Completed Portraits: British 19th C, Continental European after 1800, Dress and Textiles 36 Did Heinrich Schmidt II paint both Caroline Clift and William Clift?

Caroline Clift (1775–1849)
Topic: Artist

Is it possible that this portrait could be by the same artist as that of her husband?

See The Royal Society's portrait 'William Clift (1775–1849)', c.1820–1829, by Heinrich Schmidt II:

The collection note:

'Examination of the painting offered no clues as to attribution. However I have been to The Royal Society to view their portrait of William Clift, and looking at technique I would say that it is very probable that these are by the same artist, and painted at the same time. The RS portrait is also unsigned.

Both portraits came directly from the Clift family, and my instinct is that the attribution for the portrait of Caroline was lost over the generations. This work entered our collection over a century after the William Clift portrait was presented to The Royal Society.

I'm afraid I can't really spend much more time investigating, but would welcome any information anyone might have.'

Al Brown, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. This portrait has been firmly dated to c.1831–1833 based on the costume. It is thought to depict Mrs. Caroline Clift in her early 50s and to have been painted by Henry Schmidt, perhaps at the same time as a portrait of Caroline’s husband, William Clift (1775–1849), which belongs to The Royal Society. The Art UK record has been updated accordingly and the new information will be visible on the website in due course.

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


Betty Elzea,

All I can say is that it is high quality portrait- and most attractive too

The two portraits are also of almost exactly the same size, so this and the shared provenance and style point strongly to them being a pair and by the same artist. If we had images of the frames this might be further evidence. Is the Royal Society's portrait signed?

Edward Stone,

The Royal Society have kindly said that they will check their portrait, although the catalogue entry indicates that there is no artist signature.

The entry on the Royal Society picture library gives more details on the provenance:

Edward Stone,

The Royal Society has had a quick look at the portrait and can’t see a signature on the front. Inspection of the back of the canvas will be more difficult, but the catalogue indicates a chalk inscription reading ‘CLIFT’. It is presumed to be posthumous.

Edward Stone,

The Royal Society has also offered to take a photograph of the frame, which we shall post here in due course.

It's good that frame photos are coming. But there needs to be some confirmation about the attribution of the portrait of William Clift to the artist Heinrich Schmidt II, who is not exactly well-known. Did this information appear in the letter from the donor or from the Council Minutes?
Further on the idea of the two paintings of the Clifts being a pair: both sitters face to the right side, which is not what one would expect of two paintings intended to hang as a pair (which doesn't rule out that both are by the same artist and painted at the same time).
Also what is the authority for the date of 1820 for Caroline's portrait? Can it be confirmed by the clothing and hat she wears? Or is it just a guesstimate based on her age?

Jacinto Regalado,

There may well be other German painters of the same name, but if this is the Heinrich Schmidt born around 1780 who was active in Leipzig and Weimar, why would the Clifts have employed him as opposed to a British portraitist? This picture looks like "style of Lawrence" to me.

Tim Williams,

It was exhibited at the National Portrait exhibition (South Kensington) in 1868 as by Henry Schmidt.

It was gifted to the Royal Society in 1858:

The gift of this painting is recorded in the Society’s Council Minutes, on receipt of a letter from Mrs Owen [Caroline Amelia Clift, daughter of William Clift and wife of Richard Owen FRS (1804-1892)]. “Mrs Owen presents her respectful Compliments to the President & Council of the Royal Society, & begs to offer a Portrait of her late father William Clift F.R.S. & to Express the gratification it would afford Professor Owen & herself if it should be deemed worthy of acceptance for the Society. Resolved that the best thanks of the President & Council be returned to Mrs Owen for her highly acceptable gift of the Portrait of our late valued Member.“ [Letter, Caroline Amelia Owen, 8 February 1858, to the Royal Society. Royal Society archives, Miscellaneous Correspondence MC/5/331. Transcribed in Royal Society Council Minutes, Original, CMO/13, meeting of 4 March 1858].

The Royal Society has the artist's DOB as 1771, though I can find no reference to a painter born in this year. The Heinrich Schmidt's listed on the various indices seem to have been conflated, the one listed as with dates (1740-1821) has some portraits attributed to him (if he existed) that are almost certainly by Johann Heinrich Schmidt (1749 Hildburghausen - 1829 Dresden).

Jacinto Regalado,

There was a Heinrich Friedrich Thomas Schmidt, born 1780 in Berlin, active in Leipzig, Weimar and Hanover, who painted portraits of people like Schiller in the first decade of the 19th century. He was also an engraver, so there may be more information on him in Thieme-Becker. However, as I have said before, the Clifts seem unlikely clients for his services unless they were painted in Germany.

Jacinto Regalado,

If this lady was the daughter of William Clift FRS, then the idea of paired portraits facing in opposite directions is less apt than if she was his wife. Obviously, however, they could still have been painted by the same artist.

Jacinto Regalado,

In the catalogue for the third Exhibition of National Portraits, held in the South Kensington Museum in 1868, the portrait of William Clift FRS was No. 358, with Henry (not Heinrich) Schmidt given as the artist, and the entry states "dated at back 1833." If the portrait of Caroline Clift was painted by the same artist at the same time, its date would also be 1833. The catalogue is here (scroll down past the catalogues for the first and second exhibitions of 1866 and 1867, respectively):

Jacinto Regalado,

If William's wife, Caroline Amelia Clift (née Pope) was born in 1775, she would have been 58 or so in 1833, and the lady in our picture clearly looks younger than that. William and Mrs. Clift's daughter, also named Caroline Amelia, died in 1873 aged 70, which means she was born around 1803 and would have been 30 in 1833, which fits the apparent age of the woman in this picture. Thus, it would seem that this is a picture of William Clift's daughter, not his wife. Information here:

Thanks, Jacinto. Your comments are along the right lines. I myself thought 1820 far too early for Caroline Clift's hat and dress. Maybe a dress historian could confirm.

Jacinto Regalado,

The qualifier II or "the Younger" does not appear in the catalogue entry mentioned above. Can the RCS specify its source for it?

Thanks, Tim and Jacinto, for your earlier comments. It does look like we can be fairly sure that the Royal Society's portrait of William Clift dates from 1833 (based on the cataloguing of the National Portrait Exhibition), which gives at least one firm point of reference.

Jacinto Regalado,

If the lady is William Clift's daughter Caroline, she married an interesting man, the outstanding albeit controversial naturalist (Sir) Richard Owen, who was behind the establishment of the Natural History Museum in South Kensington. More on him here:

Jacinto Regalado,

Caroline Clift married Richard Owen in 1835. Could this portrait be related to her engagement or marriage in terms of date?

Jacinto Regalado,

Another possibility is that the dress may relate to the death, in 1833, of Caroline's brother William Clift, though I understand this is not necessarily mourning attire.

Osmund Bullock,

I may be wrong, Jacinto, but I wouldn’t have thought that her bonnet style was possible for mourning wear, even if her dress were.

The portrait of Caroline was “bequeathed [to the RCS] by Miss Hertzel, great granddaughter of William Clift” in 1966 – Richard Owen's only child William had (with a son) a daughter Emily Frances (1883-1965), who in 1906 married Clement Hirtzel. As well as the surname being spelled wrong, I think this should probably read “Mrs”, not “Miss”, as Emily’s will was indeed proved in 1966. It may have been actually handed over by one of Emily’s six daughters (though I think they were all deceased or married by 1966); but they would have been Clift’s great-GREAT-granddaughters, not just great. The collection might like to check their records and correct the errors accordingly. They also need to correct the date for their portrait of William Clift, which seems secure as 1833 (also given in the DNB), rather than the “c.1820–1829” given on Art UK.

Emily, incidentally, seems to have been known by her second name, Frances – her collection of part of the correspondence of Richard Owen is held and fully searchable here: . I have been scouring this without success for any mention of the portrait – although they did not marry until July 1835, Owen had been writing affectionately to Caroline Clift since at least Jan 1830 (when the letters begin), and with an apparently shared understanding of a future together.

I wholeheartedly agree with Jacinto and Barbara that this portrait must date from later than 1820. A dinner/evening dress of the early-mid 1830s was my feeling, though after some research I’ve concluded that the end of the 1820s may be possible too. The bonnet style looks to be after 1830, but the separate ruff collar in particular seems to be an earlier accessory, at least in high fashion – but having said that, it is clear that in the real world it was still being worn by those of a more modest disposition as late as 1834**. But I have slightly modified my initial certainty that, as Jacinto suggests, the sitter must be William Clift's daughter Caroline Amelia, not his wife Caroline Harriet (née Pope) – as we know, descendants are commonly mistaken about the generations in family portraits, especially when there is a shared first name. His daughter was in fact born in August 1801 (from her Jan 1802 baptism record at St Martin-in-the-Fields). If the portrait were to date from just before her marriage – say, 1834 – Caroline would have been 33, which I find very plausible.

Her mother’s date of birth is less certain, but is usually given as 1775 (possibly from her age at death, though I cannot confirm that) – I note, though, that her 1841 Census entry implies a birth year between 1776 & 1781 (not that either of these is a reliable source in the C19th). However we can eliminate the last two years, as she was at least 21 when William Clift obtained their marriage licence in mid-Jan 1801, leaving us with c.1775-79. And if – IF – we were to assume instead a date for the portrait of 1828, giving her an age of 49-53, then she does just enter the realms of possibility, though still unlikely. Like Barbara, I would very much welcome input here from one of our fashion experts.

If I have time I’ll post some dress comparison images later.

Osmund Bullock,

I have already mentioned Richard Owen’s letters; but in fact much of William Clift’s voluminous correspondence is still extant, though split (with other papers including diaries) between the BL, the RCS, the Natural History Museum and the Wellcome Library.

It is beyond our (or at least my) capacity to start delving seriously into unpublished archives, but I see that some, at least, was published in 1991 in ‘The Clift family correspondence, 1792–1846’ (ed. Dr Frances Austin). The same person (probably a family member) also edited in 1984 the correspondence of his son as ‘The letters of William Home Clift, 1803–1832’. There is also a 1954 illustrated biography of Clift Senior by the then archivist of the RCS, Jessie Dobson. These are certainly all worth checking. I will also try and find out if Dr Austin – a former lecturer in English Language at the University of Liverpool – is still around.

Edward Stone,

This discussion is now linked to the Dress and Textiles group.

Jacinto Regalado,

Gigot (leg-of-mutton) sleeves began in the late 1820s and were characteristic of the 1830s, but finer points such as the ruff and bonnet should be addressed by a fashion historian.

Osmund Bullock,

The long engagement of Caroline Amelia Clift and Richard Owen – it actually lasted 7 ½ years! – is explained in the 1894 biography of Sir Richard by his grandson here: . The same book contains many of Owen's letters to Caroline from the collection I described in a previous post, and – most interestingly – extracts from Caroline's personal diary.

The diary is first mentioned in the context of her first meeting with Owen in Sept 1827, with further passages given from 1832, 1834 & 1835, after which “the diaries ... are now kept almost without a break until 1873, the year of her death”. There are 13 pages of entries quoted from 1836, and many more thereafter...but no mention of a portrait of Caroline (though it's clear from the biog and other letters that both Owen and his father-in-law William Clift were interested in, and collectors of paintings). I will see if I can track down its present whereabouts.

I cannot say anything about the artist but the portrait of Caroline Clift can be dated from her extremely fashionable clothes to c 1831-33. She is wearing deeply fashionable gigot sleeves and her hair style and lace collarette also confirm this Romantic period dating- see 3 attached images- a Paris Fashion plate of 1830, a portrait of 1831 by Miklas Barabas and a portrait of Caroline Sarah Chamberlain, ca. 1831; Lawrence House Museum LAULH 2011.204 ART UK

Jacinto Regalado,

Even though the date is clearly not 1820 but ca. 1830 or 1830s, I suppose it is still possible that this could be a "well preserved" woman in her mid fifties, meaning Mrs. Clift. The bags under the eyes and the vaguely matronly expression would go with that, although the eventual Mrs. Owen certainly remains a contender.

Jacinto Regalado,

And, of course, if the painter opted to flatter Mrs. Clift sufficiently, that would make it more likely for her to be the sitter. However, I am definitely not discarding her daughter as a candidate.

I've had a chance to check some, but far from all, of the relevant sources as this seems an interesting discussion to pursue. Because the Royal Society's portrait of Clift may be a pair to that of his wife Caroline Harriet at the Royal College of Surgeons, one needs to consider the wider context. William Clift was a major figure in the history of the Royal College of Surgeons as the first curator of the Hunterian Museum, so there is an extensive literature about the man which extends to his family--correspondence, diaries, etc.
Several scholars, such as Frances Austin, have written on Clift, delving into these sources, as Osmund has mentioned. Documentary material is in various archives; on the diaries see The NPG Archive reveals nothing.

Clift was a gifted illustrator who drew specimens for the Hunterian Museum. His son William Home Clift (b.1803) was also a talented artist but he died young in 1832. In fact, the portrait of the elder Clift dates from the year after his son's death. Clift the elder had connections with the art world in London; he owned paintings; he could have chosen from any number of portraitists, one would have thought. So why Schmidt?
If one could access the diary for 1833, it might become clear who Heinrich Schmidt was and why Clift chose him as his portrait painter. It might further indicate if his wife Caroline Harriet was also painted at the same time.
The RCS in Lincoln's Inn is undergoing redevelopment hence their archives are now at the London Metropolitan Archives.

Some comparative images might also help the discussion along:

one shows Caroline Amelia (b.1801), the daughter of William Clift, as drawn by him (according to the RCS catalogue)
Seemingly this identification is not based on any inscriptions but we have to assume it is correct.

another shows Caroline Amelia (b. 1801) by her brother William Home Clift. As he died in September 1832, it has to be before that.

Another salient fact may be that in 1828 Mrs Clift weighed 10 stone 2 pounds. Caroline Amelia weighted 6 stone.
This is gleaned from Jessie Dobson's biography William Clift (1954). While both women were clearly interested in high fashion, they were different physical types. I'd say, in the RCS oil, we are looking at the portrait of Mrs. Clift (in her early 50s) not Miss Clift (in her early 30s) but what do others think?

2 attachments
Jacinto Regalado,

Remember that the catalogue entry for William Clift's portrait (discussed and linked above) names the painter as Henry (not Heinrich) Schmidt, suggesting he was a British artist of presumably German ancestry. The known painter Heinrich Schmidt was German and active in Germany, not London as far as one can tell.

Jacinto Regalado,

I am not convinced this picture and the Royal Society's portrait of William Clift were painted by the same artist. The level of technical accomplishment in the RCS picture is higher, though I suppose more care may have been taken over a lady's portrait. The difference is especially evident comparing the fabric of the dress with that of the man's coat, but the background for Mr. Clift is also more rudimentary, the lady's hair is much better done than his (what's left of it), and the paper he holds is rather crudely rendered compared to, say, her lace collar. In other words, her portrait looks more professional, certainly more finished.

Several points:

a) Tim and Jacinto found that the portrait of William Clift by Henry Schmidt was in the 1868 National Portraits exhibition and described in the catalogue as dated 1833. This portrait supposedly of his wife Caroline Clift has been firmly dated by Lou Taylor to c.1831-33. Therefore they may well have been painted at the same time.

b) However, the portraits do look rather different in style. Their long separation and different histories may have led them ending up in different conditions. I think it also possible that the RCS portrait, with its rather harder edge, may be a copy of a lost original.

c) Barbara has clarified that either we are looking at a portrait of Mrs. Caroline Clift (in her early 50s) or Miss Caroline Amelia Clift (in her early 30s). I would agree with Barbara that the former is more likely.

Finally, I don't think it has been previously noted that a Henry Schmidt of London is recorded exhibiting 'Italian Peasants' at the British Institution in 1834, cat. 434. So there was indeed an artist of that name working in London in the 1830s, and the identity of this otherwise unknown 'Heinrich Schmidt II' can eventually be amended accordingly.

Osmund Bullock,

I've done quite a lot of work on this, and made some interesting -though not conclusive - discoveries regarding a probable identity of Henry/Heinrich Schmid(t). However, it relates to William Clift's portrait much more than it does to Caroline's (unless they are by the same artist, which I rather doubt).

Mindful of the official line, could I get Group Leader guidance as to whether or not I should get into this here - it is unavoidably quite a long and complex matter - or hold fire for a future discussion specifically about the artist of William's?

Osmund, thank you for your suggestion. If the material is more relevant to the portrait of William Clift, then by all means let's have a new discussion about the identity of Henry Schmidt. I can start this off and then you can add your information--perhaps in sections as very long entries can be hard to digest.

Osmund Bullock,

Thank you, Barbara; I think that is a good way to go. And I take your point about overlong posts, for which I admit my frequent guilt!

I must confess, too, that on reviewing the research after a long break, my Henry/Heinrich identity hypothesis merits no more than 'possible' (rather than 'probable'). I am currently waiting to hear back from a library in Germany that holds an 1880s journal which may (or may not) clarify matters - another good reason to save things for a new discussion.