Portraits: British 18th C, Wales: Artists and Subjects 12 Is this a portrait by an artist with local links to Anglesey?

Topic: Artist

This portrait of Ambrose Lewis is dated 1726 and shows the arms of Hwfa ap Cynddelw (d. c1139), Lord of Llifon and founder of the noble tribe of North Wales. Ambrose Lewis (c.1656–1729) was the rector of Llanrhuddlad and became the largest landowner in the parish of Cemlyn on the north coast of Anglesey. His main residence was Neuadd, a short distance from Cemlyn Bay. Descended from the Presaddfed stock, his son William was later bequeathed the Llysdulas Estate. He was buried at Llanrhwydrys Church. Unfortunately, we have no clues as to the identity of the artist. Could it be an itinerant artist or someone with local links? Edward Owen of Penrhos was active at the time, moving between Anglesey and London where he received his training. Incidentally, in 2014 the arms of Hwfa ap Cynddelw were adopted as the official flag for Anglesey.

Oriel Môn, Entry reviewed by Art UK


Jacinto Regalado,

It is certainly provincial work. Edward Owen was a pupil of Thomas Gibson, and his self-portrait from 1732 (below) appears more accomplished (albeit inferior to Gibson):


Marcie Doran,

I am wondering if the artist was John Smibert.

According to Wikipedia, “John Smibert (rarely spelled Smybert) was a Scottish American artist born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on 24 March 1688, and died in Boston, Massachusetts, British America on 2 April 1751“.

Please see, for comparison, this work at the Yale University Art Gallery.
“Reverend Joseph Sewall (1688-1769)
ca. 1735
Oil on canvas
29 7/8 × 24 3/4 in. (75.9 × 62.9 cm)“

Note that it is also oval and has a similar background colour, collar and robe.

The hair in this portrait of the exact same size at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston is similar.
“Thomas Hancock
John Smibert (American (born in Scotland), 1688–1751) 1730
Oil on canvas
76.2 x 63.5 cm (30 x 25 in.)”

Osmund Bullock,

Marcie, 30 x 25 in. was an absolutely standard canvas size for hundreds of years. Probably hundreds of different painters used it for thousands of different portraits, so as evidence of anything it is almost useless. Similarly, framing a portrait within a painted oval was fashionable in the 17th & early 18th Century, and many, many different painters did so. The exact way the oval is painted can be revealing, but if you look carefully at the bottom corners of both your Smiberts you'll see they are done differently to ours.

Besides, Smibert may not have been the *most* sophisticated of artists, but he was streets ahead of our very provincial, almost primitive artist, who was probably self-taught.

Osmund Bullock,

Sorry, I should have said "... almost naïve artist" rather than 'primitive'.

Jacinto Regalado,

The sitter's vital dates should appear in the Art UK entry.

Jacob Simon,

Little progress after 18 months. I suggest two ways forward:

1. Could Art UK provide a higher resolution image of the inscriptions a bit below the shield, please.

2. Can we identify an expert in Welsh artists, and itinerant artists in Wales, of the period around the 1720s? Pobably most likely to be found at the National Museum or the National Library but not known to me.

Jacob Simon,

The inscription is in three lines with line 3 in a different hand.

Line 1: The Revd Mr Ambrose Lewis (or something like)

Line 2: illegible? The name of the artist??

Line 3: Aetatis Suae 65 1726 (or something like)

Jacob Simon,

Just to report that this portrait does not feature in John Steegman's published survey of portraits in Welsh houses. Nor is it recorded in the Heinz Archive and Library, NPG.

So I continue to suggest that an answer to the discussion question, "Is this a portrait by an artist with local links to Anglesey?" lies in Wales and probably beyond the reach of Art Detectives.

Jacob Simon,

Am I right in suggesting, see above, that an answer to this discussion question, "Is this a portrait by an artist with local links to Anglesey?" lies in Wales and probably beyond the reach of Art Detectives?

Jacob Simon,

This discussion concerns a fine portrait of Ambrose Lewis (c.1656–1729), rector of Llanrhuddlad in Anglesey. He has an importance in local culture, given that the arms shown in the picture have been adopted for the official flag for Anglesey. The discussion asks, “Is this a portrait by an artist with local links to Anglesey?” It attracted five contributions on the first day in July 2021. Since then silence apart from my own posts in 2023 trying to identify a way forward.

THE PORTRAIT. Marion kindly provided a detail of the inscription below the shield but it is difficult to make out in an on screen image. Does the collection have a more precise reading than the one I gave (25/01/2023) ?

THE SITTER. Looking at Lewis’s year of birth there is a discrepancy between the c.1656 quoted by the collection and the c.1661 implied by the dating on the picture (‘Aetatis Suae 65 1726’, if correctly transcribed). So it is all the more important for the collection to provide a precise reading of the inscription. Lewis’s year of death, 1729, is confirmed by his probate record, available online at FindMyPast.

THE ARTIST. The Collection asks whether it could be the work of Edward Owen. Unfortunately, his oeuvre is ill defined. Whoever the artist, did he or she live in or visit Anglesey? Or did the sitter go to the artist? That raises questions which are best answered by a Welsh or Anglesey historian. The suggestion of John Smibert as the artist is unfounded.

THE WAY FORWARD. I wonder if either the collection or the group leader for Welsh subjects, Dr Melanie Polledri, have further thoughts on the picture. If not we should probably move towards closure of this discussion.

Please support your comments with evidence or arguments.

jpg, png, pdf, doc, xls (max 6MB)
Drop your files here
Attach a file Start uploading

Sign in

By signing in you agree to the Terms & Conditions, which includes our use of cookies.