Completed London: Artists and Subjects, Portraits: British 20th C 72 Can anyone identify this man?

LSE_RWS_B0039
Topic: Subject or sitter

This ‘collector’ is probably a recognisable person.

The painting is signed twice. There is an oil painting, ‘King’s Cross’, signed ‘Robt. Brown’, in the collection of the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery. https://bit.ly/2PSpq10

Jade Audrey King, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. This work has been identified as a self portrait by Robert Brown (b.1927), painted c.1962. It has also been found that the medium is gouache, rather than pure watercolour, as previously recorded.

Thank you to everyone who participated in this discussion. To those viewing it for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.

71 comments

Why sign twice, in a slightly different way....?

Either it was photographed early on as a cropped image and the upper signature was added to be included in the shot, which seems a bit odd: or, perhaps, it's a self-portrait and the upper signature is in fact a title; i.e. a sort of artist's joke 'label' above his usual picture sign-off.

A serious-minded/ artistic man anyway, partly from the interest in ceramics (? but is the mug second from right silver), with the mug at far left possibly a Coronation commemorative; partly from the books which are mostly Penguin Classics on the top two shelves and what look mostly like art catalogues or oter 'slim monographs' lower down.

Martin Hopkinson,

The measurements cannot be correct 20 x 20 cm as this is an upright. Can they be corrected?

I think it would help if we can identify the artist more fully. In my view this work and the one of King's Cross are very probably by the same artist. The painting of King's Cross was exhibit number 430 at the Royal Academy show of 1956. The RA record the artist as Robert S Brown, which helps as there are other artists named Robert Brown. 'Our' Robert S Brown lived at 10 Courtfield Gardens, Ruislip, Middlesex from circa 1953-56 and from 1960-61 at 38, Hill Rise, Ruislip. On an initial look through the Ancestry website I can't find his birth information on a search against 1927. More work needed!

Martin Hopkinson,

Does the accession number provide any clue as to when the RWS acquired this painting?

Hat Jodelka,

I've posted the picture in a ceramics collectors forum and Mr Paul Henry suggest it might be Reginald George Haggar. Also the teapot he's holding is a Castleford Potteries (Wakefield) one.

Hat Jodelka,

Also Ms Pamela Fields suggests Geoffrey Godden but she's not been able to find of a picture of him when he was younger. The earlobe looks right though!

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Wendy Howard 01,

Robert Brown of Courtfield Gardens, Ruislip was born on 22nd July 1927 son of Walter Brown and Minnie O Brown. His father was an established Civil Servant. He lived in the 1950s at the same address with his mother Minnie

Betty Elzea,

The 'sitter' is not Geoffrey Godden, whom I knew when I was at the V&A in the 1950s and 1960s.

Hat Jodelka,

Yes, having spent the last hour or so comparing earlobes more closely you're right, and obviously you knew him. I came back to say I'm heavily leaning towards RG Haggar again. The similarity earlobe-wise is only the way that the lobe joins the side of the head. RG Haggar's ear matches much more closely.

Wendy Howard 01,

Further to above info his mother was Minnie Olive Bailey born 1903 in Chorlton on Medlock

Wendy Howard 01,

However, the above Robert of Ruislip has no middle initial S.

Wendy Howard 01,

The only person I might suspect could be the person is a Robert S Brown who lived at The Studios, 298 Honeypot Lane, Wembley with his wife Birgit K Brown, formerly Ragnurad, up to the 1960s. I'm mostly going by the address The Studios and the fact he has the middle initial S which the Ruislip Robert does not have.

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Wendy Howard 01,

Attached is a self portrait of Reginald George Haggar which does bear some resemblance to the subject of the painting

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Wikipedia summarizes, apparently based on the 'Suffolk Artists' biography produced on Paul Henry's suggestion by Het Jodelka, above (and with the same late-life photo):

'Reginald George Haggar (1905–1988) R.I., A.R.C.A., F.R.S.A. was a significant British ceramic designer. He was born in Ipswich and studied at Ipswich School of Art and the Royal College of Art. In 1929, he became assistant designer at Mintons pottery in Stoke-on-Trent, rising to art director six months later, a post he held until 1939. Working in water colours and ceramics, his designs reflected both the radical and lyrical elements of the Art Deco style.
After leaving Mintons, he became Master-in-Charge of the Stoke School of Art to 1941 and then of Burslem School of Art until 1945.
Thereafter he was a freelance artist and lecturer in the Potteries area. He painted many pictures of the north Staffordshire area. An annual ceramics lecture has been held in his memory each year called the Reginald Haggar Memorial Lecture given these days at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery.'

Beyond reasonable doubt - given the general likenesses and the pottery focus - this looks like the answer to the original question: others remaining are more about the artist and the portrait date, though presumably 1950s. Since it's in the RWS was he a member?

Osmund Bullock,

I'm not wholly convinced by the likeness - see attached comparison. But it's certainly plausible for a portrait by an artist of modest talent, especially if an early work. And it does need to be early - perhaps late 1940s, when Brown was 20 or so - if we are to believe the sitter is a man born in 1905. Despite the streak of white hair he seems quite youthful (though not impossibly so) for a man in his 40s, let alone more.

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Osmund Bullock,

Re the artist: Grant, I take it that you found one, at least, of the Ruislip address(es) given in the RA exhibitors' book, and extrapolated from there? If so then he must indeed be the 'Robert Brown' (b. 22/7/1927) Wendy found in (presumably) the 1939 Register. If not, and you were just guessing, then all that follows is irrelevant!

It's very common for middle initials to be omitted in censuses and suchlike, so the lack of it in the 1939 Register is not a problem. But this Robert is indeed elusive. His parents married in 1924 (3rd Quarter, Hammersmith Regn. District). The birth of probably his sister Margaret O. Brown (mother's maiden name Bailey) was registered at Hammersmith in 1925 Q3 - she died the following year at Brentford, so her absence from the 1939 record (see attached) is explained. The Brentford connection leads to a possible - in fact the only possible - birth entry for Robert as the 'Bobbie Brown' whose birth was registered at Brentford, in 1927 Q3 (MMN also Bailey). Discrepancies between names registered at birth and ones with which christened (or just by which known) are also quite common, so I feel confident this is the Ruislip man.

Electoral registers show Robert living with his (clerical officer) father Walter & mother Minnie at Courtfield Gdns, Ruislip until 1957, then at Hill Rise until 1960 ('61 is missing). By 1962 they had all moved to 3 River Bank, East Molesey, Robert being in a separate upper flat. That's the last electoral register available, and I can find no telephone listing for any of them there 1962-1982 - however 'Brown' is too common a name to identify the right person(s) if they moved elsewhere. Father Walter died early in 1975 (Surrey North, which includes Molesey), mother Minnie in 1981 (same district) - there appears to be no probate or administration for either of them. Nor can I find a death (up to 2007) for a Robert Brown with the right DOB (in England & Wales the indexes after March 1969 give it exactly).

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Robert S. Brown of 10 Courtfield Gds, Ruislip, exhibited at the RA in 1953 (488), as Robert Brown from same address in 1954 (502 and 511), in 1956 (430 'King's Cross') and presumably the same Robert Brown from 38 Hill Rise, Ruislip, in 1960 (639 and 626) and 1961 (620). The same (thanks, Osmund) Robert Brown exhibited from 3 Riverbank, East Mosley, in 1962, 1965, 1968, 1974 and 1979. So the 'S' is used only once. Full data on chronicle250.com.

It seems to me that very improbable that this young dilettante collector could be Reginald Haggar who must have been in his 40s or 50s when this was painted. There would have been many such characters in this period. I am afraid we have the usual tendency to go for the most famous names and look for confirmation.

Kieran Owens,

As Grant Waters states above, 'Our' Robert S Brown lived at 10 Courtfield Gardens, Ruislip, Middlesex. In 1954, he exhibited two works at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. Number 502 was entitled 'Sports Period' and number 511 was entitled 'Donorum Dei Dispensatio Fidelis' (which translates as "The Faithful Dispensation of the Gifts of God" and which is the Latin motto of Harrow School).

In 1956, from the same address, Robert Brown exhibited, at that year's RA Summer Exhibition, the painting 'King's Cross', as entry number 430.

Robert S. Brown was born in London in 1936 and is currently represented by the Mall Galleries. A detailed biographical note can be seen on their website here:

https://bit.ly/2IdchwD

Of the two works submitted by the artist to the RA Summer show in 1954, it should be noted that the biographical note states that one was a self-portrait. If this discussion's work is that self-portrait it would explain the double signing on the canvas.

The Coronation Mug in our portrait suggests that the work was executed shortly before or after the June 1953. The scene may well show a 17 or 18-year-old Robert Brown in rooms at Harrow, if that is, in fact, where he went to school.

As I believe that Mr. Brown is still alive, perhaps a direct enquiry to him, through the New English Arts Club, would confirm my suggestion. If is is, then his date of birth on this work, and the Potteries Museum listing for the 'King's Cross', should be changed to 1936.




Fair enough, but if it is early work by Brown it could -as Osmund observes -be 1940s. There's also a coincidence related to the 1932 Haggar self-portrait drawing of 1932 already produced by Wendy Howard, that the dedicatee at the bottom is 'R. Bailey Wood'.
Bailey too is a common surname, including as Brown's mother's maiden name, but less so as a first name. When used as such, surnames can indicate family connections, albeit often at some remove.

Betty Elzea,

I repeat, the 'sitter' is definitely not Geoffrey Godden and I doubt it is Reginald Haggar. Just because he is admiring a Castleford teapot one should not jump to the conclusion that he is a dealer or expert in ceramics. I think the portrait must date from the post-war late 1940s or early 1950s (Coronation mug: 1953?) The setting, clothing, 'look', is familiar to me at the time when I was an art student. Collecting then was amazingly affordable if you had an 'eye' - pennies and shillings!

Wendy Howard 01,

The Robert Brown of Ruislip is definitely born 1927 and not 1936. His his full dated of birth is indicated on the 1939 England & Wales Register. Living with the family at the time was a Richard J Bailey, a printer's compositor born 1914, presumably a relative of Minnie Brown who was formerly a Miss Bailey.
There is a Robert Bailey Wood born 1888, Ulverstone, Lancashire.

Kieran Owens,

Assuming, for the moment, that he is the same person, if Mr. Brown was born in 1927, as the 1939 Register suggests, and not 1936 as the Mall Galleries's biography states, then he would have been 26 in the year of the Coronation, which completely blows my schoolboy theory out of the water. However, there might be a reason why his birth year is not certain. If he responds to these enquiries perhaps a good one will be forthcoming.

Courtfield Gardens in Ruislip is less than five miles from Harrow School.

Wendy Howard 01,

In 1929 Minnie and Walter lived at 30 St Andrews Road, Acton. Is that anywhere near Brentford? Just looked on Google, it's not far, so that could make Bobby Brown registered 1927 Brentford as THE Robert.





Wendy Howard 01,

Antique Sowter & Co. Blue And White Feldspathic Castleford Ceramic Teapot & Lid. From studying the teapots online, this looks like the one he is holding and admiring.

Osmund Bullock,

Wendy, yes - Acton was in Brentford Regn District (see https://bit.ly/2Dxr2fk ). But there was already no doubt the Bobbie Brown birth registered at Brentford was Robert Brown of Ruislip and East Molesey (unless the birth was not registered at all) - as I said, there are literally no other possibles. And really it makes no difference anyway, as we know his DOB from the 1939 Register entry you found!

Wendy Howard 01,

So, having confirmed this is the 1927 Robert, we hope, who is the 1936 Robert I wonder Osmund?

Kieran Owens,

A reply has been received from Mr. Bob Brown, the artist represented by the Mall Galleries. He states that the Robert Brown who exhibited items number 502 and 511 in the 1954 RA Summer Exhibition was not him, although he did in fact exhibit two paintings in the very same show (212 and 697), the latter being a portrait of the artist, but under the name of Robert Auger.

It is extraordinary how a simple coincidence can lead to a completely incorrect assumption of identity. The public can be grateful that I am not a police detective!

It still might well be the case, however, that our painting is the self-portrait by the artist Robert Brown or Ruislip and elsewhere, and was the item number 511 entitled 'Donorum Dei Dispensation Fidelis / The Faithful Dispensation of the Gifts of God'

Can the Watercolour Society supply an image of the reverse of this work, to see if there are any existing labels or numbers that might help?

Kieran Owens,

To which other painting are you referring?

Tim Williams,

Pretty sure that's because it's Robert A. Brown of 39 Chestnut Road! Think the other painting on artuk was down as Robert A. Brown when I looked the other day. 3 exhibits at RA '65,'67,'69.

Kieran Owens,

Robert S. Brown and his wife Birgit K. Rognerud were actually listed in the 1956 - 1961 Wembley electoral registers as living at 298, Kingsbury Road and not at Honeypot Lane. They were married in Hendon in 1946. The 1927-born Robert would therefore have been only 19 years old at the time. As this Robert was living in Ruislip at Courtfield Gardens until at least 1956 and at Hill Rise in 1960, they are unlikely to be the same person.

Tim Williams,

He might make an appearance in the 15th-19th editions of 'Whos Who in Art' or possibly in the 'Dictionary of Artists.... since 1945'. Haven't got my copies to hand at the moment. He's not in Waters or Greutzner.

Kieran Owens,

Tim, to which other painting on ArtUK were you referring above?

Tim Williams,

Sorry ignore all that, I seem to be going senile.. you're right, since the other one was purchased at the RA in '56.

Osmund Bullock,

Well, I’m glad we’ve got Robert ‘Bob’ Brown, NEAC out of the way – or have we? I assume he was also asked if our portrait was his work or not – unlikely, I suppose, if he was calling himself Robert Auger at the time. Such is my vanity that I’m slightly annoyed he got back so quickly – after going through the whole 1954 catalogue looking for exhibitors who showed a self-portrait and a still life, and preferably lived near Croydon Coll. Of Art, I had concluded that he might have exhibited as Robert Auger, and was going to write that up today!

Osmund Bullock,

I think we are getting tied up with a red herring re the middle initial ‘S’ (and incidentally, why was it thought that RB of NEAC had the initial?). There is some circular reasoning going on here – the artist of our portrait does not sign with it, and there is nothing directly associated with the picture to suggest it. The 'Robt. Brown' form of the painting’s signature has (along with period and a reasonably consistent style) led us to feel that this is probably the same artist that painted ‘King’s Cross’. This in turn has led us to the undoubted artist of the latter work, Robert Brown of Ruislip etc.

The middle ‘S’ initial is *only* relevant in the context of RB of Ruislip, so there is no point whatever in looking for anybody else genealogically called ‘Robert S. Brown’ after 1953 (and really from 1939) – we know exactly where RB of Ruislip was from then until 1979, unless he slipped out to get married briefly before returning to the parental home. And inasmuch as it matters, I think even RB of Ruislip’s use of ‘S’ is suspect – the only mention of it is in his first exhibit at the RA in 1953. And since it is never seen again in 25 further years of exhibiting there (the chronicle250 index** is misleading), and there’s no sign of it in any of his numerous electoral roll listings or anywhere else found so far, I am inclined to think it was either an error by the RA, or an affectation he briefly adopted and then quickly thought better of.

[**Thank you very much indeed, Andrew, for drawing our attention to the chronicle250 resource. I was quite ignorant of its existence, and it is of huge value.]

Kieran Owens,

Osmond, in my enquiry to Bob Brown, NEAC, I sent him the link to this discussion and specifically asked him if our painting was by him and the answer was:

"The painting is not by me and in 1954 when I first exhibited there, I went under the name of Robert Auger."

I have, in the meantime, asked him if he happened to know who was Robert Brown and I am awaiting his reply.

I cannot image that the RA made a mistake with Robert of Ruislip's name, as it is included twice in the 1953 catalogue, once on page 36 as Robert S. Brown for item number 488 "Where do we go from here", and again on page 93 as Brown, R. S., of 10, Courtfield-gardens, Ruislip, Middlesex. The use of the S. might well be, therefore, as you suggest, a temporary affectation.







Kieran Owens,

Image, above, should, of course, be imagine.

Martin Hopkinson,

Presumably either the artist or the man portrayed had some sort of link with the Royal Watercolour Society. May be it would be profitable to check those who were members of the society from 1953 onwards

Wendy Howard 01,

It seems someone called Brown is still living at Riverbank East Molesey. Records show a Robert Brown living with a Lesley Brown up until about 2012, but she seems to be still there. I am sure she will know who the sitter is. Lesley Brown.

Wendy Howard 01,

Robert had married a Lesley A Hulland. I think this must be his wife.

Wendy Howard 01,

I haven't telephoned her, it's a bit late now. I would be fine if someone else wanted to do it.

Osmund Bullock,

Well done, Wendy – it didn’t occur to me to check that! They were married in 1987, and their daughter Georgina was born in 1989. I imagine that Lesley (b.1952) is Robert’s widow rather than wife, so some sensitivity is required. I’ve actually found an email address for their daughter – so if you agree, it might be an idea for me to start with her.

Edit: Although they are in the public domain, for security reasons I think it’s unwise to leave Lesley’s full contact details up on here in close proximity to all our research – Marion (Richards), if you agree it’s desirable, could you redact the relevant bits?

Osmund Bullock,

Right, I have emailed Georgina anyway. If she feels it would be fine for us to contact her mother I will go ahead and phone her - but I don't wish to pre-empt you, Wendy (or anyone else), if you'd prefer to do it yourself. Obviously we should avoid multiple contacts.

Wendy Howard 01,

I'm pleased that you've made arrangements to contact her via the daughter. I put the contact details on only because they weren't ex-directory, but am glad you have redacted them just in case.

Osmund Bullock,

I’m afraid my email to Georgina bounced (she has changed jobs)...but I called the East Molesey number anyway, and I have excellent news on many fronts.

First, and best of all, Robert Brown is alive and well at 91. I spoke to his wife Lesley (actually known as Ann, and as Ann Hulland professionally – she’s also an artist) and also to Bob himself. They could not have been more helpful, and I have all the answers we need.

Bob is indeed the artist of our watercolour and yes, it is a self-portrait - well done, Pieter, for calling that right from the start. ‘The Collector’ was always its title, and it was given to the RWS, of which Bob is a member, in the days when newly-elected members were (according to him) very much expected to donate one of their works to the Society.

It is later than we thought – he can’t be sure exactly, but says it dates from the early 1960s when he was about 35, i.e. c.1962. Presumably the RWS will know when he became an associate. Apparently Bob and Ann still have the chair in the painting...and also the teapot!

What is puzzling to me is that this was not known to the RWS. It is not clear from the intro who initiated this discussion – was it the RWS or was it Jade herself? Unusually there is no comment from the Collection, so I do hope someone spoke to them – I’d hate to think that all this work has just repeated information they already had!

Betty Elzea,

Wonderful result! Congratulations all!

Jacinto Regalado,

Is he also the painter of "King's Cross" at The Potteries Museum?

Osmund Bullock,

Yes, Jacinto, he is - he remembered it being sold to a museum "in the Midlands somewhere", and when I mentioned Stoke-on-Trent confirmed that was right. When I began to explain that it was the shared form of signature that sent us in the right direction, his wife immediately said 'R-o-b-t with a full-stop Brown' before I had a chance to describe it. I also asked about the possible Harrow connection (because of their motto being the title of a work exhibited at the RA in 1954); but it didn't seem to mean anything to him, and I didn't press the point.

Osmund, I emailed the RWS for permission to open a discussion and for more information. Permission was given on the telephone and their contact agreed that they'd also like to find out more. Jade King proposed the discussion about a year ago. Occasionally someone asks us to propose a discussion on their behalf; if that's the case, they are credited or quoted in the topic text.

Kieran Owens,

Congratulations Osmund. That is a superb result. Did Mr Brown make any reference to the 'S' initial from 1953? Additionally, while removing the word 'probably' from the current attribution, perhaps the RWS would also add the work's correct meaurements. As Martin has pointed above, they can surely not be 20cm x 20cm, even if only estimated.

Wendy Howard 01,

Brilliant. Great to know Robert is still alive and was able to solve all queries.

A case of'...by indirections, find directions out, and so proceed according': well done Osmund. Perhaps you could push your luck with a further note to ask Mr Brown for a short professional 'bio' to add to the records while he can still do it himself! We spend enough time trying to retrieve them for those who didn't leave a record, or were not subject to any on paper by those who knew them. (I'm glad my original guess that the upper 'signature' in the RWS image might be an 'identifier' if not actually the formal title seems to be the case)

Osmund Bullock,

I have emailed Ann Hulland-Brown to ask if a biog might be possible (and also to see if Bob can explain the confusing middle 's' initial in 1953). Will keep you posted.

Fay Brown of the RWS writes:

'This is exciting news. I’ve copied our Hon Curator James too. It’s quite difficult for us to access works in the archive since we are between archivists at the moment so I’m not sure we can provide dimensions for a while. However I’m happy for you to remove the ‘probably’ from the attribution. Many thanks for getting to the bottom of this.'

Even though the formal title is 'A Collector' the addition of '(self-portrait, c.19XX) -or whatever the date was when known- would clarify a little, especially in relation to the purpose of the upper signature.

Kieran Owens,

Osmund, is it your understanding from your conversation with Mr. Brown that the painting is entitled 'The Collector' or 'A Collector'?

Re: dimensions, given its inaccessible, one can at least calculate better approximate 'sight' size based on the screen image. Taking the width as the given 20 cm, the height is 32.8.

The collection agrees to the addition of '(Self Portrait, c.19XX)'. Unfortunately Robert Brown’s election dates aren’t listed in their book. The question has been passed to Hon Curator James Faure Walker, who may be able to help.

Estimated height needs correcting to c. 38 cm - and you could ask the artist if he remembers the election date now we have his contact details (see Osmund's e-mail last week)....

‘The Time has come the Walrus said’ to draw this rich discussion to a close:

'The Collector (Self portrait)', c.1962, gouache on paper. Royal Watercolour Society.

We are short of the dates for Brown’s election to the Royal Watercolour Society, and have noted that the measurements cannot be correct. When the RWS can measure it properly and check its archives, it would be good to put the record straight on these two details.

The question of the double signature could be that as Robert Brown’s wife Ann Brown (née ‘Lesley’ Hulland) made clear (‘R…o…b...t with a full-stop Brown), he came to sign himself in a distinctive way, so as not to be confused with other Robert Browns, whereas as a young man he had signed himself ‘Rob Brown’.

Establishing the artist attribution was a head-spinning exercise in Census returns from Ruislip, via a rogue ‘S’ to Wembley where an artist of the same name, but born nine years later, lived.

Robert Brown was born in 1927, and registered at Brentford as ’Bobbie’.
He exhibited at the RA from 10 Courtfield Gardens, Ruislip, Middlesex, until 1957, then from 38 Hill Rise, Ruislip to 1961. In 1962 he moved with his parents to 3 Riverbank, East Mosley, Surrey, and exhibited from there until 1979.

There were two contenders for sitter proposed both well-known ceramic specialists – Reginald Haggar and Geoffrey Godden, and a spirited rejection of the latter suggestion was made by Betty Elzea. Both fell away as the artist himself made clear it was a self-portrait.

We have seen fine examples of Castleford Pottery feldspathic teapots. You never know where Art Detective will take you next.

It should be noted the medium is gouache or body colour as it sometimes known and not pure watercolour. Interestingly, though no one commented on this, the torso of the figure is clearly painted over the bookshelf and its books.

Thanks once again to the team, Grant Waters, Pieter van der Merwe, Martin Hopkinson, Wendy Howard, Kieran Owens, Osmund Bullock and all the others, who chipped in along the way; as always what a fascinating exercise.