Portraits: British 20th C, Scotland: Artists and Subjects 52 comments Does anyone recognise the artist’s signature in this portrait?
© the copyright holder. Photo credit: Paisley Museum and Art Galleries, Renfrewshire Council Collections
The painting is signed top left, but the signature appears indecipherable (see attached).
The Collection commented: 'In terms of acquisition method, the register reveals that it was catalogued retrospectively, and that any data originally associated with the painting was not recorded. This was about 1993. The only other way to trace information would be to go through museum records held in archives, although I'm afraid I am unable to do so at present. My colleague at the store managed to obtain a snapshot of the label on the back of the painting (attached) and I hope this is of some help.'
a guess = could it be by a West of Scotland Jewish artist? There was a 1979 exhibition of Jewish art at Glasgow Museum and Art Gallery
It reminds me a bit of the manner [rather than style] of some of the post war paintings by the Manchester painter Emmanuel Levy [1900-86] - but I do not think that it is by him
Based on dress (on which I am no expert), I would say this is c. 1920s. No doubt a real expert could be more definitive.
The framing label on the reverse of the frame, reading Kelmans, 4X Gibson St, Glasgow W [X indicates an obscured digit] is probably the label of the following individual, whose entry in Mapping Sculpture is given below. I do not know when the business relocated to Gibson St but the label is certainly later than 1920. Additionally it is worth noting that the Glasgow newspaper held by the sitter has a photograph on the front page. When did this newspaper move away from a front page with text only?
Alex Kelman (active 1910-1951), Carver, gilder
Located at 229 St. Vincent Street Glasgow | 1910 (Circa) - 1911 (Circa)
Located at 113 Dumbarton Street Glasgow | 1920 (Circa) - 1921 (Circa)
Located at 45 Gibson Street Glasgow | 1950 (Circa) - 1951 (Circa)
'Alex Kelman', Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain and Ireland 1851-1951, University of Glasgow History of Art and HATII, online database 2011 [http://sculpture.gla.ac.uk/view/organization.php?id=msib1_1261050495, accessed 22 Dec 2020]
Might the sitter be someone with a professional connection to the paper he holds, which is probably the Glasgow Herald? If so (e.g. a retirement portrait) that might indirectly help with the artist. Bit of a long shot but if so there may be photos in its records.
Yes, I also thought it likely a retirement portrait of a long-serving employee at the newspaper, and more like 1950s, give or take – he is dressed like that because he hasn’t changed how he dresses since the 1920s. I don't think it’s by a professionally-trained artist – the hands are strangely elongated – but (s)he’s captured something appealing in the face.
I initially guessed it was the Glasgow Herald (though the letter just peeping out doesn't really look like a gothic 'H'). But if it *is* the Herald, there is an anomaly: they didn't put news and pictures on their front page until Oct 1958...but the masthead font was changed at the same time from gothic to more standard Times-like capitals. See https://bit.ly/3hboVxC (put "Oct 1958" in the date box). So either it’s not the Herald, or the artist was incompetent...or perhaps this was a special edition, or at least a mock-up front page, printed in the sitter’s honour with an historical gothic masthead.
1958 was the Glasgow Herald's 175th anniversary, so it could be that the Gothic masthead and the inclusion of a photograph were a symbolic mock-up of a change of style from old to new and the portrait celebrates that transition. The fact that it is in the collection at Paisley might also be relevant, even though it his only ten miles or so west of Glasgow. It is a long shot, but perhaps if the portrait was printed in The Herald it might generate a response that would help with its identification.
Thank you latest thoughts on this portrait. We'll circulate the image on social media and contact The Herald.
The image on Art UK may be cropped at the sides and lower margin. If so, a fuller image may show more details of the newspaper.
Could you possibly add a close up HR image of the signature please
The best close-up we could get from Art UK's image is attached at the top of this discussion. It's possible the image has been cropped, a common problem. We'll ask the collection about both of these questions.
The Collection have confirmed that the image on Art UK is not cropped and that they unfortunately do not have a close up hi-res image of the signature.
Would another line of enquiry, or 'thread' be to focus on the famous thread industry in Paisley and consider whether this might be a member of the Coats family. Entirely co-incidental but I note one of the members of the family, Thomas Heywood Coats died in 1958; father of the last Coats family chairman, Sir William Coats.
Could this be William Crosbie's signature? There are lots of examples to compare with on Art UK: https://artuk.org/discover/artists/crosbie-william-19151999
Attached is a visual representation of how The Glasgow Herald's masthead changed between the 2nd and the 7th October 1958. No photograph ever appeared on the cover of an edition using the older gothic typeface.
(Posted as it's easier to read than searching as suggested by Osmund in December of 2020)
Crosbie was a regular exhibitor at the Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts. So scrutiny of Roger Billcliffe's multivolume equivalent of Graves might prove rewarding. I think that Andrew is right.
Crosbie was not a prolific portratist, but an entertaining man
He also exhibited at the RSA
The signature on this example of Crosbie's work is very clear but it does not resemble the signature on the work under discussion https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/woman-and-horse-jason-214598
Thanks, Kieran Owens, for the helpful information about the Glasgow Herald masthead changes. The fact that no photograph ever appeared on the cover of an edition using the older gothic typeface, would suggest that the artist (whoever they are) was using artistic licence in their depiction of the Glasgow Herald newspaper (if it is indeed the Glasgow Herald).
The portrait under consideration is signed in the top left hand corner, as is this example of a portrait by Crosbie held by the Hunterian Art Gallery, yet the two signatures are dissimilar.
I wonder whether the artist is Paisley's own Alexander Goudie, there are a number of his portraits on ArtUK signed at top left and it seems more likely Goudie than Crosbie (whose signatures are usually clearly painted) to my eye.
Taking up Kieran's suggestion that the depiction of the newspaer could suggest a date of c.1958, Goudie exhibited a work titled "Gordon Houston Esq" at the RSA Annual Exhibition in 1959 (400).
IF the 1959 RSA Exhibit and the present work are one and the same then it looks unlikely to be a commission as the work carried a catalogue sale price of £40.00.
We can confirm that the work remained unsold at the close of the exhibition.
I think that the Goudie suggestion is a red herring. I don't think that the signature looks like his, neither is does the painting resemble the style of his commissioned portraits.
I can't read the signature but could this be a work by Henry Young Alison (1889–1972)? He was a student at the Glasgow School of Art and later a teacher and then Interim Director there.
My composite is based on this work and three others: 'Elizabeth Paton', a painting of a man found by Googling the artist's name (it probably used to be on Invaluable.com), and 'Lilly Jamieson'.
Would it be possible to have a better image of the left-hand side of the sitter's face (his right), please? And both of his hands.
I think it would be beneficial to see and understand the paint's texture and judge how much information is hidden by dirt on the surface of the canvas.
Thanks very much.
As previously noted, his left hand (our right) at least is bizarrely and most unnaturally elongated. Whether that is a sign of a mistake by an untrained, perhaps amateur artist or a deliberate choice by a professional with a particular idiosyncrasy I cannot say; but it might be something to look out for elsewhere.
I'm not so concerned now about the paper's masthead (and the possibility that it's not the Herald at all). Although the letter beginning the last word looks little like a Gothic 'H', it doesn't really look like any other Gothic capital either; I suppose it got distorted in the artist's struggle to squash it on to the bottom of the canvas. See attached.
Should we be looking through editors and leading columnists of the Glasgow Herald of the post war period?
An opinion as to date from a customs expert would be valuable
Alastair Phillip, Glasgow's Herald 1783-1983 should throw up some names
The Scottish National Portrait Gallery might have a likeness of this man - one should look under the newspaper's publishers George Outram too
could the signature be enlarged? could it be by David Donaldson? He sonetimes placed his signature top left and occasionally used striking red backgrounds for his portraits
Martin, there's an enlargement of the signature in your own introduction at the top - or do you mean an even larger one, though I doubt that would help?
many thanks for reminding me - I am dubious about my suggestion of Donaldson. May be we should be looking beyond the West of Scotland?
Many thanks for the suggestions regarding this painting so far.
Staff are still working full-time on the capital redevelopment of Paisley Museum at present, however, I have taken another screenshot of the high res image of this painting. I don't think it is particularly useful but will attach it just in case it prompts any new thoughts.
With thanks again,
-Art Curator, Paisley Museum
The artist certainly could be David Abercrombie Donaldson (1916–1996) as suggested by Martin (11/02/2023 19:54). Perhaps one of Donaldson’s teachers at the Glasgow School of Art was Henry Young Alison.
The letter "D" could be in two parts, as in his work 'Maria Donaldson and Ciao'.
I have attached composites based on two of Donaldson's paintings that show similar hands to those in the mystery work.
Our signature appears similar to that in Donaldson's "Maria," and the style is similar to that of at least some of his portraits on Art UK.
Could the sitter be David Robertson? See the portion of text below his undated photo in an article in 1986. Another photo of him was published in 1995.
I'm confused, Marcie. Are you suggesting our portrait dates from c.1993, when David Robertson (b. Jun 1928) retired - though not from the Glasgow Herald or any other Glasgow paper, but from his final 22 years at the Stirling Observer? Or perhaps from 1969 when he left the Glasgow Evening Times after 15 years (plus three before that in a branch office of the same newspaper group, which included the Herald)...and was, um, 41 years old? Or from some other time, and if so when exactly...and where?
Having read the 1986 newspaper story you posted for us, which gives exact details of Robertson's career up to that point (and age), and also looking at the other 1995 story which tells us he'd recently retired (I assume at around age 65), I just can't for the life of me figure out why you think the man in our portrait could possibly be him. To me neither his age, nor his career movements and timings, nor the papers who employed him seem to work: am I missing something?
Those are certainly valid points, Osmund.
As the attached image from 1958 shows, the sitter wouldn’t have been James Holburn, the editor of the Glasgow Herald at that time.
I believe that there is a strong comparison to be made between the signature on this portrait and the one on Donaldson's 'Maria Donaldson & 'Ciao'' portrait. Can you post hi-res versions of both of these, so that that comparison might be more convincingly made?
We already have a high-res version of our one - well, actually *two* now, thanks to Victoria @Paisley (13/02/2023 09:14) - but I second the request for a clearer view of the one on Maria D & Ciao https://tinyurl.com/3u3wpupf. I agree it seems close to ours, as noted by Marcie some days ago.
I've been doing a lot of work on Donaldson's oeuvre vis a vis our portrait in the last few days, and am now pretty sure it's by him. I've also much more info including exact date-spans on the presumed framer, Kelman - a family, it seems, not just one man. Unfortunately last night I had a major dental crisis, and having lost my trusted dentist of many years some months ago, I'm rather busy seeking an urgent replacement!
I have been contacted about this painting by ArtUK ‘Art Detective’ Marcie Doran, because she found I have David Donaldson in one of my family trees on Ancestry.
She wondered “..who was the sitter?” And “Do you have any information that would help the discussion?”
David Donaldson is of interest to me as he is a cousin of a Scottish Uncle of mine who was himself an artist, Norman MacLeod.
To start with I do think this painting is by David Donaldson, when comparing it with portraits and signatures in the W. Gordon Smith biography (1996).
I did a quick bit of online research along the lines of Glasgow Herald editors or owners, but drew a blank as there was no likeness to a couple of famous ones and a lack of photos of others.
I fired off a couple of messages to contacts in Scotland in case they could help.
The husband of a cousin inadvertently pointed me in the right direction, towards
Glasgow Herald editor George Outram, but he is too early, 1805-1856. Then I found George Outram & Co, publishers and printers, continued as owners into the 20th century, so perhaps the sitter was a descendant, but again there was a lack of likenesses of them.
I next learned that House of Fraser boss Hugh Fraser, 1st Baron Fraser of Allander (1903-1966), bought George Outram & Co Ltd in 1964, taking over The Glasgow Herald. He died 2 years later. What did he look like? There were lots of black and white photos, one or two when he was old with a hat on, and also a 1964 portrait by Scottish society portrait artist Sir Herbert James Gunn, which can be found on the ArtUK website.
Comparing the Gunn portrait with photos and with our unknown sitter, I’m pretty sure our sitter is Hugh Fraser, 1st Baron Fraser of Allander (1903-1966), owner of The Glasgow Herald from 1964-1966, probably painted about 1966 by David Donaldson.
This seems not to be the case as Fraser was not bald and had a very different shape to his head in Gunn' s 2 portraits
It was kind of you to do all that research, Trevor. Thank you. Please don't hesitate to post again if you have another idea as to sitter. I’ve run out of ideas.
Trevor, thank you for joining the discussion.
We don't have high-res images for either painting, but the attached details suggest a good match with David Abercrombie Donaldson's signature.
Trevor, I don't think this is Hugh Fraser, for the same reasons as Martin, but any other suggestions would be most welcome. It's good to know that you think this painting is by Donaldson after comparing it with portraits and signatures in the W. Gordon Smith biography.
I haven’t changed my opinion though.
1. Hugh Fraser had less or possibly no hair at the end of his life (see photo); he died young in 1966 aged 63, just 2yrs after taking over the Glasgow Herald. He could even have been having cancer treatment to lose his hair. He’s smoking in most photos.
2. David Donaldson’s body shape likenesses weren’t great at times.
This is obviously a late photo with less hair visible…
Keep an open mind, I say!
I agree on keeping an open mind! On paper (forgive the pun) Hugh Fraser seems so promising. I hope you are right. The attached image may be better than the website version.
The eyes and the nose look different to me, even apart from the hair.
The Donaldson signature comparison looks convincing but compared to his later 20th-c. work on Art UK this example has a relatively early appearance and would Hugh Fraser really have been wearing a round-collared (?1940s/ early 50s) shirt and stringy tie like that at the end of his life in the early 1960s? Suits can be hard to date but a costume comment from someone might be useful.
if by Donaldson, it must be relatively early. Working in Glasgow for 20 years I saw many portraits by him. The hands worry me a bit
It must be obvious to anyone who is taking Art UK research seriously, and from the perspective of fact-based evidence rather than fanciful and oft-times ludicrous speculation, that there is no possibility that this is Sir Hugh Fraser. He had a very decent head of hair right up to two years before he died in 1966, as evidenced by the portrait of him in the attached composite which was executed in 1964. Also, newspapers reported that Lord Fraser died of a heart attack, and not of cancer.