Completed Portraits: British 20th C 9 Can you tell us more about the sitter in this portrait by Howard Somerville?

Topic: Subject or sitter

There is a companion piece in Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool, which may date from a similar time.

One of our volunteers has found the following information: ‘The painting and another Zulu painting of "Nigel” were in exhibitions in 1915. In June 1914 The Salvation Army World Congress was held in London, delegates included a party of Zulus. Groups, including the Zulus, toured the country and put on displays e.g. Sheffield and Dundee. So it's possible that Somerville saw or met some of the participants.’

We have no evidence of Somerville having visited southern Africa.

We would be grateful for any further information which would help us to identify this man.

Gallery Oldham, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

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Kieran Owens,

According to The Scotsman, of Saturday 8th May 1915, "Zulu With A Black Eye" was exhibited by Somerville at the 18th London exhibition of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters & Graves, which was being held at the Grosvenor Gallery.

Kieran Owens,

I would also respectfully suggest that the sitter in this portrait is the same as the "Nigel" in the Grundy Art Gallery collection.

Jacinto Regalado,

In that case, Kieran, the date of the Grundy portrait should be amended in its Art UK entry, especially since Gallery Oldham has found it was exhibited in 1915 like this picture.

Kieran Owens,

Perhaps, Jacinto, though only if Grundy Art gallery are using c.1930 as the execution date based on its purchase date, though that assumes that Somerville did not continue painting various versions of the same theme or subject over several years. As it happens, various Zulu portraits in one formatted name or another, some identifying 'Nigel', were being shown by or as being by Somerville over a period of nearly twenty-five years, as can be seen from the attached clippings from the Pall Mall Gazette, of Friday 8th January 1915, the Sunderland Daily Echo & Shipping Gazette, of Saturday 19th May 1923, the Sheffield Daily Telegraph, of Saturday 2nd August 1924, The Scotsman, of Saturday 3rd October 1936, and the Worthing Gazette, of Wednesday 15th March 1939.

My own guess, however, is that both portraits were painted in 1915.

Jacob Simon,

This discussion, "Can you tell us more about the sitter in this portrait by Howard Somerville?" has attracted six posts since its launch in September 2020, all on the first two days. Since then silence. It seems that we can't find out more about the sitter since the artist apparently chose him as a model for a striking painting and did not wish to identify him. Not unusual when painting a model rather than fulfilling a portrait commission.

Kieran's posts have confirmed a date for the picture of c.1914-15.

Unless contributors to this discussion have further evidence, rather than surmise, I'd guess that it's time to close the discussion.

Marcie Doran,

I searched on Ancestry without success for men named Nigel living near Somerville's studio who might have been the sitter for this portrait.

As Kieran has indicated, Somerville exhibited a portrait of a Zulu in 1915. It was in the Royal Academy’s War Relief Exhibition that opened on 8 January 1915 ((10) ’A Zulu’). I have attached the top of that newspaper article from 1915 that Kieran already posted.

I thought that researching the donor might provide a clue to the name of the sitter but the likely donor was not South African. I suspect that the donor Joseph Smith was the former mayor and local magistrate in Oldham who passed away in 1925.

I discovered that Nigel is a mining town in Transvaal.

A profile of Somerville on the AskART website shows that his full name was Howard Somerville Adamson.