Completed British 18th C, except portraits, British 19th C, except portraits, Maritime Subjects 36 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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Completed, Outcome

Edward Stone,

This discussion is now closed. This painting has been convincingly attributed to John James Story (c.1828–1899). We have listed him as the artist of this work in our database. We have also added an execution date of 'c.1885' to this painting record. These changes will be reflected on Art UK in due course.

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


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:
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:

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

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:

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.

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:"cultural+history+painting"#

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:,-pastel,-signed-60-c-0fcdad53bf

Holland seems a better artist altogether; here’s him depicting smooth water and boats far more convincingly:

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.

Kieran Owens,

The key to the Milner Memorial Tower was presented to William Milner at a meeting of its commissioning committee on Wednesday 28th August 1872, just after the erection of the tower was completed, so the painting must have been completed very shortly before or at some time after that date.

Also, a report from the Isle of Man Times of Saturday 28th September 1872 mentions that the breakwater had not yet been completed by then, which might explain why it does not appear in the painting.

A further, very long report in the same paper, from Saturday 6th May 1876, also mentions the unfinished breakwater. All of these reports widen the timescale for the painting of this picture, should the inclusion of a finished breakwater be deemed important.

The website states the following:

"The Port Erin Breakwater played an important part in 19th century Manx affairs; it was part of a series of improvements for which Tynwald borrowed money from Westminster against future revenues of the Island. Work started at Port Erin in 1864 and harbour dues were levied for the first time. In 1868, it was damaged by a storm, and, in the following year, Governor Loch persuaded an unwilling Tynwald Court into granting a sum of £13,000 to enable the necessary repairs to be done and the breakwater to be completed but by 1870, it had become evident that the dues would not even pay for the maintenance of the breakwater. Under these circumstances, Westminster, on the plea that it had been misled about the amount of dues likely to be received for the use of the harbour, demanded that the Island should be responsible for the whole loan. It admitted that it was legally liable for this amount, but declared that the Manx Legislature was morally liable. The argument raged throughout most of the 1870s, souring the relationship between the Island and Westminster, but was finally settled in 1879. However the breakwater was again damaged in 1882 and was finally destroyed in 1884, after having cost the island £45,600 (and damaged the bay until a later, smaller breakwater was constructed c.1910)."

As a further suggestion as to who might have painted this work, the Isle of Man Times, of Saturday 20th July 1878, reported that "a fine painting of 'Bradda Head', by Mr Sage Seller" was won by Miss Shimmin, of Grenaby, Malew.

Kieran Owens,

A close inspection of the above-supplied artist's signature reveals that this painting could be the work of John James Story. The Double J initials of his christian names sit atop the capital S of the surname.

John James Story was born in Nottingham c.1828, where he lived for all of his life. His wife, Mary Ann, died at Havelock Street, Nottingham, on the 23rd November 1858, aged 28. He was best known by the name J. J. Story. He died in Nottingham and was buried there on the 11th September 1899.

Story was most renowned for painting and promoting the "Grand Moving Panorama, Illustrating an Ocean and Overland Journey Around the World". This famous diorama toured the length and breadth of the UK throughout the 1860s. During the 1870s he toured his "Second Tour Around The World". He was also responsible for the create of other dioramas, including one in 1860 entitled 'The Campaigns of Garibaldi'.

The UK Census of 1871 lists him as a Scenic Artist, and the 1891 Census as a Landscape Artist.

In 1868, Story exhibited the "large and transparent painting....of Greystoke Castle on Fire" at Moss's Picture Gallery in Penrith.

From 1880 onwards, Story also exhibited numerous individual paintings at exhibitions in Nottingham. These included 'To The Land of the Hereafter' (1881) and "Lighthouse, Douglas Head, Isle of Man" (1887), the latter, being reviewed in the Nottinghamshire Guardian of the 20th May 1887, as being 'characterised by boldness and breadth'.

Given that Story was on the Isle of Man sometime before or during 1887, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that, as well as painting the above-mentioned Douglas Head, he also took the time to paint Bradda Head, which lies on the western side of the island.

Kieran Owens,

Further confirmation, of John James Story being the painter of this discussion's painting, can be found at Brown University's brilliantly presented web description of the preservation of his 'The Campaigns of Garibaldi' panorama (or diorama), as can be followed here:

Specifically, the reference to his painting of 'Bradda Head' can be found on this site, and is abstracted here:

Seventh annual exhibition of pictures in oil and water colour by Local Artists, May 1885 to August 1885, as listed in the “open” exhibitions in the Nottingham Castle annual show:

222. "Bradda Head, Isle of Man" 3 gns.

The Nottingham Express, of the 1st May 1885, said of this painting by Story that "the truth of [this] elegant little canvas will be vouched for by those who have visited that western isle."

Kieran Owens,

As learned from the Brown University site, John James Story was born in 1827 and baptized at St. Mary’s Church, Nottingham, on 23rd December of that year.

Kieran Owens,

My pologies. The above presented paragraph section should have read as follows:

"Seventh annual exhibition of pictures in oil and water colour by Local Artists, May 1885 to August 1885, as listed in the “open” exhibitions in the Nottingham Castle annual show:

Story, J.J., 367, Thorneywood Cottages, St. Ann's Road - 189, 222, 290 -
189: "The Snowdon Range, from the hills on the Carnarvon Road", 4 gns;
222 "Bradda Head, Isle of Man" 3 gns. The Nottingham Express (1.5.1885) said of this painting "the truth of [this] elegant little canvas will be vouched for by those who have visited that western isle."
290: "Where the little fishes live." 1gn."

Cliff Thornton,

Well done Keiran, just goes to show what a new pair of eyes can do when examining the signature. This painting has been rattling around for years. NIce to see it brought to a conclusion at last.

Osmund Bullock,

Yes, indeed - there's no doubt at all you've found the right man, Kieran. And looking at scenes 32/33 on the second side of the Panorama ( & ), there are rowing boats visible which (allowing for an earlier work and a different medium) have a similar appearance and reflections on a similarly-depicted sea surface.

In case anyone is having trouble (as I did at first) in seeing all the elements of the 'J J Story' signature, I'm attaching the image tweaked, and with the letters roughly outlined in colour.

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Kieran Owens,

That is an excellent tweaking of the signature, Osmund, which undoubtedly confirms the proposition that this work is by John James Story. It would be very interesting if his "Lighthouse, Douglas Head, Isle of Man" (1887) could be found, and compared with this discussion's piece. Hopefully, a better assessment and appreciation of Story's works may now pertain, given the interesting context of his life.

Manx National Heritage,

Thanks to all and especial thanks to Kieran for identifying the artist as John James Story, of Nottingham. We have updated Manx National Heritage's collections management database with the maker and date information and a short biography of the artist.

Well done Kieran - great to see this solved!

I am happy to agree that the attribution to John James Story (b.c.1828, d. 1899) seems very plausible and I can formally recommend that as the conclusion to the discussion. Thanks to Kieran for identifying the artist and it being a potential candidate for the small painting Story exhibited as No 222 in the 1885 Nottingham Castle exhibition of 'Works by Local Artists'. This would provide an approximate date for the painting, happily coinciding with the lack of the breakwater "finally destroyed in 1884".

Edward Stone,

Thanks, everyone. Checking our records, I see that we have an entry for a John Storey (1828–1888) already listed on Art UK:

Could this be the same artist as John James Story? His only catalogued painting is a view of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the Government Art Collection.

Kieran Owens,

Edward, I believe that John Storey (1828 - 1888) is not the same artist as John James Story (1828 - 1899).

Osmund Bullock,

Indeed, there is no connection whatever between our artist John James Story of Nottingham (correctly 1807-1899) and John Storey of Newcastle-on-Tyne(1828-1888, unconfirmed ). The latter was a much superior artist specializing in architectural subjects. Needless to say there is confusion between the two, especially online, and it would be good to get things clearly established here now.

I’ve done some work on JJS’ s biography, as the Brown Univ one is both incomplete and inaccurate – one thing missed is that JJS actually lived for a time in Garibaldi Terrace, Nottingham! I was going to complete it and post at some stage, but perhaps the time is right – I have to go out now, but might get to it later tonight. Or Kieran (or anyone else), do please feel free to research/post if you want to – about either man – and I can fill in any gaps from what I have.

To be going on with, here are the 1871 Census forms for both men.

Kieran Owens,

Osmond, records for John James Story of Nottingham show his age at the time of his death as being 69, suggesting a birth date of c.1830. Even the 1871 Census that you have attached above puts him at 43, leading to a birth date of c.1828. Was it a slip when you suggested above that, correctly, his dates should start with a birth year 1807?

Kieran Owens,

Attached is an image of John Storey's "Newcastle in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth', which, with its sister painting of 'Newcastle in the time of Queen Victoria' would appear to be in the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, although no works by Storey appear there when ArtUk is searched. Perhaps these images fall under the "unknown artist" category.

Osmund Bullock,

Yes, you're quite right, Kieran, sorry - my silly error in JJS's year of birth (just a typo, I was writing in great haste). He was in fact baptised at St Mary, Nottingham on 23 Dec 1827, and in all probability born a bit earlier the same year. His first two census appearances (taken 6 June 1841 & 30 March 1851) give his age as 13 & 23 respectively, and those nearest birth are the ones more likely to be right – ages in C19th censuses are notoriously unreliable, and usually become progressively more so as the subject ages (people often couldn’t remember and/or their family didn't know, amongst many other reasons). In '41 he was already working, but as a cordwainer (shoe maker) like his father George; by '51, however, he is an 'Artist Designer &c'.

John Storey of Newcastle was (?almost) entirely a watercolour artist, so virtually none of his work appears on Art UK - actually I am not wholly convinced by the GAC's attribution of their oil painting to him, but would be very happy to be wrong if they have good evidence...another discussion subject there, methinks, especially as they have his dates wrong anyway! And it will gives us a proper on-topic forum to discuss him on - having established that they are not the same man, I feel we shouldn't further confuse matters here with any more of his life story. Incidentally, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums in fact have an extensive collection of his works on paper, though many of the prints are not illustrated. See

More about John James Story later - I must rush off now once again.

Edward Stone,

Thanks for the clarification everyone, I shall update our records and close this discussion shortly.