Completed Dress and Textiles, London: Artists and Subjects, Portraits: British 18th C 19 Is this a portrait of David Burton Fowler? Is it a portrait by Francis Cotes?

Topic: Artist

We have in our collection this painting of David Burton Fowler, and our records state that the artist is Francis Cotes (1726-1770). This is also reinforced by a plaque attached to the frame which gives the artist as Cotes.

However, the clothing worn by David Burton Fowler in this image only came into fashion in the 1780s and 1790s. Given that Cotes died in 1770, it seems unlikely that this was painted by him. Further, if it had been painted by Cotes, it would put David Burton Fowler at a maximum age of 34 in this painting: the sitter is clearly much older than 34 years old.

Does the style of the painting remind anyone of other artists, possibly London-based ones? We know he was in London working at the Exchequer office between 1779-1792, so a London-based artist seems likely.

Equally, the painting was in Canada before it was donated to us, so there is the chance that the sitter is not David Burton Fowler at all.
Unfortunately we're not able to give the information on the donor, though we can say that it was donated by someone from Sainte-Genevieve de Pierrefonds who possibly had links to the Oxford Group (later Moral Re-armament) and who travelled frequently between the UK and Canada.

Preston Park Museum & Grounds, Entry reviewed by Art UK

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Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. There are no changes to the title and attribution, but the collection will look at the proposed update after their major site redevelopment. In the meantime, the greater likelihood that it is by Lemuel Francis Abbott has been noted on Art UK.

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.


Jacinto Regalado,

The dress is probably too late for Cotes, but a costume expert should confirm that. The books are no doubt significant, but how does that relate to the purported sitter, or does it? A good American portrait painter is not out of the question, depending on the sitter.

Miles Barton,

Maybe by Lemuel Francis Abbott, though the image is not 100% clear and distorts when enlarged, so difficult to judge properly. Definately nothing to do with Cotes. Circa 1790 seems plausible.

Jacob Simon,

Abbott is an attractive idea. I agree, not Cotes.

Jacinto Regalado,

Abbott certainly did many half-length portraits with plain, darkish backgrounds, apparently his most typical format.

Preston Park Museum & Grounds,

Abbott also seems to have painted this 1770 portrait of Sir James Eyre, who was a Baron of the Exchequer at the same time David Burton Fowler was working at the Exchequer office:

However, the date given on the James Eyre portrait seems off, as it would put Abbott at about 10 years old when he painted it. If the James Eyre painting is later (perhaps painted when he was appointed Chief Baron of the Exchequer in 1787), then there appears a plausible link between Abbott and David Burton Fowler, however this is just all conjecture!

Normally I would take the photo out of its frame and get a better close up, but it has just gone on display in a hard to reach place. I can try to get good close ups of certain areas if anyone would like some, but the glass means that I now can't get a HQ full photograph.

As a final note, I checked the painting before it went on display with a UV light and there were no signatures detected, however this painting has been cut down slightly and glued onto the current canvas, so it may have been lost when this was done.

Preston Park Museum & Grounds,


I managed to find a higher quality scan of the painting. It's not the best but it's much clearer than the version above. I've attached it below.

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Jacob Simon,

This discussion has attracted six contributions in the four days after launch in June 2021 and since then silence.

On the first discussion question, "Is this a portrait of David Burton Fowler?", I could find nothing helpful in the NPG Heinz Archive. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, I cannot see why we should not trust the information which came with the portrait to the collection.

On the second question, "Is it a portrait by Francis Cotes?", the answer is clearly "No" as argued above. Miles Barton's suggestion of Lemuel Francis Abbott is a good one. This is the sort of composition that he used for his sitters, who were mainly men. The handling is slightly looser than in many of his portraits but sufficiently close to warrant a label, "Attributed to Lemuel Francis Abbott".

I don't think there is an 18c group leader at the moment but I'd suggest that this discussion could be closed.

Jacob Simon,

I could not find mention of the portrait in Fowler's will.

Preston Park Museum & Grounds,


Just to add to this, the collections team did discover a few months ago that the donor actually inherited the Preston Hall estate from General Sir Fowler Burton, and so we are fairly certain that this portrait at the very least does depict David Burton Fowler - it's just a case of who painted it.

The other painting it was donated with, that of 'Sarah Burton', is still definitely not her given the dates of the costume, but given the familial relationship from the donor to General Sir Fowler Burton, it probably is one of the Burton women (likely Isabella Fawell.) That painting, like this one, is also definitely not painted by Francis Cotes.

Unfortunately, we don't have access to any of the wills, though it would be worth checking General Sir Fowler Burton's if it could be tracked down!

Lou Taylor, Dress and Textiles,

Judging by clothes/wig I would date this portrait between 1775-1785, noting the large coat buttons which show up clearly when the portrait is lightened. Before those dates coat collars were smaller and cuffs bigger. After those dates the coat/waistcoat collars got higher and higher. The style of the cravat and cuff frills would also fit these dates. This wig style lasted a long time, especially as worn by older men.
If this portrait is of David Burton Fowler and if it was painted c 1780-05, which is my favourite guess, he would have lived another 38 years- till 1823 ... with seems a bit unlikely.

See DETAIL from Gainsborough, The Baillie Family, 1784, tiff Tate N00789

Squire john Wilkinson, Gainsborough c 1776 Staatliche Museen, Berlin and WIKIART png (433.69 KB)

Preston Park Museum & Grounds,

Hi Lou,

David Burton Fowler lived until the age of 92 (d.1828), putting him at around 44-49 in your time range for the painting. A bit older looking if it is him. I wondered if it could be his father, but he would have been 78 in 1780 and died in 1784, which then seems to be too old for the sitter.

Jacob Simon,

In my post last year (08/02/2023), I set out the history of this discussion. Since then the Collection has found further evidence supporting the existing sitter identification. Despite a query over the sitter's age, I think the identification is acceptable.

The first discussion question, "Is this a portrait of David Burton Fowler?" In the absence of evidence to the contrary, we should trust the information that came with the portrait.

The second question, "Is it a portrait by Francis Cotes?". The answer is clearly "No" as argued above. Miles Barton's suggestion of Lemuel Francis Abbott is a good one. This is the sort of composition that Abbott used for his sitters, who were mainly men. The handling is slightly looser than in some of his portraits but sufficiently close to warrant a label, "Attributed to Lemuel Francis Abbott".

On this basis I recommend closing the discussion.

The collection has requested that their reply, which prompted Jacob's response, be removed from the site. The gist of it was that no immediate changes will be made to collection records because they are not in a position to assess the information and update their records and interpretation at present. It was added that notes from the discussion would be added to the main catalogue record for future reference.

Jacob Simon,

While the attribution to Abbott is no more than an attribution and as such uncertain, what is certain is that the portrait is not by Francis Cotes. If Preston Park is unhappy with Abbott then the fallback is Unknown British artist. Not Cotes.

It was Preston Park itself that started this discussion in 2021, acknowledging the uncertainty of the Cotes designation. So their reluctance is surprising. I quote Preston Park: "Changing this information online would also mean changing all of records and interpretation to reflect this". This sort of change is what museums are about - seeking out and making information available.

The Collections Officer has replied:

'I would like to take the opportunity to thank everyone for their comments and suggestions on this painting and finding a likely artist for it to be attributed to. The information provided is hugely valuable to us. At the moment we have had to pause a number of projects due to a major site redevelopment, but we do hope to explore this further in the future, and update our interpretation where possible.'