Portraits: British 18th C, Scotland: Artists and Subjects 11 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?

Edward Stone, Entry reviewed by Art UK


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'.]

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