Completed British 18th C, except portraits, Dress and Textiles, Maritime Subjects, Portraits: British 18th C 24 Can we confirm that this commemorates Lord Howe and should the date be adjusted to 1799–1800?

Topic: Execution date

The portrait at centre certainly has the look of Richard, Earl Howe, who died in 1799 as Admiral of the Fleet (so technically Admiral of the Red) to which position he had been appointed from Admiral of the White on 12 March 1796. I don't think he commanded at sea (certainly not in action) in that rank, in which he would have flown the Union at the main (rather than red) as flag of the Commander in Chief, as indeed he already had when still just Admiral of the White at the Glorious First of June 1794.

The (very small) sea battle below with a 'red' squadron British flagship against opponents with unidentifiable horizontal tricolour flags must therefore be no more than artistic fiction, and the uniform he is wearing much the same. The coat lapels are the wrong shape and epaulettes also only came into naval uniform in 1795.

If it's Howe, the allusion must be to his victory of 1794 – the only really major (and very extended) action in which he commanded – and one can overlook the various inaccuracies in the image as by a generally non-naval painter. The 1790 date given for the item must, however, be wrong. I think the date is more likely to be about 1799–1800.

The other puzzle is the military gorget, which is also not part of naval uniform. Howe was also made a General of Marines in 1796 – with which it might be connected – but that was a sinecure which other naval men held, more commonly as Colonels of Marines, and I have never seen any other naval portrait with a gorget, so am inclined to think it more likely an artist error. Bird of course did paint military subjects, most notably several versions of the 'Death of Wolfe' but this item is not typical for him (at least looking at the rest on Art UK) so is it also really by him (though I can't suggest alternatives)?

Are there any other ideas on subject, or other images to which it might relate? The following is a well-known 1780s portrait of Howe by Copley. Note the lack of epaulettes, which were only added to naval uniform from 1795 (and shown by Bird, despite his otherwise inaccurate rendering of the 1795–1812 uniform coat):

There are many others which show considerable differences in Howe's profile. Henry Singleton's full length is another on Art UK that is closer to Bird's:

Attachments: portrait medallion; sea battle.

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

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The title has been changed from ‘Study for Lord Howe’s Memorial’ to ‘Oval Painting Commemorating a Senior Royal Naval Officer, possibly Admiral Lord Howe’, the date has been amended from 1790 to c.1800, and the acquisition method has been updated from ‘untraced find, 1970’ to ‘bequeathed by Maria Christiana Cartwright, 1887’.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.


Thanks to David Saywell for checking John Ingamells' Mid-Georgian Portraits catalogue and online entry on the National Portrait Gallery's site which lists it in the Iconography section under c.1802 and as by Bird.

The collection has commented that it was found in the store in 1970. There is a very yellow label (images attached). There is no further information in the artist file and only a note in the accession register referring to 1970, but it is likely to have been in the collection before then.

Pieter replied that the label and hand look mid-19th century at earliest, and that the number 128 could be either an exhibition or inventory number but it would be unusual for such a label to be added for lot/sale number purposes.

Two images of the reverse are attached.

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Louis Musgrove,

With the Immortal Memory tomorrow- might I suggest a messed about/reworked/poorly restored image of Nelson-- He used to wear a big gold thing round his neck.

Not Nelson: he is only shown wearing medals round the neck. This is someone who got further than 47, let alone the differences of facial feature.

The other admiral to whom there is a passing resemblance is Samuel, Viscount Hood (d. 1816), though all the dress objections still apply.

Here's one of him in roughly the same aspect:

(Slight related puzzle is why the original of this which I certainly saw long ago in Manchester City Art Gallery isn't on Art UK, but perhaps it was a loan-in)

Marcie Doran,

Is someone able to access the book shown in the attached snippet? It seems to show that this work was part of the Cartwright bequest in 1887.

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Osmund Bullock,

Good find, Marcie. The book is in fact the catalogue by Sarah Richardson of an Edward Bird exhibition held at Wolverhampton AG in Feb-Apr 1982 (and afterwards at the Geffrye Museum in London). Bird was a native of the town, though he later moved to Bristol.

Our work appears as item #7 on page 4, and I've managed to cheat and/or reconstruct the whole of its entry (plus a further relevant snippet on p.1), which I attach. A few points: (a) Yes, it seems to have come from the Cartwright Bequest* (I am baffled that this information was known and published in print by the Collection itself in 1982, but had been lost 40 years later); (b) the attribution to Edward Bird was apparently made on stylistic grounds alone, so perhaps "attributed to" would be more accurate; and (c) the painting is said to be on tin (i.e. tinplate) rather than copper - that would make more sense for Bird, who'd learned his craft painting japanned tinplate. The rear photo tends to support the idea, though I suppose it could be copper covered in paint - it should really be checked, which could easily be done by scratching a tiny area with the point of a knife.

I've found the referenced 1799 print in O'Donoghue's BM catalogue - also attached - but there seems to be no sign of it in their online collection catalogue, illustrated or not.

Osmund Bullock,

* Maria Cartwright (d.1887) was the widow of Sidney Cartwright (1802-1883), a successful local manufacturer and eminent citizen. His factory mass-produced small, japanned tinplate items, mainly toys and doll's house furniture, which were exported all over the world. He was an avid art collector, largely of C19th oils by British artists, many of them bought direct from the painter. Maria inherited his collection, and when she died a few years later left it - some 300 works in all - to the Art Gallery (founded in 1884) as a memorial to her late husband, and in accordance with his wishes that the paintings should eventually be "... dedicated to some public purpose in a manner calculated to impart general pleasure".

Jacinto Regalado,

None of the images of Howe I could find show him wearing a gorget.

Jacinto Regalado,

The collection also has with the same accession number as our picture, so how does it relate to the picture under discussion? Is it a duplicate entry for the same picture?

Louis Musgrove,

If I were just looking at the Battle- I would think lifted from one of the paintings of The Battle of Texel -1673- fireships used
Dutch flags have a similar hint to our painting.
Overall- the painting on our panel is poor- Edward Bird does seem to have a lot more talent I think. So this painting on copper is something of a mystery to me.

Attached below (with thanks to Hugo Chapman at the BM, and Antony Griffiths for helping him) is the Howe print published by Harrison of Fleet Street in October 1799, of which Osmund provided the printed reference above in the BM's O'Donoghue catalogue.

It was elusive because in part of the holding not yet computer catalogued: no.176 in vol. 50 of William Anderdon's bound-up 'Collectanea Biographica' (1853).

Apart from the figures of Fame with trumpets - which are routine enough in military commemorations - and the fact the Howe bust is shown above a relief presumably representing the Battle of 1 June 1794 (and nothing like the seafight in the Bird picture), it's hard to see why Sarah Richardson should have referred to it in her 1982 Bird catalogue. The painting is not based on it, just using standard parallel motifs.

There's also nothing convincingly 17th-c. about the seafight, flags or ships, slight as they are: its at least all-of-a-piece late 18th-c. as regards that at the general uniform style, albeit it 'dud' in terms of details.

My suggestion for retitling would be ' Study for a memorial to a [British] naval commander, possibly Admiral Lord Howe' and explain in the 'information' note that (1) the association with Howe is solely his name on an apparently mid to later 19th-c. label on the back, possible facial appearance and the artist's dates - he died in 1819, and Howe on 5 August 1799: (2) that the uniform is wholly wrong save for the presence of epaulettes, which would indicate a date after 1795 and rank of a senior captain (over three years) or flag officer.

Andrew Dykes,

How about Admiral Duncan as a subject? He beat the Dutch at Camperdown in 1797, so the horizontal tricolours would fit, and the picture bears at least a passing resemblance to the portrait of Duncan in theScottish National Gallery.

A Dutch tricolour is (top to bottom) red/orange, white and blue. The two to the left here have blue top and bottom, one with orange between and the other white/red/white. None such existed in reality, at least for naval purposes. As has also often been said in these discussions, identification of portraits based solely on apparent likeness are often deceptive: I would put Duncan (d. 1804) behind both Howe (d.1799) and Samuel Hood (d.1816) in likeness terms here but it's also just opinion, not evidence. All we have on the latter front is the historical identification of 'Lord Hood' in a probably much later label on the back, though also without other corroboration.

My inclination is to suggest we wrap this up as not fully resoluble, with the recommendation I have already made above: firstly, not to be so definite that it is Howe and, second, adjusting suggested date to about 1800 which would fit that possibility. The current one of '1790' does not, either as regards his date of death or the presence of the post-1795 epaulettes on the uniform - though it's so inaccurate in other respects that might also be just another mistake.

Osmund Bullock,

I worry about it being called a study for a *memorial*. The shift in meaning of that word in the last 200 years means that most people today would think that what we're talking about is a design for a proposed monument, which (to me) it clearly isn't. I suppose a *memorial painting* of some sort is what's meant - would that phrase not be preferable?

Other than that I largely agree with Pieter's analysis, particularly as to the irrelevance of the Harrison print in the BM (well done for tracking that down). However, if we are (quite rightly) not to trust entirely the label as to sitter, then should we not extend the same uncertainty to its attribution of artist? - unless, of course, the painting Pieter remembers seeing at Manchester was/is definitely by Bird, and relates very strongly to this one. There's also the matter of tin(plate) vs copper, though that hardly matters. See also my post above at 21/10/2022 09:07.

Tamsyn Taylor,

Can I suggest that it might be Captain Arthur Phillip, Governor of New South Wales?

I don't think there is a case for Phillip: apart from anything else the sea battle and emblematic allusions to conventional fighting fame do not fit his history, significant as it was in other ways.

My reference above to a picture seen at Manchester was to a portrait of Samuel Hood by Reynolds (of which NMM has a copy), not to one by Bird: sorry if that wasn't clear.

No problem with 'memorial painting' if that's clearer.

There's an interesting parallel case in West's 1807 'design' for a memorial to Nelson, which was in the form of a painting (now at Yale) of a proposed architectural monument, itself framing a painting of Nelson's apotheosis:

The NMM has the separate version of the 'altarpiece'/apotheosis element, which was the basis for the engraving first published - I think as a frontispiece - in one of the two volumes of Clarke and Macarthur's 'official biography' (though more a hagiography) of 1809.

No such monument was built of course, but West subsequently adapted the apotheosis as basis for the 1812 Coade-stone 'Nelson pediment' (50 feet across and about 12 high) in the King William courtyard of Greenwich Hospital (the Old Royal Naval College):

At the same time he also designed a 'Howe pediment', with the figure of the admiral central in it, for the matching Queen Mary courtyard to the east, but that got no further: his long drawings for both are also in the Greenwich Hospital Collection at NMM, though in poor condition from being framed and displayed too long at the Hospital during the 19th century.

Jacinto noted (21/10/22) with the same accession number as our picture. This duplicate will be removed. According to the PCF catalogue, 'Study for "The memorial to Lord Howe"' [sic], (1790–1800), 29.8 x 24.1 cm, oil on copper, OP505 was not available at the time of photography. There's no other version of this subject listed at the collection.

Thanks Marion. Not sure how I failed to find that. (It was hanging at Heaton Hall when I saw it so long ago I can't remember why I was there, and still may be.) The Art UK text could use some correction: he's wearing the 1774-83 flag officer's undress uniform, but its not specifically that of a Rear Admiral of the Blue, his rank at the time it was painted (1783). The background shows the French flagship 'Ville de Paris' (right) surrendering to his flagship 'Barfleur' (left) at the Battle of the Saints (or Saintes) in 1782, where he was second-in-command to Rodney.

I suggest we now wrap up on Bird as not flying usefully further, subject to ther views.

Thanks Pieter. I've adjusted Art UK's text but the change hasn't appeared at the time of writing. I contacted the collection about the proposed update this morning.

The duplicate ('The Memorial to Lord Howe') should disappear from Art UK soon as it was removed in the database this evening.

Many thanks to Clare Marlow (Collections Assistant, Wolverhampton Arts and Heritage), who has replied that the 'Wolverhampton Art Gallery Catalogue of the Permanent Collection of Pictures and Other works of Art' which dates from around 1915/1917, lists under Bird a canvas 9 in x 11 in, oval in shape, titled 'Design for Medal in Celebration of the Victory of Lord Howe', as part of the Cartwright bequest. Clare suggests that this better dates both the acquisition of the piece, provides a better title for it, and perhaps explains the shape and medium as well as some of the lack of detail in the uniform and flags etc.

The c.1915/17 catalogue seems to be identifying the same item (though it is not a 'canvas') since the dimensions are close enough: if the Art UK metric ones are accurate it is in fact 9 1/2 in. wide x 11 3/4 in. high. The 1915/17 description is, however, nonsense (a) because the sole evidence the subject being commemorated is 'Lord Howe', is the pre-existing 19th-c. label that this discussion has called into question and (b) because it is self-evidently not a 'design for a medal'. At a push it could be described as ' oval-medallion-shaped' but 'oval' could be fitted better either into a better descriptive title or preceding (precise) dimensions in the correct modern order (H x W).

Old catalogues can be accurate but the one being cited isn't. A hundred-plus years on from it, something on the lines of ' [Oval] Painting commemorating a senior [Royal] Naval officer, possibly Admiral Lord Howe' would be an improvement. Whether it's a 'study' or not and 'why Howe?' (i.e. because of a likely c.1800 date and the presence what is certainly not an original artist's label) could be encapsulated in 'More information' text.