Photo credit: National Trust Images
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.
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.
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.
Perhaps someone could also comment on the dress: the suit has a broad but discreet check pattern and is he really wearing a 'smoking cap'?
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.
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
More than a year on, no further information has come forward. Most (or all) of the works of art at Polesden Lacey were given to the National Trust by Dame Margaret Greville in memory of her father, the brewing magnate, William McEwan. There is no specific evidence attached to this picture which makes continuing the discussion purely speculative.
In any case, Osmund has given us such a brilliant exposition on the art of Felix Moscheles that there is nothing more to say. I too agree that this picture is not by Felix M. so the question is answered and the discussion can be closed.
Thank you, Barbara. I thought it would be worth sharing this on Twitter before we close it. We'll do that this week. If there's no change to the artwork record we don't need to wait for the National Trust to respond before closing.
When I saw this first a couple of days ago I immediately thought it was a scottish person- the soft scottish tweeds,with a hint of pinky purple.Then I read it was supposed to be someone Jewish. But having just read Barbara's provenance- I was wondering - could it be the young William McEwan himself. I can only find pictures of him as an old man- but extrapolating back to what he might have looked like as a young man- well I think it possible.
Louis, I have a hard time believing that it would have been found stored in the cellar, (as it apparently was according to the National Trust Collection website) if it had been a portrait of Margaret Greville's father, particularly since there don't seem to be lots of other portrait paintings of him. To my eye, it doesn't look at all like McEwan, either, but as we all know that can be very deceptive...
It actually reminded me of another portrait I had seen of John Poyntz Spencer.
Maria-- have you found an image of the young McEwan?? Cos I couldn't ,so I was guessing backwards in time. And in the basement- that really is a possibility for her father- people can be funny about their relatives :-) .
As to the 5th Earl Spencer-- he was renown for a LONG red beard and his immages don't have the moustache cutout under the nose- mind you his younger immages do look a bit like this portrait, but then so do other potraits of this period- fashion is a killer identitywise :-) Cheers.Louis.
Maria I suspect that storing things in the cellar might have had different implications in 1942 than it would normally. And quite a lot of valuable pictures (some Teniers and a Cuyp for example) seem to have ended up there. In wartime it might be the less valuable stuff that got left on the walls.
But you're right to point to the NT record as being helpful. It mentions a printed label on the reverse:
T. ALEXANDER HILL. / [Late of 67 Princes St] / Carver, Gilder and Picture Frame Maker, / Artists' Colourman to the Royal Scottish Academy, / PRINTSELLER AND PUBLISHER to Her Majesty. / 145 Princes Street, EDINBURGH / Oil Paintings, Engravings, etc Cleaned and Restored
According to the NPG resources:
Thomas Alexander Hill moved out of 67 Princes St in 1866, following the death of his father, 'lately' would imply fairly soon after, especially as he was later in St Andrew Square. So the work would date to 67-68 ish and the painting must be before then. Perhaps not long before if the damage was accidental, but earlier than the 1870-99 in the collection record.
Looking at the portrait, this could be portrait of the early 1850s when beards are starting to come in and the neckwear would be right, though if the sitter is Jewish (and indoor hats aren't common in portraits of this period) that might distort things. What is clear is that it was in Scotland and presumably acquired by William McEwan rather than his daughter (who contributions seem better documented).
Whether it's a portrait of McEwan himself is another matter. The age might just fit (he was born in 1827) but a lot of things don't really match to later photographs: beard pattern, mouth, eyebrows and so on. It could possibly be of a relative or friend and inherited (which might explain the cleaning) and was clearly important enough to be brought with him when he moved south.
The hair is reddish. He may or may not be Jewish, and I favor that he's not. The clothes are probably more 1860s than 1850s, though I am not an expert in fashions, and one should be consulted. The cap is a problem, but presumably it means something, unless he routinely wore it and was thus considered part of his typical appearance.
Thanks, Mark, for that very helpful comment. You are of course right - I hadn't considered that there might have been very good reasons to store valuables in cellars in 1942!
And, Louis, no, I wasn't able to find a picture of the young McEwan, either. I suspect he was just not "important" enough yet to be photographed much when he was young. But his older face is very distinctive - I just can't see him in the one under discussion.
But Mark makes a very good point - it was important enough for McEwan to take it with him in a big move which possibly means that the sitter was someone who meant something to him.
The cap could be a Victorian smoking cap, possibly a velvet one.
That is suggested in its current title, and is certainly possible - however Victorian smoking caps generally had a tassel fixed at the top, and were worn with more relaxed clothing (a dressing gown, a smoking jacket or similar).
The idea that a portrait of William McEwan would be stored, unidentified, in the basement/cellar because the family didn't get on - at least I assume that's what Louis is suggesting - really doesn't hold water. William McEwan's daughter and only child Margaret was certainly a fairly unpleasant character (though entertaining company as long as you weren't poor or Jewish); but McEwan nevertheless bought Polesden Lacey for her and her husband Ronald Greville in 1906, and when not in London lived there with them for the last few years of his life. And when Margaret left the house & contents, estate and accompanying endowment to the National Trust in 1942 she did so specifically as a memorial to her late father. Furthermore the PL collection online contains numerous and fully identified images of him: 1 marble bust, 2 oils, 3 miniatures, 3 prints, 12 portrait photographs and another 6 group photos that include him.
Our portrait also, in my view, looks nothing whatever like him. Although it is true that there seem to be no mid-C19th images of McEwan around, his appearance changes weirdly little in the 25 or 30 years covered by the known images (which date from the 1880s onwards) - see https://bit.ly/2Ce5sMR. But however you extrapolate back, it is quite impossible to make him look like this even in the 1850s/60s. Look at our sitter's thick, bushy eyebrows and the little we can see of his hair, also thick and wavy/wirey; McEwan's hair was lank and straight, his eyebrows thin, and his eyes far more protuberant than our sitter's. I would also say that our portrait is inescapably late C19th, not mid, both from its painting style and the sitter's dress (pace Mark).
Mark's work on the rear trade label is interesting, but has some flaws. First, the label actually dates from 1874-78, the only years during which (according to contemporary directories) T. Alexander Hill operated from 145 Princes St. And how do we know the portrait was restored by him? The label advertises him first as 'Carver, Gilder and Picture Frame Maker', and in my experience rear labels are far more likely to relate to framing than to restoration - in fact the same Edinburgh directories don't even list him as a restorer, though he clearly was as well (as many frame-makers & artists' suppliers were). Nor do we know if the label is on the stretcher or the frame. If the former, all it means is that the portrait was framed or re-framed in 1874-78 (which would give us a latest possible date but nothing more); if the latter, then it may not even relate directy to the same painting - then as now, old frames were frequently re-used by dealers, framers and indeed artists, and also swapped around with others by owners, especially when of a standard size (which this is). I have just put an 1870s family portrait into a C17th/18th frame that fits it and looks good; and a few years ago I spent weeks trying to find out about US Customs importation labels, because there was one (from the 1920s, it turned out) on the frame of a 1903 portrait I was researching. I later established that painting had never been out of the UK in its entire life!
So unless we can ascertain that the label is on the stretcher not the frame, it takes us no further - and I doubt that will be possible under current circumstances.
One possible thought. To me there is something inescapably 'foreign' (or at least atypical if British) about the sitter's appearance. It wouldn't surprise me if he were Jewish, nor if he were not British at all. This may, for example, be a typical look for some particular national/regional branch of Askenazim. But just speculating is hopeless, what we badly need is input from a Jewish historian. However, if he *is* Jewish, Kieran's opening remark may be relevant: could the reason he was stored, not hung, and his identity lost, have been Dame Margaret's well-recorded virulent antisemitism?
Barbara, thank you for suggesting that we end this discussion. The idea that Moscheles was the artist has been rejected, but continuing interest in the sitter and the painting's history made this seem worth leaving for a few days which have stretched into months.
Osmund, I've asked the opinion of a Jewish historian.
If the sitter is Jewish and the cap is in fact a shtreimel, then it may be not that difficult to identify him: the Jewish population in Scotland in the 19th century was quite small, particularly before the 1870s. The 1871 census recorded only 244 Jewish persons in Edinburgh. If you eliminate the women and children that probably leaves only about 50 adult males, not many of whom would have been prominent or wealthy enough to have their portraits painted.
Osmund- I was suggesting that people can feel funny about images of close relatives for many varied reasons- for example- Clementine didn't like that painting of her husband Winston- so she burned it on a bonfire.
As to appearance of a slightly continental origin of our sitter. Some Scottish people have quite an Atlantean or Spanish appearance- B negative blood group - dating back some long time.
Here is a link to some pictures of Glasgow Jews. To me they look very white Russian. The hat of the Rabbi is very different from the cap of our sitter.
To stay on the Jewish theme- could this painting be by Lucie Lambert de Rothschild ????. I accidentally came across a couple of her portraits and they had a similar look to the one under discussion here.
Very good to see so much progress made here. The picture is clearly not a portrait of McEwan. It may portray a European ethnic type, perhaps Jewish.
The label is something that should have been considered all along. It may not conclusively place the work in Scotland but it probably does. This, along with McEwan as a Scot and his possible acquisition of this work in Scotland, means that this discussion should be linked to Scotland: Artists and Subjects. The leader for this group may be better placed to moderate this discussion
Osmund thank you for your work on the directories. I was a bit puzzled by the absence of 145 Princes Street from the NPG records and assumed from the 'Late of' that it was a short-term address before moving to St Andrew Sq, but after would make sense. Presumably Hill still wanted to link himself with his father's long-established business.
You're also almost certainly right about him doing the framing as well. This is because this picture is not alone in the collection. There is another one "An Unknown Old Lady in Black":
which has an identical label and the same design of frame. The pictures aren't a pair (the Old Lady is 36x28, this picture 30x24) and may not even be by the same artist, but they clearly have shared history.
I don't know if these are frames of the 1870s but it seems unlikely that a later framer would find two matching with the same label. So Hill presumably re-framed them in 1874-78 and have subcontracted the cleaning and restoring to someone else. I suspect the printed label have "Cleaned and Restored" added to Hill's standard printed labels, but it would likely have been done at the same time, especially if both paintings had just come into McEwan's possession.
Most of the Polesden Lacey pictures seem to have been collected by McEwan or his daughter after 1886, when McEwan stopped running the brewery to become an MP, and most have saleroom provenances. While McEwan was clearly already interested in art (especially of the Dutch Golden Age) and financed the acquisition of a pair of Hals by the Scottish National Gallery in 1885 (and in gave them £5000 for Rembrandt's wonderful A Woman in Bed in 1892) his collecting really only starts from then.
There are handful of contemporary, mainly Scottish, works that date from the 60s and 70s and were presumably bought from the artists. But this pair seem unique in being 'family type' portraits (even the pictures of McEwan are around 1900). So they clearly have some relevance to the family to be brought south. It's possible the Old Lady is McEwan's mother Ann Jeffrey (1803-79) who helped him start in business (his father seems to have died young and is unlikely to be the man).
Barbara, following your suggestion I've linked this discussion to Scotland: Artist and Subjects, as well as to Dress and Textiles.
The Jewish Museum London has replied that they have no one there at the moment with the appropriate expertise to comment on the appearance of the sitter.
This discussion of a portrait of a bearded man belonging to the National Trust at Polesden Lacey, ‘Could this be by Felix Stone Moscheles? Who is the sitter?’, has attracted 24 comments early last year and in summer this year. The first question was readily answered by Osmund (19 February 2019); the portrait is not by Moscheles.
The collection at Polesden Lacey is primarily an old master and historic British collection but also includes a few family portraits, as noted by Mark (12 August 2020). The label on the reverse of our portrait, of the Edinburgh carver and gilder, T. Alexander Hill, dating to the 1870s, has been noted by Mark (9 August). It is found on another portrait at Polesden Lacey depicting an old woman (NT 1246556), in a matching frame but they are not a pair. I suspect that the Hill labels are framing labels. They suggest an Edinburgh link and perhaps to William McEwan (1827-1913), the Edinburgh brewer and father of Mrs Greville, donor of Polesden Lacey. The very full 1999 Polesden Lacey guidebook, compiled by Christopher Rowell, provides a good sense of McEwan’s business and cultural interests (pages 54-57).
It seems likely that the two works with the Hill label are family portraits as suggested by Mark (12 August). The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography mentions two individuals who were prominent in McEwan’s life. His uncle, John Jeffrey, had since 1835 been proprietor of the Heriot brewery, Edinburgh. His eldest sister, Janet (b. 1823), married James Younger, of the Alloa brewing family, in 1850. One should add McEwan’s mother, Ann Jeffrey (1803-79), to this list, see Mark’s post, 12 August.
Where does this take one? The portrait of an old woman could, from the age of the sitter, fit with Ann Jeffrey. But we are not asked this question. To turn to our portrait of a bearded man wearing a distinctive hat. It does not represent William McEwan, given his other likenesses (Osmund’s post, 10 August). Could it represent James Younger? My own subjective reaction, in the absence of portraits of Younger for comparison, is that this portrait does not look like that of a brewer or businessman but is atypical, a word used by Osmund, 10 August We may be looking in the wrong direction. Who would be wearing an indoor hat of this kind, an issue raised by Mark, 9 August?
There are papers of William McEwan & Co in Glasgow University archives and other papers at Polesden Lacey itself, according to the Oxford DNB. Mrs Greville kept a manuscript list of her pictures (see 1964 Polesden Lacey guidebook and catalogue of paintings, p.14, cat.4). It may be that these records could be useful to consult but I rather suspect that this task should lie with the National Trust curator or a McEwan family historian.
In the absence of other evidence to hand, it may be that we should move towards closing this discussion on the basis that we have identified neither artist nor sitter.
Hold on.So William McEwan's hair is supposed to be thin and lank. I have just come across this photo of a much younger William-- I had not found this earlier. Here the hair is thick and dark, though the beard is white.Looking hard at the image and extrapolating him a few years younger-- I still think William is a good possibility for this painting- certainly not to be dismissed out of hand.
Jacob, I will be sending a list of Art Detective enquiries to the National Trust at the end of the month. I'll put any public discussion queries at the top, including the reference to the abovementioned papers at Polesden Lacy.
The hat also looks like clumsy overpainting, perhaps to disguise some damage.
Jacob, I had one other thought, related to the suggestion that the sitter might have been Jewish. I know that Marion contacted the Jewish Museum in London without success, but there is also the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre. https://www.sjac.org.uk/ I don't know how well they are functioning at the moment, but I had meant to send an enquiry to them- I just hadn't gotten around to it... I'll do it now.
Thank you to Andrew Shore for this link and suggestion. This book (https://bit.ly/3ohf38Y) seems to detail a lot of William McEwan's life, including his relationship with Margaret (later Greville). It mentions several people who could possibly be relatives of the family – potential candidates for a portrait, but perhaps none with any hard evidence. Could the sitter be one of Margaret Greville's husband's family, whose family portraits were put in the cellar after his death?
Kieran - I think the hat is probably original as it looks as if the darker background around it has been painted later, with the lighter underpainting showing on the top and sides around the hat. But we do know that both this and the Old Lady are marked as 'cleaned and restored' on the frames.
Being matched but different sizes might suggest those frames were purpose-made for these two portraits, in which case there's no danger of the labels relating to previous paintings they held as Osmund feared. So it is possible that some work was done on this one. What is certainly true is that something very odd has happened to the Old Lady's face:
(you can see it better on the collection's own image) it's almost like another face has been painted (rather inexpertly) over the original one There may be traces of the original hair peeping out for example. Whether this is botched restoration or something stranger I don't know. It certainly contrasts with the hands which are much better painted and look unaltered. It might well be useful for the collection to have an in depth technical look at what has gone on here. There could be an interesting story.
As to the Man in a Cap, like Osmund I thought it a very atypical portrait. If not someone foreign, perhaps someone who thinks of themself as a bit bohemian. But perhaps it could also be someone who was a chronic invalid - hence the casual dress and warm hat. If so it might be William McEwan's younger brother John, (1832-1875) who according to the book linked above died "in the Royal Edinburgh Asylum after suffering from tuberculosis for twelve years".
Useful recent posts, opening up avenues, some of which may be difficult to explore profitably.
Marion asks if the sitter could be one of Margaret Greville's husband's family. Did they have Edinburgh connections, to explain the labels?
I agree with Mark that the hat is probably original. I would suggest that the frames were made for this picture and that of the old woman, most probably by Hill at about the time they were painted. The reference, 'cleaned and restored', on the labels is to one of Hill's subsidiary activities. It is unlikely that a new portrait was cleaned and restored by him as opposed to being framed. The appearance of the portrait of the old woman is probably to be explained by its subsequent history.
As to the portrait of a man, whether his costume is Jewish, that of an invalid or just informal wear, is currently a matter of opinion and we will be lucky indeed if the costume leads to the identification of the portrait.
I've had a response from Harvey Kaplan of the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre:
"Hi there. A few of us have looked at the painting and none of us recognise the sitter, I'm afraid. We also don't think it's a shtreimel.
A number of Scottish merchants at that time would have traded with the Baltic lands and Russia and may have returned with, or been given, a fur hat of some description.
We reckon there were around 250 Jews in Edinburgh c1871 and maybe 850 in Scotland - but this doesn't resemble anyone we recognise.
I attach a photo of Rev.Jacob Furst, minister of the Edinburgh Hebrew Congregation from 1879-1918 - completely different hat.
Hope you solve the puzzle.
Picture attached. So, at least we now know not to further pursue that avenue.
Marion, when you contact the NT (your post, 21 October), it'd be good to see if we can get an image of the label and indeed the whole of the reverse of our painting. The starting point for any curatorial detective work, for all curatorial work, is the physical examination of an object, which must mean a range of images in the case of action away from the object itself as promoted by Art Detective.
Jacob, This will be top of the list of 39 updates/enquiries going to the NT this Friday (30 October).
Any progress with this or any of the 39 items going to the NT? I don't mean have we got further images. Rather, have we had a response?
Dear Marion, Jacob
I have contacted the House and Collections manager at Polesden who I hope will be able to provide images of the reverse. Tomorrow I shall check the inventories and curatorial file at Grosvenor Gardens which may give clues to provenance.
Any progress in the last 3 months, Alice, please?
I'm afraid not, Jacob, beyond photographs of the reverse.
This discussion of a portrait of a bearded man belonging to the National Trust at Polesden Lacey, ‘Could this be by Felix Stone Moscheles? Who is the sitter?’, has attracted 39 comments. The first question was readily answered by Osmund (19 February 2019); the portrait is not by Moscheles. The second question, the identity of the sitter, has not been resolved. It is more elusive, despite helpful posts by Mark, Osmund and Marion, among others.
The framing label on the reverse of the frame, of the Edinburgh carver and gilder, T. Alexander Hill, probably dates to the mid or late 1870s. This is the best indicator of the date and place of our portrait. It is likely that it represents a relative of Margaret Greville, the donor of Polesden Lacey, whether of her father's, William McEwan, or of Mrs Greville's husband's family (as Marion asks). Unfortunately we do not have access to sufficient portrait images or documents to resolve this.
There are papers at Polesden Lacey itself, according to the Oxford DNB. Mrs Greville kept a manuscript list of her pictures (see 1964 Polesden Lacey guidebook and catalogue of paintings, p.14, cat.4). These records should be consulted but this is a task for the National Trust or a McEwan family historian.
As such, subject to other group leaders and the collection, I recommend that we close this discussion on the basis indicated in my first paragraph. We hand over the hunt for the identity of the sitter to the National Trust.
I'm reluctant to obstruct the closure of this discussion, and I basically agree with everything Jacob has written in his summing up. However, on giving the portrait a final look and tweaking the brightness & contrast I noticed what I think might be a signature (with possibly something else below it) in the gloom bottom right. I'm attaching the best image I could make of it.
David/Marion, I am very aware that these marks usually turn out to be 'ghosts' caused by low-res pixellation; but if Art UK has a larger image on file, might it be possible to see that corner of it?
Osmund, I have taken the whole of the bottom of the portrait for you to study, David
Thanks, David...but yes, another ghost, it seems. Still sort of visible on the higher-res when brightened, but so small, slight and scribbly it's probably dirt and discoloured varnish collecting in dents and scratches - certainly not anything painted by the artist.
There's a couple of useful little points from the photo of the label. The way the printed St Andrews Square address has been manually lined out and replaced with a handwritten 145 Princes Street suggests the reframing was done soon after the move in 1874 rather than later. And the "cleaned and restored" proves to be just a standard part of the label and of Hill's services, rather than specific to what was done for a particular painting, so he may well have just reframed this and the Old Lady.
The Edinburgh reframing suggests these are relatives of William McEwan. A link to Ronald Greville's mother, the writer Violet Lady Greville, who was Scottish, might be possible, but Ronald doesn't seem to have brought much to the collection as he died before his parents.
Otherwise like Jacob I can't see any way forward except via the NT records for Polesden Lacey and possibly Margaret Greville's own list. One other thing I would add is that examination of the linked Old Lady portrait and its strange appearance might be fruitful.