Photo credit: The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery
The artist's death date is 1898, however this painting is clearly signed 1899. The signature appears to match other works by E. Steele including this one signed and dated 1901: https://bit.ly/3iisx0A
Was it Edwin Steele (1861–1933) who painted this still life of flowers and fruit? Please see this link to the Antiques Atlas: https://bit.ly/2FcyrC8
This does seem to be a well-known problem in the antiques trade. There actually appear to be three of them:
"There were several Edwin Steeles painting in the 19th century. One whose dates were 1803-1871 would appear to have been primarily a landscape artist. Another whose dates are listed as 1837-1898 seems to be confused with and often listed as this artist since examples of his work are obviously from the same hand with the same signature “E. Steele”. Unfortunately there seems to be no biographical information available although he was a prolific and competent artist. His works are still lifes of flowers or fruit often incorporating pineapples, grapes and apples."
So we may well have ES1 (1803-1871); ES2 (1837-1898) and ES3 (1861-1933). From the dates they could easily be three generations of the same family.
Another site selling a pair of pictures notes:
"A fine pair of oils on canvas depicting fruit against a mossy, ferny bank typical of the still life painter of the Victorian period. The paintings are by Edwin Steele who as well as a prolific oil painter was a porcelain painter in the nineteenth century, he seems to have worked for Rockingham but there may well have been several of the family with the same name working"
Though the Rockingham connection may also include ES1 as the V&A has a vase from c 1825 of his (http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O332573/vase-steele-edwin/).
There are nine works ascribes to ES2 on ArtUK and four to ES1 (all in collections in the Midlands). At first glance, both sets may contain works from all three Edwins and several under ES2 are dated after his death.
We are offering for sale this quite large still life oil on canvas by the artist E. Steele, who has signed the painting in the lower right hand corner and dated it 1900. The painting depicts two bunches of white grapes, one bunch of purple grapes, a melon, three apples and a cut lemon, framed by some vine leaves.
This artist is the same person referred to as Edwin Steele on the auction sites, but with incorrect dates of either 1803-1871, or 1837-1898. As there are quite a few paintings shown on these sites with dates post 1900, the most recent being 1918, and obviously the work of the same artist, it is quite clear that these dates are wrong. Having done some research online and found the Rockingham china and porcelain patter book, we have found that Edwin Steele was a painter and enamaller at this factory, but his dates are 1805-1871 and he was the son of Thomas Steel who was also an artist at the factory before his son. Thomas Steel moved back to Staffordshire to work at the Minton factory, taking his son with him and they lived in Stoke on Trent. As there is an Edwin J. Steele who was born in 1861 in Stoke on Trent and who died in 1933 in Birmingham, which fits with the dates on the paintings, we believe that it is this Edwin who painted this painting and he was Edwin's son. There is one painting listed on artprice with a date of 1849, but this is in an earlier style and is probably the work of the earlier Edwin.
He is know as a painter of fruit and flowers, although there are some landscapes listed. He was quite a prolific painter, although he did not appear to exhibit, as there are no biographical details listed in our reference books, which are drawn from exhibition records.
This is a segment from the biography I formed for this artist after doing research on findmypast etc.
Heather, thank you for sharing your research on the Steele (Steel?) family, indicating three generations: a grandfather, Thomas Steel [sic?] (no dates); father Edwin Steele (1805–1871); son Edwin J. Steele (1861–1933).
So do the dates 1837-1898 belong to yet another Steele?
The source is Ancestry, for those who can access it.
Edwin H. Steele (links to many source records): https://bit.ly/364d0hX
BIRTH JUL 1839 • Hanley, Staffordshire, England
DEATH DEC 1919 • Birmingham, Warwickshire, England
His son was Edwin James Steele (who was married in 1883, see attachment): https://bit.ly/3ctQcJC
BIRTH ABT 1861 • Hanley, Staffordshire, England
DEATH JUN 1933 • Birmingham, Warwickshire, England
But Edwin H. Steele's father was also called Edwin Steele: https://bit.ly/3kFzSrX
BIRTH ABT 1807 • Burslem, Staffordshire, England
DEATH JUL 1871 • Staffordshire, United Kingdom
And in turn, his father was Thomas Steele (spelling varies at this time in records): https://bit.ly/3kHzEAq
There are no dates for him on these records – his name is recorded as the father on Edwin (b.1807)'s baptism.
The three Edwins are all recorded as painters or artists in various censuses and marriage records. But hopefully that's clearer on the dates (and useful to name them with no middle initial, middle initial H and middle name James, to distinguish them).
That means that the dated Steele pictures on Art UK could have been done by either Edwin H. or his son Edwin James, based on date alone, though they are currently listed under Edwin Steele (1837-1898), who may or may not really be Edwin H. Steele (1838-1919).
I suppose we need to see or at least know the exact signatures and dates (if present) for all Steele still lifes on Art UK, and go from there.
All Steele still lifes on Art UK appear to be signed E. Steele. The two Wolverhampton pictures are dated (which does not appear in their Art UK entries), and it seems the dates both begin with 19 (higher res images would help).
For what it's worth, Artnet lists 100 pictures under "Edwin Steele" with vital dates of 1850-after 1912. The listings with images are almost all still lifes, with two dog pictures, a landscape and a seascape.
There is clearly general confusion as to which Steele and which dates.
I expect that sorting this out is going to require genealogical and census data, which is not my forte, but there are others here who are much better at that kind of work.
A request for help with this discussion has been sent to the Antiques Trade Gazette.
The V&A has nine Rockingham ceramic pieces dated between 1825 and 1830 which were painted by Edwin Steele, whose dates are given as 1803-1871. They are all painted with flowers only, no fruits:
There are a total of 15 Steele still lifes on Art UK. Nine are in vertical format and 6 in horizontal format. This one and four other very similar pictures involving a flower vase and fruits on a marble tabletop certainly seem to be by the same hand, as does one with a fruit vase and loose flowers on a marble top in the same style. Two (paired?) pictures depict only clusters of grapes still on the vine. Two are still lifes (one floral, one fruits) in an outdoor setting. The remaining 5 are 2 floral, 1 fruit and 2 mixed still lifes, and two of these (below) seem somewhat more crudely or primitively painted than all the rest, so they could be by a different hand:
These two pages of Steele listings include a handful of landscapes and a hunting scene, along with numerous still lifes:
Heather's latest work on the family tree reinstates the idea of three generations of Edwins, which I think is more plausible, giving us four generations:
Thomas Steel(e) (nd)
Edwin Steele (?1807-1871)
Edwin H Steele (1839-1919)
Edwin J Steele (1861-1933)
As it happens it turns out that a lot more work on this family has been done already this year by Teresa Coutinho posting on another discussion board, most recently:
though many of her comments on that thread are relevant. The revised lineage appears to be
Thomas Steel (1771-1850)
Edwin Steele (1803/05-1871)
Edwin H Steele (1839-2 Dec 1919)
Edward James Steele (1861-1933)
The latter was actually named as above, but may possibly have been known as Edwin (I've known this happen with family names). In addition Thomas had another son Horatio (1806-1874) who like his father only appears to have worked on ceramics (the V&A again has examples).
Teresa Coutinho was also in touch with Minton, for whom various members of the family worked, and they sent her copies of the pages of a book giving details of the lives of the first three plus Horatio (linked in Google Docs in comment above). The uncertainty over Edwin's birth date is explained by his not being baptised, along with another brother, and later in the same year Horatio, until 1807. The book also gives examples of Edwin's and Edwin H's (who are referred to as 'senior' and 'junior') signatures.
The book is obviously biased towards ceramic work, but it notes that by 1901 Edwin H is describing himself as an 'Artist in Oils' (in the previous census he was a 'Flower and Fruit Pottery Painter') so it looks as if the balance of his production changed in the 1890s.
Coutinho more or less says that the still life painter was Edwin H Steele. We know his father was a porcelain painter, though he may have been more than that. But what about Edward J Steele? What was his profession?
Unfortunately Teresa Coutinho's research conclusions are not wholly reliable. As well as being clearly wrong about her watercolour being C19th, she is also wrong about Edwin/Edward James Steele, though that's more understandable. Spending £11 on a birth certificate doesn't, alas, tell you what you learn from 40 years of doing genealogy: GRO certificates of BM&D can sometimes be wrong, and censuses & other sources right!
In this case Edwin James was either registered wrongly as "Edward" - perhaps misheard - or the detail was misread when the info was sent from the local register office up to the GRO in London. The evidence is conclusive: he was born on 13th March 1861, and in the Census taken three weeks later (7th April) his name is recorded as Edwin (see attached), i.e. five days *before* the birth was registered on the 12th. On 3rd August 1862 the boy was christened at Holy Trinity Northwood (Stoke-on-Trent) as Edwin James (also attached). In subsequent Censuses of 1871, 1881, 1901 and 1911, at his marriage to Emily Cambridge at Birmingham in 1883, in electoral rolls for Ladywood, B'ham 1921-31 and in his death & burial records at B'ham in 1933, he is always Edwin James or Edwin J, once just Edwin, but never "Edward". The only exception is the 1901 Census where he is just "James", which suggest he may indeed have had a family name (to distinguish him from his father?) ...but Edward it was not.
However the book extracts shown by Ms Coutinho are very interesting, though the third one is far more accurate than the second (which should be largely ignored). There's more to write about them, with some further details and corrections, along with observations from myriad census and baptism records, etc, which inform and clarify matters considerably. I hope I'll get to posting more of that later. But it is looking increasingly likely that our artist is indeed Edwin Steele II (1839-1919), father of Edwin James - unless I am going mad, though, I can find no record that he ever had any middle name or intitial (H or otherwise). I wonder where the Ancestry profiler (who is accurate about most things) got that from? Oh, hang on...I bet it's the stupid modern habit of putting the I / II / III to differentiate generations *between* the first and last names - it often causes confusion, especially with a single 'I'. The tree compiler has somewhere read Edwin II Steele, and read it as "Edwin H Steele".
Osmund, what book extracts are you referring to, or rather, where are they? No doubt I've overlooked something, so please clarify.
If you follow Mark's link (https://bit.ly/3i43EoK) to the discussion forum where Teresa Coutinho has been posting, and scroll down to the bottom, you'll find three different links to Google Drive files that show pages from three different books that mention the Steel(e) family. I found the way they were arranged on the PDFs a bit tricky, so I've turned them into four simple JPGs which I attach. I've deduced the titles of the first two books, but the third (which has the fullest and most accurate info) remains unknown.
Though it's not very relevant to our research, I can confirm from census and baptism / marriage / burial records that all the movements to and from different factories given in the third book are correct. What is very relevant are the images shown of the signatures of both Edwin I (bap 1807 d.1871) & his son Edwin II (1839-1919) - both of them use the cursive capital 'E' seen in our painting. However, I have found examples of the signature of Edwin James (1861-1933) in documents that show he did too. And to complicate things still further, Edwin James had a younger brother Ernest Augustus (1868-1937), who like his brother, father and grandfather was also an 'enamel painter', and who *also* signed with the cursive 'E'!
Besides Edwin II, were any of the others more than painters for ceramic ware? Some "E. Steele" pictures look clearly less accomplished than ours, and I suspect were not by Edwin II.
Oh, and thanks, Osmund. That was very helpful.
We have an oil painting signed Edwin Steele. It was hanging in our house many decades ago, when my great uncle and aunt paid their only visit to London from the Potteries. My great uncle, who was not my blood relation, looked at the painting and immediately told us who it was by: his great uncle, Edwin Steele, who exhibited at the Liverpool Royal Academy. It is quite a large picture of fruit and flowers on a stone slab and some of the fruit is cascading down from a carved stone urn type vase. It is extremely accomplished. I believe also that Edwin Steele used to paint on pottery and I read somewhere that he used to paint at Crown Derby but I'm not sure whether that is correct. The style of his paintings would certainly fit in with hand painted pottery.
It looks very similar in style to the painting I have.
Steele transferred his work as a ceramics painter to canvas, but the style and feel remain the same. There is nothing painterly about it, though it precise and crisp, but essentially decorative illustration
Two notifications were published in the Staffordshire newspapers of the mid 1860’s. These were announcements from the County Courts (Hanley).
In the Staffordshire Advertiser, Saturday, March 3rd, 1866 it was reported that Edwin Steele, china painter, had been summond to attend the court, charged with neglect of work.
It was heard that Edwin Steele was summond by G. H. Allen, china manufacturer of Hanley for ‘neglect of work’ but concluded,
“...there had been no definate engagement between the defendent and Mr Allen either as to period of service or notice to leave, and the case was consequently dismissed”.
The Staffordshire Sentinel, Saturday, October 26, 1867 reported in an article headed ‘An “ARTIST” in TROUBLE’ that Edwin Steele had been working for Mr John Aynsley, manufacturer, of china, Hanley, for four years, but had been summond for neglect of work.
The article states that he had left on June 6th, 1867 and had not been back since. Edwin Steele had already been paid 18d to paint a dessert service, but had left it unfinished and had not returned, leaving the work incomplete.
Mr Steele “denied in court that he was bound to work for the plaintive by any verbal or written agreement, as he was an ‘artist’” and he would not bind himself to work for any individual, as he believed that his talents belonged to the country at large.”
Despite this claim, Mr Steele had worked for Mr Aynsley’s company for four years and it was also mentioned that had designed for other companies. He was ordered to pay a pound, plus costs, back to the firm.
It could be presumed that this Mr Steele was the second born Edwin Steele, but I do however wonder whether it may actually be an account related to Edwin Steele sen., rather than it being about the son in his mid twenties.
The second article in particular seems to suggest that Mr Steele is someone who is established. That he’s relatively well paid, with the ability of working freelance for various companies. Even though the firm in the second article had taken the gentleman to court, there still seems to be an unusual amount of respect for the artist. It also mentions the company was
“anxious to retain him, as he was a very skilled artizan.”
I doubt whether his son would have had an opportunity to have developed such skills and working relationships, at such an early point in his career. The appearances in Court also straddle a period of time in which Charlotte, his wife of nearly 40 yrs, died. She died in early May of 1866.
I feel that despite his bold statements in court, it’s possible that these may have been the actions of a man struggling to cope with issues in his personal life. Possibly having to deal with an illness, and eventually coping with a death. It seems a little odd for a person who has spent a lifetime working professionally for various establishments, to walk out on a fully paid job, just because he could, just because he was an “Artist”.
It’s also written that he
“devoted a portion of his time to painting in oil”.
It’s hardly surprising than any artist specialising in enamel painting would also be an oil painter, considering the transferable skills needed for both, and the amount of design work included in their job. It seems pretty obvious that the person that painted this painting was an enamel artist. The green foliage and vegetable in particular stand out. It may also be worth considering that once an enamel artist lose access to a kiln, they may also lose access to their primary artistic outlet.
Incidently, Edwin Steele sen was also one of three sons of Thomas Steele that apprenticed in Derby. As well as Edwin and Horatio, there was Thomas jr. He painted for Coalport before dying at a relatively young age.
Yes, I'm sure Edwin Steele senr was the man who declined to finish the work he'd already started and been paid for in 1867, and who was in court on a similar summons the previous year. Apart from anything else, it is possible Edwin Junr was by then working as a glass enameller in Smethwick (where he is found in 1871). It is also very plausible that his wife's death in 1866 had at the very least caused Edwin Senr to reflect on how he wanted to spend his remaining years as an artist - and of course with only one mouth now to feed, the pressure to stick to his substantive, highly-skilled employment was that much less. He seems to have been achieving at least some success as a painter, too - see attached (the address given there is the same as in the 1871 Census, where he seems to have been living as a lodger).
However, it is worth noting that although he is recorded as a China Painter when three of his children were baptised in 1826, 1832 & 1835, by the 1841 Census he is called - presumably at his request - just 'Artist', and so he remains in 1851 & 1861. So I tend to think that his strong desire to be considered a freelance artist, not a journeyman decorator beholden to others, was long-standing, though doubtless brought to a head by the huge change in his life.
Though this is all most interesting, it is in truth largely irrelevant to the question we're seeking to answer. Edwin Senr died later in 1871 (apparently unrecorded by the press, unlike both his father and wife); our painting is dated 1899. So the one person it cannot be by is Edwin Senr. It still remains unproven, though highly probable, that it is by Edwin Junr (1839-1919), rather than one of *his* two sons Edwin James (1861-1933) and Ernest Augustus (1868-1937).
I would propose that two pictures currently listed under Edwin Steele (1803-1971) are probably not by Edwin Snr and almost certainly not by Edwin Jnr (assuming he was the painter of our picture and others in very similar style). That leaves the two sons of Edwin Jnr:
I think it is now worth trying to link these Steele paintings together into groups based on painting style and the form of the signature, and following the excellent new biographical information we now have, make some judgement on the likely artist(s).
First, there is the group of six still lives with vases on marble shelves, and usually with marble columns. These must be by the same hand and are signed E Steele. Three are dated 1896 and 1899. Wolverhampton Art Gallery’s own website gives dates for their two of 1889 (OP725) and 1908 (OP724).
Apart from the cursive ‘E’, which Osmund found appears to be common to the signatures of all generations of the Steeles, there is I believe also a distinctive ‘S’ (the rather square form and varied stroke thickness) and ‘t’ (long cross stroke high up) in the signature. This can be identified in the hanging grapes (Potteries Museum 1962.FA.33), dated 1899, and its companion (1954.FA.125). It is also found in the Potteries Museum flowers and fruit still life (1958.FA.100) dated 1901 and in the fruit with a naturalistic background (1962. FA.32).
Of the other paintings attributed to the spurious Edwin Steele (1837-1898), Potteries Museum 1950.FA.95 is apparently unsigned. Despite the heavily discoloured varnish, it seems to me slightly better quality than the average Edwin Steele, but it did come as part of the same Bagnall gift as three others, which is a point in favour of the attribution.
Of the paintings on Art UK under Edwin Steele (1803-1871), Derby’s 1975-228/1 has the same signature as those above. It fits the more naturalistic approach of Potteries 1950.FA.95, 1958.FA.100 and 1962.FA.32. Derby’s 975-228/2, although Jacinto doubts its quality, I think is good enough and has the right signature to be accepted with those above. Royal Crown of Derby’s 2004.27.130, on the other hand, cannot be by the same artist. What can be seen of the signature is unconvincing too. Regarding Keele’s 1997/096, it is hard to make out either the painting quality or the form of the signature.
So, with the exception of the last two, I am fairly convinced that all the others are be the same artist, a ceramics decorator of the Steele family working on his account. We have dated paintings ranging from 1889-1908. Other comparable paintings online are dated from 1868 to 1918. These dates fit very neatly into the life span of Edwin Steele Junr (1839-1919).