Completed North East England: Artists and Subjects, Portraits: British 19th C, Portraits: British 20th C 15 Did Percy Bigland paint multiple versions of John Theodore Merz's portrait?

NTV_NU_85
Topic: Other

I understood the painting at Newcastle University is a copy. The original remained in the Merz family and is currently hanging in my house.

I attach two photos of the painting in my house. (The photo of John Theodore Merz has poor white balance, the hue is too warm and the painting is darker.) I can just make out a signature in the bottom left-hand corner: I think it begins 'Percy'.

John Theodore Merz by the way was my great-grandfather. I would be interested to hear what you find out.

PCF note: Could Percy Bigland (1858–1926) be the artist of the painting in John's possession? See: http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/search/painted_by/percy-bigland

If so, could Newcastle University's painting be a copy of the Merz portrait in private ownership, or could the University's painting also be by Percy Bigland? The collection, Newcastle University, do not have any more information about this painting. The object of this discussion is to discover more about Newcastle University's version.

Image 1 of 2 attached, provided by John King.

John King, Entry reviewed by Art UK

1 attachment

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. It was found that this portrait is by Percy Bigland (1858–1926), after his original of 1910 now in a private collection.

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

14 comments

Tim Williams,

I would say both are by Bigland. Bigland replicated his portrait of Robert Spence Watson for Armstrong College, so there is precedent. Is the size of John's picture the same?

John King,

My painting is approx 95cm x 75cm

Tim Williams,

I would think a tolerance of approx 5cm is fine - they are likely the same size and manufacturer.

Jacinto Regalado,

The signature in the privately-held picture is that of Percy Bigland (1858-1926) based on signed work by him on Art UK. The Newcastle picture could be a rougher version or sketch by the same artist, though the same size is more in keeping with a copy. There are two versions of another portrait by Bigland, one rougher and smaller than the other, in the Sudley House collection:

https://www.artuk.org/discover/artworks/robert-durning-holt-18321908-104487/view_as/grid/search/makers:percy-bigland-18581926/page/1

https://www.artuk.org/discover/artworks/robert-durning-holt-18321908-104573/view_as/grid/search/makers:percy-bigland-18581926/page/1

Thus, it appears that Bigland at least sometimes painted more than one version of the same portrait. In any case, the Newcastle version is at least after Bigland, and it could be listed as "by or after" him.

An enlargement of Bigland's signature on 'Portrait of a Maid' (1897), Chiswick Auctions, 9 June 2015: https://bit.ly/2O4xb5D

Regarding the sizes of these two portraits, it is worth noting that Art UK's image itself may be cropped, as is often the case. The gloves are snipped off at the tips in our painting, but shown in full in John King's. It might be worth shining a torch into the lower left-hand corner again just to check, but I agree there is nothing to be gleaned from the image on Art UK.

Jacinto Regalado,

Unless the source for both pictures was the same photograph, one picture (most likely the Newcastle one) is a copy of the other, either by Bigland or someone else. It seems reasonable to list the Newcastle version as "by or after Percy Bigland."

Jacinto Regalado,

Perhaps Bigland did not make more or less exact copies but rather looser or sketchier versions, as appears to be the case based on the available visual evidence (I have not found images of the Bigland portraits of Robert Spence Watson at John Bright Library, Friends' School, York, and at Armstrong College, Newcastle). The most likely scenario is that both portraits of Merz are by him, the one at Newcastle being the copy.

Jacinto Regalado,

Bigland's copy of his portrait of Robert Spence Watson was made for Armstrong College (which assumed that name c. 1910), later absorbed into King's College (1937) and eventually into Newcastle University (1963). That implies he could have done the same thing with the Merz portrait at Newcastle.

Jacinto Regalado,

I found the following online, taken from "Family Notes" (typescript) by Alice Mary Merz, the wife of the sitter:

1910-04-22

Mr Percy Bigland and his son arrived as our guests and stayed 3 nights. Much interesting talk with him and the first sitting to him for the painting of Theo's portrait is arranged for May 4th at the studio 29 Tite Street Chelsea. The artist told me these days with Theo will be a very big help when he begins to paint—having become acquainted with the varied expressions.

1910-05-02 "Theo's portrait excellent. Mr. Percy Bigland asks for 3 more sittings so my Beloved will have to return as we go north and home tomorrow."

1910-06-23 "Theo gone to London to give Percy Bigland 2 more sittings."

1910-08-13 "Theo's Portrait safely arrived and looks excellent in dining room opposite that of Uncle Louis—The price Mr. Percy Bigland charges £175—it is a great joy to have my Beloved's likeness in oils."

Link to my source below (scroll down to entry 09 for John Theodore Merz, familiarly known as Theo):

https://benbeck.co.uk/fh/collaterals/inlaws/3Oinlaws.html

This means the portrait still in family hands was painted in 1910 by Percy Bigland.

As Jacinto has pointed out, there is a precedent for Bigland's portraits in the form of copies, as with Robert Durning Holt at Sudley. In any case, we know that the first version of Bigland's portrait was painted for the family and dates to 1910. A second version is at Newcastle. The first version is very well documented; the one at Newcastle University is not. I think we have aired a good amount about this question but we are unlikely to say for certain how or why there is a copy. But it seems safe to say that the portrait at Newcastle is by Bigland. Stylistically it is similar to the original (if slightly sketchier and here we can't comment too much without seeing the original) and appears to be a straight copy of the one still in the possession of the family.
It is a step forward for Newcastle University to associate their portrait with the original by Percy Bigland, so thanks to John King for proposing this discussion and to Jacinto for locating the essential information about the original. It is up to the collection to decide, but it seems reasonable to say that this portrait is by Percy Bigland after his original of 1910 now in a private collection.