his eye in the first place as something worth using, so the portrait is perhaps more likely to have been 'recycled' in the recently sold 'tavern scene' rather than extracted from it. I didn't previously know Condy had been in the army (as the signature in the latter implies) or that he had another son in military service as a lieutenant in 1843, possibly with the East India Company if at 'Pengang' [Penang?] as he wrote to General Loveday.

I don't think we need to pursue this one further, unless anyone has spotted the same figure (perhaps in different dress) in any other pictures by Condy senior.

Kieran Owens,

The Art Union Journal of 1843 described Condy's Royal Academy painting "An Interior of an Irish Cottage
at Ballyboyleboo, Co. Antrim", catalogue number 413, thus:

"No. 413. 'Interior of an Irish Cottage.' N. Condy. A very clever and accurate copy of one of the "bettermost" Irish Cottages. The furniture and et-cetera have been carefully considered and skillfully introduced."

This description hardly matches this discussion's painting.

Kieran Owens,

....or the one that has, most likely, been incorrectly named in the recent sale at Adam's in Dublin....

Kieran Owens,

It could be that in the "Ballyboyleboo" painting Condy has inserted his self-portrait, as the soldier at the back of the painting appears to be wearing the uniform of the 43rd (Monmouthshire) Regiment. Military experts might be able to better define why there is a blue, white and red cockade in his shako. Having come to it from the Royal Cornwall Militia, Condy entered the regiment on the 3rd May 1811 and rose to the rank of Lieutenant on the 24th February 1818. He retired on half-pay on the 25th December of that same year.

I wondered about that but doubt it will be demonstrable, and the soldier does not look much like Nicholas Matthew Condy in terms of a family resemblance

That picture is however not the focus of enquiry here, since not in public hands. I think it's sufficient that we have shown it is not the ' 'Ballyboyleboo' interior but more likely to be one (even if only imaginary) intended as near Plymouth and an apparent re-use of the 'old fisherman' portrait at Exeter. Having better identified that, and its provenance, I think we can probably leave the matter for Sheena Stoddard to wind up as the nominated group leader.

The original query about the identification of the dress of this sitter has been resolved, the title of the painting in 1885 identified, and much additional information about the artist and a related painting provided.

Pieter opened this discussion and subsequently gave much interesting information on the reinforcement of working clothing with canvas to protect a fisherman, for example when hauling wet nets. This convincingly confirmed the sitter as a fisherman. The collection’s title for the painting of ‘Old Man Smoking’ comes from an inventory of the Kent and Jane Kingdon Bequest in 1892. However, this was shown to be an error in the inventory. A few years earlier the title of the painting, when it was exhibited at RAMM in 1885 (, had been ‘Old Fisherman taking his ease’. The lender was Kent Kingdon. It is recommended that ART UK records this earlier title.

There is a related multi-figure painting by Condy of a tavern scene with veteran sailors, sold recently at a Dublin auction house, where the same fisherman appears. The painting was miscatalogued as an early 1840s interior of an Irish inn: it is much more likely to be based on somewhere in the Plymouth area and from two decades before. Although the date of this painting has not been discussed above, it is clearly c.1820 (say 1815-1825) as shown by the costume. This is an appropriate date for a subject of veteran sailors in the years after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. There are naval prints on the wall and the artist was largely based in the Plymouth area.

It cannot be proved if RAMM’s painting of the single figure dates from before or after the tavern scene. However, it demonstrates Condy’s practice of recycling figures, motifs and even whole interiors in his paintings.

Thank you to all the contributors to this discussion and for their research.