16 Can the artist of 'Bradda Head' be identified from a signature?

Bradda Head
Topic: Artist

There is a signature on the bottom left of this painting. Could the artist be identified?

The collection note:

'There is indeed a signature at the bottom left of the painting. Unfortunately it is indistinct. It appears to be 'G. J. Ho----' possibly G. J. Hotham, although it is not conclusive.

Further to this please find attached a close-up image of the artist's signature.'

Martin Hopkinson, Entry reviewed by Art UK

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Osmund Bullock,

Not sure I can see Hotham in there. Here it is converted to a JPG and tweaked - a tiny bit clearer, perhaps. Could it be 'Antony' with a cursive capital 'A', possibly with a monogrammed initial letter or two in the mix?

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Tim Williams,

I still make G. J or F. HO???M. A better high-res macro would make it much easier though!

Hotham fits as the family had strong Naval connections, but without a clearer image we're stabbing in the dark!

Osmund Bullock,

I now see where you're coming from, Tim - I had overlooked the faint upwards-sloping cross-stroke of the 'H' (if that's what it is), and was over-focused on what I thought was the T-forming horizontal line at the top of it - probably just dirt caught in a ridge of that long, deep brush-mark...though that applies equally to the apparent line which might make the 'T' of Hotham.

Osmund Bullock,

Even if it does read 'Hotham', there is a problem with the idea that it could be by the George Hotham who apparently painted the watercolour of the Steam Packet leaving Gibraltar for Malta in August 1832. Though I can find no other works by George Hotham online, and there is no sign of a signature, the original catalogue entry for that work suggests that there may be research and/or provenance to support the attribution. See: http://www.woolleyandwallis.co.uk/Lot/?sale=PW050613&lot=287&id=248252
If we accept it pro tem, then the man in question is Captain George Hotham of the Royal Engineers (1796-1860) - Gibraltar is a likely posting, and RE officers were well-known for their watercolour skills. EDIT: I find George's son Richard was born in Malta in late 1832 or early '33, so it's looking very likely to be right - the ship depicted may have been the one on which he travelled there.

As Tim says, the Hothams were a naval family. Captain George was the nephew, the great-nephew, the first cousin, the second cousin and the brother of admirals! Moreover another close cousin was Amelia Hotham, a watercolour painter, and her Wiki page mentions Capt George as an artist also, though without giving a source for that: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amelia_Hotham

The problem arises because nowhere in the Captain's biography or genealogy is there mention of his having a second initial or any other first name than George - and I have found the original records of his baptism, both of his marriages, his 1841 and 1851 Census entries, his burial, the GRO index entries for the second marriage and his death; and also the baptisms and marriages of several children where the father's name is given. Nor is one given in Burke's Peerage, or in any of his Army List entries. He is always just plain 'George'. I don't know what he would have been doing at the Isle of Man either: it was a military backwater, with a very small and intermittent garrison, and I can't imagine he'd have been posted there. As far as I know he had no relations on the island, either, and I don't think it was a holiday spot in the C19th. Finally, even allowing for the different medium, the style of our Bradda painting seems to me very different to the Gibraltar one - though I grant the mine workings are shown in some detail, as one would expect from a sapper.

So I fear he has to be ruled out - and unless we can get a better (and preferably better-lit) view of the signature we are, as Tim says, just stabbing in the dark. If the name does, however, turn out to be plausibly 'Hotham', I suppose we should consider George's second cousin, Rear-Admiral The Hon George Frederick Hotham (1799-1856). But I'm not sure that in the C19th oil-painting (unlike watercolours) was ever a likely activity for senior naval officers, nor indeed for gentry and aristocracy in general.

Cliff Thornton,

Can I just point out that as the tower on Bradda Head was erected in 1871, there may be a slight problem in assigning the painting to George Hotham, if he died in 1860!

Osmund Bullock,

Thanks, Cliff - that's much more definitive (and a lot shorter!) than my argument. It also, of course, rules out his cousin the rear-Admiral. When I get a moment I'll have a look at later family members - I already know that George Frederick's son, who had the same first names, died at Bombay in 1854.

Cliff Thornton,

The image of the tower above the mine workings means that this scene must have been painted from the south-west end of Port Erin bay. Standing at this viewpoint and looking across to Bradda Head, the artist would have had the 1863 breakwater running across the scene.
So the anachromism is that we have a tower of 1871, but no breakwater of 1863. I suppose that we could put the latter down to artistic licence.
Or might the tower have been added to the painting at a later date?
I wonder if the Manx Museum could inspect the painting so see if it was a later addition.

Osmund Bullock,

Bruce, that view-point seems to be a good bit further into the bay - the old breakwater (or its remains) would have been off to the left, I think.

It is not clear how much of the unfinished breakwater would have been visible at very high water after storm damage in 1868, then (after some rebuilding when the finances were finally settled in 1879) further damage in 1882 & 1884, leading to complete abandonment. See http://www.isle-of-man.com/manxnotebook/tourism/pcards/val128/s13.htm

The small photo of c1907 (which is from the same angle) that accompanies that description gives some indication, and this one of 1894 shows it at lower water: http://www.francisfrith.com/port-erin/port-erin-bradda-head-and-breakwater-1894_34663

But in fact it doesn't matter, because if the artist were (as seems likely) positioned on or near the landward end of the breakwater, the painting would not show it - it would be going off to the right, and not visible in a view which has no close foreground. The boat with the sail, moving right to left, has just cleared the breakwater; while the rowing boat (which surely cannot be the Port St Mary or any other lifeboat, as suggested on YP?), moving left to right, is approaching it.

Cliff Thornton,

I know that we are meant to be identifying the artist, and we are doing our best by suggesting known artists. But I am begining to think that this artist is so poor that he is not a recognised artist!
Many years ago I was a student at the marine laboratory at the s-w end of Port Erin bay. I have never seen the sea as smooth as glass, as depicted in this painting. Conditions must have been remarkably still, especially if we accept that this was outside of the breakwater, and yet one of the boats has hoisted a sail!
And what is the other boat doing? I see no sign of oars, maybe the suggestion of an anchor rope at the bow. I suspect that there is a lot of artistic licence in this scene.
If we are looking for artists who painted off the west coast of the Isle of Man, then I would throw the name of John Holland (junior) into the hat, although it is nothing like the signature that he eventually developed. http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/spanish-head-rushen

Osmund Bullock,

I tend to agree with Cliff. There are lists of a number of Manx artists at these two sites, and I can’t make any of their names fit the signature:

Holden seems to have worked primarily on paper, in watercolour, charcoal, chalks or pastels. There are many viewable online, on Blouin and Invaluable. Just two are oils, one a comparable Bradda Head view:

But even from that tiny image, and from other non-oils with similar compositions, I find it hard to link his work with this one. He’s not very good either, but he’s not very good in a different way: http://www.invaluable.co.uk/auction-lot/john-holden-fishing-boats-in-a-manx-cove-coloured-158-c-r8hzsd63xj

Holland seems a better artist altogether; here’s him depicting smooth water and boats far more convincingly: http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/shipping-in-douglas-harbour

Osmund Bullock,

Sorry, another partial link failure. For the second (Google Books) one, go to page 377.

Edward Stone,

This discussion is now also linked to the Maritime Subjects group.

Manx National Heritage,

Thank you for your comments. We can rule out George Hotham. Perhaps it is an amateur unrecognised artist as suggested.

It's difficult to get a better-lit view of the signature, the current image was taken at high resolution with studio lights. Having checked the original painting the signature is as indistinct in real life as it is in the image.

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