Portraits: British 18th C, Scotland: Artists and Subjects 32 Is this a portrait of Colonel John Stewart of Stewartfield?

A Naval Officer
Topic: Subject or sitter

Can we find the identity of the sitter in this portrait? It was discussed in 2014 and found not to depict a naval officer. A link to that discussion can be found in the right-hand sidebar.

Since then, McLean Museum and Art Gallery has noticed a resemblance between this sitter and the portrait of Colonel John Stewart of Stewartfield at Glasgow Museums Resource Centre: http://bit.ly/2A6pKFM

Could it be the same person?


Neil Jeffares,

The faces (especially the mouths) are quite different. I'm also a little surprised at the identification of John Stewart (Smart 495): in 1742 he was presumably still a captain-lieutenant in Lowther's Marines (Smart), whose uniform had light-yellow facings according to the 1740 Army List. Yet the heavily embroidered blue coat he wears suggests a superior officer.

This is a fine thing, but -as in previous discussion of it- is there any evidenced reason to think the coat is 'military' any more than naval (which it isn't)? That would of course not preclude the wearer being military, allowing that officers tend to get painted in uniform rather than civil dress - for which blue was a standard gentlemanly colour.

Neil Jeffares,

My comment was about Smart 495, where the coat is worn over a cuirass; Smart is surely entitled to conclude that that is "military dress". Not as you say with the McLean picture.

Patty Macsisak,

I bow to those with specialist knowledge, but invite you to compare uniforms from The Army of Frederick The Great, especially the Guard Regiments which were known for their elaborate gold trim.

"In that time the European troops and officers powdered their hair.
And the hair on either side of the temple was curled into locks.
The hair at the back hung down in a pigtail.

“The color of infantry coat was the "Prussian blue." The cuffs and collars were in regimental colors. Beneath the coat was waistcoat of white, straw or yellow. The breeches were made of wool and were in the same color as the waistcoat.

Christopher Bryant,

I do not recognize either coat as being military, at least in regard to British uniforms of the period. Officers of the Royal Navy did not adopt formalized uniforms until 1748, though the coat in the McLean portrait does not look to me to be naval in character. Just to be thorough, I have checked a fairly exhaustive reference on Prussian uniforms of the period and nothing comes close to being related. I suspect both portraits show civilian dress coats. Keep in mind that military uniform features and design had a considerable effect on civilian fashions, so that civilian dress coats were often laced or embroidered in imitation of military patterns.

Kieran Owens,

Attached are composites of images for consideration by the contributors to this discussion.

The first is a juxtaposition of the subject of this discussion, the man in the blue jacket, with the Yale Center for British Art's 'Portrait of a Young Woman from the Fortesque (sic) Family of Devon'. The similarity of the elaborate gold frogging and the tone of blue in both her riding habit and our man's jacket must be immediately obvious, and would suggest that our man is English, rather than Prussian or otherwise. Especially unusual to both garments is the collar, stretching, as it does in each case, across the top of the spine below the nape of the neck and over both shoulders. Perhaps an expert in mid-Georgian-era costume could name and explain this particular feature.

The portrait of Miss Fortescue dates from c.1745, and was painted by Allan Ramsay's great rival for society commissions, Thomas Hudson (1701 - 1779). (The sitter is identified on some sites as being Nancy Fortescue, but I can find no one of that christian name in any of the family's genealogies for the mid-1740s). See for example:

https://books.google.ie/books?id=K1kBAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA206&lpg=PA206&dq=Fortescue+of+devon&source=bl&ots=EaMnX3qqfk&sig=wGBTqzR_YxRY4wc2hnhdg3FzX3E&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj054aqwILYAhWlIMAKHY8nAekQ6AEInwEwDA#v=onepage&q=Fortescue of devon&f=false

The second attachment shows an array of Naval portraits known to have been painted by Thomas Hudson, and juxtaposes our sitter with the gentlemen identified by name on the composite image. These officers are shown wearing their full dress uniforms, mainly of blue jackets over white waistcoats, with overly-elaborate gold frogging on the edges of both, as well as gold embroidery on their tri-corn hats. Most seem to have been painted by Hudson after the 1748 uniform regulations were introduced.

As Ramsay's portrait here was painted in 1741, the costume pre-dates that regulation change. While a little less flamboyant in its sartorial decoration, the painting also shows a blue jacket with gold frogging worn over a white waistcoat, and also possessing a tricorn hat. Should this turn out also to be a dress uniform, perhaps it is for a naval officer of a slightly lower rank, and from that former, un-regulated period.

Osmund Bullock,

Thank you for those comparisons, Kieran, especially that with the portrait of Miss Fortescue (an excellent find). But the naval examples notwithstanding, surely what she is wearing fully supports the conclusion drawn by Pieter van der Merwe and others in the previous discussion about this portrait (and reiterated here by both him and by Christopher Bryant) - that there is little or no reason to think this is a naval portrait? Forgive me if I quote Pieter in full, but you seem to be talking as if the previous thread had never taken place:

"... there should be no more debate about the dress here being 'naval'. At the time it was painted (1741) indigo-dyed blue broadcloth was widespread for gentlemanly attire and remained so well into the 19th century. There are certainly enough portraits showing that RN officers often favoured blue coats before official uniform was introduced in 1748 but the tendency to label any man shown in one before that date as 'naval' (or even 'seafaring') is just false inference based on the fact that blue then became the regulation RN colour (hence 'navy blue'). That is presumably how, and probably long ago, this canvas got its misleading current descriptive title of 'Portrait of a Naval Officer': there appears [to be] no other reason to think he is ..."

This was fully accepted by Art Detective and the Collection, though inexplicably three years later the description here still calls him "a man wearing a wig and naval uniform".

[Incidentally, 'Nancy' being a standard diminutive/familiar version of Ann(e) (and also Agnes), I can see several possibles for the Yale portrait's sitter ( http://bit.ly/2Axwvk4 ). Perhaps most likely is the Anne Fortescue baptised in Aug 1719 at Milton Abbot,Devon, daughter of George and Mary (nee Barrett) Fortescue, who at Tavistock in 1761 married Thomas Luxmore. Her family were a cadet branch of an old landed Devon family, and had acquired their own substantial landholdings in the county by several judicious marriages. And they clearly had good connections nearer the centre of things, too - her elder brother James Fortescue, DD (a minor poet and essayist) was a Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, chaplain at Merton, and Senior Proctor of the University.]

Kieran Owens,

Forgive me, Osmund, for awakening the slumbering giant of doubt about the naval association with the sitters attire, especially as it seems so conclusively to have been tucked into bed in the previous discussion of three years ago. I will follow the trail now set by Miss Fortescue's riding-habit to see if it leads to a useful destination.

Kieran Owens,

In the meantime....attached is a composite of two images which stylistically shows that, between 1741 and 1744, Allan Ramsay was capable of presenting a similarly high level of embroidered detail on the frogging and buttonholes of a jacket and accompanying waistcoat.

The image on the right, painted in 1744, is of the 49-year-old Colonel John Lee (1695 - 1761), of Hartwell House, in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. It is currently in the collection of the Fogg Art Museum, in Harvard. A colour version of this image might show additional useful details (such as the colour of the jacket's material and its embroidery).

https://www.harvardartmuseums.org/art/228347 ).

Amongst other earlier military and political achievements, Colonel John Lee was elected an M.P. for Newport, Cornwall, in April 1761, but died in September (or in November, according to some sources) of that same year. He was the third son of Sir Thomas Lee (2nd Bart) (1661 - 1702), of Hartwell House, and was a younger brother of Sir William Lee (1688 - 1754) (Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales (1737 - 1754), who Ramsay painted in 1749) and an older brother of Sir George Lee (1700 - 1758; a Lord of the Admiralty from 1742 to 1744).

In 1759, Ramsay also painted and signed a portrait Colonel John Lee's second wife, Mary, the daughter of John Browne of Riseley, Bedfordshire. This latter portrait was sold by Sothebys in April 1938, at the auction of the contents of Hartwell House, and is now also in the Fogg collection. Also included in the sale were other family portraits by Thomas Hudson, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Sir Peter Lely and George Romney, amongst others.


I believe that both sitters in the composite show very similar facial features, and suggest that our man in blue could be a member of the Lee family. Both of these two Ramsay portraits might actually be of Colonel John Lee, one painted in 1741 and the other in 1744.

Should our sitter turn out to be a member of the Lee family, why this painting ended up in the collection of the late Stuart Anderson Caird, and subsequently was made a gift to the McLean Museum, is a matter for further investigation. Perhaps the Museum could explain the way by which the Caird collection came to be donated and whether there is any accompanying documentation that might refer to this portrait.

Osmund Bullock,

(I was writing the following post while you were writing yours, Kieran; so it doesn't refer to your latest at all, and is rather superseded by it.)

Please forgive me, too, Kieran – my tone was unnecessarily aggressive. Re Miss F, though the similarity in jacket style is remarkable, I'm not sure she'll lead us anywhere useful in this search, sadly. But just in case...I have found a further little bit of support for my hypothesis that Yale's (?)Nancy Fortesque** may be Anne Fortescue, later Luxmore. She was the second cousin of the Rt Hon William Fortescue (1687-1749) of London and Buckland Filleigh, Devon (their grandfathers were brothers – his was the eldest son, hers the second). William was a lawyer and MP who became Master of the Rolls, and was a notable correspondent and friend of Pope, Swift, Gay, Congreve, Walpole and many others...and he, too, was painted by Thomas Hudson (circa 1736/40) – see this 1741 mezzotint by Faber http://bit.ly/2CcGadj . The pedigree of their branch of the family is here http://bit.ly/2j2xVIp (along with many other Fortescue trees).

[**I don't think the variant spelling is significant. The 'q' is less usual, but sometimes found in records of Devonshire Fortescues in the C18th (and later) – however other contemporary records of the same people give it with a 'c'.]

Jacob Simon,

Fine though this portrait by Allan Ramsay is, I fear that it is going to be difficult to identify the sitter unless it be through the provenance of the portrait or some fortuitous find.

Jacob Simon,


This portrait was first discussed in 2014 in a discussion since closed. It was further discussed in the current discussion in 2017-18. I commented in 2022 as above.

Surely we have answered the discussion question -- the portrait is not of Colonel John Stewart. I suggest that it is time for closure. Or is this another case of old discussions never die?

Jacob Simon,

In the late Alastair Smart’s “Allan Ramsay: A Complete Catalogue of his Paintings”, 1999, our painting is no. 574. Smart traces its provenance to Sir Oliver Welby, Denton Manor, Grantham, from whose collection the picture appeared at Christie’s, 20 February 1953, lot 37. I suggest that if the man depicted in our painting is to be identified, it will lie in its history previous to 1953. I will see if I can find out more.

You may be interested to see images as attached of two other portraits by the artist in not completely dissimilar costume to ours.

2 attachments
Jacob Simon,

Nothing more in the 1953 sale catalogue. Nor on file at the NPG. It looks as if it'll be very difficult indeed to take this further.

We've been looking at this on and off for nine years now. I return to my 5 April post, three above:

"We have answered the discussion question -- the portrait is not of Colonel John Stewart. I suggest that it is time for closure."

Jacob Simon,

I wonder if Michelle Foot as Group Leader for Scotland feels that this discussion of what is a very fine portrait could now be closed. It was first discussed on Art Detective ten years ago!

Jacob Simon,

Is this a portrait of Colonel John Stewart of Stewartfield?

This discussion, dating from 2017 seeks the identity of a very fine portrait signed by Allan Ramsay and dated 1741 in the McLean Museum and Art Gallery in Greenock, Inverclyde. It was previously discussed in 2014 and found not to depict a naval officer. Despite some continued suggestions to the contrary, there is little or no reason to think it is a naval portrait as explained by Osmund Bullock (12/12/2017).

The McLean Museum and Art Gallery noticed a resemblance between this sitter and a portrait of Colonel John Stewart of Stewartfield at Glasgow Museums Resource Centre. However, as Neil Jeffares rightly posted at the outset of this discussion (05/12/2017), the faces (especially the mouths) are quite different.

Subsequently some interesting costume and pose comparisons to Ramsay’s other work have been made. Interesting though the comparisons are, they do not help identify our man.

It has been suggested that our portrait could depict a member of the Lee family (14/12/2017). However, identifications based on facial features alone are notoriously unreliable. When I joined the discussion in 2022, I thought that it was going to be difficult to identify the sitter unless it be through the provenance of the portrait or some fortuitous find (12/01/2022). Subsequently I drew attention to the late Alastair Smart’s “Allan Ramsay: A Complete Catalogue of his Paintings”, 1999, where our painting is no. 574. However, it proved impossible to trace the history of the portrait back before 1953 (18/04/2023).

Our detailed discussion of this portrait leads to the conclusion that it is not of Colonel John Stewart. The portrait was first discussed on Art Detective ten years ago and in all this time no further secure evidence as to identity has emerged. As acting group leader for 18th century portraits, I now recommended that the discussion be closed.

Louis Musgrove,

What about William Pitt the Younger as our sitter.? His father could afford Ramsay's fee!!!!

Jacob Simon,

Pitt the Younger was born in 1759, eighteen years after our painting.

Louis Musgrove,

If there is no provenance before 1953; how do we definitely know it was painted in 1741 ?

Osmund Bullock,

Because it is signed ('A. Ramsay') and dated 1741 on the front of the canvas (bottom right corner - visible in the Art UK image). And should that not be clear enough, the description on Art UK also quotes it verbatim. Are you suggesting that the inscription may not be authentic?

Marcie Doran,

An article in 'The Scotsman' of the 31st of March 1955, mentions the recent purchase of 'A Young Naval Officer' by Allan Ramsay by the trustees of the Caird Art Bequest. The article states: "The portrait was purchased at a sale of the well-known Bedford collection." Is this that work? If so, perhaps the former title could be shown in the information box for research purposes. I do realize that there was an earlier discussion about the title.

Please dismiss any lingering notion that the sitter shown is in 'naval dress': it is neither uniform (which in Britain dates from 1748 only) nor at all characteristic of the sort of blue coat worn by sea-officers before that.

It would be interesting to know what 'Caird Art Bequest' the 1955 report above was referring to, but perhaps related to Sir James Key Caird (1837-1916) jute magnate of Dundee.

The sole Ramsay in the NMM collection, which also happened to be purchased with the NMM 'Caird Fund' set up by Sir James Caird (1864-1954), shipowner - and like the Dundee man also a Scot but unrelated - is a 1740 portrait of the Admiral the Hon Charles Stuart. He died in 1741, neither young, nor in uniform, and minus his right hand, though in the picture wearing fairly typical pre-1748 seamens' fashion:


I agree with Jacob that the unknown identity of this younger man in a blue coat is not going to be resolved here, and probably never. Best call a halt.

Louis Musgrove,

This is a really lovely painting.In what appears to be lovely condition. Yet in ten years of discussion -nothing much. There must by definition and deduction be something wrong with details. Perhaps Marcie's discovery of a link to a Bedford collection may lead somewhere. Mind you. ----Which Bedford Collection? That of Cecil Higgins Bedford ??? Or another.

Louis Musgrove,

Osmund- I know you are saddened at Art Detectives closing down- but as Rabbi Lionel Blue used to say " Don't worry-something will turn up--it always does ! " Cheers Louis.

Louis Musgrove,

Having looked at all of Alan R's paintings on Art Uk, I am of the opinion-and so is my friend Johann-- that our painting here is by a hand better than Alan Ramsay. Now I had better take cover for all the incoming criticism ! .

Marcie Doran,

When searching for references to portraits online, their original titles can be useful. I've foolishly been searching for "Gentleman in a Blue Coat" even though I knew that was a new title.

The acquisition record for this work indicates it was a "gift from the Trustees of the Stuart Anderson Caird Bequest, 1954".

I had thought that the sitter might have been a brother of Colonel John Stewart of Stewartfield but, according to an article about that portrait in 'The Scotsman' of the 26th of August 1964, Col. Stewart "was the only son of Col. John Stewart of Stewartfield, near Jedburgh".

Just wrapping up loose ends!

I think that "Bedford collection" was likely that of the Duke of Bedford. According to the 'Aberdeen Press and Journal' of the 6th of March 1950, there was an exhibition of 54 of his works of art in Aberdeen in 1950.

Jacob Simon,

I have previously suggested (11/04/2023) that if our painting is to be identified, it will lie in its history prior to its sale in 1953, when it appeared at Christie’s on 20 February, lot 37, as from the collection of Sir Oliver Welby of Denton Manor, Grantham. This lot was purchased by the well-known dealer, Appleby, according to the annotated catalogue in the National Portrait Gallery library.

Turning to the immediately preceding post, quite how the picture, if indeed it is the same picture, came to be announced in 1955 by the Trustees of the Caird Art Bequest as coming from the Bedford collection is uncertain. (The Trustees were buying for presentation to the McLean Museum and Art Gallery). Such a vague description does not to me suggest the collection of the Duke of Bedford. What is secure is the sale of the pictures at Christie’s in 1953 as coming from Sir Oliver Welby because the NPG has a photograph of the picture taken at the sale.

On this basis I looked again at Sir Oliver Welby. If one assumes that the portrait passed down through the male line, then the man to look at is William Welby (b. 1713 or before, d. 1792), who was a Sheriff in Lincolnshire in 1746 and a Colonel in the South Lincolnshire Militia. Welby’s will makes no mention of the portrait. Intriguingly there is a portrait apparently of Captain Welby, in a rather similar coat to our portrait, which was painted by Louis Gabriel Blanchet, presumably in Rome where this artist worked. It is possible, but not very certain, that our portrait represents William Welby. Without a document or better evidence, this suggestion remains no more than a possibility.

I will leave this discussion open for a further two weeks or for longer if useful information emerges.

Louis Musgrove,

Just something extra. Miss Fortescue is not Miss Fortescue, but rather the Princes Amelia Sophie Eleneonore.
Which gives a new possibility to the very unusual collar. As time is limited--I am going for a big guess. Our sitter might be Thomas Arnold- the partner of the Princess. Perhaps they had matching coats when riding/walking out together. Perhaps the Princess commissioned this portrait of him . Which would account for the superior quality of our painting.
Unfortunately ,I have not been able to find any image of Thomas to check.

Osmund Bullock,

Yale's recent changed identification of the sitter is interesting (and not implausible), though it's a pity their thinking and/or evidence is not given, as far as I can see. There is a painting of Princess Amelia out hunting in the Royal Collection, but its quality is not sufficient to make comparisons: https://tinyurl.com/37rjs8ff

The idea that the composer Samuel Arnold (1740-1802) was her illegitimate son (and by inference that she had an affair with his father Thomas, about whom nothing is known) is so daft for so many reasons that I won’t waste everyone’s time listing them here. It is a classic example of how an unexceptional and innocent historical detail – in this case that the influence of Princess Amelia *and her younger sister Caroline* helped the boy chorister Samuel gain admission to the Royal Chapel (as related in a 1790s biography) – is gradually turned via an 1860s encyclopaedia entry that stated (without foundation) that he “was patronised from his birth by the Princess Amelia” into a rather silly idea that he could have been her natural son. Never mind that G F Handel is said to have noted and encouraged the boy's talent, and that Handel was a much-admired music teacher and friend to Amelia, Caroline and their elder sister Anne. Now we’re in the age of the internet, of course, and (ticking the right boxes, as Amelia does, of ‘strong, independent woman’ and ‘royal rebel’) the silly idea is rapidly becoming the truth. You can read in many places that Arnold was “probably the illegitimate son of Princess Amelia”, and there are websites that push it even further: “It is generally accepted”, I read, “that [Amelia] was the mother of composer Samuel Arnold”!

So, well done, Louis, for adding to the push behind that particular piece of ‘fake news’. Does it matter – surely it’s just a bit of fun? Well, I don’t know the answer to that; but I do know that once again I find myself wishing you made a few less big guesses, and spent a bit more time doing research that might (or might not) support them. Wikipedia is not research.

Jacob Simon,

On 14/04/2024 I recommended that this discussion be closed. The succeeding posts do not alter this. My recommendation stands. The existing details on ArtUK remain valid since we have not identified the subject of this handsome portrait.

Please support your comments with evidence or arguments.

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