Completed Dress and Textiles, North West England: Artists and Subjects, Portraits: British 19th C 13 Is the sitter Marple solicitor Aaron Eccles (1787–1856)?

Topic: Subject or sitter

I attach a PDF making a case for changing the description of the sitter from Samuel Oldknow (1756–1828) to Aaron Eccles (1787–1856).

Neil Mullineux, Entry reviewed by Art UK

1 attachment

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. It has not been possible to confirm that the sitter is Marple solicitor Aaron Eccles (1787–1856), but it is certainly not Samuel Oldknow (1756–1828), so the title has been amended to ‘Portrait of an Unknown Man’. The attribution has been updated to ‘British (English) School’ and the picture dated to the early nineteenth century.

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.


Louis Musgrove,

This sitter has brown eyes- the other Aaron ,35, has blue eyes. The ears are very different. Aaron ,35, has a more bulbous end to his nose. Not too sure they are the same person.

Jacinto Regalado,

I agree the Stockport portrait does not look like the Wright portrait of Oldknow, but it is hardly definite that it is a portrait of Eccles based on the known portrait of him, even if it is not impossible.

Jacinto Regalado,

It would be desirable to get the opinion of a period fashion expert as to date, but this may wind up no better than "Portrait of a Man" by British School.

Jacinto Regalado,

Oh, I definitely think it's first half of the 19th century; the question is whether it's pre-Victorian or early Victorian.

Jacinto Regalado,

Apart from the painfully poor condition, it's a reasonably good portrait, and would no doubt look considerably better with suitable conservation. Ideally, there would be some national centre for that to which public collections without their own means to restore paintings could send such works.

Osmund Bullock,

I agree that this cannot be Samuel Oldknow, though I think these two later images of him - and - are even more persuasive evidence of that: he would clearly have had grey/white hair by the time of this portrait. The full lips and nose shape (straight with slightly upturned end), both consistent in all three, are also quite different in ours.

But I am not convinced by the "remarkable similarity" to Eccles suggested. Louis has mentioned three significant differences, to which I would add that Aaron's lower lip is much fuller. See attached comparison. His blue eye colour is the most telling, as even a bad portraitist will get that right. You might say that the low resolution in our portrait's image makes the true colour unclear - but even with brightness and colour saturation bumped up there is no hint of blueness there. And would a provincial solicitor have had two different oil portraits painted within, at most, ten years? It's possible, but pretty unlikely.

Osmund Bullock,

In any case, even with a far better facial match it would be unwise to say it must be Eccles. We often caution here on the 'looks like' approach to portrait identification - facial appearance alone can rule people out (as I think it does Oldknow), but is seldom works the other way round. Many people's faces look similar, particularly to eyes centuries later, and artists see different things - this is not like comparing photographs. Unless there is some very pronounced and rare physical feature, or some other identifying attribute in the portrait - perhaps an inscribed letter or a view of a known house - it is essential to have provenance or at the very least a traditional identification to work with. Here, apparently, we have nothing.

Jacinto Regalado,

The two faces (ours and that of Eccles) have different "personalities." Eccles looks something like a comic actor, while ours is rather stolid, not to say dull, certainly less vivacious. They are not the same person.

Barbara Bryant,

Considering the unpromising condition of the portrait and the lack of information about it, some good material has been brought forward in this discussion. As Neil Mullineux pointed out, the portrait at Stockport is certainly not Samuel Oldknow, so that is progress, as his name needs to be removed from the Art UK listing for this work. 

As to an identification of the sitter as Aaron Eccles, the comments of Jacinto and Osmund's summary are spot on. We can't make an identification based on facial similarities alone.  I can see the thinking of the Marple Local History Society but the comparison between the portrait in Stockport and the known portrait of Eccles does not give enough information (and is not really close enough) to make a conclusive identification.  It might be worth looking at who gave the portrait in 2001.

If more material ever comes to light, the discussion can be reopened but at this point I suggest closing it as inconclusive.  At present the portrait is best described as  "British (English) School", early 19C, Portrait of an Unknown Man.

This discussion, "Is the sitter Marple solicitor Aaron Eccles (1787–1856)?", should be closed as inconclusive for the reasons spelt out by Barbara in her post of 14 July 2020.