An Unknown Young Man
Topic: Subject or sitter

This portrait, on photographic evidence, reminded me of Walter Tull, the first black player to play for Tottenham Hotspur.

Raymond Pettigrew, Entry reviewed by Art UK

38 comments

The Collection has commented: 'Walter Tull Archive (run by Tull's family) have confirmed this is not a portrait of Walter Tull.’ If not Walter Tull, who might he be?

Kieran Owens,

Could the portrait be Copnall's 'The Blue Scarf' which was featured in the Liver Sketching Club's annual exhibition at the Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, in April 1940? The Liverpool Daily Post, of Saturday 13th April 1940, printed the following of it:

"F. J. (sic) Copnall makes an outstanding contribution to the works in oils. His portrait, 'The Blue Scarf' (26), is a happy combination of subtlety and decision."

The mistake on the reviewer's part of assuming that the middle initial was a J, and not clearly a T, might be explained by the following reasoning. The attached composite, with a known signature of Copnall's alongside this portrait's one, shows distinct similarities, especially on close inspection, where, at the tip of the top-most inserted white arrow, there appears to be the right-hand end of a T cross-bar. This is only seen close up and otherwise this initial looks like an I. of possibly a J. The F. in this portrait additionally shows the faint presence of the lower cross-bar, jutting ever so slightly out to the left. And finally, both signatures show that typical underscoring of Copnall's final L.

A confusion regarding initials was not confined to the Liverpool Daily Post. The Liverpool Evening Express referred to him as "S. J. Copnall" for the same 1940 exhibition.

Although not necessarily or at all an exhibition of sketches, given that 'The Blue Scarf' was shown at the Liver Sketching Club exhibition, of which Copnalll was at one stage its President, and that this portrait does not, like the old man, recto, appear to be a finished work (viz. the dark looming shadow of another figure to the left of this sitter,) it could be that this work was in progress, if it was the one exhibited in 1940.

If the above has credibility, the sitter could have a person who modelled at the Club's "from life" workshop sessions.

Perhaps, if the records of the Club are extant, the catalogue for the 1940 exhibition might give a description, dimensions, or even be illustrated, in which case the proposal might be correct.

The Club is still active, though for such an important institution its malfunctioning website is a chore to navigate:

http://www.liversketchingclub.com

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Osmund Bullock,

I think that's a very good call, Kieran, well done; it seemed most unlikely to me that it dated from "circa 1900" as suggested on the Collection website. I also agree that he is likely to have been a model (ditto the old man verso).

I'm not sure I see your "dark looming shadow of another figure" - I think it's just an effect of differing paint texture and/or partly-wiped dirt that happens to vaguely resemble a human shape.

The painting on the reverse of 'our' portrait is shown here on Art UK. I hadn't realised before that we held an image of it:

https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/portrait-of-an-old-gentleman-130440/view_as/grid/search/keyword:malcolm-matley-moore-and-miss-f-elsie-matley-moore/page/1

When I first saw the Portrait of An Unknown Young Man I thought it likely to be from the 1920s. Having seen the portrait of the elderly man that appears even older than that to me.

Kieran's suggestion about the painting 'The Blue Scarf' is very helpful but of course I think we need to keep an open mind on other possibilities too. For example I have seen another FTC portrait on ArtPrice, this time of an elderly man with a long grey/blue scarf. There may well be other works we don't yet know about.

It would help if we could be more certain of the provenance of our painting. The notes say a gift to the National Trust in 1966 from the Worcester Archaeological Society, and then adds 'bequeathed by Malcolm Matley Moore and Miss F. Elsie Matley Moore'. As Elsie died in 1985 perhaps the work was gifted by her and her brother to WAS before 1966? If correct this would imply that they had bought or otherwise acquired the work personally rather than it having been bought at some stage by WAS. From research undertaken, it appears that the Moores settled in Worcester in 1924 and that they became members of WAS in 1923 or a little later.

Given the subject of our painting and assuming that a date of circa 1920 may be possible, I wondered if there was a link to the US military and specifically the American Expeditionary Force which embarked for France via Liverpool between April 1917 and September 1918. More than 800,000 American men and women passed through the city of Liverpool which was by far the busiest UK port receiving US troops. A large number of those in the AEF were of African American heritage. I presume that those who did return home, may well have done so through Liverpool. The service people must have presented opportunities to artists looking for interesting sitters.

Kieran Owens,

Perhaps it is not the outline of another figure but maybe is Copnall experimenting with various positions on the canvas for the sitter. The attached will hopefully show that the distinctive left-hand-side ridge line between shades of the dark background do not correspond with any possible depiction of the sitter's body, unless he was unusually physically deformed.

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Kieran Owens,

More on the connection between the Moores and Greyfriars can be seen here:

https://bit.ly/36I8WCZ

The Moores moved into the house in 1949, the year of Copnall's death, suggesting that they owned this portrait from an earlier time.

And as John Malcolm Matley Moore's dates are 1897 to 1982 and Florence Elsie Moore's are 1900 to 1985, the bequest was, presumably, not one from the estate of a deceased person, unless from an older member of the family. If it was bequeathed by the siblings as part of some philanthropic gift, surely there must be some extant legal paperwork that might hold some clues.

Mark Wilson,

The description of Greyfriars in ArtUK:

https://artuk.org/visit/venues/national-trust-the-greyfriars-5819

says that the Matley Moore siblings gave the house the the Trust in 1966. This very informative essay on Elsie and her work as a recorder of medieval decorative work, especially stained glass:

https://vidimus.org/issues/issue-72/feature/

says Elsie continued to live there until she went to a nursing home. It's a not uncommon arrangement with the National Trust for donors to retain a lifetime (or even perpetual) free tenancy, though usually with grander properties (there were I think tax advantages). And ArtUK states "according to their wishes, [Greyfriars] has been tenanted ever since to maintain a domestic atmosphere rather than turning it into a museum".

Presumably the Moores included some paintings as part of the donation (as they did some furniture) and these are decorative rather than 'of period', including some flower paintings by Elsie, to add to the 'lived in' look. It's possible that they are specifically listed in the acquisition documents of 1966, though equally they could simply be what Elsie left behind when she went into the Home and they became our old friend 'unknown acquisition method'.

Though the Moores lived in Worcester from the 1920s, the family was originally from Cheshire. Elsie seems mainly have studied art in Birmingham, but there may have been links to the North West still, which explains the purchase of these sketches from a Merseyside painter. They seem to have toured about a fair bit and may have picked this up en route.

I think there's no need as Grant suggests to import this subject from America. Liverpool has had a Black and hence mixed race communities for centuries and we know that Black subjects were sitting for painters such as William Charles Penn there in the 20s:

https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/head-of-a-black-man-67993/

So this is probably just a local, or maybe even a fellow member of the Sketching Club.

Osmund Bullock,

To bequeath is by definition (at least in England since the late C17th) "to make a formal assignation of property of which one is possessed to any one, so as to pass to the recipient after one's death: to ‘leave’ by Will". It formerly had a number of broader meanings, now obsolete, including to make such a gift immediately; but as the OED says, the former (i.e. after death) is the "only surviving sense, for which it is the proper term".

So as it stands, the NT's provenance statement is puzzling - and the slightly fuller one on their website (https://bit.ly/3wLiSWT) makes no more sense either. I can only think that the house and endowment (see attached news story) came in 1966, but the contents were left later by Will - or it may just be that the person at the NT writing the catalogue didn't understand the difference between a bequest and a gift.

It seems to be a very small group of paintings: less than a dozen canvases on Art UK, of which three are by the sister Elsie herself, and this one and the one on the back are quite unlike anything else there. On the face of it the Moores don't appear to have been collectors of contemporary art, so the presence of this one is mysterious. I note that the central figure in one of the other paintings (https://bit.ly/3kuyX0H) is also a person of colour...but that seems a bit far-fetched as a possible link.

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Osmund Bullock,

Sorry, Mark, a bit of an overlap there. I completely agree about not needing to look beyond native Liverpool for mixed-race sitters, as I know from my own family - I discovered a few years ago that a maternal great aunt of mine was one of three married white Liverpool women who between 1914 & 1921 bore a child to the same, evidently very attractive black man, a merchant seaman and later dock labourer from St Vincent who settled in the city in 1912...and as you say, the significant black presence there is centuries older than that. In any case I don't believe for a minute that's a WWI US military haircut. See https://bit.ly/36I2BY7

Osmund Bullock,

Though Grant doesn't give a link to the "elderly man with a long grey/blue scarf", my guess is it must be this one: https://bit.ly/3BoQ3Dp. I agree that it could also be the work exhibited in 1940, though the scarf's pattern is perhaps more striking than its colour; on which subject it's hard to know which of the two - ours or the old man - in truth has the bluer scarf, as there's no way of knowing which (if either) has the truer colour balance in the online image.

Attached is a comparison (no. 1) with another image of the old man painting from a different website, which creates a very different impression. And playing the same game with our painting, I'm attaching a comparison for it (no.2), first as seen on the Art UK site, and second with just a small colour balance adjustment - the result as you can see is that the flash of blue suddenly becomes a lot more prominent, and to my eye creates a far more convincing candidate for a painting called 'The Blue Scarf'. But what does it look like in the flesh?

Osmund Bullock,

I might add that the scarf becomes still more significant in the composition if you think (as I do) that the painted outline of the man and his clothing in fact follows, more or less, the dotted red line in the attached (RHS) image; and that the confusing dark/light shading on the left of the picture is just the result of a cursory and incomplete wipe (outlined by the green dotted line) that has either partly removed the accumulation of dirt on the painting's surface, and/or (if the cloth was damp or oily) created a window through a fogged varnish layer.

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Louis Musgrove,

In Kieran's NT link-17-07 22.47 the blurb says Elsie was keen on upcycling.There is the possibility she found this in a Junk shop-cheap.
BTW. Isn't Greyfriars Building and Garden lovely!

Louis Musgrove,

BTW- here is a very out of the box thought . I refered to the reverse painting of an old man with white beard as a possible sketch for G.H.Hewiit as Sir Roger de Poitou.( Copnall ) Dated 1907. I now discover that Liverpool had a big founding Pageant in 1907-700 years since charter. So as this is on the same fabric - perhaps our sitter was also involved in that Pageant???
Sir Roger de Poitou was big up north after the conquest.

Louis Musgrove,

Here is description of part of that pageant.

Period IX. Wealth and Charity

A pair of century trophies announcing the year 1700 were at the head of this section; a large picture banner depicting the building of Liverpool's first dock followed this. Figures associated with this time such as the Mayor (Sir Thomas Johnson) and the engineer of the dock (Mr Steers) accompanied the banner. A float was in the wake of this, depicting the slave trade. This tableau is described in the programme as follows:

Seated on a throne, under a canopy of gold and brown, is a draped figure typifying ‘Wealth,’ holding in her left hand a golden cornucopia. She is supported on either side by the celebrated ‘slave captains,’ John Newton and John Crowe. The former commanded a slave ship while studying for the Ministry and was afterwards a highly respected Liverpool Divine. Behind her stands another famous slave trader, and at each end of the car is a group of slaves, while at the back is shown a slave driver. On each side of the Car are six slaves and a driver.

Charity came after this with a painted banner depicting the local Blue Coat Hospital founded in 1708 by Bryan Blundell. This part of the parade ended with a collection of characters associated with this charity and with the School for the Blind (founded by Edward Rushton) and accompanied by the 'Band of the Blue Coat Hospital in their original costume'. The 'Blue Coat Hospital Song' was sung as this section entered. At the end of the section was a cart drawn by six donkeys which carried Molly Bushell, the alleged inventor of Everton toffee; her cart was followed by children.

Period X. The Age of War

Kieran Owens,

The portrait of George Henry Hewitt was reviewed in The Art Journal of 1907 as "George H. Hewitt, Esq., as Roger de Poitou . A reminiscence of the Liverpool Pageant."

I do not believe that these are two portraits are of the same man and I certainly doubt that it was a sketch for the "Roger de Poitou" painting. The old man has a narrower face than Hewitt's broad one and is far older and more unkempt than Hewitt looked in 1907. Could it be Hewitt, 19 years later at the end of his life? Most unlikely.

A death notice for Hewitt, from the Gloucestershire Echo, of Monday 14th June 1926, is attached.

Osmund Bullock,

Yes, vanishingly unlikely to be Hewitt, I agree; and I very much doubt that the 1907 Liverpool pageant has any connection with our portrait. I almost hope it hasn't, granted that rather disturbing description of the event.

On slightly more solid ground, it would indeed be helpful if the 1940 catalogue gives the size of 'The Blue Scarf' (though I fear it's unlikely): assuming it has been measured properly, our portrait (c.20½ x 16½ in.) is significantly smaller than the one of the old man with the blue-grey check scarf and pipe (24 x 20 in.). And might there be anything written on the stretcher or back of the frame? - the image we have of the verso show only the canvas. Having said that, even if we *were* to know that our portrait is the Liver Sketching Club painting, I doubt that we will ever discover the sitter's name: as Kieran suggests, he was probably just a model.

Anyway, Liverpool Record Office / Archives has a copy of the 1940 LSC catalogue (and others), along with (inter alia) some of the club's archives 1926-1957. See attached.

Martin, do you have any connections there that might enable us to get an image without a large bill? Or perhaps an official-sounding email from our admin team might swing it...

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I have edited the discussion appropriately in the light of your comment Osmund at the weekend, and removed several duplicate entries that crept in (two from Kieran and one from Louis).

Martin Hopkinson,

Osmund, I left Liverpool in 1977! Most of the current staff will have very little idea who I am - it is probably over a decade since I last was in Merseyside and the Record Office, I understand , is a very different place now

Osmund Bullock,

Thank you, David.

Heavens, Martin, that really is another age...I knew of your connection, but had no real idea of the 'when', sorry. In 1977 I was not far off the start of my *first* career (assuming I can call art history & AD my second, though it's pushing it). I take your point: even eight years after leaving showbiz I'd be hard pressed to find a useful contact there now.

Kieran Owens,

David Brown, the compiler of the Liverpool Record Office record posted by Osmund, appears to be on Facebook with a connection still to the Liver Sketching Club. Perhaps someone with a Facebook account could reach out to him to see if he has access to the 1940 catalogue, or any other relevant material:

https://bit.ly/3rnrnqg

Osmund Bullock,

Thanks for identifying David Brown as the right man to contact, Kieran - he's the Club's secretary and de facto archivist, and has sent a swift and immensely helpful reply (along with a short biog of the Copnalls, which I attach). I'm giving it almost verbatim, as it explains everything we need to know at this stage:

" ... The club is indeed still very active and, at the moment, I am organising many activities to mark our 150th anniversary next year. I have written the history of the club and compiled biographies of all known members since 1872 - including, of course, Frank Copnall.

As you know, I placed many of the club's historic items with the Liverpool Archives for protection and will check the exhibition catalogues to establish what is shown for number 26 in 1940 - especially the dimensions. I also have contacts at the Lady Lever Art Gallery - it is two miles from my home - who may have some information. The club's exhibitions were held there when the studio in Liverpool city centre was damaged by bombing.

At the moment, I cannot say exactly when I will be able to visit the Liverpool Archives but will do so as soon as possible and let you know what I find. ... "

He's clearly very busy on the Club's behalf (and who knows what else), so I've emphasised that he mustn't let us get in the way of what he has to do. A little patience may therefore be needed, but could - just possibly - be rewarded.

Meanwhile I made a sort of request yesterday, but it was buried within a long post and may be worth repeating: is there anything written, or perhaps a label, on the stretcher or back of the frame? - the image we have of the verso ('Portrait of an Old Gentleman') shows only the canvas.

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Kieran Owens,

Osmund, that is impressively fast progress. Well done. It will be interesting to learn of any of David Brown's revelations.

We may wish to bear in mind that Frank T Copnall also exhibited regularly in the Autumn exhibitions of the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool (he normally showed 4 works there annually) and with the Liverpool Academy of Arts, of which body he was a member. The LAA shows were held at The Blue Coat Chambers in School Lane, Liverpool. I have one catalogue only for the LAA (for 1938) but quite a few for the Walker Art Gallery shows which I'll check.

Tamsyn Taylor,

I think that it is pointless to look for any identity other than Walter Tull. The proportion of the features, the slight projection of the top lip over the bottom one, the sweetness of expression in the face, are all Walter Tull.
The family might hold an archive, but they are not necessarily experts in the assessment of images.
I don't think there is any question about this being Walter Tull.
https://news.sky.com/story/why-britains-first-black-officer-who-gave-up-tottenham-football-career-to-fight-deserves-military-cross-11300828

Jacinto Regalado,

I think Tull had more tightly curled and stiffer hair, thinner eyebrows and a shorter philtrum. Also, Tull died in 1918, and this picture is probably later than that.

National Trust,

Please note - as above - the Walter Tull Archive, run by his descendants, have confirmed this is not a portrait of Walter Tull.

National Trust

Tamsyn Taylor,

I keep saying this.
A painted portrait is a likeness, not a photograph.

Tull died in 1918. At which point, he was an older man. No-one alive saw him looking as he did at this age. One might presume that a family would know whether this is him or not , but that is not necessarily the case.
I have been told categorically by a certain family that a particular photograph was a particular historic figure...... who died in 1798.

So the question in this case is - How does the Family KNOW that this is NOT Walter Tull?

Here are some portraits. They ALL represent Walter Tull.

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Jacinto Regalado,

Tull was born in 1888, so he was no more than 30 when he died. The central parting of his hair is not seen in our sitter. I also doubt our picture is pre-WWI. I remain unconvinced.

Kieran Owens,

Tamsyn, an insistence based on an opinion is not sufficient evidence in these Art UK discussions. What is needed is proof, which is what, in general, all of the contributors to these discussions strive to find and present. When you can present the proof that this is Tull you will be believed. Until then, all that you are you are doing is offering an opinion.

As for your attachments above, all but the image of Tull wearing his hat show his very distinctive hair parting, which can also be seen in every photograph of him available on the internet. This sitter in this portrait, as Jacinto has referenced above, does not display that hair parting, which leads to the conclusion that this is not Tull. Veritable, irrefutable proof that the sitter is Tull is the only thing that will convince.

Osmund Bullock,

How does the family know? I expect it's because they have spent many years dedicated to researching Walter Tull, their great-uncle, and during that time they have lived and breathed how he looked from dozens and dozens of contemporary images, many of them in their own collection. They also know what other close relations looked like, most notably his brother and their grandfather - they understand the family 'look'. I had a great uncle who died long before I was born, but I know exactly what he looked like, and how his appearance was both different and yet visibly connected to the look of his siblings: I can spot him in a group portrait in an instant. That sort of familiarity is acquired over a long period of time, and I am frankly astonished that you think you can march in, do a few hours' work, and then announce that you know better than the family does. I consider it deeply disrespectful.

The portrait images you attach seem to me to be quite irrelevant in that they are all clearly modern interpretations based on photographs and/or a lot of imagination. Even if we were to reject the sitter's own family as an authority, which I think we have no right to do, Jacinto's point about the absent centre-parting (clearly seen in every photo of Tull from at latest 1909, when he was 21, to at earliest 1916) seals the matter. And if your response is again that painted portraits are not photographs, then that rather undermines the reason you thought it was him in the first place: either a likeness to other known images is evidence of identity or it isn't, you can't have it both ways.

Kieran Owens,

Apart from the acquisition of a neat moustache, Walter Tull looked very much the same from the start of his 20s in 1908 until his death at 30 in 1918. Anyone who would have seen him towards the end of this ten year period would not have been looking at the face of an "older man", for all that the phrase suggests. Based on the multiplicity of available images of him, they would have been looking at the very recognisable face of a handsome young man who had changed very little over the last decade of his life.

Tamsyn Taylor,

I am going to answer some of the questions raised in response to what I wrote.
1. The most simple matter first. Tull was Black. His hair did not part in the middle naturally, and fall to either side. His hair was naturally thick and very curly. He slicked it into place with a great deal of grease, when he was out, or being photographed. Saying that it could not be Tull because his hair is not parted and slicked is a bit like saying that you could not recognise Princess Diana without a blow wave, or your own face in the mirror if you had not shaved for a few days. (or, conversely, if you shaved your beard off).
I will attach a link the indicates exactly why Tull parted his hair in that manner. See the photo of the three soldiers.
2. I made the point that the family members are not always the best people to identify a portrait, by the process of comparison. If their visual abilities are not good, then they simply may not see the likeness. They can be put off by something as simple as whether or not the person has their hair parted down the middle. In this particular case, Tull does not look like a war hero or a great sportsman. He looks like a sweet gentle young man who is loved, or at the very least, physically admired, by the person painting him. This is not necessarily what a family wants to see.
3. My attached pictures, previously, were simply to indicate the diversity with which a person could be portrayed, within their own time, or any other.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/43504448

I think we should pay careful attention to the opinion of Mr Tull's family which they have been kind enough to provide. I too have been looking closely at the photographic images available of Walter Tull, both as a footballer and during the time he served as an officer in the British Army, and I notice that he favoured a short haircut throughout. His hair seems to have always been cut above the ear line whereas the sitter in the Copnall portrait has thicker hair and a visible sideburn to the left side of his face. For that reason I think we should look elsewhere to establish the identity of the sitter for this portrait.

An examination of Frank T Copnall's late 1920s exhibition records at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, reveals that his work was mainly focused on the painting of portraits of the well-to-do in Liverpool and the surrounding area. The 'Portrait of an Unknown Young Man' is a more informal piece of work, beautifully painted and, I suspect, unlikely to be a commission. If one compares it to Copnall's other works as shown on Art UK the difference is quite striking. So although I will check earlier WAG Liverpool catalogues I think this may well be an unexhibited picture.

There is also an oil sketch on the reverse of the canvas (see the post of 17/07/21), which may well date to pre World War I, and for a commission the artist would be unlikely to re-use a canvas. In my opinion the 'Portrait of an Unknown Young Man' probably relates to an unplanned piece of work, a 'will you sit for me' picture, needing a canvas to hand, and the artist has painted the work spontaneously.

In addition to the age of the canvas, I think that we need to take the oval shape of the work into account. In 20th century terms, oval pictures were popular from the early 1900s up to the late 1920s. I don't think this work is likely to be post 1930. The painting looks early 1920s to me and is painted with more assurance than Copnall's much later works.

If we can get a consensus on the dating of this painting it should be a little easier to try and identify the sitter.

This portrait does not appear to represent Walter Tull. It seems unlikely we will be able to identify the sitter, even if we can allocate an approximate date range to the portrait. Has the time come to close this discussion? We have at least made progress on the artist.

As Grant puts it, this portrait probably relates to an unplanned piece of work, a 'will you sit for me' picture, needing a canvas to hand, and the artist has painted the work spontaneously. As such it is unlikely to be documentable.

Please support your comments with evidence or arguments.

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