Completed British 20th C, except portraits, East of England: Artists and Subjects, Maritime Subjects, South East England: Artists and Subjects 32 Can you identify the location in this oil sketch by Cecil Constant Philip Lawson?

Seascape with Two Sailing Boats
Topic: Other

This oil sketch could do with a more accurate title, since it almost certainly shows two Thames barges in an Essex or Suffolk creek that may be recognisable to those who know the area.

The hull of the vessel in front, with what looks like a very long bowsprit, is a bit deceptive in form but the twin-masted yawl rig, with a main 'sprit' yard suggests it is a barge and the other looks fairly standard (single masted).

It is an unusual subject for Lawson, above all a military painter (and writer). I attach a 'working' biography of him that is the latest version of one I first put in the National Maritime Museum database some years ago, when cataloguing four more oil sketches it holds of the 1919 Thames Peace Pageant. How that exercise came about, and a printed copy of the 'life' (as here) has also now appeared as a note in the 'Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research' (Spring 2020, vol. 98, no. 392). This was also the only publication I could find that, in 1967, included a notice of Lawson when he died (vol. 45, p. 121). That in itself was not surprising: much more so was the absence of anything else that I could find when I was then looking.

The present picture was a 1958 bequest to Glasgow from Rosalind Birnie Philip, who was certainly related to Lawson through his mother though exactly how I have not pursued.

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

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The title has been updated to ‘Thames Barges in an East Coast Creek’. The scene is general enough to include Suffolk, Essex and (though less likely) the Medway/Kent as possible locations. The Deben estuary in Suffolk is thought to be the closest possibility.

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.


Kieran Owens,

Pieter, as the youngest of the ten children, born between 1854 and 1873, of John Birnie Philip and his wife Frances Black(e), Rosalind Birnie Philip was born in Chelsea in 1873 and died, aged 85 and unmarried, at 54, Tite Street, Chelsea, on the 6th February 1958, leaving an estate valued at £16,683.

Cecil Constant Philip Lawson's mother was Constance Birnie Philip (1854 - 1929), the elder sister of Rosalind, and the eldest child of the said John Birnie Philip and Frances Black.

Rosalind, therefore, was Cecil's young aunt.

Kieran Owens,

Also, as the painting seems to have been a specific bequest, its title might be mentioned in her will, which was proven in the London Probate Registry.

This comment was receive from Jane Fox, 28 Apr 2020 in a separate post

Perhaps around the Maldon area. Typical of sailing barge found in that region. Countryside similar to that area too.

Jane Wickenden,

If, although Army, he was liaising with the Navy, it might also be somewhere near the shore establishment HMS Ganges at Shotley on the Orwell. I too have seen barges like that at Maldon and also in the Alde / Deben estuary areas in Suffolk.

Kieran Owens,

By the way, another sister of Rosalind's was Beatrice/Beatrix Birnie Philip (1857 - 1896), who, as the widow of the architect Edward William Godwin, married James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834 – July 1903).

On Whistler's death, he appointed Rosalind, who was his ward, as the sole executor of his will (see attached).

Martin Hopkinson,

Little indeed is known by this artist; this presumably early work could be compared with the oils of Frank Short, another admirer of Whistler

Malcolm Fowles,

Enlarging the image on the Art UK website suggests one or two possible buildings on the skyline. The first is almost in line with the stern of the smaller boat; it may be a fortification. The second is on the extreme right; it may be a mill, but just as easily a tree. Could the collection provide well-lit close-ups please?

The enlargement also suggests to me that the "very long bowsprit" is an illusion. Most of it appears to be a slightly arched feature onshore.

Martin Hopkinson,

You could add that he was the nephew of a very fine landscape painter, Cecil Gordon Lawson [1849-82], who died young and whose style is not reflected in his nephew' work.
Also three portraits of him as a boy by his aunt Beatrice are in the Hunterian's collection

Martin Hopkinson,

The Hunterian owns one his wartime paintings, 'Casualty Station'

Jenny Carlile,

Could this be Shotley hard? The white building would be the Bristol Arms pub.

I agree that the Maldon area might be a likely one but the answer has to be more specific to get beyond 'Thames barges in a (probably) east coast creek', albeit that is better than the current description.

'Casualty Clearing Station' was also bequeathed to Glasgow by Lawson's 'young aunt' (thank you Kieran) Rosalind Birnie Philip in 1958.

The other distribution of CCPL's 38 'public' oil works is:

25 in IWM. A spot check on a few of these suggests they neither seem sure how they were acquired beyond it being some time in the 1970s, nor -for the WWI examples - when these were painted.
I think probably post-war, not during: he was fighting not a 'war artist'. The IWM tally includes an apparently peacetime landscape and an unfinished and probably also WWI study of a so far unidentified architectural gate on which suggestions would also be useful:

Others are:

4 in regimental museums (2 x Staffs Regiment; 1x Royal Green Jackets; 1 x Gordon Highlanders): these all seem to be WWII

4 in NMM (studies of the 1919 Thames Peace Pageant)

2 with the National Trust at Stourhead (one of Verdun and the other 'Turenne's campaign of 1674')

1 in National Army Museum (WWI -soldiers marching past ruined farm buildings)

Just to avoid further confusion, Cecil Gordon Lawson (d. 1882) was CCPL's father, not uncle.

Alison Golding,

My immediate thought was Pin Mill on the Orwell, but it's not quite right for the current view and in any case I'm confused by grey (slate?) roofs for that part of the world.

Louis Musgrove,

Yes it does look a bit like The Butt & Oyster at Pin Mil- it does have red tile roof now- but slate very common in Ipswich area in Victorian times. There is a similarity too, to The Bristol Arms at Shotley, but there is a steep hill behind the Bristol Arms , so I think not. Trouble is it is very impressionistic,( blurred ! ) and is very similar to a few "hards " along the inlets on the Essex and Suffolk coasts.

Kieran Owens,

Thank you Marion, it's great that you are back at the wheel.

If they have been painted accurately, interpreting the three flags might hold the key to identifying the location.The land-based one might be the most important.

Might be a St George's flag but doesn't really help: if there were dinghy masts etc, it might say 'sailing club' but I'm just fishing and it is rather sketchy.

Louis Musgrove,

First what date might this be? 1910 perhaps.???? Secondly- any idea as to orientation- I can't see any shadows- perhaps we are looking north at midday?
Thirdly - looking at the enlargements- looking at the bows of the barges- they look rounded and bulbous and rise a little . So more likely Humber "Billy Boys " rather than Thames Barges. Or even possibly Dutch- perhaps ???. Thames Barges have a flat wedge shaped bow that doen't rise above the deck line, -well hardly!.
Fourthly - the flags on the main masts would be the owner's pennants- but sadly I am not an expert on these.I might recognise R&W Paul on a good day ! :-) .

I agree about the hulls, but the rig looks right for Thames types and general impression is muddy Essex/Suffolk flat-lands: date is quite imponderable. Given there are only two barges rather than many more it might be later than earlier, or earlier and just two there at the time. If the 'sailing club' impression has any validity perhaps c 1930 at earliest but overall I think its a matter of recognizing the specific topography -no doubt more 'built' today.

Random thought... I wonder where his Aunt Rosalind [Birnie Philip] lived: if out that way, it might have been a sketch he left with her in thanks for a nice weekend (though she must have had some later Glasgow connection to bequeath there)...

Martin Hopkinson,

Rosalind lived in Chelsea. The University of Glasgow gave Whistler an honorary degree. John Walton longtime curator of the University's art collection was a neighbour of Whistler when he was a child, and curator at the time of Rosalind's gift. Although he himself was a botanist, his father E A Walton was one of the Glasgow Boys, whose campaigning raised the interest in Whistler's paintings so that the city fathers made the first major British purchase of one of the American's paintings, the portrait of Carlyle. Whistler himself was the son of a McNeill - and traced his ancestry to the McNeills of Barra as he told one of his principal dealers, Alexander 1892.
The dealer David Croal Thomson , another of his keen supporters, managed the London gallery of Goupil, was another Scot
Whistler made it quite plain that he did not want the English to receive any paintings from his estate.
My own feeling is that this a pre 1914 painting

Louis Musgrove,

Looking again at enlargement 2 - I get the impression of a ramp into the water.(left of centre ) If this is the case - it is in the wrong place for Pin Mill.
I notice that Cecil Constant's father was born and brought up in Cheyne Walk - so a wealthy family ???. I always rather liked Cheyne Walk- one of the best locations in London!
Cecil Constant seems to have been born in Haselmere and his father died when he was two-ish.
John Birnie , Whistler ,Beatrix and Rosalind all seem to have lived in Chelsea most of their lives, but I suppose they might have had the odd second home somewhere.

Louis Musgrove,

Cecil Constant also seems to have written a book with illustrations " A history of the Uniforms of the British Army"- which might come in handy with that possible portrait of William le Geyt!

Thanks for the Glasgow connection Martin: no obvious Essex/ Suffolk one then, whenever painted.

'Lawson' (as 'Grove' for music) was a leading authority on the history of army uniforms in five self-illustrated volumes, 1940-67, though the sixth was forestalled by his death: see the doc attached to my note above of 28 April.

We can let this run on a bit for other 'place' suggestions though I don't think aything more than simple recognition will crack it. If there's no resolution I'll just suggest something a bit more useful than the current description.

Martin Hopkinson,

If one knew more about CCPL's private life, that might give us a direction to follow
His father clearly moved out of London because of his health. The family was not rich. Cecil Gordon's father was the son of an Edinburgh portrait painter, only moderately successful - he was neither a ARSA or a RSA

Jacinto Regalado,

This is neither here nor there, but in its incarnation as wallpaper or screensaver for Art Detective, this picture reminded me of Boucher, who eschewed painting from nature because he found the latter "too green and badly lit."

Roy Clare, (Director of NMM 2000-07) who sails on the Essex/ Suffolk coast rules out Osea and Maldon as well a Pin Mill and suggests Suffolk the more likely, possibly Waldringfield on the Deben estuary, below Woodbridge. That would make one of the buildings the Maybush Inn but the most likely is shown grey whereas that is a red-brick one, originally 18th century though much altered (and now with additions). I know the place too and see what he means in general setting terms, though there has been more building there: its not wholly convincing but probably nearest so far. His images attached, one just downstream of the pub and quay, plus an aerial shot off the web.

Louis Musgrove,

Yes it does look a bit like Waldringfield- as it looks a bit like Pin Mill or Shotley.And the whitish flag does hint at a Pub. Trouble is -in the photos of Waldringfield supplied by Roy Clare- most of the buildings on the river edge are newish as Pieter points out!!!!! We need a photo from the location Cecil Constant used - south of Waldringfield looking north-so we can compare old rooves.But looking at the painting Cecil Constant appears to be on the river bank- where no river bank is at Waldringfield to get that angle of sight! I attach old photo of Waldringfield from 1955 I found online - from roughly the correct distance - to illustrate the angle of sight,or lack of it. Might Cecil Constant have taken a photo from a boat on a mudflat in the middle of the river and worked from that???
It does have the feel that it should be Suffolk. I have been looking at the painting and have not been able to work out if it is a river- that bends off to the right in the distance ( correct for Waldringfield ( or Bawdsey ,see below )) or whether it is a bay or inlet. Certainly it looks tidal. And it's not Ramsholt or Woodbridge - but it does look slightly like Bawdsey looking south down the river- the ramp ,potentially Bawdsey Quay,might be in the right place- which is why I was wondering about the orientation of the painting.

I doubt its a downstream view of Bawdsey. The ground immediately behind the riverside pub there (which is about the only building one sees today from across the river east of Waldringfield) is rises much higher: the river also widens.

My inclination is not to press the matter further but suggest Glasgow notes that the Deben is the closest possibility so far (others having been negatived) and that a better title would be 'Thames barges off a quay in an east-coast creek', or something similar. I am sure the vessels are intended to be that and its general enough to include Suffolk, Essex and (though less likely) the Medway/ Kent.

Whaley Turco,

I have no idea where that painting depicts. But, I would be more than happy to provide it a good home. It would look quite nice on my living room wall.

Would Art UK taker a view from Glasgow on my suggestion above of 9 May please? If they would like to agree it, or something similar but more usefully specific than the (poor) current title, then this can close down with thanks to all contributors. Future accurate identification, probably fortuitous, can be raised again if or when it happens.