Completed Maritime Subjects, Portraits: British 19th C 13 Could this portrait, of Admiral Sir Pulteney Malcolm, be by Thomas Stewardson (1781–1859)?

Admiral Sir Poultenay Malcolm (1768–1838)
Topic: Subject or sitter

The artist, then residing at 50, Leadenhall Street, in London, exhibited a portrait of Malcolm in the 1819 Royal Academy exhibition, as catalogue no. 403, entitled ‘Admiral Sir P. Malcolm, K.C.B.’

The work here shows Malcolm, aged 41 in 1819, wearing the badges of a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB). His obituary (see below) states: ‘At the extension of the order of the Bath into three classes, Jan. 2, 1815, Rear-Admiral Malcolm was nominated ... a Knight Commander.’

There are similarities in style and pose between this painting and Stewardson's portrait of Charles Paulet (1764–1843), 13th Marquess of Winchester, and also of Sir George Onslow (1731–1814), 4th Baron Onslow, both of which can be seen on the Art UK website here:

This portrait certainly seems to show a younger Malcolm than Samuel Lane's work of him in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery:

A detailed biographical obituary of Malcolm appeared on pages 548–552 of the November 1838 issue of the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’:

Kieran Owens, Entry reviewed by Art UK

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Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. This portrait of Admiral Sir Pulteney Malcolm has been attributed to Thomas Stewardson (1781–1859). It is deemed highly likely to be the one exhibited by Stewardson at the Royal Academy in 1819. Stewardson’s obituary mentions that he painted Sir Pulteney Malcom, and details of his 1812–1825 pattern undress uniform and KCB, which he became in 1815, make a strong circumstantial case that this is that portrait.

Thank you to everyone who participated in this discussion. To those viewing it for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.


That looks promising. He is wearing the undress coat of a rear-admiral, 1812-25 pattern, the neck ribbon, badge and breast star of a post-1815 KCB, and the captain's gold medal for his part commanding the 'Donegal' under Sir John Duckworth at the Battle of San Domingo in 1806. It's someone else's call on artist but if there is no other record of an oil of him as a rear-admiral, then the Stewardson parallels suggest that probability. The later Lane portrait shows him heavier round the face, which also suggests that a plaster bust attributed (probably wrongly) to Chantrey and unclearly inscribed 1817 or 1827 is probably the latter, i.e. in between:

Kieran Owens,

The obituary for Thomas Stewardson, which appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine of November 1859, also mentions Sir Pulteney Malcolm as having been one of the "distinguished individuals" that he painted.

Well found again - and with the odd coincidence that Samuel Lane's obituary is the one immediately preceding. Is this now just a case for a rapid sign-off?

Osmund Bullock,

Assuming the relevant uniforms are distinguishable - are they, Pieter? - the date match is even better than 1815-25, as Malcolm was promoted vice-admiral in July 1821. Stewardson's style is perhaps not distinct enough to be 100% sure, but I agree that this is highly likely to be his portrait of c.1818-19, which lies bang in the middle of its possible date range.

P.S. One puzzling thing: the portrait is said to be 89.5 x 69.5 cm, i.e. pretty much a kit-cat (c.36 x 28 in.) Whether one takes the measurement given or that of a classic kit-cat, the proportions are much the same - about 1.286 : 1. The proportions of the Art UK image of this picture are a much narrower 1.48 : 1. I wonder why it has (I assume) been so severely cropped at the sides?

The undress 1812 coat is general, with the rank distinguishable by the lacing of the cuff and the number of stars - not visible here, but it should be one for rear-admirals (two for vice- and three for full admirals, all under a crown) on the epaulettes. The link below to John James Halls's portrait of Sir George Cockburn ('the man who burnt the White House', as in the background), shows him as a rear-admiral in the same 1812 coat but with the lapels fully buttoned up:

Barbara Bryant, as 19th-c portraits co-ordinator, has suggested I call a halt to this discussion wearing the corresponding 'maritime subjects' hat -which to a degree includes sea portraiture - and, given the strength of the circumstantial evidence that it is by Stewardson. As regards style, for which Kieran produced parallel examples from the beginning, it is - as far as I am concerned - a case of 'no obvious reason why not' rather than a more definite view> He's not otherwise familiar to me and your observation (Osmund) that he is not 'distinct enough' to be sure, solely on style, is a fair one. Everything else however points to Kieran having made the right call in identifying it is the 1819 RA canvas.

The collection can decide whether they agree to that - either at all or only as 'attributed to Thomas Stewardson' - and explain the apparent discrepancy between stated measurements and the visual proportions.

Osmund, Siobhan Ratchford, Museums Curator, Dumfries and Galloway Council, has replied by email about the dimensions and sent the attached photograph:

'Our record for ANNMS:91 says it is an oil on canvas with a wooden guilt frame. The measurements are given as 890mm x 95mm x 1111mm ... I am attaching a poor photograph taken of the portrait in situ which I think shows it as wider than the image on Art UK, but only by a little. Perhaps some of the discrepancy is because the measurements on our record include the frame?'

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Concerning the outcome of this discussion, Siobhan Ratchford writes: 'Many thanks to the Art Detective enquirers for all their help. I have added their comments to our record for the painting and Thomas Stewardson is now down as the proposed artist.'

Barbara, thank you. Pieter, I will update Art UK on receiving the PCF recommendation.

Thanks: it looks like a case for re-checking the dimensions. The photo suggests it is probably a standard 30 x 25-inch canvas (height x width) allowing for the usual slight variations, whereas the current figures -whatever they signify - are clearly given is 'width x depth x height'. Would the collection also be specific as to whether they accept Stewardson as the artist or are leaving it as 'attributed to Thomas Stewardson'. Their call, but there is a difference.

Fair enough, given its essentially a case of the circumstantial evidence indicating high probability, plus lack of other obvious options. I suggest this now closes.

Will this do, since Barbara earlier asked me to as well?

Kieran Owens suggested this portrait of Malcolm is the one exhibited by Thomas Stewardson (1781-1859) at the Royal Academy in 1819, producing broadly parallel examples of his work and also pointing out that the fact he did one of Malcolm is specifically mentioned in his obituary in the 'Gentleman's Magazine', November 1859. The sitter's 1812-25 pattern undress uniform shows him as a rear-admiral (a rank he held from December 1813 until promoted to vice-admiral in July 1821) and wearing the ribbon, badge and star of KCB, which he became in January 1815. Though Stewardson lived to a good age, health problems stopped him working after about 1825, ODNB summarizing his work as a blending 'of neo-classical and Romantic styles' influenced by Romney (of whom he was a late pupil) and Lawrence, who had a good opinion of him (cf. the Gents. Mag. obit.). No-one has expressed a definite opinion that the portrait is by Stewardson based on style, a quandary nicely expressed in Osmund Bullock's phrase that this is 'perhaps not distinct enough to be 100% sure': in other words, no-one is claiming specific expertise on the man either for or against. That said, it appears to fit with the other examples cited, the dating evidence makes a strong circumstantial case that it is, and the collection agrees to update the record as 'attributed to' him.