London: Artists and Subjects, Portraits: British 19th C, Portraits: British 20th C 32 Is the 'Young Woman' in E. H. Shepard's portrait really his sister, Ethel?

Portrait of a Young Woman
Topic: Subject or sitter

An author of a book about the artist E. H. Shepard (the 'Winnie-the-Pooh' illustrator) recently wrote a story for Art UK, mentioning a work in the Newport Museum and Art Gallery collection, 'Portrait of a Young Woman'.

The story can be read here:

James Campbell says:

‘Shepard painted relatively few portraits… however… Shepard tells us: ‘I persuaded Ethel [Shepard’s sister] to sit for me. It was an ordinary portrait, but it was accepted by the Royal Academy and hung on the line at the Summer Exhibition, the only success I have ever had with a portrait.’

Until now, it has always been thought that this portrait was purchased at the Summer Exhibition: Shepard makes no further reference to it, and it is not catalogued in his personal archive. From the context it would seem likely that this portrait of Ethel Shepard was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1902, the same year that the Newport Museum and Art Gallery's 'Portrait of a Young Woman' was acquired. Ethel Shepard was of a similar age to the woman pictured in this portrait, and so might this be the ‘missing’ portrait of Ethel? Further enquiries may perhaps throw more light on this intriguing mystery.’

Jade Audrey King, Entry reviewed by Art UK


Osmund Bullock,

Ernest Shepard's portrait of 'Miss Ethel Shepard' was exhibited at the R.A. in 1901, one of two works he showed there that year. If, as seems likely, this is that portrait, then it was perhaps purchased at the R.A. by a private buyer who gave it to the museum the following year. I presume James Campbell has been in touch with the collection to know the acquisition year - a pity if that's all the info they have.

Other than that the obvious course would be to try and find a photograph of Ethel, but again I imagine that Mr Campbell, as a Shepard biographer, must have explored that angle: indeed I see that a 'Minette Shepard' wrote the Foreword, so he's clearly in touch with the family.

According to Graves’ ‘Royal Academy Exhibitors’, Shepard’s ‘Portrait of Miss Ethel Shepard’ was in fact exhibited in 1901 (cat. no. 391). Unfortunately an image of this painting was not included in ‘Royal Academy Illustrated’ for 1901.

Dave Evans,

Although I would imagine that the author is well aware of it's existence the University of Surrey Library holds a Shepard archive which includes photographs of Ethel Shepard (cat nos EHS/F/9), unfortunately they are dated as being c1935 so may not be of too much help in identifying a much younger Ethel), the archive catalogue is online and searchable here

Osmund Bullock,

Ethel Jessie Shepard was not EHS's younger sister, as some sources state (e.g. ) - she was the eldest of the three siblings, born in August 1876, and would have been no more than 24 when this (really extremely nice) portrait was taken.

Inasmuch as it's sensible to speculate about a sitter's character from a portrait, I would say that this young woman seems intelligent and serious-minded, and in conventional terms is plainly no great beauty. So I am unsurprised to discover that, after initially working as a music teacher, in 1923 Ethel Shepard became a missionary in India, and ultimately Head Deaconess of St Hilda's Society in Lahore. Her life was effectively that of a Protestant nun, and she never married. She made very occasional trips home, staying with her surviving brother Ernest - the third sibling, Harry, with whom she had lived before the war, was killed in action on the Somme in 1916. She died in Nov 1941 back in England "after a long illness" . I feel increasingly confident that this is her.

James Campbell is not just in touch with the family, he is in fact *of* the family - he is the son-in-law of Minette Hunt (née Shepard), EHS's granddaughter, and runs the Shepard Trust. See .

Minette was only four when her aunt Ethel died in 1941, and having been taken to Canada at the beginning of the war, may never have met her. Nevertheless I cannot but think that she, John Campbell and the Trust are in the best position to know if this is Ethel or not - surely the family must have some pre-WWI, or at least pre-1920 photos of her?

This discussion, namely “Is the 'Young Woman' in E.H. Shepard's portrait really his sister, Ethel?”, is about a portrait purchased by Newport Museum and Art Gallery in 1902. The discussion has attracted five comments, made on 12 and 13 April 2016. A portrait of Ethel was exhibited by Shepard at the Royal Academy in 1901. As Osmund states, what would be needed to prove the identity would be early photographs of Ethel. In their absence the attractive idea that the portrait represents Ethel remains unproven. On this basis, unless further evidence is submitted, and subject to the agreement of Catherine as Group Leader for 20th Century Portraits, I propose that this discussion should be closed.


Further to Jacob Simon's summary of this discussion from 13 October, would you be kind enough to indicate any thoughts on this discussion and Jacob's proposition that this discussion should now be closed. Thank you.

Kieran Owens,

In 'The Work of E.H. Shepard', by Rawle Knox (Methuen, 1979), the author writes the following regarding the two works that Shepard showed at the RA Summer Exhibition in 1901:

"In 1901 he showed 'A Devonshire Valley', painted at Kingswear, as well as a portrait, 'Miss Ethel Shepard' (Ethel was always patiently ready to sit, particularly for the head; she had long thick fair hair which she never cut."

If Ethel's hair is accurately described here, it does not match the hair on the head of this Discussion's sitter, in either colour or length.

Kieran Owens,

P.S. Shepard's daughter Mary was Rawle Knox's stepmother, so the source of the information has credibility.

Kieran Owens,

Ahhhh, sorry. Scrap that idea. Mary was not born until 1905!!!

Howard Jones,

I believe E H Shepard died in 1976 having been born in 1879 so a good innings. If his older Sister was born in 1876 he would have died one hundred years after her birth.

It is a pity that no one checked with Mr Shepard to ask about the Newport painting while he was still alive before 1976.

Kieran Owens,

Is there any accession information from 1902 that would explain why this portrait was purchased by Newport? Given that Shepard, at the age of 23, would have only been at the start of his artistic career, might the purchase have been made due to the sitter's association with Wales? Are there existing minutes or records that might throw light on this suggestion?

Howard Jones,

The Wonersh Village website has a photograph of the gravestone of Florence Shepard, the sister in law of Ethel. The inscription gives details of other family members.

My Chromebook questions whether this is a secure internet site but I am not sure why.

Louis Musgrove,

Oh er-- Yes Howard-- I hadn't noticed- my browser says Wonersh site is insecure as well-- by my anti virus hasn't detected anything---ok to look - but dont upload anything.

Osmund Bullock,

I think you may mean download rather than upload, Louis!

It has never been clear if this discussion was requested by James Campbell, or if Jade & Art UK took it upon themselves to start it after reading his 2016 AUK 'story' about the missing portrait of Ethel ( Either way I was and remain puzzled that he was apparently not able to answer the basic question of the sitter's identity himself.

As I noted 4½ years ago, he is the son-in-law of Minette Hunt (née Shepard), EHS's granddaughter, and apparently still runs the Shepard Trust, which I understand holds much of the family's archive. Though Mrs Hunt probably never met Ethel (who died in 1941, when her great-niece was four and in Canada), surely she, Mr Campbell and the Trust are in a far better position than us to know what Ethel (and indeed EHS's wife Florence) looked like? To repeat myself, do they not have any pre-WWI, or at least pre-1920 photos of both women? Actually even a later one of Ethel would be helpful if it shows her in profile.

I'd be grateful, too if Jade could clarify the circumstances that led to the discussion. Art UK must have been in touch with Mr Campbell in 2016 anyway, and I assume that at the very least they checked with him if he knew who the sitter was. Was he, rather surprisingly, seeking to establish the identity - or was he just hoping to fill in the gap in its provenance to prove it was the same one that had been shown at the R.A.? Oh, and the usual questions seem not to have been asked of the Collection: is there anything in the way of labels, inscriptions, etc, on the back? And (as Kieran says) do Newport's records show why and from whom it was purchased, if that's correct - and if it isn't, any other information about its acquisition?

Could we perhaps pause the closure, Jacob, Catherine and David? I'm sorry we let this one drift so long ago - in my view it's a delightful portrait, and there's a chance it may be a most interesting one. Now that we have a fuller and very on-the-ball admin team at AD, I think it's worth having another concerted bash at it.

Louis Musgrove,

I have contacted -Harriet Costello-. They have two photos of Ethel- one a family group in Guernsey in 1903- this is not available due to copyright-- and one from 1930- on board ship with E.H. - this is out of copyright and is available for a fee-only £2--but it cannot be share or copied or published in any way -- only for personal research --and one has to fill in a copyright application form. As ART UK is just a hobby for me- I don't want to do this- but perhaps someone official from ART UK could obtain this photo and privately compare it. P.S. I did this as I am a Surrey alumnus-- mind you, a long time ago :-) .

Mark Wilson 01,

If the quote that Keiran gives from Rawle Knox is accurate, this seems unlikely to be a simple portrait of Ethel. It's true that Mary only became his stepmother in 1937 when he was 24 (she was only four years older) and so he might not have have had long to know Ethel and would not have known her when she was young. He also spent much of his life away from England in the War and then as a foreign correspondent for the Observer and Telegraph. But Mary didn't die till 2000 and must have had a lot input into the 1979 publication, which was frequently reprinted.

But Keiran's later question is relevant as well - why did Newport buy a painting in 1902 from a young, unknown artist with no obvious local or Welsh connections? Especially in a genre he never really specialised in. I wonder if some clue is in the picture itself - the woman's dress, the headband in particular, has a sort of Celtic Revival feel to it.

Rather than a simple portrait of an individual, could this be more symbolic or generic? Individual portraits in strict profile are unusual, though not unknown. This might be a portrayal of Young Wales or something similar. Of course Shepard could still have used Ethel as a model and changed her hair colour to something more suitable.

Come to think of it, how do we even know if this is by Shepard? I can't see any signature (though that's probably me missing the obvious) and there's so few similar pictures by him, that you can't really match on stylistic grounds. The collection's records should shed more light on the history.

Howard Jones,

Would the appearance of this painting be changed if it was cleaned. This is not a complaint as the portrait is very good but the yellow and brown tinges are like colours associated with a smokey environment. If the portrait has been in Newport Museum and Gallery since the year it was made then it should look much as it did on the day when the artist painted it.

Osmund Bullock,

Howard, many varnishes yellow with time whatever the environment, especially older ones made with natural resins - the deposit of tar from tobacco smoke is a separate issue. And even in storage (unless wrapped) paintings also acquire a layer of dirt on top of the varnish, which can get sealed in if the painting is re-varnished without prior cleaning. Furthermore humid/damp storage conditions attract mould growth (which can also take the form of yellowy-brown staining)...and to complicate matters further, unventilated wrapping may make that worse.

Our painting is indeed in a bit of a state in many ways, but that could easily have happened in well over a hundred years of gallery / museum storage (much of it in the days when such things were incredibly slapdash). It could certainly do with some skilled conservation work; but even then I can't see her hair magically becoming fair (if that's what you're wondering), though it may well go more towards auburn.

Louis Musgrove,

I have heard from Harriet Costello of Surrey Uni archives. She has kindly compared our sitter to the Shepard family photo of 1903,thus avoiding copyright problems ,and is of the opinion that our sitter is not Ethel. Ethel has sharper features. If an official of Art UK wants to verify by private research they can contact her :-

Howard Jones,

Could this be a different painting from the same Royal Academy Exhibition in 1902? This is all getting a bit odd.

Osmund Bullock,

Howard, if you read the whole discussion you will see that Shepard exhibited just two paintings at the R.A. in 1901 (not 1902, when he did not exhibit) - one was a Devon landscape and the other his portrait of Ethel. The introduction furthermore quotes him as saying that the portrait of his sister was "the only success I have ever had with a portrait", which in the context clearly means it was the only one he showed at the R.A. He implies that he painted other portraits that were not exhibited, and ours could be one of those; or as Mark suggests, it may not really be a portrait as such at all. Or of course it may be the one of Ethel as originally suggested (though that's beginning to look doubtful).

We clearly do need to hear from Newport to answer the various questions raised in previous posts. And is there any news from Art UK about James Campbell? Were they in touch with him when the discussion began, and/or are they trying to get in touch with him and the Shepard Trust now? Without input from either source, there is really nowhere to go with this, and the discussion might as well be closed.

Osmund Bullock,

Thanks, Louis, for your efforts with Surrey University Archives. It's hard to know how to respond, as "sharper features" is a pretty vague assessment - the important question was to do with her hair colour, and that is unfortunately not addressed. I am happy to fund the £2 fee for the (?)later photo, but if it cannot be shown on here that doesn't help us much.

Since the copyright holder of both photos is, I would guess, the Shepard Trust (and they will doubtless have their own copies), I would hope that they / James Campbell would be able to clear us for a perhaps time-limited usage of a suitable detail from one or both images, or perhaps supply them or others themselves - assuming, of course, that they show someone who might possibly be our sitter. But Kieran's discovery about Ethel’s hair throws that into does the appearance of Ethel's two brothers Ernest and Cyril - I'm afraid I can see little or nothing in their faces of a family resemblance to our sitter. Florence looks a *little* more likely; but we need to see a profile, as we do of Ethel. See attached composite.

1 attachment
Louis Musgrove,

Qsmund- Harriet did mention that in the 1903 photo Ethel did have long dark hair like our sitter--- I didn't mention it above as she seemed quite convinced that Ethel did not LOOK like our sitter.

Jacinto Regalado,

Our sitter has a small bump on the upper part of her nose which seems conspicuously absent from the noses of Ernest and Cyril, and probably Florence as well.

Howard Jones,

In reply to Osmund above I was not questioning whether there was a second portrait from the Exhibition painted by E H Shepard, I was suggesting this might be a different painting from the same Exhibition painted by some other artist who was also exhibiting at the same time. This picture could be by a different artist altogether and show someone who had no connection to Shepard.

The painted was listed by the Newport Gallery as being by Shepard but do we know if that claim was correct? As he painted so few oil paintings we do not have other portraits to compare it with.

Louis Musgrove,

Howard yes- As someone suggested above- why should Newport but a picture of Ethel-- more likely they would buy a portrait of a notable Welsh person-- like for instance -- the Marshioness of Anglesea- whose photo has many similarities to our sitter.Like the bump on the Nose and the shape of the chin .{LPARENTHESES} née_Manners),_Marchioness_of_Anglesey_by_George_Charles_Beresford_(1900s).jpg

Osmund Bullock,

Ah, right, Howard. Yes, Mark raised that possibility a few days ago, and I agree that we need to have it confirmed by the Collection. But I can't quite see the logic of the idea: if it is a painting by someone else, how did the unlikely name of Shepard become associated with it in the first place? Are we/you suggesting that Newport acquired two different paintings at about the same time, one by another artist bought from the R.A. exhibition, and one by Shepard acquired elsewhere...and that the two have exchanged identities? It seems very convoluted (though not impossible).

In any case, I don't think even that scenario makes much sense: surely it is only James Campbell in his Art UK story who brought the R.A. into the equation in the first place? He discovered that Newport had a portrait recorded as being by Shepard and purchased in 1902 - at this point we don't know where. He had the idea that it might be the lost portrait of Ethel exhibited at the R.A. at roughly the right time (1901 as it turned out). But other than that we have no evidence that it came from a R.A. exhibition; and until Newport can access their records (and/or the back of the painting itself) we have no reason to believe that it did.

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