Photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery
The work was acquired through the Thomas Balston bequest through the Art Fund in 1968.
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The reason for suggestion that the artist might be Pickering is the way that he has painted the forehead can be paralleled in known works by this painter
I've contacted the Art Fund to see if their records of the Thomas Balston bequest have any more details about the painting or indicate the rationale for giving it to MAG i.e. the artist or sitter was thought to have had a Manchester connection.
Presumably MAG's own records for the painting (their acc. no. 1968.27) hold little information about the painting or bequest. It may be worth someone there checking the records of the other works that came from the bequest, especially the Durer woodcut (acc. no. 1968.93), to see if there's any correspondence mentioning the portrait.
Some of the Balston papers are in the Louis Round Wilson Library special collections at Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina. He was a long-time director of Duckworths
He was also a part time painter - the Ashmolean Museum has a very good one of his works . He studied with Gertler, who painted his portrait [Laing Art Gallery] and Manchester has another portrait of him by R O Dunlop
He planned a book on John Martin, which never got completed and he published a good account on British wood engraving
Balston was of a paper making family connected to the Whatmans of Maidstone, about whom he wrote. May be the sitter of this portrait was one of his ancestors or a member of the Whatman family? It might be worth checking for illustrations of portraits in his book on the Whatmans. As well as the unpublished material on Martin in Chapel Hill, he did publish books on John Martin and his brother the arsonist, and on Robert Gibbings. Quite a few titles by him are in the British Library, but little that offers a clue for us. There must have been several obituaries which might help over his family connections - and then there is a will.
It is important to note that his study of wood engraving as of 'English wood engraving 1900 - 1960' not British, as I stated above
I am surprised to find no reference on the internet to a ODNB entry
I think that he was the moving force behind the important journal 'Word and Image' [1946-8]
Francis Cotes was commissioned to paint a female member of the Whatman family, but this portrait is quite evidently not by him.
A few years ago Yale Center for British Art held an exhibition devoted the Whatmans and papermaking and their 'estate' at Vinters near Maidstone.
I will have a look for this . By chance I happen to be chasing a mid 19th century portrait of a Whatman painted by a very fine pupil of Ingres, Victor Mottez, who spent some time in Britain as a result of the fall of Louis-Philippe. So may be I will be exceptionally lucky in finding clues in this Yale catalogue to both problems! There are Whatman papers in Maidstone [no use for Mottez], but which might turn out to be helpful, if one had more to go on. And then there are there any engraved portraits of the men in the family?
Theresa Fairbanks, Papermaking and the art of watercolour in eighteenth-century Britain ..., Yale University Press, 2006
The most likely ancestor of Thomas Balston to be the subject of this picture is William Balston 1759-1849, on whom TB published a biography which I have yet to see
William Balston , who had been an apprentice of James Whatman, took over the management of the famous Turkey Mill on the river Len, adjoining the present Mote Park, now in south Maidstone, in 1790. However Whatman sold the mill in 1794. A dating around the early 1790s would be compatible with the style of the Manchester portrait, I think.
It might be asking the Art Fund [then the NACF] which distributed Balston's bequest to various museums and galleries, if their files reveal more information as to why this picture was given to Manchester. It is important to note that it was NOT bequeathed directly.
Some of Thomas Balston's correspondence and notes on his research on his Maidstone ancestors is now housed in the Kent History and Library Centre, Maidstone
There is a picture here of William Balston b1749 and some of the Whatman family
Not impossible that this is the same man, Paul, I would say. What do you think?
Could the artist have normally worked as a miniaturist?
The mouth and nose look similar, but the height of the forehead appears very different - could be the right family
Of course one might be coming at this from the wrong direction altogether. For the figure is almost like a figurine , and Thomas Balston, who collected Staffordshire figurines, might have been attracted to it by its similar character. Did he bequeath any ceramics to museums through the NACF?
There is no evident connection between Thomas Balston and Manchester to judge from his obituaries.
The article that follows the picture of William Balston mentions the Hollingworth brothers, which is a Manchester name, and they were in business together. They were both married in Maidstone, and their father was named Benjamin and mother Mary but I am struggling to trace the family much further back.
Thanks Paul and Martin for pursuing this one for us. Just two things to bear in mind - don't know if they'll affect your line of thinking:
Firstly, when the picture was bequeathed to Manchester through the NACF, it was thought, presumably by Thomas Balston himself, to be by Benjamin Wilson. Secondly, in the 1930s Balston was friends with Lawrence Haward, the curator here, who invited him to contribute one of his own paintings to the Rutherston Loan Collection. Balston did so in 1938, and again in 1950. He also donated to Manchester the portrait of himself by Dunlop. He was a supporter of Manchester Art Gallery in life, and so perhaps the NACF felt it fitting that his bequest came here too?
Hannah Williamson, Curator, Collections Access,
Manchester City Galleries.
Although there are some similarities with Wilson, I do not think that it is by him - and indeed, it might date from the 1790s after Wilson's death
Comment from David Bindman, Group Leader:
"We seem to have got as far as we can with this painting so I propose to close the discussion"
Manchester Art Gallery is in agreement, please close the discussion.