Completed Portraits: British 19th C, Scotland: Artists and Subjects 13 Could the artist be Henry Caunter?

Sir James Matheson of Achany and The Lews (1796–1878)
Topic: Artist

Could the artist be Henry Caunter? There are some paintings by this gent on the BBC Your Paintings site. Henry was very well known to James Matheson and had a good reputation as a portrait painter. Henry was a very talented man – singer, flautist, antiquarian, amateur scientist, geologist, public speaker and painter-as well as being a politician. When James Matheson returned from China with a vast fortune in 1843, Caunter was his political agent when Matheson was elected liberal member of parliament for Ashburton in Devon. When Matheson moved to Lewis a year or so later, Caunter came with him to try and develop the peatlands of Lewis by producing paraffin from peat; the Lewis Chemical Works (that's another story!). Caunter spent the rest of his life on Lewis, living on the Lews Castle estate until he passed away in 1881.

Ali Whiteford, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. It was agreed that this portrait is unlikely to be the work of Henry Caunter (active c.1846–c.1850). Other suggestions were Otto Theodor Leyde (1835–1897) and Alexander F. Sutherland (c.1844–1884), but there is still insufficient evidence after six years for a new attribution.

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.


Martin Hopkinson,

Caunter [born November 1808] came from Ashburton in Devon, and his Devon portraits do not look much like this. However, at some stage after the 1851 census he moved north of the borders, and eventually settled in Stornoway. His style might well have developed differently in Scotland. So unless one can find paintings securely by him that date from his time in Scotland it is very difficult to express a definite opinion as to whether this portrait was painted by him

Osmund Bullock,

It's a nice idea, but my feeling is that this is most unlikely to be by Caunter.

There is quite a lot about the man on this webpage , and it is clear from there, and from the obituary mentioned (attached in full), that he was essentially an amateur painter. In 1850 he briefly describes himself in a directory as "Artist, etc", but as far as is known never again. No work is known apart from the handful of Devon portraits, and in no census 1841-81 is his artistic activity ever mentioned - he is variously a merchant, a mining agent, a landed proprietor, manager of the Lews Chemical Works, and finally an annuitant - and the website tells us of many other activities besides. And this website gives a further flavour of just how busy a man Caunter must have been while working for Sir James on Lewis.

I find it hard to believe that he could have improved so markedly as an artist during these Scottish years - improvement takes hard work and time, and I doubt he would have had enough spare, at least until his retirement. And that - after the oil project was finally abandoned in the early 1870s - would have come too late for this portrait. There is also the fairly obvious problem of a complete lack of evidence, physical or anecdotal, for any art work by him whatsoever after he left Devon for Scotland in the 1850s.

Osmund Bullock,

A portrait of Sir James, together with another of his wife, by the Prussian-born Scottish artist Otto Theodor Leyde (1835–1897), was exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy in 1869: (The Inverness Courier of 4th February suggested it was a single portrait of them both, but the catalogue makes clear this was an error.)

At first glance Sir James looks like a man in his early 60s, and thus more likely to have been painted c1855-60. However, the attached 1861 photo of him aged 65 suggests he was unusually youthful - and numerous newspaper reports show that he remained highly active for many more years to come. So allowing for a bit of artistic flattery, I think a date later in the 1860s is perfectly possible - and besides, it is my impression that the RSA quite commonly exhibited works from earlier years - at least more so than than the RA - so a date of, say, c1865-8 seems plausible from both angles. Incidentally, I wonder if the Scottish Court Service know how and when they (or their predecessors) acquired the painting?

Though there were many portraits exhibited by Leyde at the RSA, few identified oils seem to be visible on the web - in fact, really only the small group to be found on the PCF. With a largely unknown oeuvre comparisons are difficult, but the portraits we have share one or two traits with Matheson's that make an attribution to Leyde reasonable - notably the hands, which though depicted carefully enough, and not without technical skill, remain distinctly clunky and lifeless.

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Ali Whiteford,

Unfortunately, the Scottish Court Service have no information about the acquisition of the painting.

The only reference to Caunter's artistic endeavours in Lewis occurs in a manuscript written by Donald Morison, the foreman of the Lewis Chemical Works, in 1897 where Caunter is noted as; 'a first-class portrait painter'.

There is no evidence of any of Caunter's paintings on Lewis; he was very much involved with the Chemical Works , being busy with patent applications for grease and anti-fouling and carrying out research into dyes between 1862 and 1867 after which he was involved in the marketing side of the business until it began to fail in the early 1870s. He was involved in music making - choirs, concerts etc - with Lady Matheson when he first came to Lewis in 1857 but this involvement declined as the years followed indicating less time and energy for artistic endeavours. 1865 - 1868 were definitely Caunter's busiest years. His will has not yet been found but there is no mention of any paintings in the will of his daughter, Sarah.

It seems to be very unlikely that Caunter was the artist

Kieran Owens,

This painting is possibly by Alexander F. Sutherland (c1844 - 8th August 1884). His identified works, with their connections to Lews Castle College and with Dingwall Museum, can be seen on the ArtUk website here, :

The following obituary appeared in the Aberdeen Free Press of Monday 11th August 1884:

"Death of a Dingwall Artist - The death took place in Inverness on Friday night of Mr. A. F. Sutherland, artist, Dingwall. Mr. Sutherland, who was about 40 years of age, had been ailing for some time, but nothing serious was anticipated. He, however, caught a cold, and an attack of pleurisy set in, which resulted in death. Mr. Sutherland was well known as a portrait painter, having executed, on commission of public bodies, portraits of Sir James Matheson of the Lews; Rev. Dr Kennedy; Dr. Ross, Dingwall; Provost Mitchell; and Dean of Guild Keith, Dingwall. As a landscape painter he was also favourably known, and several of his works have been exhibited at various times in the Royal Scottish Academy."

Apart from resolving the identity of this discussion's artist, the obituary might also help in confirming Sutherland as the artist of the following paintings:

1. John Mitchell, Provost of Dingwall from 1870 to 1881, by unknown artist, in the collection of Dingwall Museum.

2. At the Royal Scottish Academy of 1878, Sutherland exhibited, as catalogue no. 713, a portrait of 'George Ross, Esq., of Pitcalnie and Amat'.

This could well be the portrait in the Tain and District Museum, entitled 'George Ross of Pitcalnie', which is featured on the ArtUk website here:

3. Reverend Dr. John Kennedy - A presentation of the portrait of this preacher was made on the evening of Wednesday 19th May 1875. The full length depiction was painted by "a rising young native artist, Mr. Alexander Sutherland, whose portrait of Sir James Matheson of the Lewis (sic) attracted attention at the last exhibition of the Scottish Academy. Dr. Kennedy is represented as addressing an audience, his right hand stretched forward, his left holding a book, and the head turned slightly aside from the spectator......The figure is relieved against a simple back ground of dark brown, and the only accessory is a chair of dark oak, with a cloak loosely disposed on the back of it."

According to an article on the portrait, which appeared in the Inverness Courier of Tuesday 30th March 1909, the painting of Dr. Kennedy was first exhibited by Sutherland at the Exhibition of Art and Industry in September 1867, and was then presented to him in 1875. In 1909, the painting was sent to Edinburgh, to hang in the Free Church Presbytery Hall (where it might still be today!). The image of this painting can be seen here:

Additionally, the Aberdeen People's Journal of Saturday 10th August 1878 notices that "Mr. A. F. Sutherland, artist, Inverness, has just finished a full-length portrait of Mr. Kenneth Matheson, yr of Ardross, to be placed among the family portraits at Ardross Castle."

Alexander F. Sutherland was a annual exhibitor from around 1872 until his death in 1884.

Alas, until ArtUk irons out its file attachment problems, for the moment I cannot upload any images or clippings that will fully illustrate the works and references to works by Sutherland. However, I hope that the above details will allow for the favourable consideration that will lead to a positive identification of Sutherland as the painter of this discussion's portrait and will also help rediscover some other works by this artist, who was cut down in the prime of his creative life.

Kieran Owens,

Would the Highland Council or the group leader for this discussion have any comment of the above outlined proposition?

Barbara Bryant,

Thanks to Kieran this discussion has been revived. He has made the suggestion that Alexander F. Sutherland (c.1844-84) painted the portrait under discussion (and he has very usefully given us much information about this artist who is not well known in his native Scotland, let alone south of the border). To that we might add that Sutherland did in fact paint Matheson in ceremonial uniform (see print in BM ) and this shows us that a work listed as unattributed on Art UK in Dornoch Library can now be given to Sutherland (see
Now whether this is the only portrait of Matheson that Sutherland painted is one question.
The idea of Caunter has been ruled out by Osmund who has further given us the information that the Prussian artist Otto Leyde active in Scotland is recorded as exhibiting a portrait of Matheson at the RSA in 1869. So we now need to consider if the portrait under discussion could be by Leyde or Sutherland.

Kieran Owens,

The Art Journal (1875, Volume 37, page 155) carries a report of the Royal Scottish Academy exhibition of February of that year. It states that "A life-size portrait of Sir James Matheson of the Lewis, though deficient in solidity of colour, has dignity of expression, and promises well for the future of a young aspirant, Alexander Sutherland by name."

In 1875, Sutherland would have been 31 years old, and Matheson would have been 79, and just three years away from his death. It is possible that the painting described therein is the portrait that has now been identified by Barbara Bryant as the one of him in the Dornoch Library. It is 250cm high (over 7 feet), which would fit in with the "life-size" description. The attached composite presents a chronological depiction of images of Matheson, to show the progression of his ageing features.

At the same time, this discussion's portrait could well be that as painted by Otto Leyde, as exhibited in the Royal Scottish Academy in 1869, when Leyde was 35-years-old and Matheson was 73. It bears a stylistic likeness to that of Leyde's painting of Robert Anderson, Provost of Stirling, which is in the collection of the Stirling Smith Art Gallery. See the attached composite for comparison. It should be noted that both of these portraits are practically identical in their dimensions (126cm x 100cm), which might have been Leyde's preferred canvas size.

Attached, too, is a longer obituary of Sutherland, from August 1884. It is interesting to note that no works by Alexander F. Sutherland are included in the A - Z artist listings, - compiled under the direction of Frank Rinder - in the 1917 edition of 'The Royal Scottish Academy, 1826 - 1916'.

Kieran Owens,

Forgive me, the Otto Leyde suggestion was initially made three years ago by Osmund Bullock.

This discussion of a portrait of James Matheson, “Could the artist by Henry Caunter?”, has attracted 10 comments between 2014 and 2018. As both Martin and Osmund (posts 16 and 18 December 2014) have indicated, for stylistic and other reasons the artist is unlikely to be Caunter. So in a sense the subject of the discussion has been answered.

Two other artists have been proposed: Otto Leyde, who is known to have exhibited a portrait of Matheson in 1869 (post by Osmund, 18 December 2014) and Alexander Sutherland who also painted a portrait of Matheson (posts by Kieran, 25 January 2018, and Barbara, 15 February 2018). To my eyes Leyde’s styles seems looser than that in the painting in question. Sutherland remains a possibility but no more than that. In both cases extra evidence would be needed in the form of documentation or more strictly comparable portraits to warrant a new attribution.

Given that this discussion has now been running for almost six years, I propose that it should be concluded shortly unless further evidence is forthcoming. We will at least be able to respond to the question which started the discussion by stating that the artist is not Henry Caunter.