Dress and Textiles, Portraits: British 18th C, South West England: Artists and Subjects 30 Is it possible to find out who painted this portrait, and confirm who these sitters are?

Topic: Artist

This is rather suggestive of the work of Arthur Devis (1712–1787), who painted a number of such outdoor family portraits.

Jacinto Regalado, Entry reviewed by Art UK


On the sitters, the Collection has added in the artwork description field: 'This painting is thought to be a portrait of John Borlase (1666–1755), and his wife Lydia, the parents of William Borlase. However, the style of dress suggests a date somewhat after Lydia's death in 1725. The facial features of the gentleman are those of the Ustick family, related to the Borlases by marriage.'

Whaley Turco,

In 1742 Davis did a self portrait and used that same shade of Red and used the same finger fiddling. https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/portrait-of-the-artist-152024/search/actor:devis-arthur-17121787/page/1/view_as/grid
1763 Same red, https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/francis-vincent-of-weddington-hall-warwickshire-with-his-wife-mercy-and-daughter-ann-152027/search/actor:devis-arthur-17121787/page/1/view_as/grid
1750 Same red, https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/portrait-of-a-man-in-red-33289/search/actor:devis-arthur-17121787/page/4
He didn't use the red very often. But it was always the same shade and handling. Or so it appears on the uncleaned, photographed paintings. The background on our painting appears to be one of his patented well done settings. It Just needs to be cleaned. Very badly. I Understand not cleaning every painting in the collection. But if you have something that is special for whatever reason maybe a cleaning fund could be set up. The sitters are upper middle class Anglo Saxon. The Clothing and the fellows girth are the upper middle class part and the facial pyramid with the chin as the point and a line across the the cheekbones as the base are the Anglo Saxon part.

Jacob Simon,

Not by Devis in my experience

Marcie Doran,

Online, I found a long paper on William Borlase that includes a portrait that looks much like his father. The paper (WILLIAM BORLASE THE SCHOLAR AND THE MAN by P. A . S POOL, M.A., F.S.A
(an extended version of a Lecture delivered to the Institution in 1964)) is here:

The portrait is here:

The paper states:
“After his bankruptcy his library was sold at Sotheby's, including all Dr. William Borlase's MSS, which he had carefully collected after they had been first scattered after the disappearance of the antiquary's grandson in 1786. The majority, including all the correspondence, is now preserved with many family portraits in the Morrab Library at Penzance, but important items are preserved in the Royal Institution of Cornwall and the British Museum, others are in private hands, and some seem to be lost.”

Jacinto Regalado,

It would be desirable for Lou Taylor to date this picture based on fashion.

Martin Hopkinson,

could this be a collaboration? The man is very unsteadfly posed and the woman in a rathe different style? Charles Jervas died in 1739 and might have begun with the woman?

Miles Barton,

It doesn't appear to be Devis; and having come across many works by Jervas I also wouldn't consider it by him either. The faces and postures are redolent of Thomas Hudson as is the manner of the painting of the material of the ladies dress. However, Hudson generally would paint a double portrait compostion like this on a much larger scale. The finish of the dress is good enough to be the work of Joseph van Aken who painted most of the fabric in Hudson's portraits.

The style of the the gentleman's clothes and wig suggests mid 1740s.

Martin Hopkinson,

Certainly, we should be looking in the Hudson generation. He of course was a West Countryman, being from Devon , and must have known the Borlase family.

Martin Hopkinson,

could it be a collaboration with the elderly Jonathan Richardson [1667- 1745], Hudson's father in law, and teacher ?

Martin Hopkinson,

can the owner tells us the names of any previous owners of this picture?

Martin Hopkinson,

for the Ustick family there is the 1894 Ustick Family Register. Descendants from Thomas Ustick of St Just, Cornwall

Martin Hopkinson,

Rev Henry Ustick of Breage [died 1769] married Mary Borlase at about the time of this picture

Martin Hopkinson,

Most sources give John Borlase's death date 1754 [perhaps by the old calendar ] . He was MP for St Ives

Jacinto Regalado,

I thought the relatively small size was more in keeping with Devis, but Hudson is a very good idea, as the picture does fit his style. Compare to the Hudson below, which I am almost tempted to take for the same person as the man in our picture:


Jacob Simon,

Sadly not Hudson, whose style I know well from the 1979 Hudson exhibition. Nor Richardson. We are looking for a more minor, yet competent hand, possibly based outside London. Not Devis, nor Jervas in my opinion.

Jacinto Regalado,

I suppose one could default, if need be, to style, manner or follower of Thomas Hudson. I quite agree it is not Richardson.

Miles Barton,

I'm not familiar enough with his work but perhaps you are Jacob, but Edward Penny came to mind...?

Jacinto Regalado,

I do not think it looks like Hogarth or Hayman. I suppose one might consider Highmore, but that does not seem quite right.

Martin Hopkinson,

As Jacob wisely suggests , the artist or artists are likely to be provincial , although no portrait by them seem to be in the public collections of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset on artuk.org. The Borlase family were Cornish , of course.
Local history publications of the past may help in identification, as would Borlase family papers. This is not an area of West Country art before Reynolds that is much investigated yet.

Jacinto Regalado,

If the artist was provincial, he was good enough that the name should be known, at least to a period specialist or, more specifically, an authority on conversation pieces.

Lou Taylor, Dress and Textiles,

I would date this painting to about 1725 by the clothes worn by both these members of the Borlase Family. The man's clothes are very similar to those in Philip Mercier's 'The Schultz Family on the Terrace, 1725, (1: TATE T03065) ) - same style of powered wig, same coat without a collar and similar cut, same style of coat cuff with shirt ruffles beneath. The woman is in my view, wearing a mix of artistic dress and fashionable styles- with her low v necked bodice with slightly drapery centre front and rather full sleeves. She is not however in full artistic dress, as is 2: Mary Davison, Lady Eden by Studio of Michael Dahl 1725 (PROANTIC) to give a comparison. Neither is she in straightforward fashionable dress for 1725 as are the women in the Schultz family and as is this English dress from the MET. NY of Spitalfields silk, c 1725-30 no C.1.64.14. I hope this is of some help.SEE via Google:
1:Philip Mercier: 'The Schultz Family on the Terrace, 1725, (TATE T03065). CANNOT DOWNLOAD From Google
2:Studio of Michael Dahl Mary Davison, Lady Eden c 1725 Sold PROANTIC .jpeg (27.78 KB). CANNOT DOWNLOAD from Google.
£> Dress, Spitafields silk, 1725-30, MET NY no C.1.64.14.

Jacinto Regalado,

A date of c. 1725 would exclude Devis, but it could fit an early work by Thomas Hudson, who was from Devon, obviously next to Cornwall.

Jacinto Regalado,

The date of c. 1725 (thanks for your help, Lou) also means the sitters could be William Borlase and his wife Lydia, though of course it does not prove they are.

Miles Barton,

The painting depicting the Scultz family by Mercier show all the gentleman wearing the knotted form of campaign wig which was inspired by that worn by the troops during the wars of the Spanish Succession. This was essentially a wig widely parted and divided into two knotted locks hanging over each shoulder. The knots were always worn to fall down the front and the crown was deeply divided as we see in the Mercier group. The giant cuffs of the coats also fold back as far as the elbow

The “Borlase” gentleman depicted is clearly not wearing such a wig but a later type falling away from the shoulder and down the back, similar in nature to that worn in these portraits





His cuffs also appear marginally shorter and more in keeping with this portrait of Samuel Richardson from c.1750. Richardson’s wig is not parting like our “Borlase”gentleman and represents a slight development from the earlier 1740s.


The lady has much shorter hair than at the time of Michael Dahl and her dress is more structured. Her sleeves are pinned and lace issues forth like this by Devis



Like this Devis portrait where the lady wears a bonnet our lady also has one which she is holding in her lap. Bonnets like this were later than 1725 as I understand.

This is why in my earlier post I suggested the 1740s, which I still find a more likely date in my opinion.

When I first mentioned Hudson it was to propose comparison in style and composition. There is much about the portrait that echoes his work but I concur with Jacob in that it is not by him.

I have asked the collection again for any provenance they might have. The curator is out of the office working on exhibitions until the end of January.

Jeni Woolcock, Collections and Engagement Manager, has replied:

'The painting was first loaned to RCM in 1961, along with 21 other items. Many of them relate to the Borlase’s, with the family being (I presume) descendants.

The listing on Art UK summarises everything that we have on file through previous research on the subjects. The only difference is that our record attributes the painting to Joseph Highmore, 1740, however Lydia Borlase died in 1925.

At a glance, the style of dress for both sitters is more aligned to 1730s fashions than 1720s.

I’m not sure if this helps to pin down the sitters any further, but perhaps the family tree from the 1730s will narrow down the possibilities.'

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