Completed London: Artists and Subjects, Portraits: British 19th C, Portraits: British 20th C 37 If this bee in this painting is the artist’s signature, who is this artist?

Topic: Artist

The acquisition method states that this is a 'Slade student work', and the bee symbol in the upper left-hand corner could be the artist's signature. Perhaps this is enough information to work out the identity of the artist? [Unfortunately the digital image is of such low-resolution that no details can be generated at this moment, but we have asked the Collection for a higher-resolution image and they are currently arranging this for Art UK]

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. On this occasion it has not been possible to identify the artist from the monogram or indeed the sitter.

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.


The Collection have commented: ‘The only information we have on this painting is that it was a Slade transfer, so not part of the prize-system, dated early 1900s. The bee symbol could certainly be something to look into. Can you post it for public discussion as a way of determining the artist’s identity? Very intriguing’

Oliver Perry,

Style rather similar to Charles Tattershall Dodd Ii, though I don't know if he had any Slade connections.

Jacinto Regalado,

If this is Slade student work c. 1900, that is too late for Charles Tattershall Dodd II (b. 1861). However, there is a stylistic similarity to his work, as noted by Oliver.

Marcie Doran,

Could this be by William Rothenstein (1872–1945)? He was a Slade student. Certain elements of the following painting are similar (pose, tie, brown & green background):

“Professor Alfred Marshall (1842–1924), Lecturer in Political Economy and Fellow“

Marcie Doran,

I think the sitter is Bernard Berenson (1865-1959). According to Wikipedia (, he was “an American art historian specializing in the Renaissance” and “while living in Italy, he converted to Catholicism.” This would explain the cross in the Art UK work.

In 1931, Rothenstein wrote an autobiography “Men and memories/recollections of William Rothenstein”. On page 118, he wrote: “In the autumn Bernhard Berenson asked me to come out to Florence to paint his portrait.” On pages 126 and 127, the painting of Berenson is described by Rothenstein’s friends ‘the Michael Fields’. I have attached the entry but here is the link,

According to Wikipedia, “Michael Field was a pseudonym used for the poetry and verse drama of the English authors Katharine Harris Bradley (27 October 1846 – 26 September 1914) and her niece and ward Edith Emma Cooper (12 January 1862 – 13 December 1913). As Field they wrote around 40 works together, and a long journal Works and Days. Their intention was to keep the pen-name secret, but it became public knowledge, not long after they had confided in their friend Robert Browning.”

There are two references to bees on page 127 of the book:
1. The “wild bees” are related to the book by Michael Field (“Wild Honey from Various Thyme” (1908)) that was just about to be released; and,
2. The bee is a symbol of a Rothenstein baby that was due in early 1908. The second bee reference is in the sonnet they wrote in honour of that baby, William Michael Francis Rothenstein, who was born on March 19, 1908 (according to the death registration for him in July 1993, on Ancestry).

Here is a photo of Berenson with his loupe. It is very likely the object in the sitter’s hand in the foreground of the Art UK work.

Jacinto Regalado,

I do not think this is Berenson. It does not match photos of him.

Kieran Owens,

I agree, Jacinto. As per the attached, there is little if any similarity between the two men.

As a portrait by a Slade student it is possibly a teacher or Professor at the school. Trawl of their yearbooks and photo archives might reveal a candidate.

1 attachment
Marcie Doran,

Yes, I agree that the composite shows different men. Thanks for creating it, Kieran. The painting that is discussed in the book is probably this one at the Villa Tatti in Florence,

Andy Mabbett,

It is not a dragonfly, as they do not have such prominent antennae.

It would be good if we could see a higher-resolution close up of the insect.

Osmund Bullock,

Andy, the issue of a higher-res close-up was addressed in the introduction.

It seems vanishingly unlikely it's meant as a morphologically-accurate representation of *any* insect. It's an artist's personal doodle, rather reminiscent of Whistler's 'butterfly', which never looked anything like a real one, and evolved from a combination of the letter J-M-W as a butterfly with a sting into all sorts of more fanciful shapes ( In fact the long antennae here rather suggest an intention of the same thing, and (echoing Martin's question at 24/09/2021 15:16) I wonder if someone put it there to imitate Whistler - either in a poor attempt to deceive, or (perhaps more likely) as a homage to the great man.

Tamsyn Taylor,

The man in this picture has a head which is extremely large, I would say well above the average. The skull is long and the front is domed.

These characteristic are strongly hereditary. A family who has this characteristic is that of Kenneth, Lord Clark, and could be seen, even more pronounced, in his son Alan Clark.
Is it possible that this man is a member of Lord Clark's family?

Tamsyn Taylor,

The beard on the figure in the portrait: a little goatee, just on the very end of the chin like that would have been considered eccentric in England.
Prior to the Great War a man would wear a full moustache that might be quite long and waxed into "handlebars". Beards were popular and generally short but covering the whole chin, and if longer, covered the neck. That little beard would only be seen on a dandy, a painter, a poet or a foreigner. If you were a French Count, it would be acceptable. It wouldn't go down well in the House of Commons.

Jacob Simon,

This discussion, “If this bee in this painting is the artist’s signature, who is this artist?”, is proving difficult to progress.

I think that we need to put ourselves in the mind of a Slade student trying out a portrait. The student may have tried out the insect signature experimentally and may not have gone on to use it subsequently, as is indicated by a lack of similar examples. The student may have been experimenting with painting techniques and, again, may not have gone on to use this style, again making it difficult to identify the artist.

As to the sitter, we might ask ourselves as to individuals to which the student might have had access. This particular portrait, with the distinctive cross, may have depicted a holder of clerical or other office.

As a student work, it may be difficult to make further progress.

Jacob Simon,

Has the time come to close this discussion on the basis that we have been unable to identify the artist?

Jacob Simon,

This discussion, “If this bee in this painting is the artist’s signature, who is this artist?” concerns a Slade student work.

On the artist, I suggested that we need to put ourselves in the mind of a Slade student trying out a portrait (07/02/2022). The student may have tried out the insect signature experimentally and may not have gone on to use it subsequently, as is indicated by a lack of similar examples. The student may have been experimenting with painting techniques and, again, may not have gone on to use this style, making it difficult to identify the artist. We have been unable to answer the question posed in this discussion. We don’t know where the artist came from, so I recommend retaining the current designation, “unknown artist”, with the current helpful note under Acquisition method that it is a Slade student work.

On the sitter, none of the proposed identifications stand up to careful scrutiny. We ask ourselves which individuals might the student have had access. As Kieran says (25/09/2021), as a portrait by a Slade student it is possibly a teacher or Professor at the school. But no satisfactory identification has been advanced. It has also been suggested that the distinctive cross may indicate a holder of clerical or other office. Again we have not been able to make further progress.

On this basis, unless further evidence can be found I propose to recommend closing the discussion in the next week or so.

Kieran Owens,

As a last ditch suggestion, in a hi-res version of this image are there faint traces of writing between the top of the canvas and the crown of the sitter's head? Or is this a phantom illusion as sometimes appears in these lo-res images?

Jacob Simon,

Thanks for two further suggestions. For my part, I cannot detect writing at the top of the picture but perhaps ArtUK could check a higher res image and report back.

Edmund Wyly Grier (1862–1957) did indeed study at the Slade, presumably in the 1880s, and he sometimes used a streaky background. But the portrait in the composite dates to 1930, almost half a century later than Grier’s Slade days. In any case we would need more substantial evidence. Sadly the comparison does not provide a convincing basis for an attribution.

Marcie Doran,

Perhaps the insect is formed from the letter G of Grier’s name. I have attached a composite based on one of his signatures on the Artfox website.

An article from 1906 describes a painting done very quickly that was "a sort of idealized Tolstoi [sic]".

Many of Grier's male sitters have their hands in similar positions to those in the mystery work. My example is based on a painting on the MutualArt website.

Jacob Simon,

For this to form a basis for an attribution we'd need to be sure that other Slade students did not adopt the same approach.

My sincere thanks to Jacob Simon, who has completed his agreed term of one year as group leader for 'Portraits: British 19th C', which he generously extended by five months. It has been wonderful to have Jacob on the team. His extensive knowledge, including on the vital physical history of the works under discussion, has added greatly to our understanding of the paintings. Jacob’s energy and enthusiasm helped new discussions to move at a lively pace and encouraged work on many dormant discussions. We warmly welcome him to come back as a contributor in future!

Many contributors will already know Jacob’s pages on the National Portrait Gallery website, which were developed from his books. Anyone new to researching paintings can learn a fantastic amount from these resources.
British artists’ suppliers, 1650–1950
The Art of the Picture Frame
British picture restorers, 1600–1950
British bronze sculpture founders and plaster figure makers, 1800–1980

I’m sure everyone will join me in warmly welcoming Dr Ruth Brimacombe, who takes over from Jacob. Ruth, now a freelance art historian and curator, worked at various roles at the National Portrait Gallery from 2010–2016, including as Collections Curator 19th Century. She recently co-curated the exhibition 'Uncommon Power: Lucy and Catherine Madox Brown' with the Watts Gallery in Surrey. In 2017, she co-curated 'Picturing the News: The Art of Victorian Graphic Journalism'. This online exhibition drew on her PhD research into the artist-reporters of the illustrated press.

Osmund Bullock,

Having just left the forum in a huff it's odd for me to be saying anything, really; but I very much wanted to add my appreciation and thanks to Jacob, whose very active leadership over nearly 18 months, and breadth and depth of experience, knowledge and wisdom, have been of inestimable value to Art Detective. We were blessed to have him.

Needless to say, I'm still lurking in the shadows (and, who knows, may at some point be tempted to step out of them), so it may not be entirely daft for me to echo Marion's warm welcome to Ruth, and wish her a fruitful and happy tenure. Group Leader can be a challenging and oft times frustrating job: as ever I am bowled over by the sheer quality of people AD manages to get to undertake it.

Kieran Owens,

Many thanks to Jacob for his elegant injection of scholarly erudition into the past many discussions. Best wishes to him in all of his future endeavours.

Welcome, Ruth. Your own credentials offer us all hope for more disciplined, incisive, fact-based, wild-speculation-free and huff-preventing contributions in the future.

Andrew Shore,

As a slightly different idea, could the signature be some kind of pun? There was an artist at the Slade called Arthur Pollen. He later became a sculptor due to his colour-blindness: Perhaps this is one of his before he switched to sculpture?

He married fellow Slade student Daphne Baring (know later by her married name: Her 'Portrait of a Bearded Man' and other works are also at UCL, and could be similar in style to this one.

Many of the Slade student works (which you can see on Art UK) have that darkish green background as that was clearly the backdrop in the room where they were taught.

UCL Culture,

Many thanks to you all for careful detective work into the possible artist and/or sitter of this portrait painting. The insect is an intriguing clue to cracking the mystery but I don't think it's lead us to a viable answer. I think we should keep current attribution - but am also happy to keep the question open for later detectives.

Louis Musgrove,

J Bee--- John Francis Bee ????? born 1895. Perhaps???

Thank you for your warm welcome to the group. I'm looking forward to seeing what our combined sleuthing might uncover!

Having reviewed the thread of discussion above, I have to agree with Jacob and UCL's view that although you put forward some intriguing suggestions - they have not yet led us to the kind of concrete evidence needed to change the attribution for this work.

To me the playfulness of the monogram (more dragonfly than bee) seems at odds with the seriousness of the sitter's occupation and demeanour - creating a disjunctive effect that speaks more of experiment than intent. Clearly painted by a distinctive hand, the marked use of light, the peculiar monogram and the unusual style of beard do all offer tantalising clues to the artist and sitter - but, for the present, I'm afraid, they do retain their mystery.

On this basis, I would recommend closing the discussion for now.