Completed Continental European after 1800, Maritime Subjects, Portraits: British 19th C, Wales: Artists and Subjects 25 Could you give us more information on the artist and sitter in this portrait of a man holding a navigational instrument?

Captain Edwards
Topic: Artist

Martin Hopkinson and I wonder if any information could be added here.

The painting is signed at the top right '[E?] Bianchi . 1874 . Genova'. Paul Nicholls has suggested that this could be the Genoese portraitist Enrico Bianchi, active 1870–1877.

The sitter is likely to be a (Welsh?) merchant sea captain who had his portrait painted at Genoa while docked there and he was clearly proud of his fine brass sextant, though Willem Morzer Bruyns, an authority on these, suggests it is more probably a quintant: that is, about a 75 degree sector of a circle rather than 60, allowing readings up to around 150 degrees rather than 120. He writes (with reference to his catalogue of those in the National Maritime Museum):

'At first sight it appears to be similar to an oval-pattern frame (see the frame patterns in "Sextants at Greenwich", pp.66-67). However, there is something wrong. The frame seems to be asymmetrical, which would be extremely unusual, I have never seen one. There is something "wrong" with the index arm too. When at work, I believe the artist did not look closely enough, his priority of course was the man, and he probably finished the painting after the posing by the captain, and without the instrument, and by then had forgotten the details. I do believe he used a real instrument when painting, most of the details are correct.'

I agree with him that it’s an unusually detailed, if perhaps slightly misunderstood, image of the instrument and also a late example to find in a portrait. It may mean the captain was known for his navigational skills (or being proud of them) since a quintant is a more sophisticated instrument than a plain sextant – though both imply long deep-ocean voyaging rather than just coasting.

Pieter van der Merwe, Maritime Subjects, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The artist has been identified as former seaman turned painter and photographer Enrico Bianchi of Genoa (1834–1884) and the painting dated 1874, as indicated in the inscription at upper right. It has not been possible to identify the sitter with any certainty, but it is probable that he was a Welsh merchant sea captain. This is the only painting by Enrico Bianchi in a UK public collection as far as we know.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.


Jacinto Regalado,

What is the provenance information from the collection?

Peter Nahum,

May we see a picture of the frame please. The painting does look as though a photograph may have been used.

Jacinto Regalado,

A photograph was quite probably used, as suggested by the linked biographic information.

Kieran Owens,

Another is here (half way down the page) with the following details:

Ex-voto preserved in the basilica of the Nostra Signora del Monte sanctuary in Genoa. It bears the following inscription on the back:
“Fortunale suffered by the Sardinian boat Alexander II on 4 October 1857 in the Ionian sea. Pledge of gratitude to Maria Santissima by the sailor Bianchi Enrico”.

If this is the same man, he would have been 23, in the navy, but also an artist.

Kieran Owens,

My apologies, on second thoughts, this might be about him rather than by him, as the legend says "Bianchi, Enrico, escaped a storm in the Ionion Sea, by G. R. (4th October 1857). This year date corresponds with his abandoning his plans for a career in the Navy.

Jacinto Regalado,

Kieran, it may be both about and by him. The "per G. R." in the inscription may stand for "per grazia ricevuta," as implied in the heading, meaning that the ex-voto was offered "for the grace received."

Jacinto Regalado,

I fully expect he painted both, and his subsequent painting of naval sitters was probably related somehow to his earlier aspirations to a naval career.

Jacinto Regalado,

The picture was donated to the museum, probably by someone local who may have been a descendant or relative of the sitter, apparently in 1973 going by the accession number. The collection's records may thus contain useful provenance information which could lead to a more precise identification of this Captain Edwards.

Jacinto Regalado,

Bianchi, who apparently personally experienced the danger of death due to a storm at sea, may have started out as a painter of marine subjects such as naval ex-votos. Genoa, obviously, has always been a city of sailors. He must have evolved or progressed professionally to portraits and apparently landscape subjects.

Mark Wilson,

Ceredigion Museum only dates to 1972 so the accession number probably just means it was part of the founding collection. Most of that was inherited from the local Antiquarian Society (as often happens), but there may some indication in their papers or journals.

Jacinto Regalado,

The acquisition method for this picture is listed as "gift."

That looks as though it pins down the painter from the ex-voto signature and that he did both portraits (inc. apparently using photos) and other subjects, but we can wait and see what else surfaces for a while, or about Captain Edwards.

For ease of reference this is the (auto-translated) Italian dictionary entry Jacinto produced as the first comment added above, followed by the Italian version:

Genoa 1834 - 1884
After abandoning the project to pursue a career in the Navy, in 1857 he began to devote himself exclusively to painting and photography. During his artistic career the activity of painter and photographer proceeded in harmony: the portraits of exponents of the clergy (Portrait of Cardinal Ali-monda, 1879), subjects of which he also performed numerous photographic proofs, testify. As early as 1867 it was registered in the register of the Promoting Society of Genoa, where it exhibited portraits (1873, G. Mazzini; 1874, Pope Pius IX, from photography), landscapes (1874, Sun effect; 1875, The Castle of Paraggi; 1883 , Motive at Menton).

[Abbandonato il progetto di intraprendere una carriera in Marina, nel 1857 iniziò a dedicarsi esclusivamente alla pittura e alla fotografia. Nell'arco del suo percorso artistico l'attività di pittore e quella di fotografo procedettero in sintonia: ne sono testimonianza i ritratti di esponenti del clero (Ritratto del Cardinale Ali-monda, 1879), soggetti dei quali eseguiva anche numerose prove fotografiche. Già dal 1867 risultava iscritto all'albo della Società Promotrice di Genova, dove espose ritratti (1873, G. Mazzini; 1874, Papa Pio IX, da fotografia), paesaggi (1874, Effetto di sole; 1875, Il castello di Paraggi; 1883, Motivo presso Mentone).]

Charles Payton,

Just a thought: having spent much time in the past looking at portraits of sea officers in the whale fishery, something about the severe dress and demeanor of this sitter suggests to me he may have been a Quaker?

Hmmm.... W.S. Gilbert's phrase in 'The Gondoliers' about 'a Wesleyan Methodist of the most bigoted and persecuting kind' could perhaps also apply but isn't going to get us anywhere of itself.

We may have to wait and see if there is any provenance information from the collection: ideally a first name and where he was reportedly from, though I suspect the former may be unknown since not already present. That - be it and/or- might just make him discoverable in the Board of Trade Masters and First Mate 'ticket' records, though with common names like Edwards it may be more effort than its worth. The 'Captain' and the instrument make it fairly clear what he was, if not specifically, and where it was done (and now by who): and it was presumably given to a Welsh museum because known -or at least believed - to be Welsh.

S. Elin Jones,

The journals of the Cardiganshire Antiquarian Society are online through the National Library in Aberystwyth. Although there isn’t anyone that immediately stands out as a candidate during that period.

If more information becomes available in time, maybe something could be found in the Welsh language papers, especially given that it’s in the Cardigan area.

Louis Musgrove,

Just to go sideways- in Kierans post- The Emilio Bianchi born in 1912- he appears to have been a Naval Diver and Commando and rode one of those midget submarines the Italian Navy had and took part in the attack on HMS Valiant. Quite an brave and interesting man!!!!! Even though one of the enemy.

I think it would be useful if Marion at Art UK could ask the collection directly (if contactable at present) if there is any early possiblity of having more complete provenance information - if it exists.

If not, then the artist can at least now reasonably be identified a Enrico Bianchi of Genoa (1834-84) and the title be left as just 'Captain Edwards' (or perhaps 'Captain Edwards holding a sextant or quintant') until/unless the collection can add any source detail that might identify him further.

While not 'great' work its a characterful likeness (especially if perhaps done partly from a photo -certainly a possibility given Bianchi was also a photographer, which in turn might suggest Edwards sat for it on one call at Genoa and picked it up there on later return. He was also clearly a sea captain, probably Welsh, and likely to have been a man with long-voyage experience, given the sophistication of the instrument shown. The 1874 date includes the possibility that he was a steamer captain - though not in company uniform- going east through the Suez Canal (opened in 1869). If a sailing ship master, only to the Mediterranean on the occasions he was in Genoa. Its also a fairly late representation of its sort: i.e. as a portrait of a navigator plus instrument.

Jacinto Regalado,

I would suggest, for now, "Captain Edwards with a Navigational Instrument," and add detail as to said instrument in a descriptive note to the Art UK entry (if the collection wishes to elaborate).

Jacinto Regalado,

It just occurred to me that Captain Edwards, at this point in time, is made considerably more interesting and noteworthy by the instrument which was no doubt very important to him. I hope the collection can provide provenance data that will lead to learning more about him.

Maria Castro,

The National Library of Wales has transcribed shipping records from Aberystwyth - Crew accounts and agreements (commonly called crew lists), 1856-1914, for ships registered at the port of Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, Wales, UK.

The English language page has a bug, but it is possible to use the Welsh language page with a Google translator. It appears that it is possible to download all the transcribed data as a massive Excel file. I haven't tried it.... But if it works one could run a search for Edwards in it.

Obviously it is not a given that Edwards was master on a ship registered in Aberystwyth, but given the location of the painting it might be a reasonable place to start.

I am inclined to recommend we close this discussion. The original questions were for more information on both artist and sitter.
The former has been resolved in identifying the former seaman turned painter and photographer Enrico Bianchi of Genoa (1834-84), this portrait being done there in 1874, as he tells us himself in the inscription at upper right. The presence of the picture in a Welsh collection and the sitter's surname both suggest he was a Welsh merchant sea captain who chose to be painted with what may be a quintant (or if not that a sextant) indicating his 'amour-propre' as a deep-sea navigator, and in owning what was certainly a sophisticated and expensive instrument at a time when many experienced seafarers still used the less sophisticated octant. 'Edwards', however, is such a common name that it is unlikely more will be found about him until or unless the collection can produce provenance clues. Even then it may prove a long search through port-registry records and still not be resolved without another comparative image such as a photograph being found. I think, in present circumstances, that is best left with the collection - which can of course open a new discussion if they do find anything worth bringing back to the table. For the moment the recommendation is that the artist is firmly identified as Bianchi and the title either perhaps amended to 'Captain Edwards holding his quintant or sextant' or the instrument at least mentioned in recod notes about the picture.