Portraits: British 19th C 5 Could this be by Felix Stone Moscheles? Who is the sitter?

An Unknown Bearded Man
Topic: Artist

The style could be compared with that of the portraits assigned to Moscheles on Art UK. If by Moscheles, the likelihood is that the sitter is Jewish, as his clientele was predominantly Jewish.

Martin Hopkinson, Entry reviewed by Art UK

5 comments

Kieran Owens,

It would be very interesting to know if this gentleman was actually Jewish, given Dame Margaret's flirtation with Nazi ideology in the years before her death in September 1942, especially in light of the planning for the Final Solution at Wansee in January of that same year. If he is Jewish, could he have held some important position in the Greville family's affections or in their intellectual, social or business life? If so, he surely must be indetifiable without too much difficulty.

Charles Jones,

In case the social networks established by Ignaz, endured into the next generation it might be worth exploring members of the German-Italian Nathan family, and the Rossellis (Livorno, Lugano, London). Meyer Nathan married Sarita Rosselli, and they lived in London (1830s, 40s?). Their circle included the Ashursts (Radical offspring of William H. Ashurst and his wife), and it would be interesting to know whether the 'Stone' after whom Felix was named was Frank Stone, a painter, friend of Charles Dickens, and teacher of Emilie Ashurst, a portrait painter and youngest daughter of W H Ashurst. The Radical circle in which these families moved included many European political exiles, especially after 1848, including the Hungarian leader, Kossuth. This portrait looks - to my inexpert eye - to have been painted late in the century, by which time many of these exiles had died; but some settled.

Osmund Bullock,

I'm pretty sure this is not the work of Felix Moscheles, Martin. I got quite involved in researching Felix a few years ago after buying a portrait by him of his father Ignaz (the composer and pianist).

As well as numerous images on the web I’ve seen quite a few at close quarters (including some still held by the family), and this one is not quite right for him. As far as brushwork is concerned, it’s hard to put my finger on why (let alone explain it to anyone else!), but fortunately there are a few objective pointers I *can* explain: (1) With a single sitter, Felix always put the head at or very close to the middle of the canvas – it’s often a little cocked, one way or t’other, but I’ve never seen one where the composition deliberately places the subject so far off-centre. Occasionally with a woman’s portrait he eases her slightly to one side so he can fit in more of her dress, but even then it’s not as much as this. (2) I’ve never seen him put two lights in the sitter’s eye(s) as here, and (3) I’ve never seen one with a thin, unpainted ‘halo’ round the head/hat as we also see here. (4) Though there are differing forms, Felix always signed clearly, and often prominently; he also almost always dated, and in later years frequently inscribed his portraits; he was a slow, methodical painter and a meticulous man – so meticulous that one portrait on Art UK is not only signed but also inscribed “unfinished” on the front: https://bit.ly/2DdqQyt. Of course you can argue that unsigned portraits might not have not been recognised as his work; I can only say that I’ve never seen or heard of one, even among those still held by the family.

Just for the record, it’s a long way off the mark to say that his clientele was mainly Jewish. In fact few of his sitters were, and even fewer were practising Jews. Although of Jewish blood on both sides, Felix was nominally C of E – his father (who was no radical) had converted to Christianity when he and his wife moved to England in 1825, and for essentially pragmatic social and professional reasons. Neither of them was really religious – Moscheles père was wholly dedicated to music; and what Felix really believed in and worked tirelessly for was socialism, internationalism and pacifism, and many of his later sitters were activists of the left. He was strictly a champagne socialist, though – when in 1907 he invited a party of Russian Bolsheviks (including Lenin and Gorky) to his Chelsea house for dinner, he is said to have been shocked that they weren’t wearing white-tie and tails like the rest of his guests.

Martin Hopkinson,

Osmond , this is enormously helpful. Well done for all this information. As you will have guessed ,I had no serious evidence for my tentative suggestion

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