Completed Portraits: British 18th C 108 Can you help us identify the sitter and the artist of this portrait?

A Country Gentleman
Topic: Subject or sitter

This painting was acquired as a portrait of Dr Charles Burney, famous musician and author, but was later re-titled to ‘A Country Gentleman’. Correspondence with descendants of Burney in the 1940s put doubt on the identity of the sitter and raised the possibility of it being Burney’s son, also a Charles Burney, but the evidence for this was never conclusive.

Dr John Kerslake of The National Portrait Gallery, London (possibly in the 1970s, but the curatorial note is undated) supported an anonymous identification and lay doubt on the attribution to Dance. The portrait was purchased from Messrs. Tooth & Sons Ltd in 1934.

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. This painting was reattributed from Nathaniel Dance-Holland to Johann Zoffany after appearing on ‘Britain’s Lost Masterpieces’ in 2018. The investigation included conservation by Simon Gillespie. As Bendor Grosvenor says in the programme, the suggestion of Zoffany at the start of this discussion (the first comment, by Simon Carter) immediately looked right to him. The attribution had the full agreement of Martin Postle at the Paul Mellon Centre.

The title was amended from ‘A Country Gentleman (Charles Burney)’ to ‘A Country Gentleman (once said to be Charles Burney)’. The sitter has not been identified. Although various interesting suggestions were made here between 2018 and 2021, none carries enough evidence so far.

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


Martin Hopkinson,

The sitter does not look like those in portraits of Charles Burney junior in the National Portrait Gallery' s collection , but these must all be later in date than the Manchester picture

Martin Hopkinson,

Does Fanny Burney's diary mention any portraits of her brother?

Andrew Moore,

How about Francis Wheatley?
Andrew Moore

Betty Elzea,

I am not happy with the bodily proportions of the young man. Is it a poor attempt at perspective? Tree foliage late Gainsborough, I think.

Tim Williams,

Somewhere between Wheatley and Hayman, though I fear we're just throwing names into a hat. Are there any inscriptions/stencils etc on the reverse that might help us trace the provenance further back than Tooth's?

Bruce Trewin,

The greater resolution certainly helps. Is it just wishful thinking or can I see capital letters in the dark area immediately under the sitter's right foot?

Manchester Art Gallery,

Hi Bruce, I've had a good look and I think that might be wishful thinking. I can't make out any letters.

Alastair Laing,

I would concur with Andrew Moore's attribution of the portrait to Frances Wheatley, who seems to have had a particular penchant for standing his sitters beside trees.

Sarah Flynn,

How about Francis Wheatley ?

Osmund Bullock,

Indeed, Sarah - it's actually been suggested and discussed in a number of posts above yours. There's also the man he worked with at the start of his career in the early 1770s, and from whom he said to have learned much, John Hamilton Mortimer; but it seems closer to Wheatley. I'm not wholly convinced, though, particularly by the face.

Yale ( ) has a good collection of Wheatley's works that can be zoomed to a helpfully high resolution, including several portraits in similarly bucolic settings. The treatment of foliage and sharply-forked branches has much in common with Manchester's painting - the latter also shows a hint of the curiously thin leg shadows often found in Wheatley (and also Mortimer). We can see, too, in the Yale works the largely self-taught Wheatley's apparent discomfort with the placing of the figure in the correct plane in open landscape - see especially - a problem he generally avoids by pushing them right up against a foreground tree or suchlike (as with our portrait). Also at Yale is this portrait of Addington - - showing the same disproportion of legs to upper body and head (in both man and horse!): Wheatley's perspective is often poor.

Tim Williams,

We can trace some more provenance with this, and potentially see former attributions/identifications. I believe the Tooth stockbooks for this year are held in the Getty library, which should reveal where Tooth purchased the picture from. However, before I try and get a copy of the ledger page, which will take time and ££, can Manchester check the verso in case there's a Christie's stencil or something?


Just a thought- here is a poor image of a portrait of Mr Jenkins of Truro which I am currently researching. It is by an evidently skilled travelling artist and though it is unsigned I know who he was- could yours be by the same person?

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Osmund Bullock,

Very interesting, Viv, thank you; and though the angle / image quality don't permit precise comparisons, and the face seems rather different in style and handling, we are certainly in the same ballpark. But these smaller-scale full lengths (and conversation pieces) were very fashionable for some decades, and there must have been many provincial and travelling artists who imitated the likes of Zoffany, Wheatley, Hamilton, Walton, etc.

I am aching to know the identity of your artist - one of the main problems with researching these lesser practitioners of the C18th is that so little - sometimes nothing - is recorded of them, even their names.

Christopher Foley,

This cannot be by Wheatley himself (though it does show his influence): he is altogether more sophisticated in his anatomical figuration. This was surely painted from a lay figure rather than from the life, The Wheatley portrait below of Thomas Grimston is signed and dated 1776, a similar date to the Manchester picture, and illustrates that point. Henry Walton is likewise a more sophisticated portraitist, and his treatment of flesh tones highly idiosyncratic: he should likewise be ruled out - qv this portrait dated 1781. I think it is worth considering an attribution to the English painter Strickland Lowry, who also worked in Ireland. The attached portrait of Captain Lullum Batwell of the 46th Regiment of Foot was painted after his return from service in the Anerican War of Independence in 1780. It shares the same slight infelicities in figure-drawing which betoken a lay-figure, and there are parallels in the curious circular brush strokes in the painting of the leaves and the mise-en-scene of the figure in the landscape. I am afraid the colours in the JPEG are rather more lurid (the curse of Photoshop) than in the actual painting: its tonality is closer to the Manchester picture.

Alex Good,

Hello Christopher Foley. Do you know where the Lullum Batwell soldier's image is located? Would love to see an even higher res version of it if at all possible. Alex

Kieran Owens,

Could Manchester Art Gallery please send a hi-res picture of the back of this painting?

Manchester Art Gallery,

Unfortunately this work has a modern backboard fixed in place so I am unable to provide an image of the back.

Jacinto Regalado,

The first comment on this thread from a year ago, by Simon Carter, suggested Zoffany as the painter of this picture.

David Lowton,

At a glance I thought it was painted by Joshua Reynolds, but after looking at the background it looks like an early Thomas Gainsborough.
However, the portrait of the sitter doesn't look like Gainsborough's work unless one of his pupils painted it

Jacinto Regalado,

So what did Bendor Grosvenor wind up concluding about this picture on 'Britain's Lost Masterpieces'?

Osmund Bullock,

Zoffany, Jacinto - with full agreement from Martin Postle at the Paul Mellon Centre. It's on BBC iPlayer ( ), though probably only if you're in the UK - are you, I've often wondered?

Of course Bendor gets full access to not just the painting (including the back without the backboard), but also the collection's full (and fat) file on it - oh, if only! And be warned that a big chunk of the programme is nothing to do with the picture at all - if you're a fan of his co-presenter Emma Dabiri's right-on view of history, you'll enjoy it.

Jacinto Regalado,

Thank you, Osmund--and no, I'm not in the UK, so I cannot see the programme (which is why I asked). Well, perhaps eventually Bendor will do something with the van Dyck-like picture at Newstead Abbey which I've been discussing here (mostly by myself, unfortunately, at least thus far).

Jacinto Regalado,

Note to Bendor Grosvenor: I should think Miss Dabiri could get a fair bit of mileage out of the Lord Byron connection at Newstead Abbey.

If you could show your Newstead portrait represented someone, like Byron, ' mad, bad and dangerous to know' I expect it would already be on a 'me too!' list for the producers. It does not take a cynic to observe that they have selected BG's co-presenter at least as much for reasons of populism, 'political correctness' and marketability - probably especially to the US in due course - as for 'social history' insight into the period of the pictures in question. Bendor is fairly clearly able to do as well on the last himself and the result is a programme that could probably be a sharp 40 minutes sometimes turns into a rather long hour!

Kieran Owens,

Pieter, do you imagine that Emma Dabiri was chosen, if it was for the reasons of political correctness, because she is black, Irish and a woman, all three of which she wonderfully relishes being. The optimist in me hopes that she is just a good television presenter who can deliver a well researched and written script in an entertaining and informative way. But then again, BD's former co-presenter, Jacky Klein, was equally wonderfully a woman, though white and of Jewish heritage. I hope that she was not initially chosen for simililarily dubious reasons of "political correctness". Despite her astonishing qualifications, maybe she was neither populist nor marketable enough to remain as a credible foil to BD's erudite and elegant presentations (though how that could possibly be the case I fail to understand).

My comment above was solely directed at how television programmes are put together, of which I have a little experience. The actual subject is only part of a package, in which market considerations in selling it - which includes getting it financed in the first place, let alone whatever it may make in terms of surplus above that when/ if franchised - play a larger part than just that subject 'hook'. Those considerations are what you think will most appeal in broad presentational terms to whatever audience you are aiming at, and the financial advantage is always with the widest possible one, for whatever (and all practically possible) reasons. One could no doubt line up a row of well-qualified and fluent supporting specialists in many fields for programmes of this general type, but -those elements of qualification being equal- the reason one is chosen rather than another as a presenter, is for what is judged most advantageous in terms of 'televisual appeal' however you wish to itemise that, or the criteria that define it at any particular time. I have no doubt that social historians in a hundred years will be getting PhDs out of analysing such whys and wherefores relating to TV programmes of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. They may also note that, even then (i.e. now), not everyone was of the view that presenter choices were made solely on criteria of academic qualification or fluency! Dr Dabiri does what she has been asked to do very well but adds nothing of significant interest for me, except that if she (or an equivalent alternative) were not there, I doubt the series would have been made at all, and I am glad it has. Better something positive than nothing at all.

However, this is perhaps not the place to prolong such discussion. Having ticked off Zoffany, the question of 'who is the sitter' remains.

Jacinto Regalado,

The current entry is somewhat confusing regarding the sitter being or not being Charles Burney. That should be clarified.

Howard Jones,

Last nights Britain's Lost Masterpieces appears to have confirmed the artist as Zoffany as suggested at the start of this discussion by Simon Carter, but the question of the sitter's identity was not resolved.

Yesterday Jacinto Regalado posted a plea for the Newstead Abbey 'van Dyck ' (?) being discussed elsewhere on Art UK be given a similar examination. This would be helpful but sometimes we just have to be patient and hope new clues or insights will turn up. I am still hoping somethimg new turns up for the Apsley Hpouse Ruben's but I learnt a lot about Flemish art inthe lively discussion while we could rely on Osmund Bullock's interventions to keep the arguements grounded.

The programme last night made a huge substantial contribution to my previously limited knowledge about Zoffany. The experts insights might rule out this artist for the portrait of 'Mozart' as a child holding a nightingale's nest. Wrong hands.

I know Bendor is enthusiastic about the great Flemish artists but I wonder if the presenters might consider one of the very best English painters. Nichlolas Hilliard's 'Young Man Among Roses' is one of the finest English miniatures and the most most iconic picture surviving from the Elizabethan age. This equisit picture at the V@A is British, is historical, has a touch of mystery,and it reflects the full glamour of the court of Queen Elizabeth. This might be a perfect study for Emma to embrace.

One last point is there any way we can get overseas 'Lost Masterpieces' investigated or discussed in the way that we now can for UK based works . There are some very special British pictures in the USA which might benefit from some insightful discussion and Bendor's keen eye.

The sitter was most likely to have been one of the landed gentry, so the title has been changed to 'A Country Gentleman' (formerly known as 'Charles Burney').' That is, it was previously thought that the sitter was Charles Burney. I agree that this method of designating former titles can be misleading. Manchester Art Gallery's website clarifies: A Country Gentleman (previous title - Dr Charles Burney).

Imogen Gray,

I believe it is a picture of Dr John Hawkesworth. Take a look at this picture by J H Mortimer … and man in blue suit!
And this portrait of Hawkesworth

Comments in the National Library Australia catalogue mention "mis-attribution" of the first to Zoffany. Banks was responsible for collecting together 15 people to travel with him on Cooks voyage. Disastrous changes to ship accommodation caused abandonment!

Howard Jones,

I believe that the facial likeness between this man and the portrait
of Dr Charles Burney by SirJoshua Reynolds is close. Overall they look as if both portraits could show the same sitter. Perhaps the Museum's original title of Dr Charles Burney is (or was) correct. The note above suggests the title will be changed to 'Unknown man' today.

Likenesses are deceptive but the mood at least is similar to Wright's Brooke Boothby of 1781, (c. 1744-1824: Tate): head detail attached.

Can a post-conservation image of the Manchester portrait also be uploaded to Art UK?

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Imogen Gray,

Further to my comment above, I have found a paragraph of great significance in the biography of Captain James Cook by Richard Hough. In this, there is some discussion of the truth about Hawkesworth and his being sponsored by Joseph Banks, Dr Charles Burney with backing from Lord Sandwich to write the 'Account of the Voyages....dedicated to the King & which gave the impression that Cooks' journals were those of Banks. Larger extract in the attached.

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Kieran Owens,

The attached composite really does not show much of a similarity in the facial features of our sitter and the two known images of John Hawkesworth, especially in the soft mouth of the former compared to the severe downturned one of the latter. Their noses are also very different.

Kieran Owens,

If this painting is by Zoffany (1733 - 1810) and given the particular association between him and those persons associated with Captain Cook's various voyages, perhaps an identification of the sitter as Joseph Banks (1743 - 1820) in his early to mid-twenties might be worth considering. The image on the right of the attached composite, by Joshua Reynolds, as painted in 1773, shows Banks when he was 30 years old. Banks was also the person who contracted Zoffany to sail on Cook's second voyage from 1772 to 1775, although that arrangement fell through and neither he nor the painter went on the voyage. Other paintings attributed to Zoffany, of Banks as a teenager, suggest that the two knew each other for several years before the Cook voyages took place. There is something about their noses and mouths that might bear some positive comparisons. Their dress style is also similar. They certainly are more alike than the Hawkeshaw images.

Alternatively, the only other reason for believing the identity of our sitter to be a Charles Burney is that one of the sons of the musician and musicologist Charles Burney (1726 - 1814) was Rear-Admiral James Burney (1750 - 1821), who sailed around the world twice with Captain Cook. There is a credible possibility that Zoffany knew Burney father and son well, and that, through this friendly relationship, the painting is, in fact, of the said James Burney, or of his younger brother and classical scholar, the Reverend Charles Burney (1757 - 1817).

Thanks, Kieran. I agree that our sitter's facial features do not match those of John Hawkesworth in the two image you present of the latter: the noses are incompatible, for example. Re the comparison with Banks, I agree that the noses and mouths are remarkably similar, also the general face shape. However, the eyes and eye sockets do not match, both being somewhat rounder in the Manchester portrait.

Howard Jones,

Can this picture be dated from his clothes? The date given for Dr Charles Burney birth is 1726. I believe Zoffany arrived in England in 1760 when Burney would already already have been aged 36 yrs. How old is the gentleman in this portrait.

Imogen Gray,

Dan Cruikshank in his The Secret History of Georgian History makes comments about the artistic licence used by Zoffany, in particular Zoffany's depiction of the elements of the picture of the Atrium Room of Charles Townley's town house, lack of proper scale etc. I am inclined not to apply photographic standards of representation to the different representations of Hawkesworth. Cruikshank goes into better detail about the suspect motives of Banks, Sandwich et al. To promote the false a/c of the voyages written by Hawkesworth they would be anxious to create 'images' of Hawkesworth in a picture with Cook. They never met. Zoffany was in this in-crowd and not averse to making dodgy deals. Seems reasonable to suspect the pictures are post hoc creations & cannot be held to standard of accurate portrayal. It would also explain 'dumping' of the picture if its true nature was known.

Kieran Owens,

Imogen, please clarify the implication of what you are suggesting. How does it impact on the fact that this discussion's painting looks nothing like any known images of Hawkesworth? Is there any record of Zoffany meeting Hawkesworth? If so, please relate the date.

Imogen Gray,

I have attached here the full entry for the painting now attributed to Mortimer at NL Australia. It also provides answers re the costume, stick etc. I have added in a single doc other Zoffany paintings to compare directly with the Australian holding. It is relevant, I believe, that this other painting was changing hands in the early 1930's - as with the Country Gentleman.
Fanny Burney says in her diary of 4.5.1772 that Dr Hawkesworth called at their house and was "extremely engaged in writing his Voyage Round the World....He is very pressing in inviting my father and family to Bromley where he lives. I should extremely like such a jaunt." Hawkesworth died of shame on 17th November 1773 after the publication of the 3 volumes. No entry in my copy of Burney's diary. I have seen nothing to dissuade me from thinking the country gent is Hawkesworth - whomever painted him.

Jacinto Regalado,

Didn't Bendor Grosvenor address the sitter's identity on his programme? Surely he must have considered the matter, and given the resources available to him, one must assume the gentleman could not be identified.

Howard Jones,

Art Historians are taught from an early age that trying to identify sitters on the bases of the portraiture of their face is 'dangerous'. It appears to me that the caretakers of Museums such as The National Portrait Gallery have at best only a secondary interest in faces. In the past and at present this leads to too many mis-attributions of the sitters in historical portraits. Sometimes the sitter is incorrectly identified even when the correct name had initially been historically connected to the picture as may be the situation with this portrait previously linked with Dr. Burney.

Art Historians are never taught how to analyse faces. How many art courses have ever considered this aspect of art? It helps if you are good at recognising faces and it helps if you are prepared to spend time comparing different faces. Its like connisseurship. Not everyone is a great connisseur but that does not mean that connisseurship should always be regarded as a dangerous art.

Fashion and context can also help. This can not be James Burney, the son, as he went to sea as a child and sailed around the World with James Cook and the Endeavour. We would expect him to look like was a sea 'Salt' and this is what we find in the engraved portrait at the McGill 'Burney Centre'. There are portraits available for most of the men and women from this remarkably family which included artists explorers, book collectors, and two of England's first female novelist's.

While researching his monumental 'General History of Music' Dr Burney travelled and met Fredrick the Great, Bach Junior, Mozart, and Voltaire. One print of a social gathering at Samuel Johnson includes Dr Burney together with David Garrick, Oliver Goldsmith, the Poet Laureate Warton, the Corsican Independence leader, Edmund Burke and the artist Joshua Reynolds.

There are other pictures of Dr Barney including a good portrait by Joshua Reynolds, a less helpful print called 'The Thames the Triumph of Navigation' in the NPG collection which presumably should have included his son James Buney. There is also a drawing or print showing of Dr Burney showing a fairly distinctive profile with a slightly prominent nose.

In the Manchester portrait the gentleman's face only seems to occupy about one percent of the painting. However Zoffany did have a reputation for including recognisable faces in his paintings.

This gent appears very, very relaxed while having the attentive face and eyes of a good listener. I think that any decision to change the title to unknown man is premature. I suspect that this is Dr Burney.

Imogen Gray,

In addition to Howard Jones above, I wondered about the Garrick connection and whether or not people portrayed in Zoffany's paintings are actually wearing costumes - those that might be got from an actor (cf Garrick). A Zoffany at Liverpool gallery has exactly this description - the family are wearing costumes rather than their own clothing. See here
I suspect that the 'County Gentleman' could well be either Dr Hawkesworth himself, or one of the Burney clan dressed as Hawkesworth. If you can access Oxford DNB read Hawkesworth's entry. He knew Garrick, Burney and a lot of others in that circle. Did Hawkesworth, (see my earlier ref to Fanny Burney's diary), want all the Burney's to visit him because Zoffany (or other artist) was promising to paint a tableau or portraits of them?

The head in our picture is enormously large in relation to the body and limbs. It is unlikely that this reflects the sitter's true proportions. More probably it is partly a quirk on the part of Zoffany (who, as Martin Postle stressed, was a very quirky artist) but even more probably resulted from the artist's use of a lay figure or mannequin for the body before or after painting the head. In other words, to pick up Imogen's point, the costume could possibly be something to which Zoffany had access in his studio and was capable of rendering in a colour to suit the client -- say, green, blue or red -- rather than actually belonging to his sitter.

Imogen Gray,

Zoffany has previous output depicting actors in scenes from plays e.g. 1767 Edward Shuter, John Beard, and John Dunstall in Isaac Bickerton's "Love in a Village"
Alternate Title 'Edward Shuter as Justice Woodcock, John Beard as Hawthorn, and John Dunstall as Hodge, in 'Love in a Village' by Isaac Bickerstaffe'
The very awkward pose in Country Gentleman is also evident in others of Zoffany's paintings - same awkwardness is seen in a female figure in his 1775 picture of the Gove family...where the same shoes as Country Gentlemen are on two of the male subjects' feet.
Hawkesworth was dead before the end of 1773 yet one of the etchings based on the Reynolds of him was published in Dec 1773. He was much discussed and thus there could well have been little skits acted out with a character representing him. Whether a true likeness or not, I still think it is a character representing Hawkesworth. (who lived in Bromley, Kent...i.e. in the country!)

Imogen Gray,

p.s. to above, cf symbolism. The country gent is sitting on a stump of felled tree - a substantially sized tree.

Jacinto Regalado,

It is somewhat fanciful, but I have a theory, based on the large tree trunk which has been sawn down and on which the gentleman sits, with the cut surface prominently displayed (and which may have some man-made markings on it, especially at its center, though a close-up of that part of the picture would be needed to be certain).

There is a portrait "after Zoffany," dated 1761, of the Norfolk naturalist Robert Marsham (1708-1797), founder of phenology, who was "obsessed with trees" and, among other things, recorded their measurements over time:

The paper on which his elbow rests is titled "Measures of Trees," which is more clearly written on an engraving after this portrait:

Note that the pose is similar to that in the Manchester Zoffany. However, the Manchester sitter is too young to be this Robert Marsham ca. 1770, but he could be his son and heir, also named Robert Marsham (1749-1812). It should be noted that successive generations of the Marsham family added to the work of the older Robert well into the 20th century, so the son most probably participated in that. The family estate was in Stratton Strawless in Norfolk, where a now huge cedar tree, planted in 1747 by the older Marsham, still stands.

Howard Jones,

In Bendor's TV presentation the restorer seems to say that there is writing in a 19th Century script indicating that the sitter was Burney. Was this correct and what exactly did the note say?

Imogen Gray,

When did the picture start to be referred to as Country Gentleman?
The rather startled look of the sitter actually makes me think someone is being lampooned. As in my suggestion that it is the friend of the Burneys, Dr John Hawkesworth...who wrote the first-person account of the Cook voyage (whilst feet firmly on the ground). If this was instead The Country Boomkin (as in bumpkin as we use the term now) it makes double sense. Boomkin is a ship term for an added spur of wood...some definitions give it a place before the king spur.
Zoffany was not really earning any money as a portraitist until after 1862 when Garrick alighted upon him. The scandal after the publication of Hawkesworth's 3 volumes would have dated earliest 1773.
I have found numerous very disparaging assessments of Zoffany's carelessness in details in news accounts from C19th onwards. e.g. in connection to an exhibition of British art at Burlington House in 1934 "The very dogs in his (Hogarth's) picture of 'Lord George Graham in his Cabin' (209) have more character than the fathers and mothers in a family group by Zoffany." the same author also condemns Zoffany as being a mere "conversation-piece monger".
The question obviously arises as to who commissioned the painting? Was it the country gent newly come into money (cf Hawkesworth info I have supplied above) or someone like the naturalist J Banks who is having fun at Hawkesworth's expense (whilst possibly covering his own involvement in the appointment of Hawkesworth to write the first person account in the first instance)?
For sure, it is a 'conversation piece'.

The facial features of our sitter do bear a striking similarity to those of Dr Charles Burney in Reynolds's portrait and this was perhaps the basis of the former identification of the subject, apparently rejected by Burney's descendants. Perhaps their reasoning is to be found in the file on the painting which we glimpsed in the TV programme? However, whereas Reynolds shows his sitter holding a rolled-up musical score, there is nothing in the way of attributes in the Manchester portrait to indicate that the subject might be a composer or writer. Going back to the basics of what we are offered here, the sitter is presented against a woodland background, without so much as a hint of sky. He leans against a prominent tree, while sitting, perhaps unusually, on the rump of a tree trunk, the greater part of which has been cleanly sawn off -- presumably for profitable gain. All we can infer from the internal evidence is that our obviously well-to-do sitter is the proprietor of this domain, i.e. that he is the owner of a country estate in which productive woodland seemingly played a significant role.

Jacinto Regalado,

Richard, the last sentence of your last comment would describe Robert Marsham (painted by Zoffany ca. 1761) or his son and heir of the same name, who would have been a young man of about 21 ca. 1770, the date given to the Manchester picture (please refer to my prior comment above). Here's a link to more information:

I really would like to see a close-up of the cut or sawn surface of the tree to see if what could be "measuring marks" have been drawn on it, which would be extremely relevant to my theory.

Jacinto, a link to a high-resolution image was posted above by Jade King one year ago -- tenth comment from the start. It enlarges quite well. Certainly the prominence given to the sawn end of the tree trunk between the sitter's legs with their all-important stockings (denoting status and wealth) is difficult to explain unless it was indeed intended to allude to the sitter's involvement in, or study of, forestry.

Jacinto Regalado,

Thank you, Richard; I did not realize that was already available. There are some orange marks on the cut surface as well as on the outer bark of the tree, but they may simply be highlights for effect. Still, the Zoffany connection to the older Robert Marsham and the definite Marsham family connection to tree-related or forestry matters remain suggestive (the older Robert Marsham reportedly planted an enormous number of trees on the estate, especially oaks and cedars).

It would obviously be of great interest to know more about the provenance of the picture before it came into the hands of the London dealer (Arthur Tooth & Sons) from whom it was acquired in 1934. Stratton Strawless Hall was the seat of the Marsham family from the XIV to the end of the XIX century; it was sold in 1899. Perhaps Manchester has more information in its file on this picture.

Osmund Bullock,

I'm afraid that William of Ockham and I tend to think that the nobbly old section of tree trunk on which the subject is sitting is...a nobbly old section of tree trunk on which the subject is sitting. And it is old - barkless, splitting down the middle, and in my view altogether an unlikely symbol of forestry wealth, an interest in tree growth rates or anything else. All over the countryside are - and doubtless always were - large bits of trees left sitting in and near woodland as ad hoc seats for weary walkers, and it is common to strip the bark from them (or nature does it for you eventually). This presumably imagined one is suitably shaped by the artist to be a rest for hat and stick as well as bottom. Not that this *couldn't* be Robert Marsham junr - but I'd need a lot more evidence to think that it is.

Osmund Bullock,

The likelihood of it being Charles Burney was in fact dealt with by Bendor in some detail. He and Simon Gillespie initially thought a label on the back identifying it as Burney was C19th - to me it didn't look that old. He agreed that facially it could be Burney (I'm not sure I do - Burney had a huge nose, and would have been too old), while cautioning (as I often do here) against trying to identify sitters from likeness alone. He did come up with a very plausible, but unproven connection (via Garrick) between Burney and Zoffany, and said it was certainly possible that Zoffany could have painted him. But research in the Arthur Tooth archive revealed that in fact the whole Burney idea was an invention of Tooth's.

Osmund Bullock,

When he sold it to Manchester in 1934 Tooth claimed that it had come directly from a member of the Burney family - but when doubt was cast on the identity a few years later, Manchester consulted Burney's descendants who said they'd never seen it before. Confronted with this, Tooth changed his story and claimed he'd bought it from a private dealer, and *he* had got it from the family - and unfortunately the dealer had since died, so that was that. The archive, however, told a rather different story. Tooth actually bought it at a Christie's sale in March 1930, where it was catalogued as "Portrait of a gentleman (said to be David Garrick)", and attributed to...Zoffany! The change in identity (and more oddly the artist) was made by him - I imagine he realized Garrick wouldn't wash (too many known portraits), cast around for someone famous but less well-known visually, and then did what dealers often did. He lied.

So like Bendor, and the programme's consultants, and now the Collection, I think the Burney idea is dead in the water. And this would apply to any candidates suggested specifically for a connection with Burney in order to explain how it came to be associated with him - as far as we know it never was. For what it's worth I don't buy Hawkesworth or Banks either.

It might be worth trying Christie's Archive to see if the 1930 vendor's name is recorded, though one might expect the programme's researchers to have done that already. I'll make some enquiries.

Howard Jones,

Osmund notes above that the good Dr Burney had a 'huge nose' (see NPG 1140 drawing by Charles Dance 1794).

The drawing in profile does indicate a distinctive and prominent nose. If we look at the two branches (or roots ) of the tree trunk in the Zoffany picture they have a bovine appearance. The main branch looks like the large nose of a cow. Could this be one of the artists playful clues that the gentleman portrayed, like Dr Burney' had a nose you could hang your hat on.

Showing the cut end of the trunk for the seat is unusual. As Zoffany painted Marsham senior in 1761, this could have been one of Zoffany's next sitters just after the artist had been fully updated on tree ring issues and aspects of phenology by the enthusiastic Mr Marsham.

Without better provenance we may never be sure of the sitter's identity, but Dr Burney does resemble the gentleman more closely than the other candidates proposed so far.

Certainly Sir Joseph Banks looks a bit too 'Poldark' to be our man.

See portrait of Banks by Joshua Reynolds, and Poldark in homage to 18th Century fashion and art.


Kieran Owens,

One year ago, Simon Carter made the suggestion, "based only on stylistic grounds", that this portrait was by Zoffany. Bendor Grosvenor and his colleagues seem to have proven beyond any reasonable doubt that the work warrants that attribution. In his first posting, Simon linked to the artist's 1771/1772 portrait of Queen Charlotte and her family. An extract from the Royal Collections' website describes the painting thus:

"...exhibited at the Royal Academy as a 'Portrait of Her Majesty, in conversation with her two brothers and part of the Royal family'. It remains a classic conversation piece, exhibiting the happy hubbub of affectionate relationships within an extended family. It records the presence in London in 1771 of both Queen Charlotte's beloved elder brothers, and must have been finished before Zoffany's departure for Florence in 1772. Prince Karl of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1741-1816) stands on the Queen's right, wearing the order of St Andrew of Russia; Prince Ernst (1742-1814), stands to her left sporting the white eagle of Poland. Both men are dressed with the distinctively unostentatious elegance of English fashion, in frock coats (a servant's coat with turned down collar adopted by the ton (sic) as early as the 1720s), holding chapeau bras (literally 'arm-hats', to be held not worn) and carrying canes rather than swords."

Further: "The whole scene breathes the spirit of Jean Jacques Rousseau, whose ideas concerning the purity and innate goodness of natural inclinations and affections were popular in enlightened circles in England and Germany."

The painting was exhibited at the RA in 1773.

The first of the attached composites prompts the following question. Apart for the absence of the order of St. Andrew of Russia, is it a complete coincidence that the outfits worn by Prince Karl (Prince Charles II) and by our sitter on the tree stump are of an almost identical style? Similarly, the coiffures are of an identical style, as is the design of the walking canes that our sitter has (see second composite) as compared to the one being held by Charlotte's youngest brother Ernest.

Quite apart for being some country bumpkin squire, lounging on a tree stump in his country estate, our sitter seems to be able to match the style and cut, with his silk-lined jacket and silk-trimmed waistcoat as well as his lace neck-piece and lace shirt cuffs, of one of the most important families present in England in 1771.

It has been written that Zoffany's portrait of Queen Charlotte might have been painted at Kew, given her association with that place as a result of her keen interest in botany. The girth of the main tree that appears in both paintings, as well as its left-leaning orientation and its distinctive foliage, might be stock props for many of Zoffany's intimate portraits, but the type of tree might also be identifiable by experts at Kew as a species that was present in the gardens at the beginning of the 1770s. And unless they are just highlights in the work, perhaps some arboreal expert, at Kew or elsewhere, might be able to explain the presence of those red paint marks on the tree stump.

Given all of these seeming similarities, could it be the case that our painting is a very intimate family portrait of Charles II of Mecklenberg, or one of his brothers, painted as a companion piece for the portrait of Queen Charlotte? The third attachment shows our sitter with a later portrait of Charles II of Meckenleburg. Can anyone else see a likeness between their smooth and open-faced features?

Also, the last attachment shows Zoffany's portrait of Prince Ernest of Mecklenburg, now in the Royal Collection at Windsor. It is, perhaps, the same work that was exhibited at the RA in 1773, No. 321, as so identified by Walpole. The work shows the same style of coiffure, and presents not-dissimilar smooth features as seen on the face of our sitter:

Should it turn out to be as I am suggesting, how such a portrait might have ended up in the hands of Tooth & Sons in 1934 is a different conundrum.

Jacinto Regalado,

Kieran, I don't think the eyes match. Our sitter has very soft, "dreamy" or doe eyes; Charles has more worldly (and German) eyes, and Ernest's eyes look a bit somnolent and not round or open enough.

Jacinto Regalado,

However, I suppose our gentleman may be a little too fashionable and refined for a country squire from Norfolk. There is also something vaguely theatrical about the piece, which brings up the possibility of this being an actor posing as a sensitive aristocrat in touch with nature, and nocturnal nature at that.

Does the Manchester portrait have a definitive eye colour? If something as simple is buried in this burgeoning forest of speculation, apologies for missing it, but if clear it can help: we once 'lost' a good Lely of Prince Rupert of the Rhine that had been identified on apparent likeness that way - when a better one of cast-iron antecedents showed his eyes were blue not brown....

James Fairhead,

If Christies in 1930 described the work as by Zoffany and "said to be David Garrick" then ought this not to be taken seriously? After all Garrick 'discovered' Zoffany about 1762 at precisely the time Garrick purchased logs of Shakespeare's mulberry tree that had just been felled, and then Garrick had it carved into things. The tree on which the subject sits is very old, as has been pointed out, and it is also, conceivably, a Mulberry. Perhaps this is the conversation in question? Garrick of course was inspired by Shakespeare, whose work he promoted. It would be odd if Zoffany (or some other artist) had not commemorated Garrick and this tree. That Zoffany was in the right place at the right time and indebted to Garrick, and could give this portrait some theatricality too is suggestive at least.

Jacinto Regalado,

Based on the high-res image (which can be enlarged) posted by Jade King (tenth comment on this thread), the eyes appear to be hazel.

Jacinto Regalado,

If this picture is indeed ca. 1770, the sitter looks too young for Garrick, who would have been around 53 at that time. Also, based on portraits, Garrick had darker eyes and a more knowing face.

Imogen Gray,

Apologies, I wasn't introducing Banks as the sitter. My reference was to the possibility that Bank's had commissioned the painting...and I think the painting now attributed to Mortimer (previously Zoffany) in the National Library of Australia collection. If the chap in blue is Dr Hawkesworth, it may not even be him 'in person'. Given Banks' friendship with Zoffany (he was after all intending to go on Cook's 2nd voyage which Bank's had promoted as his own voyage of discovery - to the irritation of Cook), and the connections with Garrick (his frequent sponsor), I think it more than possible that any number of characters could have been playing with the dressing-up box. The loss of Banks' archive is interesting in that when Sir Joseph D Hooker tried to 'put the record straight' by editing a full account (in remedy to the Hawkesworth work) he discovered that Banks' documents etc had been broken up, auctioned off and variously dispersed. I have found a freely accessible (but typo strewn) digital version of this and include a short extract in the doc below. I have highlighted at the end the comment about a person in New South Wales acquiring the Journey diary...strange coincidence? Group painting of Cook et al with Hawkesworth in blue suit, previously attributed to Zoffany in Australia, whilst here, we have another disputed in same blue suit, hat, stick....and the suggestive symbolism as I mentioned previously. Banks was not a nice man...he had the money and influence to get away with blue-murder...poking fun at eager sycophants is quite a sport too!

However, I look at the high res picture and think there is a shadow of a date (large lettering) on the tree stump. Is this 1865?

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Osmund Bullock,

Bendor addressed the eyes early on, Pieter, and was a bit worried. Burney's are clearly blue-grey in Reynolds' 1781 portrait, while the LHS eye here (i.e. his right) is indeed hazel or brownish - the other was deemed less reliable because of damage and restoration.

Kieran Owens,

Jacinto, I appreciate that there is not a photo-fit likeness between any of these images. But having tried recently to reconcile many images of Captain James Cook and of Joseph Banks, I was a astonished at the wide variation of facial representations of them that there are, many of which are not at all alike.

I am going more on the fact that Zoffany was painting the Mecklenberg family in the year 1771 and that our painting shares very specific elements with the other. It is possible, I suppose, that if this painting dates from or near the year 1771, it could be simply another portrait by him in the same style of a now anonymous client.

Kieran Owens,

Perhaps there was an off-the peg suit sale in c.1771. Attached is a composite showing an engraving c. 1771 of John Banks in 1769 showing native Indians the transit of Venus, alongside a portrait purported to to be of and by Zoffany, or possibly by John Hamilton Mortimer, which is featured in 'John Zoffany, R. A., His Life and Works: 1735-1810', by Victoria Manners and George Charles Williamson (1920). In both images, the wearers are sporting an outfit identical to those as worn by our sitter and Charles II of Mecklenberg.

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Thanks for the eyes answers: hazel-ish rules out Burney and my parallel with Boothby - who is also dreamier- , both being grey-blue.

(PS; Banks's 'Endeavour' journal has been in the State Library of New South Wales for a long time and will shortly be heading back there from loan to the BL's Cook 'Voyages' exhibition - which ended yesterday, 28 August - marking the 250th anniversary of the sailing of 'Endeavour' in 1768)

Osmund Bullock,

For a moment I was rather taken with James Fairhead's idea, but sadly it doesn't work. This cannot be Garrick - he was already 45 when they met in 1762, and even then looked much older than (and nothing like) our sitter - see attached composite for how Zoffany saw him in 1762-3. And as far as I can see, Garrick never bought or owned a log of Shakespeare's mulberry after it was felled in 1756, though in 1769 he was presented with a box probably made from it - see & (expand curator's comments). However, James's suggestion that we should take the "said to be David Garrick" Christie's cataloguing seriously did get me thinking, as it is not unknown for there to be a garbled half-truth somewhere behind an impossible traditional identification.

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Osmund Bullock,

Richard notes that "the sitter is presented against a woodland background, without so much as a hint of sky"; this was also mentioned (but not pursued) in the programme, and has changed little since conservation. Surely this is very rare (even unique?) in C18th British portraits of landed gentlemen shown in the countryside - normally some degree of landscape is an integral part of the image. Is it night (why?), or just very deep woodland (why again)? Is the portrait a throwback to the Elizabethan melancholy man? Or perhaps the sitter was someone who liked to walk and think at night (if night it is). None of these make total sense to me, especially in the context of a young artist anxious to please his adopted country's monied classes within their own traditions - he was imaginative, yes, but not iconoclastic, and all the other 'homo in rure' works of his that I can find give us something of a view. I do note, though, how often his sitters are at the edge of dark woodland...but all seem to offer at least a glimpse (and usually more) of something brighter and broader beyond, e.g. & & & .

Osmund Bullock,

Jacinto has proposed that "there is also something vaguely theatrical about the piece, which brings up the possibility of this being an actor posing as a sensitive aristocrat in touch with nature, and nocturnal nature at that", and this echoes some suggestions by Imogen (who didn't propose Banks himself, I know - but I think someone else developed your narrative and did!).

Well, the only context in which the blacked-out background makes sense to me is the literally theatrical. Could it be that this is not an actor 'posing' as an aristocrat, but an actor (not Garrick) on an actual stage performing some notable role? What we see behind would then in essence be a set, and the tree trunk a prop. It is clear from images of the numerous theatrical scenes painted by Zoffany that he must often have "improved" the realism of the sets (albeit sometimes with undefined dark background areas, e.g. & & & ). However the scenes set outdoors seem to have the backgrounds fully opened out into ordinary landscapes (e.g. & & )...and that takes us back to square one. I could imagine this to be some renowned Jacques (As You Like It) brooding in the Forest of Arden, but I fear he's too young for that role.

Osmund Bullock,

In any case, is it really theatrical *enough* in style for one of his scenes from the stage - compare with the actors in his other ones, their dramatic expressions frozen in time? I'm not sure it is. And as I've noted, the deep, dark wood is often close by in other Zoffanys - would it be so strange if on occasion the wood crept out to envelope a client who wanted the artist to emphasize his deeply thoughtful personality - perhaps he'd been unlucky in love?

Having started this off sure it *was* a theatrical portrait, I've now pretty much talked myself out of it!

I also doubt it's an actor in role but, given there isn't yet a 'theatrical and performance subjects group' on Art UK, that could be floated elsewhere to see if the face/ 'part' strikes a bell; and a flip through the (modern) Garrick Club collection catalogue might be worthwhile for a parallel.

Jacinto Regalado,

The nocturnal setting is certainly more likely for a scene from a play than a portrait, but that obviously does not preclude the latter. The sitter does not appear to be in costume, and there are no obvious props or clues as to a particular character (and this would not be a character actor, but more of a young male lead).

Osmund Bullock,

Kieran, I think Charlie Dance (a deeply interesting man I once knew quite well) would only have been flattered at the attribution, if a little surprised!

Kieran Owens,

Osmund, a fine actor he is, as indeed were you (and might still be?) though not to be connected to the suggested theatricality of this portrait.

Kieran Owens,

Zoffany did paint a single portrait of Prince Charles II of Mecklenburg, which is included in this description of the His Majesty's Gallery at Kensington Palace, which comes from the 1800 edition of the 'Ambulator: Or, a Pocket Companion in a Tour Round London'. If an image of it can be found, perhaps a comparison could be made with our discussion's portrait.

It is unlikely that the picture has been cut down because its measurements, 91.7 x 71.3 cm, convert exactly to 36 x 28 in, the standard British canvas size known as Kit-Kat. In any case we would undoubtedly been alerted in the TV programme by restorer Simon Gillespie had he noted that the painted surface had been folded round, say, the left or right edge of the stretcher, as it might have been in the case of image reduction.

Kieran Owens,

My link shows that there was a portrait identified as being of Charles II and one of his wife too, both by Zoffani (sic) in 1800. That such a portrait is not now listed in the Collection does, however, raise an intriguing possibility! I'll check to see is Charles's wife's portrait is still in the collection.

Jacinto Regalado,

This seems too relaxed, informal, intimate and eccentric or romantic a picture to be of a military man and Queen Charlotte's brother. I still would not rule out a portrait of an actor, presumably in a role.

Jacinto Regalado,

There is no Zoffany portrait of either the first or the second wife of Charles II of Mecklenburg-Strelitz in the Royal Collection, according to its website. Charles's brother Ernest never married.

Kieran Owens,

Jacinto, how would explain the inclusion of these two portraits in the 1800 guide book description of His Majesty's Gallery at Kensington Palace? Whatever about mistaking Charles for Ernest, the authors must certainly have believed that there was a portrait of Charles II's wife in that room, by Zoffani (sic), otherwise why would they have mentioned it. And if neither portrait is still in the collection, could the Royal Collection explain why? It might be worthwhile, for some other discussion, to know where they went.

Jacinto Regalado,

Yes, Kieran, it would be interesting to know where those Zoffany portraits went, if they were indeed by him and of the couple in question, as they presumably were. However, someone with (much) better contacts than mine would have to make such an enquiry.

Jacinto Regalado,

Perhaps the Garrick Club would have information as to actors who played Orlando ca. 1770.

Jacinto Regalado,

Interestingly, Zoffany's Touchstone picture, which belongs to the Garrick Club, has been cut down (it now measures 91 x 55.5 cm), the missing part presumably showing Rosalind.

Jacinto Regalado,

Should this discussion not be closed, since the painting has been officially attributed to Zoffany on national television?

Jacob Simon,

I have just finished watching a repeat of the television programme by Bendor discussed above. And I have reviewed the contributions to this discussion.

I’m sure that the attribution to Zoffany is right. And, for my part, I’m very happy with the description of the sitter as “A Country Gentleman (once said to be Charles Burney)”. There is just not enough evidence for the various identifications that have been suggested.

Time to close this discussion since it appears that the collection accepts these conclusions?

Manchester Art Gallery,

The Collection has accepted the attribution of Zoffany and has altered the main title to "A Country Gentleman (previous title - Dr Charles Burney)

I would agree that the discussion could be closed.
John Peel - Collection Information Manager