Completed East of England: Artists and Subjects, Portraits: British 19th C 20 Did J. Brooks paint Joseph Proctor (d.1845)? Can more be found about J. Brooks?

Joseph Proctor (d.1845), Master (1799–1845)
Topic: Artist

Is this by J. Brooks (not G. Brooks) who painted quite a number of portraits in Cambridge in the 1840s, including one of William Mortlock?

J. Brooks:

The collection note:

'I have checked our College listings to see whether there has ever been any other attribution for our Joseph Proctor portrait. Our detailed inventories go back to 1910 and as far back as that date the painting is attributed to G. Brooks. Having looked at the painting on the PCF website by J. Brooks, I certainly see the similarities in style with ours listed as G. Brooks and the ease of transposition between 'G' and 'J' could have lead to an error.'

Martin Hopkinson, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

Edward Stone,

This portrait has been attributed to John Brooks and dated to the early 1840s. The painting record has been updated accordingly and these amendments will appear on Art UK 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.


Geraint Richard Hall,

Do you have an image of the portrait of William Mortlock by Joseph Brooks?

Because the painting of Richard Porson credited to J.Brooks that you've provided a link to is apparently a copy of a portrait by the much better known artist John Opie. So, it can hardly be seen as an example of Joseph Brooks's style.

Tim Williams,

Possibly both initials are correct - Graves lists a J.G. Brooks who exhibited a portrait at the R.A. in 1832.

1 attachment
Osmund Bullock,

Geraint, I'm not sure where you get 'Joseph Brooks' (as opposed to just 'J. Brooks') from - possibly a confusion with Joseph Proctor, the sitter in the portrait under discussion? But I would guess the source for Martin's William Mortlock by J. Brooks is this print after it:

Oh, hang on - just found what is perhaps the original painting (though there are differences from the print, and there's no artist attribution). It's still in Cambridge, at Addenbrooke's Hospital:

It could itself be a copy, of course.

Osmund Bullock,

William Mortlock (1791-1848) was the youngest son of John Mortlock, a wealthy Cambridge banker, mayor and MP. William was Governor of Addenbrooke's in 1818, the same year he paid for the rebuilding of Knight's almshouses at Cambridge: 1/1/6
The portrait looks to me as if it's rather earlier than the 1843 print - perhaps 1820s/30s - but maybe Brooks' version of it was a copy of an earlier work, like his 1844 Porson one after Opie.

Osmund Bullock,

Sorry, the Janus link doesn't work properly here (**an ongoing issue with links that contain a per-cent symbol, PCF**). Copy and paste the whole link manually, including the portion on the next line and you'll get it. If the punctuation is correct, the description implies that 1818 (when William was 27) is the date of the portrait, not of Mortlock's governorship - that would make sense if, as I strongly suspect, the background buildings show the almshouses. 1826 (when he was 35) would also fit - it was the year he donated more money for their upkeep, and perhaps when they were renamed in his honour. This further Janus link suggests that the original portrait dates from around then: D34
(lots of per-cent symbols again, so you may need to copy and paste)

Osmund Bullock,

I can see no sign of a suitable 'G. Brooks', but I've discovered quite a bit about the portraitist J. Brooks, who lived and worked in (and/or near) Cambridge for some years in the 1840s.

John Brooks was probably born in Lancashire in 1793 or 94. He was somewhat peripatetic: I've not found his baptism or marriage, but his eldest child Edward was born at Stockport in Nov 1833, his next John at Manchester in Jan 1836 - both were baptised at Manchester in April that year. By 1839 he seems to have moved to Birmingham where his next son Henry was born, though not baptised until 1844 in Cambridge - along with the next son Benjamin, born at Ely in about May 1841. By the (June) Census of that year, John and his family were living at King's Parade, Cambridge, his profession given as Portrait Painter, his age 47. His next-door neighbour was our old friend the topographical artist Richard Bankes Harraden (see ).

I have lots more to share, including numerous informative newspaper articles and advertisements - in October 1841 John Brooks began advertising in local Cambridge papers as a portrait and miniature painter (and also restorer and art teacher). Later ones provide information on both the Mortlock and Procter portraits, confirming Mortlock is by John Brooks, and tending to support Martin’s suggestion that the one under discussion is also by him. Unfortunately I have to leave this now until later today.

A few attachments, though, to be going on with.

The evidence provided by Osmund points strongly to John Brooks being the likely painter of the portrait of Joseph Proctor given his residence at the relevant time in Cambridge. It also helps us date the portrait to the early to mid 1840s. Unless there is anything further to add to this discussion I suggest that a recommendation be made amending the artist from 'G Brooks' to 'attributed to John Brooks' with the addition of a date of circa early 1840s.

Osmund Bullock,

I fully agree with the attribution, Grant. But could we leave this open for, say, another week? As I mentioned ten months ago, but unhelpfully failed to follow up on, I have more on Brooks that both strengthens the circumstantial case for his authorship, and gives further detail of his life and career - perhaps worth publishing here, as it will in due course relate to at least two ArtUK, as well as linking through to one of his sons who has 15 works listed. I'm finally drawing it all together now, but would appreciate a few more days.

Is Osmund able to provide more information to support the attribution? It would be good to be able to ask the Group Leaders if they felt ready to close this discussion.

Osmund's contributions here have been invaluable, as always. In view of the lapse of time since my recommendation seven months ago, I think it is now appropriate to repeat the recommendation (amended slightly) which is as follows:

The evidence provided by Osmund points strongly to John Brooks being the likely painter of the portrait of Joseph Proctor given his residence at the relevant time in Cambridge. I propose that a recommendation be made to the collection amending the artist from 'G Brooks' to 'attributed to John Brooks' with the addition of a date of circa early 1840s.

Osmund Bullock,

Sorry, Andrew and Grant, mea maxima culpa. I should have time to put together in the next 48 hours what I promised so long ago, but I know I can't really expect another postponement - I feel like a student with a long overdue essay and a patient tutor who's been pushed too far! It has not been eaten by the dog, but is nevertheless still in pieces awaiting assembly. I (naturally) think it's worth waiting for, but if you don't get it by the weekend I accept that must be the end of it.

Edward Stone,

The collection has been contacted about this recommendation.

Osmund Bullock,

Rapidly (and with much still incomplete)...

Martin asked two questions, and I’ll answer the second first: everything I’ve dug up about the artist J(ohn) Brooks. He is doubtless the John Brooks baptised on 19 May 1793 at Mossley, Lancashire (the 1861 Census says he was born at “Mosley”), the son of Thomas Brooks, a cotton manufacturer. He next surfaces on 18 Oct 1832, when at Stockport he married Mary (b 1803 Wales), daughter of Edward Swindley: her family were Wesleyan Methodists. Their eldest son, Edward Thomas, was born in the town the following year; their next, John Swindley, in 1836 at Manchester, where both boys were baptised the same year. John Brooks’ profession is given as “Artist”. He may just possibly be the “John Brooks Esq” of Manchester who in Sep 1836 was on the committee for a proposed art-exhibiting institution, the Manchester Gallery (though artists are seldom accorded an ‘esquire’). And in Dec of the same year the Manchester Times described an engraved portrait of the Rev William Shuttleworth, a minister of a split-away faction of the Methodists, after a painting by “our townsman Mr Brooks of Kings St, whose peculiar talents for ... striking likenesses are acknowledged by all who have inspected his portraits.” The Methodist connection suggests this is likely to be our man.

His next son, Henry James (who later called himself ‘Henry Jamyn’, wrongly ‘Jermyn’, and is a well-known portrait artist, especially of large groups ( ) was born/baptised at Birmingham in Feb/Mar 1839 (and oddly baptised again at Cambridge five years later). The family were living in Digbeth, and the surname is spelled ‘Brookes’ (as it is also in the GRO index entry for the birth) – father John is a ‘portrait painter’. The spelling and presence in Brum suggests that he may perhaps be the ‘Mr Brooke’ who in Sept 1837 exhibited at Birmingham a portrait admired by the B’ham Journal.

Two years later John Brooks had moved 100 miles east – his next son, Benjamin’s birth was registered at Ely in 1841 (2nd quarter), and by the time of the Census in June the family had settled in Cambridge.

Osmund Bullock,

1847 is the last mention I can find of John Brooks in Cambridge; but as we have seen, between 1841 and then he seems to have been a prominent figure in the town's artistic life.

By 1851 he seems to have left Cambridge and returned to Birmingham (the 1851 Census has his wife and younger children there, though he is absent). He features in B’ham directories 1852/53 as a portrait painter, and in 1855 also as a photographer (attached), but is not listed in 1850, 1858 or 1862. In the 1861 Census, by now widowed, he is found in Paddington, London, with his youngest son Benjamin – John is ‘Artist in Oil Paint’, Benjamin is a ‘Photographic Colorist’. There is evidence that he may later have worked with another son, John Swindley Brooks, in the photographic business, but with the imminent closure of the discussion I’ll have to leave that aspect (along with a more concerted effort to find his death – difficult because the name is common).

Osmund Bullock,

The Cambridge newspaper descriptions imply that John Brooks’s portrait of William Mortlock was recent and original - and although he gave money to the almshouses shown in the background in 1818 and 1826, they were in fact not re-named in his honour until 1836. However, William would have been 50 by the time Brooks started working in Cambridge, and the sitter’s style of dress, too, surely belongs to an earlier age? Even if his portrait was the source for the print, I still suspect Brooks copied an earlier work (as he had the Porson portrait) – something also implied in the 1991 ‘History of Addenbrooke’s Hospital’, which illustrates their Mortlock portrait (?the original) with a date of 1818, when William was 27.

Joseph Proctor (or Procter, both spellings are commonly found) must have been well acquainted with William Mortlock and/or his family for many years. In 1801 Dr Proctor and **John Mortlock (William’s father) were both Justices of the Peace for Cambs: ; and in 1825 William Mortlock himself and Joseph were fellow JPs for the county: and . In 1834-36 Joseph Proctor was a co-defendant (perhaps in an official capacity) with two of William Mortlock’s elder brothers (here erroneously called ‘Matlock’), in a Chancery Suit: . Finally, one of the subscribers to Mortlock’s portrait print in 1842 was “the Rev. Prof. Corrie of Catharine Hall”: George Elwes Corrie was a Senior Fellow & Tutor at St Catharine’s, and thus a close colleague of the Master Dr Proctor – indeed on Proctor’s death in 1845 he was widely (but wrongly) expected to be his successor.

We still lack the final proof that the “Mr Brooks” who painted the portrait of Joseph Proctor engraved in 1847 was John Brooks, and not another untraced artist called ‘G. Brooks’. But granted the plethora of contemporary Cambridge references to the man we now know to be John Brooks, the complete lack of ones to a ‘G. Brooks’ – genealogically, biographically or artistically – and the multiple connections between Proctor and a known sitter/patron of John Brooks, I feel the circumstantial case is strong. Unless the oil is clearly signed thus, the only known early source for ‘G. Brooks’ is the name on the print. My suspicion is that this was simply an error, and that by the time the first proofs emerged John Brooks was no longer in Cambridge, and unable to see and correct it.

So I think the answer to Martin’s first questions is ‘yes’, and I would strongly support an attribution to John Brooks, born 1793 (Mossley, Lancs); died after 1861.

Re the date of our portrait, it may possibly be the one of the "chief magistrate of the Borough" mentioned in the Cambridge Chronicle in June 1842 - and even if not (I don't know if Proctor was actually *chief* magistrate) it points to yet another connection. But certainly Grant's "early 1840s" seems right.

[**The Mortlock family, and especially the father John (d.1816 worth a thumping £120K), were notoriously corrupt; for some 35 years from 1785 they held total power in the corporation of Cambridge, and exercised it largely for their own benefit, and that of their friends: . However his son William is widely recorded as an indefatigable and generous philanthropist and benefactor, and was clearly a man of a very different mark.]

Edward Stone,

The collection accepts this recommendation.