Forward Maritime Subjects, Portraits: British 18th C 102 Can more be found about Mrs Justinian Nutt and her husband? Who painted their portraits?

Mrs Justinian Nutt, 18th Century
Topic: Artist

A recent Art Detective discussion about an early twentieth-century Nutt family portrait at Windsor (see prompts me to ask:

1. If the lady shown here and her Royal Naval husband might be forbears. He is here, shown in the 1748–1767 captain's uniform coat:

2. Whether connected or not can anyone add brief family history about them – especially who she was –...

3. ...and is the 'British School' artist more identifiable than the NMM has so far managed?

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


Martin Hopkinson,

Pieter, you presumably know of the article on the Nutts, in [on line captain-justinian-nutt-and-descendants] ?

Martin Hopkinson,

It would probably be worth showing the pair to Alex Kidson

No I didn't:so I'll look it up! I've not chased them myself (and nor has anyone else at Greenwich) and this was just an opportnistic query in the light of the Windsor name coincidence . Thoughts on artist would still be useful however if not already covered. Many thanks!

The Edinburgh Notes ref. answers the family 'who's who' as far as the early 19th century: i.e. Mrs Nutt was Elizabeth Cook of Winchester- a lady richly endowed with a fortune of £10,000 when they married in 1749 - and they had two sons. After the captain died in 1758, she remarried in 1761 to the one-legged Lieutenant Charles Bresson and 'For more than a century, navy or army careers were almost the norm for Captain Nutt’s male descendants, with a Justinian in each of four generations.' So the remaining part of the query is just 'can the artist be identified' and whether (if of any genealogical interest to those concerned) there is any demonstrable conection with A. Y. Nutt -the Windsor architect of the other discussion

Martin Hopkinson,

Presumably these are marriage portraits painted c. 1749-50.

Malcolm Fowles,

The tree from Justinian Nutt (Hants, Glos from 1750 to 1800 and beyond) shows no sign of a connection to Alfred Young Nutt's clergyman father William Young Nutt (Leics from late 1700s).

Assuming it is complete (aristocratic trees normally are), a connection would have to be earlier.

A Nutt study is listed at the Guild of One Name studies: You could ask the Guild member. To me, the probability is too low.

Martin Hopkinson,

Could they be by Joseph Highmore? He could be blunt in his portrayal of men, but I am not sure if it is known for certain how many portraits associated with his name are really his work.

Thank you: sticking just to the painting of Mrs Nutt the hints above have added a great deal - though the 'Edinburgh notes' reference is wrong is one regard: her second husband was Lieutenant Besson (not Bresson, or Belson as he appears in his marriage notices in the press) about whom, despite the spelling error, a bell also rang. For the NMM has a miniature of him too (MNT0120) without any previous knowledge that he married, or if/how he was disabled but still appears to have spent over 60 years to his death in 1822 as one of the Lieutenants of Greenwich Hospital, despite having seen almost no sea service. How he lost the leg sometime about 1759 I have yet to find, but this the newly updated biographical data on his future wife :

Mrs Justinian Nutt (née Elizabeth Cooke), 1725-97

[Painting description remains as is...]

The sitter was Elizabeth Cooke (sometimes Cook), eldest child and daughter - of three, and two brothers- of John and Elizabeth Cooke of Winchester, Hants. She was born on 21 March 1725 and married Captain Justinian Nutt at Wickham, Hants, on 10 August 1749 when her fortune was reported by the 'Gentleman's Magazine' to have been £10,000. This portrait is one of a pair probably made to celebrate their marriage, that of the captain being BHC2915, (q.v. for further details of him and their two sons). He became one of the four Captains of Greenwich Hospital in 1754 and died in December 1757. She remarried on 2 June 1761 - being referred to in both the 'Public Ledger' and 'Lloyd's Evening Post' of the 3rd as 'a widow lady of a considerable fortune' - to Lieutenant Charles Besson, one of the lieutenants of the Hospital, of whom there is also a miniature by Nathaniel Hone in the collection (MNT0120). This is also dated 1761 so may itself be another marriage item. Besson had lost a leg about 1759 and spent the rest of his long life at Greenwich, dying in 1822. Elizabeth died on 11 October 1797 but Besson remained in contact with members of the Nutt family since an 1819 codicil to his will (made 1811) added small bequests to three of its members 'as a mark of my affectionate regard for them' . The two Nutt portraits are one of few such pairs in the Museum collection. Many were of course painted but time and sale have often split them up, with the husband remaining known for historical reasons and the wife, or at least her identity, often lost sight of in sale titles like 'portrait of an unknown lady'. The Museum acquired this pair in 1971.'

I'll update the Captain too. The likelihood is that they are a marriage pair so the date had been amended to c. 1750 though could be a bit later depending on what the costume experts might say about her dress.

Martin Hopkinson,

A Rev John Cooke of Winchester died in 1744 - his widow, another Elizabeth, was buried 27 September 1758. One of their 6 children was an Elizabeth baptised at Winchester. A Rev John Cooke was Rector of Bishops Waltham from 1737 to 1744. Of course the name is quite common.

Thanks for the Highmore suggestion -which is worth pursuing- and re John Cooke: curious if there was another Greenwich Hospital connection since there was a Revd John Cooke who was one of the Chaplains there at the end of the 18th century: inter alia he was co-author of a general history of the Hospital for sale to visitors.

I have updated both the Captain and Mrs re: current state of biographical knowledge and they should appear on RMG Collections Online in the next 24 hours or so. (The younger Captain Justinian (1751-1811) was an officer in East Indiamen, not the Navy: the 'Edinburgh notes' author probably misread his will in saying he was RN since he's not in the Sea Officers list.)

Jacinto Regalado,

The handling of the face seems uncommonly sensitive and nuanced for a female portrait by Highmore, though perhaps the lady's status as rich but not aristocratic encouraged a less flattering or less superficially stylised rendering. There's something vaguely Dutch or Flemish about it, I think.

The portrait is painted on a canvas of standard size in mid-eighteenth century Britain -- 30 x 25 inches, called three-quarters. This indicates, as a starting point, that it was almost certainly executed in Britain, though of course not necessarily by a native British artist.

I'm not sure about Highmore, but Jacqueline Riding, who wrote her PhD on the artist, would probably have a view. To my eye the face/head and costume are by different hands. Perhaps the strikingly rendered costume with slashed sleeves and bows was executed by the well-known and sought-after London drapery painter Joseph Van Aken, although he died in 1749. Van Aken worked for many prominent portraitists. His most regular association was with Thomas Hudson, but the soft modelling of the face does not have the look of Hudson. it's possible that the face and head were painted by an artist working outside London on a canvas subsequently sent to a London drapery specialist for completion -- or vice versa. This could account for the sense of disconnection between the two main parts of the picture.

Jacinto Regalado,

I did not mean to imply, by the way, that the artist was actually Dutch or Flemish as opposed to native British. I was speaking more in terms of an aura, if I may be permitted such vaporous wording.

Martin Hopkinson,

Richard , of course, is spot on about the drapery - and if Van Aken painted it, this would have implications as to the date - but other drapery painters perhaps trained by him will have continued his style into the 1750s - is there any research published on Van Aken's contemporaries and successors?
Highmore did occasionally veer towards Ramsay as in the Walker Art Gallery's fine Duchess of Chandos of 1746
The sitters' parents may have been painted given the size of Miss Cooke's fortune. It would not be surprising if a portrait of her mother of the late 1740s was in existence [perhaps with her identity forgotten]

On the date one as to remember it is one of a pair; that the Captain's coat is 1748 at earliest and they married in 1749 -in Hampshire- when he was commanding the guardhip 'Anson' at Portsmouth (as the wedding announcements confirm), though when that commission ended is not yet known. Given they could afford anyone they chose I think one has to assume they are 'London' rather than 'provincial' items and that would be tight for Van Aken involvement given his death (in London) in '49, so the probability is 1750-plus, though not necessarily as late as 1754, when he was appointed to Greenwich Hospital.

Jacinto Regalado,

Joseph Van Aken is known to have worked for Allan Ramsay, as well as other portrait painters such as Thomas Hudson.

Jacinto Regalado,

Highmore's Chandos portrait is indeed among his best, but the face is still doll-like in a fashionable-mask sort of way, and rather less subtle than the face in the portrait of Mrs. Nutt. However, social status could well be a factor in the differing approaches.

Tim Williams,

Lieut. Besson's sale was held at Christies on 12/12/1822 which included pictures previously owned by Nutt. Regrettably, this pair doesn't seem to have been in the sale, so presumably passed to surviving members of the Nutt family?

Lugt 10353

Lots in the sale can be viewed on the Getty prov. database, I suspect the link below won't work, but you can find it easy enough by using the Lugt number:

Not many contemporary portraits in the sale, I skimmed it but only noted one by Cotes and one by Ramsay.

Martin Hopkinson,

Could it be by the North Western painter, James Cranke the elder [1707-80]? Compare his portrait of the Rev John Cranke as a boy [Docks Museum, Barrow in Furness]
The Cranke family is very ill studied as yet and attributions are sometimes very insecure. This is a very tentative suggestion as the Crankes seem to have worked mostly north of the Mersey and west of the Pennines.

Jacinto Regalado,

The artUK works by Cranke the Elder are not up to the level of of the portrait under discussion, in my opinion. Cranke's faces appear rather more formulaic or generic, not to say more primitive.

Nutt was at Portsmouth when he married Miss Cooke (of Winchester) at nearby Wickham in 1749 and their next known move (1754) was to Greenwich: realistically one is probably looking for a hand known to have worked in London and the southern counties, possibly with a track-record of doing naval and military sitters at a 'sub-Ramsay' level albeit he has been mentioned.

Just to note that the NMM Collections web pages have now fully updated with revised entries on this portrait and its pair of the sitter's husband Captain Nutt (BHC2915), who had a minor but nonetheless significant role in British art history by being a co-operative subordinate of his career patron, Admiral Lord Anson. It would be good to top it off by cracking the artist problem.

Hugh Belsey,

I wonder if the pair of portrait could be by a very young Nathaniel Dance. There seem to be precious few that have been attributed to the artist before his Italian trip (1754–65) but the attention to detail (the five o'clock shadow and the highlight in the eye) point to his work. Just a suggest that needs rather more testing.

Thanks Hugh: an interesting idea though needing parallels other than those on Art UK , which include a few naval men but rather later (1770s), and one might think a middle-aged one with money would favour someone with a similar track-record-but perhaps his younger wife (ditto) had other ideas.

Regrettably I observe the chronology may not suit Dance (b. 1735), who was at Merchant Taylors' School, London, 1743-48 while 'from about 1752 he trained as an artist for approximately two years under the painter Francis Hayman, whom he evidently admired; it was during this period that he came to know the young Thomas Gainsborough. He was in Rome from May 1754', where he worked with Batoni, returning to England by June 1766. (ODNB)

If the Nutts are a marriage pair (and they m. 1749) they could at best be c. 1752-3 if by Dance unless he was painting straight out of school and they don't look Haymanish, though there is another lady in false oval at Leicester who is attributed (probably wrongly) to Hayman who makes a parallel with Mrs N.

Ovals are a very specific format so finding someone c. 1750 who is in the habit of them might help.

Andrea Kollmann,

Is Henry Pickering an option?
He also worked with van Aken, painted oval portraits, lived in London from 1740 onwards and painted military men. (Birchall, Heather. “Henry Pickering Fl 1740-70: An 18th-Century Portrait Painter.” The British Art Journal, vol. 4, no. 1, 2003, pp. 88–91.,

Thanks, Andrea: I don't think we could get much closer than Henry Pickering, who did indeed paint ovals (i.e oval portraits on rectangular canvases). Compare, for example, this portrait of an unidentified woman at Burton Constable:

To my eye the modelling of the face -- chin, eye-sockets, nose and lips -- is very similar; as is the prominent bow on the dress, though of course this suggests van Aken, not Pickering himself. If the drapery in the Greenwich picture is by van Aken, I think we have to allow for this to be Alexander rather than Joseph (see my post further back), to take account of the fact that it is likely to be a marriage portrait, as Pieter has proposed.

Osmund Bullock,

Yes, an excellent suggestion, Andrea. And certainly it would be hard, Richard, not to conclude that the Burton Constable portrait is by the same hand; even the the faded pink tones of lips and dress are the same - doubtless Reynolds' "treacherous" carmine. I wonder how the BC painting's attribution came about - is it signed or otherwise secure?

Your are right, Osmund, to question the certainty of the attribution of the BC portrait. It would seem to form a pair with a male portrait also under Henry Pickering on ArtUK -- presumably wife and husband, members of, or related to, the Chichester-Constable family:

No further information is given on the ArtUK website for either work. I'll try to obtain clarification from BC. Meanwhile, I think this portrait of Mrs Thomas Johnson and her daughter in the Walker AG, Liverpool, makes a useful comparison:
It is signed H. Pickering and dated 1759, according to Alex Kidson's, WAG catalogue of 2012. While not quite so convincingly by the same hand as the BC portrait, the faces, I suggest, are not incompatible with it.

Martin Hopkinson,

The NMM picture seems to me of a higher quality than the Walker's Pickering , which I remember well

I today caught Dr David Connell, just before his retirement as Director at BC, He tells me that the two portraits there are not signed. Their attribution to Henry Pickering is simply that -- an attribution, perhaps made by Sotheby's and going back more than 25 years, i.e. before David's time in post. This is not to say that the BC portraits are not by Pickering, but the attribution cannot be regarded as firmly established.

The ladies at least look plausible: without rushing to judgement it may be useful to bring Captain Nutt in as well:

This chap, with a blue civilian coat, on a commercial site makes one comparison with him:

and Thomas Johnson (1759) - a naval man in exactly the same 1748 captain's uniform as Nutt- another:


Christopher Foley,

I thought you might like to see this documented collaboration between Van Aken (costume) and Pickering (hands and face). The Van Aken composition drawing is NG Scotland and is of course derived from Rubens' Helena Fourment. The portrait (which passed through my hands 30 years ago) was the unsigned companion to a signed portrait of the sitter's sister, Miss Bendysshe, by Pickering of identical size provenance and framing which went through Sotheby's in April 1994. It does not to me look convincingly like the same hand as Mrs Nutt. The cool metallic sheen of the costume reminds me more of Frans van der Myn.

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Martin Hopkinson,

Could the difference in style and quality of the Walker female portrait be explained if that was a copy of an earlier portrait by another Lancashire artist? or a painting begun by another artist such as Hamlet Winstanley which was completed by Pickering?

Kieran Owens,

Pieter, regarding the family history of Elizabeth Cooke, the wife of Justinian Nutt, see Volume VI of Fragmenta Genealogica (1901), pages 1 - 4, "Cooke Family":

There you will see that, from information transcribed from the Cooke family bible, Elizabeth was in fact fourth of the ten children of John and Elizabeth Cook of Winchester. She was born on Monday 21st March 1725/6 at a quarter of an hour after one o'clock in the afternoon, and was baptised in Winchester Cathedral, on the 5th April following, by Mr. Garrett. Elizabeth is further described as having been married to Justinian Nutt, Esq. (then Captain of the 'Anson' Man of War) on the 8th (not the 10th) of August 1749 by the Reverend Doctor Cheyney, Dean of Winchester, in the Parish Church of Wickham, in Hampshire. The couple had two sons. The first was George Anson Nutt, born on the 25th May 1750, and christened on the 5th June of that year by the Reverend Mr. Williams. His godparents were the Right Honourable Lord Anson, Captain Piercy Brett, and Lady Anson. The second son was Justinian Saunders Bentley Nutt, born on the 14th August 1754, and christened on the 15th September of that year by the Reverend Mr. Wools at Fareham Church. His godparents were Captain Saunders, Captain Bentley and Mrs. Cooke. For what it's worth to this discussion, Justinian Nutt's will is available on

Issac Schomberg's 'Naval Chronicle....", Volume 5, of 1802, page 221, records that Justinian Nutt died on the 11th December 1758 (and not 1757). The London Chronicle of Thursday 14th - Saturday 16th December 1758 reported that "Last Sunday eight died, at his apartments in Greenwich Hospital, in the 59th year of his age (therefore born 1700) Justinian Nutt, Esq., Third Captain of that Hospital, a place of £260 a year."

Kieran Owens,

Pieter, I would ask that you give serious consideration to the suggestion (by Jacinto Regalado above, and by way of other mentions in this discussion) that these two portraits were painted by Allan Ramsay, probably (as suggested above) in 1749 or shortly thereafter, having been commissioned by the couple or by relatives or fiends as a wedding gift. Compare the attached composite images of Elizabeth Nutt (née Cooke) with seven other known portraits of women and girls by Ramsay from this exact same time period. In all the images there are some significant similarities, from the framing in an oval, to the square-cut dress, the use of the draped pearls, the lace trim, the zig-zag bodice ribbon and smaller chest and arm ribbons etc.

Equally, in the second composite, compare the portrait of Justinian Nutt with five others know to be by Ramsay. The details are not as repetitive as in the female portraits but I think that there are enough similarities in the compositional style to seriously consider Ramsay as the artist in question. It is certainly the case that husband and wife could afford to pay for such a commission.

Bear in mind too, that Ramsay had settled in London in 1738, and was based there in 1749, which is where Flora McDonald sat for him in that year. So the idea of either party travelling the 70-odd miles from Winchester to London or visa versa is not out of the question.

Finally, the drapery and costume painter Joseph van Aken died in London on the 4th July 1749 whilst our happy couple were married on the 8th August of that same year. Unless the portraits were executed before the wedding, or completed templates from van Aken's stock were used, to which a head would be added later by another artist, it is not possible for van Aken to have painted the clothing, as suggested above, due to the fact of his decease.

Many thanks for those factual corrections and sources which I've looked at, noted, and adjusted entries accordingly, and for the two 'Ramsey galleries'which I'll need to discuss here. The suggestion it might be him looks more plausible than I first thought set out that way but what are other more specialized portrait opinions? (The point was also made earlier that Joseph Van Aken's, son Alexander, continued his practice as a drapery painter so his 1749 death is not an absolute cut-off on that front).

Martin Hopkinson,

If you look through the images in Alastair Smart's catalogue raisonne of Allan Ramsay's painting which was edited by John Ingamells , it is very hard to see any painting of the period at which this pair are supposed to have been executed which are very close to them . The colouring of the flesh of the sitters in particular does not seem to be much like that of the Scotsman. Pieter is right that we should continue to look alternative portraitists.

Just to say that both this portrait and its pair of Captain Nutt have now been rehung in one of the south-west cabinet rooms on the upper floor of the Queen's House at Greenwich, so if anyone wants to see them they are easily accessible, 10.00 - 17.00. (It's a room of 'family' works in various ways including a few small Hogarths and an unusual and recently acquired naval family group by Richard Livesay of Portsmouth of the Grindall family: this is not yet on Art UK -

Jacinto Regalado,

Thank you, Kieran. It's a charming picture, by an artist new to me.

Thanks for fixing the problem Kieran: I'll note that in future.

Regarding Livesay, being Portsmouth-based one doesn't see much of him, but he had a solid and quite various career there based on being drawing master at the RN Academy: it included publishing prints, doing portraits and I think some miniatures.

I don't think there's any serious dispute on it being 'Ramseyish'; as often, it's the difficulty of being more specific. Both pictures are still hanging in the Queen's House, as mentioned above, so on easy access amid a host of greater company from the (now fully conserved) 'Armada portrait' of Elizabeth I and a raft of Lely, Reynolds et al. - and that just the portraits, not the Dutch and English marine work: and its a nice season to come down to Greenwich, followed by a beer on the riverfront as the sun goes down over London to the west....

Martin Hopkinson,

Have the two portraits had condition portraits? Could our difficulties result from issues over their condition?

Both portraits went through NMM conservation only a few years ago but were not in bad condition before: as I recall it was just careful cleaning (ie removal of discoloured varnish). Its not a case of a pair that are massively retouched wrecks. Varnish discoloration aside, I think they were purchased in 1971 much as they appear now.

Martin Hopkinson,

The flesh tones are so different in the two portraits that perhaps we should consider the possibility that we are looking at the work of two different artists

Martin Hopkinson,

Are we looking at the wrong occasion for the portrait of the Captain? Could it be as late as 1754 when he became one of the Captains of Greenwich Hospital?

Martin Hopkinson,

Are the two portraits really convincing as a true pair painted at the same time?

Jacinto Regalado,

I've tried to make this into a Thomas Hudson, but this is not a Hudson face, especially for a female portrait. It's simply too nuanced. Ramsay remains my preference for an attribution.

Martin Hopkinson,

The painting of the costume of Mrs Nutt is certainly very similar to that found in portraits in which Van Aken's name is generally associated with - but has anything been found about male portraits in which Van Aken can be shown to have had a hand? Has anything about published on the possible continuation of Van Aken's studio after his death in 1749? Is there any serious publication on Van Aken's costume painting at all? - we need input from a scholar of mid 18th century dress in portraiture

Martin Hopkinson,

Alexander van Aken or van Hacken, Joseph's brother (1701-57 or 8) , was also a drapery painter, and worked for Hudson and William Winstanley - and may be other portrait painters in the 1750s. He could have finished portraits on which his brother had worked. Mezzotints after Alexander can be found in the British Museum - mostly dating before 1749

Martin Hopkinson,

Two other portraitists might be worth considering Isaac Whood [late work] and Thomas Frye [early work] Both worked with Van Aken [Haecken] - these are long shots and one would need comparisons with paintings by them in private collections. Frye would be the more likely - but it is difficult to argue for either from the portraits on

Martin Hopkinson,

A group of drawings by Joseph van Aken[Haecken] is in the National Gallery of Scotland

Martin Hopkinson,

The Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie in The Hague may well have photographs of paintings and drawings by both artists, beyond those on and in the National Gallery of Scotland

Jacinto Regalado,

Frye's female portraits on Art UK are rather more impressive for the dresses (which he may not have painted) than for the faces, which are mask-like and generic. None of them compares to the face in the picture under discussion.

Jacinto Regalado,

What I meant to say is that Frye's female portraits look like the dress is wearing the woman, not the other way around, and it is actually jarring--again, not at all like our picture.

Martin Hopkinson,

Jacinto's observation may be revealing . Did on occasion the drapery painters have a stock of already painted pictures of female costumes to which the face painters then added the visages?

Alison Golding,

I like the idea of the stock costume for this picture: the positioning of the sleeves has something of the look of a tailor's dummy about them, the waistline tails off somewhat indeterminately, and the use of the oval disguises the length of the arms and removes the need for painting hands.

Although I can't see much detail on the Ramsey picture found by Jacinto, the basics of the pink dress with white/pink slashed sleeves and looping pearls look almost identical to this picture: the main differences are in the colour of the ribbons (easily changed) and the added white satin/black velvet.

Martin Hopkinson,

It is well known that some of Joshua Reynolds' female sitters have become ghostlike in appearance due to an unfortunate choice of pigment- one thinks of paintings of the 1750s. Did the portrait here originally look rather different and have its flesh tones been impaired by a similar choice of an unstable pigment- not the same pigment as used by Reynolds? Can modern conservators establish whether there has been a change of this kind, possibly quite early in its history?

Martin Hopkinson,

Another possible direction to explore - was this portrait never finished due to the artist's death, illness or incapcity? Are we looking at underpainting without the final layer? Was the artist young, or for some reason without a studio to complete it, and so the Nutts accepted it in that condition?
Should we be looking for someone whose career ended c. 1750?
Should we be considering a different artist as the painter of her husband's painting, not necessarily completed until a few years' later,

To misapply Eliot as regards these portraits; what is and 'What might have been is an abstraction/ Remaining a perpetual possibility/ Only in a world of speculation'. They are identically framed and the format is that of an original pair, be it at marriage of sitters in 1749 or slightly later (though being apponted a Captain in Greenwich Hospital, which was a retirement sinecure, seems an unlikely occasion). They were well conserved (ie cleaned),within the last ten years, without any necesary technical paint analysis or major structural work, and there is no realistic prospect or justification for more. There have now been some interesting and mainly 'sub-Ramsey' suggestions for artists (with thanks for all those), not least the possibility of one of the van Haeckens having a hand in the dress, which may come to a resolution by further comparisons, but that is the only way it is going to happen: they are what you see - here or on the wall - so it is a 'conoisseurial' conundrum, not one for which there is likely to be further technical investigation in any forseeable timeframe. It would therefore be better to stick to that. The list of names is something, even if it does not get further at present.

Martin Hopkinson,

A good portraitist George Beare died in 1749, but he does not seem to have used the Van Akens/Haekens], and I do not think that this is his work. He did however work in Wessex - Salisbury and Chichester. It might be worth looking for a portraitist who occasionally painted Hampshire, Wiltshire and West Sussex sitters.

Martin Hopkinson,

David Coke FSA may well be the best informed art historian on portrait painters of Wessex sitters in the mid 18th century

Jacinto Regalado,

I think this portrait aspires to be more upscale, to put it that way, than Beare's work. Going with "style of Allan Ramsay" seems quite reasonable (barring further developments that permit being more specific or more definite).

Martin Hopkinson,

Jonathan Yarker wrote his thesis on Isaac Whood, [Trinity College, Cambridge] PHD] who certainly painted in Winchester. He works for Lowell Libson & Jonny Yarker Ltd. 3 Clifford Street London W1S 2LF
His email address can be found on their website
Whood died in 1752
Richard Stephens, who often contributes to Art Detective, is also very well informed in this area.

Martin Hopkinson,

May be we should turn our attention to the portrait of Justinian Nutt to see if it is easier to identify its painter?

Surely the portrait of Justinian Nutt is by Allan Ramsay? Compare, for example:

What makes Mrs Nutt look so very different is the unappealing, greyish colour of her flesh. Perhaps there has been degradation or fading of a fugitive red pigment, as in a good number of Reynolds's portraits?

Thanks, Marion. I attach the ArtUK image of Mrs Justinian Nutt, née Elizabeth Cooke, digitally amended to restore colour to her face, neck and upper breast –- areas where a fugitive pigment such as carmine or a lake was almost certainly used by the artist. Allan Ramsay has been suggested previously in the discussion as the author of both this work and the pendant portrait of her husband. I suggest that seeing Mrs Nutt in a less ghostly state now makes it easier to endorse this proposal as to authorship.

The Smart/Ingamells Ramsay catalogue of 1999 includes many comparable examples of female portraits painted on ‘three-quarters’ size canvases (30 by 25 inches, as here), dated by Ramsay to the later 1740s; on 19 October 2017 Kieran Owens posted a composite showing Mrs Nutt in the company of seven such works dating from 1744 to 1749. I now repeat one of Kieran’s comparisons – that with Anne Erskine, dated 1747 – but using the amended image of Mrs Nutt.

Miss Erskine’s drapery was almost certainly painted by Joseph van Aken, with whom Ramsay was closely connected, regularly employing him until the former’s death in 1749. Ramsay was (with Thomas Hudson) one of the executors of van Aken’s estate. If we accept Mrs Nutt as being by Ramsay, it raises the question of whether her drapery was also painted by Joseph van Aken –- or whether it was executed by Alexander van Aken who continued his brother’s practice after his death, but was regarded by George Vertue as less good. The drapery in Mrs Nutt’s portrait seems to have the swagger of that in Miss Erskine’s. However, if the former was painted by Joseph van A. that would appear to date the picture to before the Nutts' marriage on 8 August 1749, as Joseph died on 4 July 1749. Perhaps the Nutt portraits were in preparation in time for the wedding day, or were betrothal portraits? It is also possible (to pick up a point made by Kieran) that Ramsay (if indeed he was the author} used a pre-existing template from the deceased Joseph van Aken’s stock for his portrait of Mrs Nutt.

For good measure, I attach another composite showing the enhanced Mrs Nutt with her husband.

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That's very ingenious, and a great improvment.

I suppose it is also possible that while they are a pair (be it betrothal or marriage), hers might have preceded his early enough to have drapery by Joseph van Aken. The false oval is the same in both but the background colour/tone differs - though the lighter background of his might partly be to offset the dark blue of the uniform, but assuming the captain might have been done seond, painting his uniform was perhaps also less of a challenge than her gown, so that might be by a different assisting hand. An association with Ramsay certainly looks more plausible, but are there other views ?.

Jacinto Regalado,

"Style of Allan Ramsay" is certainly unobjectionable, if a bit weak. "Attributed to" would be preferable, but ideally an authority on Ramsay would approve that.

Jacinto Regalado,

Well, Pieter, I should imagine Bendor Grosvenor, as Group Leader for British 18th century portraits, could weigh in on the matter.

Jacinto Regalado,

However, the face in ours still strikes me as by a better painter.

Marcie Doran,

Could this portrait be by Thomas Hudson? Jacinto keeps circling back to him and I can see why. Here is a link to Hudson’s “Portrait of a Lady” on the Wikimedia Commons site ( that I used to create the attached composite. This work is at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

The Art UK work seems to be more carefully executed but there are many similarities, including the mouth, nose and shape of the face (lower portion).

So far the wind has been shifting towards Ramsay (plus the van Akens as drapery painters) for Mrs Nutt, the issue with that being whether it also works for Captain Nutt on the assumption that they are a marriage pair, or a betrothal pair if the dress is by Joseph van Aken since he died just before they married in 1749.

That date caveat would equally apply to Hudson/ van Aken, the former being 48 in 1749. Though the collection (NMM) has good examples by Hudson - men only (inevitably) - its not an idea anyone in-house has previously suggested to best of my recall, though the Nutts could have afforded anyone. Does it have any mileage?

Jacinto Regalado,

I would still favor Ramsay over Hudson based on the sensitive and non-generic handling of the face, which denotes a greater artist.

Jacinto Regalado,

The husband's picture might be by Ramsay, but it's a more routine portrait than the wife's, though perhaps she was simply a more subtle and interesting subject, at least in terms of physiognomy.

Jacinto Regalado,

Can Bendor Grosvenor be contacted for his opinion? It would be both appropriate and relevant.

Jacinto Regalado,

The picture of Justinian Nutt (the initial link to which no longer works) can be compared to a familiar Ramsay portrait (here's a job for the composite experts):

It is tolerably plausible that they could both be Ramsay, although I am hardly the authority to say they are.

Jacinto Regalado,

The issue is whether there is enough stylistic similarity, Marcie.

Marcie Doran,

On the Chiswick Auctions website there is a portrait of a woman who is wearing a dress that is very similar to the one worn by Elizabeth Nutt. I thought this might help with the date since its inscription reads in part "Drawn in Year 1755".

Note that the page states the following:
"Wright commenced his training in Thomas Hudson’s studio in 1751 and returned to Derby in 1753, where he settled for a while and painted family and friends. The portrait of Fenton is dated to this period. In 1756, Wright then returned to Hudson’s studio to complete his training."


I've been reviewing Charles Besson's will (PROB 11/1662/142). The write-ups for BHC2916 and MNT0120 should be amended to mention the fact that, in his will, Besson named George Anson Nutt as his executor as well as the residuary beneficiary of his estate. Besson made small bequests to four other Nutt family members in the third codicil (1819) to his will: George's wife (“Mrs. Nutt") and three of George’s children (Justinian, Henry and Charles Nutt).

According to Besson's will, Mary Newland, the long-time servant of Besson and his wife, was to receive "all my Beds Bedsteads and all the furniture of my Bed Rooms ... all the furniture in my dining parlour except the three portraits paintings and landscape of [illegible]". The two Art UK portraits were possibly in the dining parlour. In his first codicil (1813), he bequeathed a Lely painting to John Sylvester, Esquire, Recorder of London.

Note that George’s brother Justinian Saunders Bentley Nutt had already passed away (night of February 23, 1811) by the time Besson's will was written on July 13, 1811. Justinian's will (PROB 11/1520/354) does not mention pictures. Neither George’s will (PROB 11/1747/16) nor his second wife Mary Tymewell Nutt's will (PROB 11/1951/296) mentions pictures.




Miniatures by Penelope Carwardine depict Elizabeth Nutt’s sons:

Justinian Saunders Bentley Nutt

George Anson Nutt

Thanks Marcie: I'll adjust the NMM entries accordingly.
The Susannah Fenton portrait is a fine thing but I don't think one can draw any conclusion re: authorship of Mrs Nutt from a similarity of fashionable dress that is likely rather than not in fashionable portraiture (especially in an age when it often was done by specialist help working for many people). If the Nutts had been by Wright or Ramsey -which at least Mrs N is more 'style of' - we wouldn't be faced with the longstanding puzzle that we have.

After all this time I fear they are going to remain one.

By the way, NMM has recently managed to re-unite another 'him and her' pair that was split at sale in 1982 when it bought 'him but not 'her' - making it just the second British oil 'set' of which it has both. This is Commodore Kerr and his wife by Dahl: he's on Art UK here:

she isn't yet, and has been cleaned since this shot was taken I think:

On display together before long we hope...

The portrait above, sold by Christie's in 2016 and said to be Anne Burney, is no. 32 (as Anne Bowney) in a tally of portraits at the bottom of this 'work-in-progress' web page on James Wills by David Freeman:

He's an interesting but problematic figure whose initial artistic career overlapped with his later religious one from 1755, when he was ordained and initially appointed curate of Market Bosworth, Leics.,. Before that he was mainly in London but there is nothing in his known work or career that might connect him with the Nutts at the time of their marriage (in Hampshire) in 1749, which is likely to be when thir portraits were painted.

The only tenuous connection is that Wills had the favour and painted Philip Hardwicke (Lord Chancellor and 1st Earl of Hardwicke), whose daughter Elizabeth (1725-60) in April 1748 married Admiral George Anson (Baron Anson)
who was Captain Nutt's prime naval patron, initially as his commander in the 'Centurion's' round-the-world expedition of 1740-44 (Nutt being the ship's sailing master and advanced to acting lieutenant during the voyage).

That said, none of Wills's known portraits are of naval people: the Nutts -if a c.1749 marriage pair - would also be about contemporary with his finest group, the Andrews family, and even allowing for condition don't fit well with that:

In short, I don't think a Wills suggestion has evidentially sustainable mileage.

Jacob Simon,

I saw both the Nutt portraits on my visit to the National Maritime Museum today. Both have suffered condition wise in the distant past, perhaps when they were reframed in the early 19c. Despite the differences in the complexions, I do think the portraits form a pair.

Not by Hudson but perhaps by one of his pupils. Not by Ramsay either. (I've helped mount exhibitions on both artists in the past). The draperies not obviously Van Aken. Not by Beare, Dance, Frye, Highmore or Whood, to list suggestions in alphabetical order. I'll give this further thought.

Thanks Jacob: any further thoughts very welcome, but if none then its probably time to send this back into the long grass for some future age to revisit.

My previous note was the 100th in this stream and, subject to any other comment Jacob has as 18th-c. portraits group leader, it should probaby close leaving the Nutts as still-unidentified 'British school'.

Jacob Simon,

I agree with Pieter's post above. I've nothing further to contribute.

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