Dress and Textiles, Portraits: British 16th and 17th C, Portraits: British 18th C 22 Could this be a portrait of Alexander Gerard (1728–1795), Professor of Divinity at King's College Aberdeen?

ABD_UA_30133
Topic: Subject or sitter

I know in their gallery the University has short-listed this as a possible portrait of Alexander Gerard (1728–1795), Professor of Divinity at King's College Aberdeen, but they aren't sure. I think it matches the caricature #2 of Sapient Septemviri, 1786 (see NPG website: http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw192103/The-Sapient-Septemviri-The-Seven-Professors-of-Kings-College-Aberdeen). Very similar robes, wig, nose, face, cheeks, eyebrows, etc.

Also the sitter in this portrait is wearing similar robes as Alexander Gerard's son Gilbert in his portrait at the same gallery, who succeeded him at the college: http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/gilbert-gerard-17601815-dd-105152

Scott Duggan, Entry reviewed by Art UK

22 comments

Kieran Owens,

From page 118 of Volume X of the Aberdeen University Review (1923), the following snippet has been taken: "....there is a proper portrait of Alexander Gerard in the Senatus room at King's College, and one of his wife as well. He is a nice-looking man, wearing a small white wig....". Perhaps this volume could be consulted by one of the Aberdeen University researchers to see if the rest of the description fits the discussion portrait.

Osmund Bullock,

Good find, Kieran. I've managed to cheat a bit more out of the Google snippets: "He is a nice-looking man, wearing a small white wig, such as one associates with bishops. His face is gentle and refined, the expression perhaps a little too suave, but a judicious blending of the portrait and the caricature would probably give the proper balance." That seems a fair enough description.

It continues (re his wife's portrait): "Mrs. Gerard must have been a charming — a consciously charming — lady, and a dressy one too, as her blue satin gown and the Alencon lace of her sleeves testify. A dainty dog-collar of lace and pearls surrounds her neck, and she wears a pink rose in her bodice. The dress must have been a quite lovely one and shows her to have been a person of great taste. She holds a little ... ". That's as far as I can get. I thought that might enable us to spot his wife's portrait (and see if they made a a pair), but in fact I see she's already identified: http://bit.ly/2zEYZqR

They seem to be (if measured in the same way) of slightly different sizes, and not a pair as such - but they go together reasonably well. What about the frames - are they the same? And are there any other possible candidates for his portrait in the Collection (there are over 400, and I don't have time to check just now)? If not, then it pretty much has to be him.

Kieran Owens,

Although not the subject of this discussion, the University of Aberdeen's portrait of Mrs. Jane (aka Jean) Gerard, the eldest daughter and co-heiress of Dr. John White (aka Wight) of Colnae, to whom Alexander Gerard was married on the 14th June 1757, might have been painted by Allan Ramsay. See attached composite for this consideration.

See the attached clipping from "Officers of the Marischal College and University of Aberdeen, 1593-1860" for a biographical entry for Alexander Gerard and the mention of the University of Aberdeen's possessing a portrait of him.

In 1754, Gerard was a founding member of the 'Select Society of Edinburgh', which also had Allan Ramsay in its number. Gerard and Ramsay were both subsequently involved in the writings of the Scottish Enlightenment in the years 1756 and 1757.

https://books.google.ie/books?id=gtda5SVxaF4C&pg=PA280&lpg=PA280&dq;="Alexander+Gerard"+ramsay&source=bl&ots=iop5rwzDTi&sig=2oYfHjnp9LiGgWNc9UoKXB-_cGg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiDlbym-cDXAhUMKMAKHRn9AXEQ6AEIPjAJ#v=onepage&q="Alexander Gerard" ramsay&f=false

Could it be that the portrait of Alexander Gerard was also by Ramsay?

Martin Hopkinson,

No one has made any suggestion as to the artist, probably a painter of the generation of William Cochran, William Millar and David Martin. Was there a portraitist in Aberdeen to whom one went at this date?

Jacinto Regalado,

The portrait of Mrs. Gerard needs cleaning/restoration, but it strikes me as inferior to the other portraits in the composite. I suppose it might still be a Ramsay, but I would want stronger evidence to accept it as such.

Kieran Owens,

Purely for the sake of comparing their Doctoral robes, attached is a composite of our sitter with Robert Hamilton (1743 - 1839) and Hugh Blair (1718 -1800). The three tassels on each man's arm indicate the status of their positions. If our man is Alexander Gerard, then all three of them were founder members of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1783.

Scott Duggan,

Well spotted Kieren, I didn't know that detail about the robes, I'm coming from the family history angle. I found this detailed list on the founding members of the Royal Society of Edinburgh... (https://www.rse.org.uk/cms/files/fellows/biographical_index/fells_indexp1.pdf ) and it verified that Alexander Gerard was a founding member of the society in 1783, as were the other 2 men you supplied.
The Uni of Aberdeen which has the proposed portrait of Alexander Gerard, had listed it as possibly being 'Matthew Mackail Sen (1657-1696)' - (Google Books: 'British and Irish Paintings in Public Collection...' -p127) he graduated Kings College in 1696 and appears to have died that year (wikisource), and thus wasn't alive in 1783. So the portrait can't be of him.
So you have supplied another piece of evidence to strengthen the case that it's Alexander Gerard's portrait. Good work.

Jacinto Regalado,

There is certainly a resemblance, but our man appears to have had a cleft chin, unlike Rev. Ogilvie.

In any event, our sitter should be described as a clergyman, which is more specific (and useful) for search purposes than gentleman.

Martin Hopkinson,

The most likely of the 3 candidates mentioned above as to the painter is probably William Millar, but I am not totally convinced that he is our man

Guillaume Evrard,

If the University are keen on identifying the sitter, Rev. Ogilvie seems a strong lead (or at least that both portraits are of the same sitter, if the identification of the Seven Trades portrait was in doubt).

The cleft chin doesn't seem a deal breaker (it could be about the physical body of the painting (or even the reproduction), rather than the physical body of the sitter (it could also be some artistic licence around the chin area of the Seven Trades portrait went to the painter to encourage ).

The side-by-side comparison attached looks rather compelling.

Kieran Owens,

The attached is taken from "Letters of Richard Radcliffe and John James of Queen's College, Oxford, 1755 - 1783", edited by Margaret Evans in 1888. If the portrait mentioned therein in the same as the one illustrated above as being in the collection of the Seven Trades, it is reported that it is by James Nisbet. If this is the case, then, if this discussion's portrait is of Ogilvie, could it also be by Nisbet? And who is James Nisbet? I cannot find any information on him.

Jacinto Regalado,

There is no suitable Nisbet in Oxford Art Online, only a John Nesbit (painter), active in London in the 1760s. There is no Nisbet at all in Bryant's Dictionary of Painters and Engravers.

Jacinto Regalado,

Nisbet is an English and Scottish surname that originated around the border region. There are alternate spellings including Nisbeth, Nisbett, Nesbit, and Nesbitt. It is possible that the John Nesbit active in London from 1763-1768 (according to Oxford Art Online) was previously active in Scotland.

Jacinto Regalado,

John Nesbit, of course, may also have worked in Scotland after his time in London. Presumably, he should appear in reference works devoted to Scottish painters.

Mark Wilson,

The W D Geddes who was the source of the information in Keiran's clipping is presumably William Duguid Geddes who was not only Principal of Aberdeen University at the time but seems to have taken an interest in local history. So the information should be fairly reliable and it might suggest more information in the archives of either the University or the Seven Trades.

Osmund Bullock,

Stewart & Cutten ('Dic of Portrait Painters in Britain...') list a Banff portrait painter, 'J. Nisbet' (Banff is in more or less the same corner of Scotland as Aberdeen / Fittie, albeit 40 miles away) - signed copies dated 1769 by (?)him of works by Ramsay are apparently recorded, but they give no more details. They also note an artist called Nisbet (no first name or initial) who exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1763, and suggest (s)he might be the same. In the Society's catalogue, however, no address is given, and Nisbet is an Honorary Exhibitor (i.e. an amateur) who shows only two landscapes.

I suspect Oxford Art has taken the Stewart & Cutten information and expanded it beyond what is really known.

Martin Hopkinson,

Fittie is an interpretation of the common local pronunciation of Footdee, the community on the north side of the Dee at its mouth just east of Aberdeen

Osmund Bullock,

Indeed, Martin. It took me quite a while to figure out that "Futlie", as given in Kieran's printed extract from 'Letters of Richard Radcliffe...', was a misreading of that somewhere along the line.

Jacinto Regalado,

Ogilvie was an alumnus of King's College in Aberdeen (M.A. in 1724) and a minister at Footdee 1720-1726. Did he have any other connection with King's College?

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