Photo credit: Royal Pharmaceutical Society Museum
Further information is sought on the identity of this pharmacist. The only information the collection currently has about the painting is from a label on the reverse of the canvas: ‘Sherbon and Tillyer, Artists' Colourmen, 321 Oxford Street, London’. Sherbon and Tillyer were in business from 1847–1862.
The collection would very much welcome any feedback on the history of the painting that an Art Detective discussion might uncover.
This discussion is now closed. The title has been updated to ‘Portrait of an Unknown Man’, the artist record changed from ‘Unknown’ to British School and the painting dated to the 1850s.
Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.
This portrait is of sufficient quality for a specialist on mid 19th century portraits to identify the artist
Possibilities include Thomas Phillips and H.W. Pickersgill.
Phillips may be too early, however, since he died in 1845.
More likely the latter in view of the dates at which Sherbon and Tiller were active. So the sitter's name might be found by searching through Pickersgill's exhibits at the RA .
It would be helpful to know approximately when and how the collection acquired this work. Presumably a bequest? Did the previous owner supply the title as Unknown Pharmacist or is there a label with that information? I am intrigued as to how it is known that sitter was a pharmacist!
My no doubt clumsy attempt at reviewing the RA exhibition catalogues for the years in question online did not succeed, but surely others with more experience or knowledge can do so. Of course, if Pickering's portraits for that period are only specified by name of sitter without an indication of occupation, it may not help.
I meant Pickersgill's portraits, obviously, not Pickering's.
Pickersgill painted a number of medical men, including this one:
Note the similar treatment of the hair to that in our picture.
It is curious that nearly all of the portraits in the RPS Museum collection are of prominent members of the society, mostly its presidents, and this is the only portrait for which the sitter is not known. Are there any presidents for whom there is no known portrait even though there should be? And as already asked by Grant above, how is it known that this gentleman was indeed a pharmacist?
I'm afraid I don't share your optimism, Martin, that the artist could be identified from style alone. Although I agree it's a good portrait, there seems nothing particular in the way it's painted - there were dozens of portraitists working in this style (and size) in the mid-C19th, and many were capable of this quality (if not always consistently). Indeed, I am for ever coming across impressive early Victorian portraits by people I've never heard of - look, for example, at the work of William Gush ( https://bit.ly/2OFQ5hi ), who painted another portrait in the R. Pharm. Soc's collection.
Like Grant I am puzzled that the Collection know the sitter was a pharmacist if they have no further information about the portrait at all - perhaps they just assume it because all their other ones seem to be; but actually his dress is very typical (though not uniquely) of mid-century non-conformist ministers. On the subject of date, if the portrait is within the 1847-1862 span suggested by the rear mark for Sherborn [not Sherbon] & Tillyer, I feel it probably belongs to the beginning of the period. And is it really on a label? - prepared canvases usually have the supplier's mark stamped or stencilled on the canvas itself.
Pickersgill is possible, though most of his portraits show more than a half-length without hands, and his heads seldom fill so much of the canvas. I can't see any reference to the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain in his RA exhibits, but I haven't looked as thoroughly as I might - if you want to check, Jacinto, go here: https://bit.ly/2QNmTpZ
In the absence of artist's, sitter's and donor's names (or any other clues to its origin), it is hard to see how any progress can be made with this. The only other thing to hope for is a signature lurking unseen in the darkness at the bottom. As often, with some tweaking of the image I imagine I can see something written lower left, but I'm usually wrong - a view of the high-res version would probably clear that up.
Sorry, Jacinto, some overlap with your post. I agree that your 'missing presidents' approach (if he was one) could bear fruit - from the portraits shown the relevant missing ones seem to be from the years 1845-47 & 1852, though the overlap years in many cases suggest there may be others. But I rather suspect the RPS would have figured that out before now themselves, and concluded for whatever reason that he was not one of their 'lost' presidents.
Actuially, Osmund, William Gush seems to have painted quite a few clergymen in similar dress to that of our picture, though if this were to be by him, it would be somewhat above his average.
I agree as to Gush's average, and his women are terrible. But of the men I'd say at least a third are of a comparable standard, and a couple are really very good (perhaps more if poor condition is obscuring their merits)...and I did say that my 'many' other artists were "not always consistently" capable of this quality!
Thank you for the link, Osmund. For the years in question, 1847-1862, I did not find anyone suitable among Pickersgill's RA portraits.
I agree with Osmund. While this is a portrait of some quality (somewhat Raeburn-esque), there simply isn't enough to go on for an attribution on style alone. The discussion can play out a bit more and if the Royal Pharm.Soc. Museum can give some more information about the back of the picture, and the appearance of the label/mark, it might well help.
Osmond's suggestion that this sitter is possibly a mid-century non-conformist minister raises the question as to whether this portrait could actually be an earlier one of the Society's first president, William Allen (1770 - 1843).
The attached composite (please excuse it messiness) is presented for comparisons with several know images of Allen during his life.
The Transactions of the Pharmaceutical Society notes that at a Meeting of the Council held on the 1st December 1852, it was resolved unanimously "That thanks of this Council, in the name of the Society, are due, and are hereby given, to Jacob Bell, for his donation to the Society of the beautiful and correct Portrait, by Henry Briggs, R.A., of our late and esteemed friend and first president, Mr. William Allen, F.R.S." The painted was commissioned in 1843, when Allen would have been aged 73.
The Briggs portrait can be seen here:
At the Royal Academy exhibition of 1843, T. F. Dicksee's portrait of Allen, also aged 73 in this year, was painted for the Theatre of the British and Foreign School Society, and was show in the East Room as exhibit no 85. Details of the history of this painting can be seen here:
It is obvious when comparing the Dicksee's and the Briggs portraits that Allen looks significantly older in the former than he does in the latter. And in Charles Baugniet's lithograph from Dicksee's portrait he looks older still:
Page 470 of the 9th December 1871 edition of The Pharmaceutical Journal & Transactions notes that Thomas Hyde Hills, the Society's President from 1873 to 1876, donated two portraits of William Allen to the Society, though it does not say whether these are oils. Is the Society aware of which portraits these are? Perhaps this detail is contained in any existing Accessions Catalogue in their care.
Compared to the known later works, if this portrait is of Allen it could show him at age 60 of thereabouts, so roughly in the year 1830.
I do hope the RPS can provide some more information, because I am of the opinion that the better the work, the more it deserves elucidation as to painter and sitter or subject, and this portrait is a fine picture. I confess I sometimes turn up my nose at works discussed here of clearly very minor or inferior nature, though I suppose a detective should not so much judge as discover.
And Kieran, our man does not look like Allen to me, especially since all his other portraits uncovered by your admirable diligence look like each other but not like our mysterious pharmacist.
What is remarkable and potentially useful from Kieran's composite is that the dress of our sitter is very similar to that Allen, if perhaps a bit later, and it supports Osmund's observation that our man may have been a non-conformist minister.
Note also that our man has a mole next to his right nasolabial fold, which Allen's portraits do not show.
There doesn't appear to be a signature lower left (or right). I will attach the high-resolution image as soon as possible.
Jacinto, I have considered the mole, but this is not Samuel Cooper painting Cromwell, and it may well be that the mole has been been "airbrushed" out of the the other known paintings shown, in deference to the sitter. It also might be the case that the mole is actually visible on the lithograph, but the low resolution of available images does not permit a definite conclusion. After all, none of these portraits are really true-to-life. The top-row right-hand painting detail, taken from 'The Anti-Slavery Society Convention, 1840' work by Benjamin Robert Haydon, clearly shows Allen with a very balding head, which is not shown in either of the later Dicksee or Briggs paintings. Jacob Bell is the other quasi-Quaker/non-conformist associated with the Pharmaceutical Society and our painting looks nothing at all like him:
Were there other non-conformist chemists or pharmacists who might have deserved to have their portraits accepted into and show by the Society?
Kieran, the mole aside, Allen does not look like our man. He had a longer, more oval and kindlier face, as opposed to a squarish, block-like face reminiscent of that of a banker or businessman. The eyes, to me, are quite different.
If you are right, then we'll have to find another non-conformist chemist or pharmacist who might have deserved to have had his portrait accepted into and shown by the Society.
I'm afraid we won't get much further unless the RPS can come up with something useful, so we will have to wait and see.
If the photo of Gifford is from the time of his presidency, when he would have been about 71, then our man looks too young to be him. Also, the photo does not appear to show the mole. However, the dress does match, more or less. Was Gifford a non-conformist minister?
Many thanks for all the comments.
The only information we have regarding the date of the canvas is from the label on the reverse: Canvas stamp on reverse reads: 'Sherbon and Tillyer / artists' colourmen / 321 Oxford St'. Sherbon and Tillyer, Artists' Colourmen, 321 Oxford Street, London were active from 1847-1862.
The canvas is not signed. The earliest mention of the painting found so far in Society records is from 1976; where it is recorded as of an 'unidentified gentleman'. I have amended our records recording him as an unknown pharmacist, as there is no evidence that the subject was a pharmacist (other than it being in the collection here).
The dimensions, including gilt frame, are: height 944 mm and width 820 mm.
The only potential sitter is Joseph Gifford (1781-1857), who was President of the Pharmaceutical Society from 1852-1853. I attach a scan of the only image we have found of Gifford.
The photograph of Gifford was lent by his daughter to the Pharmaceutical Journal for an article on past Society Presidents in 1891. Unfortunately we don't have a copy in the collection or know the date it was taken.
Many of the other oil portraits or photographs of past Society Presidents do not date from the time they were President. Often they were bequeathed at a later date. Therefore it is plausible that this painting could be a lot earlier.
I have read Joseph Gifford's brief obituary and there is no mention of him being a non-conformist minister.
Joseph Gifford is only a suggestion as he was the nearest match I could find in terms of date and appearance.
The photo of Gifford must nonetheless be close to the time he was president, since he died only four years later. Since the painting is currently dated ca. 1850s, the apparent ages in the two images do not match.
I suppose, given William Allen's prominent affiliation and association with the Quakers apart from pharmaceutical concerns, our man may have been a Quaker minister connected to him, but Allen died in 1843, and this picture is presumed to be at least some years later.
With the passage of two years, I think we will need to close this discussion. The canvas stamp dates the picture to the 1850s but more than that is just speculative. There is no record of the work before 1976 and that does not help. The discussion can always reopen at a later date if someone recognises this picture. I recommend closing with the title Portrait of an Unknown Man, by unknown British artist, and date it 1850s.